Silence is a form of oppression…
The ellipses has become a new normal in my life in a way it never was before, in part because I cannot find the right words to describe my new experiences. I have found that words are less available when I am being forced to do something that is not at the heart of my current thoughts and focus, which is most of anything other than attending to my infant and so much more is being demanded of me. Not that I don’t want to participate in the world, I desperately do, but it is really hard to think deeply about much else, and when I feel pressure to, when social norms demand it, I find myself at a loss for words. Besides, how do I want to participate? What on earth do I want to do that matters as much as raising him, that is worth being away from him? What feels simple to me seems complicated by the world and suddenly I don’t understand why anyone does what they do and I have bouts of social awkwardness that are mostly foreign to my old confident, extraverted, social self. When I lived in the Middle East I experienced a similar feeling in a room full of strangers without access to alcohol, not even one drink to take the edge off as had become the norm since entering university. This is like that. But every day, and even with friends I’ve known for so long, on topics I used to enjoy talking about.
Where did the words go??
You blame ‘mommy brain’ when I can’t pull the noun out of my cloudy mind, when my sentence trails off into silence, when I forget what you asked me a moment before, but when I unpack that euphemism I find so many things.
I have not defined myself as a mom to myself, not thoroughly, not comfortably, because I don’t know how to own this new experience. I don’t really know how I feel about it yet, since the processing time is so limited and the action time so prevalent. I don’t know what I want it to be or even what it can be and yet I move through the world already in such a profoundly obvious way, as a MOM: stroller in hand, needing change tables in public bathrooms and so much more space, baby’s cries drawing attention in spaces big and small. I feel the eyes on me and I have no words to describe the pressure I am acting under, from without and from within. Both Q and the world need me to be so much, and I want so much to be so much. This may be the most important thing I have ever done but because it is slow, and because there is so much competing for my attention, and because I do not know which parts make up what matters most in this most important job, I falter.
Meanwhile, I am trying hard to be what I am supposed to be in the absence of a solid alternative. We do this, most of us. We wear a mask. We present an idealized self and it acts as a shortcut. I want to be calm, easygoing and competent, so I act this way. But I do not feel this way inside, and this discrepancy, this untruth I am playing for myself, is unsettling. I am spending a lot of time covering all my bases, being my old self and my new self all at once, and it takes a lot of mental energy to pretend but I don’t know how to just be here, not yet. I have no words for feeling deeply uncomfortable and shockingly natural in my own skin all at once. I have no words because my brain cells are occupied just seeming sane and keeping a smile on my face. As if I need to have a smile on my face. But I have always thought I needed one, and the world has reinforced that ideal. I have always saved the screaming and yelling for once I was safely behind the walls of my home, have always raged against the people inside that home instead of questioning the systems that drove me to feel insane.
How can I tackle institutions while breastfeeding in bed?
I do not know how to describe the feeling of being asked for the 134th time how Q is sleeping at night when I want to talk about how to bring him up feminist in a world where his mother is at home happily doing domestic work while dad goes to work and his uncles take him to the ball game. I want to talk about why we are letting the schools put so many kids in one room when we know that attention and feedback are the foundations of attachment, safety, and learning. I want to talk about the vocabulary that reinforces gender roles and so much more, and how we can work consciously to make him feel safe to be whatever he wants to be through our words. Words that I don’t know yet. Words that no one is using anywhere near me.
I have no words for why I am forced to honestly wonder if it is fair that any intelligent, supportive, loving partner equates an interest in child development with an interest in international politics, as if both hobbies receiving bemused attention from the opposite partner is equal, and enough. As if my interest were a hobby. As if it were possible to raise kids without these interesting details, as if my hobby were not the most important job that ever existed, as if we didn’t need all the help we can get to do it well in this insane world and WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE FEEL THIS WAY? Why isn’t my new experience surrounded by people thinking and talking this way? If it was, then I would already have so many new words, already be filled up with mentors and role models but I don’t, and I’m not.
So where did the words go?
They got swallowed up by fear. And by pretending. And by worrying about which food is best to feed our kids first. They got lost in the ailes of Babies R Us after spending hours choosing a soother because there are waaay too many choices for any sane human and way too much money spent on marketing to make me feel even the slightest bit good about my choice in the end. They got diluted in not enough role modelling, and in all of the messages I’ve been absorbing since my birth as a female about what I am supposed to be and do, and what just isn’t acceptable. They disappeared between the loads of laundry and the stacks of dishes and the worries about every skin blemish and phlegmy cough (see this post for more on a mother’s physical job). They went the way of the words anyone has ever tried to capture, learning any new role, without being able to feel true to themselves inside of it.
I look around in my new community, excited to find a world full of moms and parents who can show me the ropes, excited to be part of a new club but the warmth fades quickly because I already no longer want to talk about the best brand of anything but I have no words to find the next level and no one else has the words and I do not know if they want to find them and are stuck like me or if they can’t find them or if they’ve ever even tried or if they’ve tried and been silenced by the heaviness of a world where being a parent is about eating and sleeping and supporting the schools and yes I need to learn some tricks of the trade and yes I need the right things to help me keep him alive and safe and well but not ad nauseam, and please let it not be at the expense of the bigger things. Where do I go to be educated in my new role with all of its important questions? I have no idea.
Silence is a form of oppression. The thoughts bouncing around in my head cannot find an outlet and I am screaming silently while smiling on the outside. My no words fall on deaf ears and I am caring bodily for my little son while trying not to panic because my boy is already 2.5 months old and each day he grows and delights me with his smiles and his sounds and his growing abilities and I watch in awe, desperate to help him build a life that is full and meaningful, and moved to silence because I barely know where to begin….
Have you ever felt silenced by a new role? Frozen by your own expectations? Unsure of where to find more role models for how you’d like to perform? I’d love to know about your experience. Please comment!