I spent a whole day cleaning the house last week. That day I also cooked a dinner from scratch and finally put all the summer yard toys into the garage. Ryan came home and looked around. He said, "You are a magician." I smiled and said thanks and sliced the warm bread.
A second passed.
He said, "No. Wait." I stopped.
He said, "You're not a magician. You worked your ass off. Magic didn't do this, you did. You deserve the credit, not magic."
Years ago we had a fight.
When Chicken (now 6) was a tiny baby, maybe 3 months old, Ryan came home from work and took him out of my arms. “You’re clocked out,” he told me, hilariously. (LOL, moms of 3-mo babies are never clocked out unless we have literally been clocked. out. I mean accidentally punched in the head with a flying espresso tamper, and sent to a dreamless sleep on the floor of Ladro Coffeehouse. That’s when we’re clocked out. Otherwise, it’s all overtime, baby.)
In Ryan’s arms, Chicken started to writhe and fuss. I looked at the clock. 23 minutes since he nursed and he’s been nursing every 40 minutes or so today. He woke up from a late nap about an hour ago. I have time for a shower before I wrap him in the swaddle (did I wash the good swaddle? Yes, I did, it’s in the dryer, I’ll grab it after I shower) and nurse him back to sleep.
“He probably needs a fresh diap,” I said.
“I’ve got it,” Ryan said.
I stepped into the shower. A few minutes later, after I’d willed the hissing shower head to roar, to outbellow the crying baby on the other side of the door, I gave up and came back out, rinsed but unshampooed. Chicken was super pissed: rigid, purple, and screaming so loudly I could see his trembling tongue all the way into his throat.
Ryan looked at me with that expression unique to new parents: it’s a cocktail of rage, regret, terror, and apology. Sometimes there’s a tinge of hysterical laughter around the edges. I took the baby back. He immediately stopped crying.
“You’ve got that Mommy Magic,” Ryan said.
He meant it as a compliment. He meant that I was so skilled at mothering already that he was astonished. He meant that my superhuman ability appeared out of place in the nonmagical world. He meant that he couldn’t imagine how a human person could do what I did without the aid of a coven. He was frazzled and frustrated and felt bad that I hadn’t gotten a shampoo before I had to clock back in. He was trying to be nice.
But I was done.
"It's not magic," I snapped.
"It's practice. It's work. It's constant work and attention and curiosity and failure and learning and evolving. It's not magic. I read the books. It’s not magic. I go to the new parent groups. I made mommy friends. I read parent forums. I call the nurse line. I call my mom. I call your mom. It’s not fucking magic. It’s me. I work my ass off.
Don't attribute the work I do to some invisible mystical aura that happens to surround me by virtue of my womanhood. That's bullshit. I did this. I’m good at this. I sweated to get good at this and it changes every fucking day. The baby is calm with me because I wake up every single day and learn how to calm the baby again.”
I’d completely forgotten that fight (like most of the first few months of Chicken’s life) until I was standing there slicing the warm bread and he remembered. I had no idea how much it would mean to me that he remembered.
So just in case you needed someone to tell you what Ryan told me:
Just because your labor is invisible doesn't make it effortless.
Magic didn't do it; you did. People think you’re magical because you’re stronger, smarter, more capable, more productive than they think you should be able to be.
But you wake up every day and you make it happen. No wands involved.
You’re not a wizard. You’re a warrior.
You work your ass off.
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