Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Desert & Dessert of Motherhood

I tell my students that the way to know the difference between "desert" and "dessert" is this:
  • "desert" has one "s," which stands for "sand"
  • "dessert" has two, which stand for "sweet stuff"

And so it was that a recent discussion of syllable stress and spelling inspired me to think about how close those two words are in formal features and yet how far apart they are semantically.  And of course that led to the theory that the same is true of Motherhood.

For many, motherhood can be likened to finding oneself smack in the middle of a dessert tray.  It's not really like "normal" life, but who cares?  There is sugary stuff ev.ery.where.  Love and breastmilk abound, and nevermind the lack of sleep: It.is.worth.every.lost.wink.yes.it.is.  There is no reminiscing about the silly, selfish days of yore because now there is a sweet purpose to life.   A delicious little someone who needs us ... soft as frosting, moist as cake, bliss. 

For others, becoming a mom can be like falling asleep in a soft king-size bed at the downtown Hilton and waking up in a pup tent in the desert.  These women have lived their entire pre-maternal lives in a utopia of self-centered days filled with ridiculous luxuries such as regular shampooing, eating a meal without being handed a rejected wad of spit-out zucchini, and shaving.  Just shaving any one part on any given day.  Or at all in a year.  But that's OK because motherhood brings on lizard-like qualities in these women.  They are like chameleons who can change their colors no matter the environment.

For me, the Journey into Mama was definitely more in the realm of "desert," with the added caveat that I am not even close to being a chameleon.  In fact, I'm a fish.  And when my aquarian self woke up to the reality of desert life, it wasn't just not pretty; it wasn't even tolerable.  The first shock of motherhood for me was like falling into quicksand.  It felt drastic and life-threatening.  It felt like my skin in winter -- dry -- searching for something akin to Vaseline, finding only a raindrop (on a good day).

But now that the culture shock has worn off ...

(I say that although every single day I wonder how it is that millions of othermothers have survived the insanity of neverending Cheerios stuck to the floor.  The challenge of getting shoes on a determined-to-go-outside-NOW-with-his-brother toddler.  The talking back.  The disciplinary decisions.  The car.)

... it seems that I am evolving.  It feels like maybe my gills are growing accustomed to the dry air and scorpion-like sting of all the whining.  I find myself being more curious about the life forms found here in this new environment, and less judgmental.  Sometimes I think that's good progress coming from the decision to work hard at something worthwhile. Other times I think it's not a choice: It's just like breathing -- my body will continue to make an attempt at it until I plumb give out.

But mostly I just hope to make it through dinner and into bedtime without yelling, having to do sun salutations, or making emergency calls to Brian, 9-1-1, poison control, protective services, or the preacher.

And so now I have come to view Mamalife not in terms of the polar opposites of desert & dessert; rather, I have come to view motherhood as some nebulous point on a continuum between the two, varying on any given day or minute.  And just like I tell my students that one must balance fluency and accuracy, I tell myself that I must balance the desolation and decadence of parenting.

Or at least evolve from fish into lizard.

Onward & upward & praying hard for rain,

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