It’s a quarter to ten in the morning. My little girl is dancing around the lounge to Hi-5. My little boy is asleep in his cot. Although I have been up since six, I still haven’t made it to the shower. As I tidy up my bedroom, I stop to look at my reflection in the mirror. I can’t help noticing how much it has changed.
Looking down at my tracksuit pants I realise although they are incredibly comfortable, there is nothing remotely attractive about them. There is already a milky stain on my t-shirt but I can’t be bothered changing as it’s guaranteed to happen again. It’s been a long time since my reflection showed a tailored suit and matching high heels. Those clothes are now in the darkest part of my wardrobe.
A smile appears as I remember comments I once made about women who wore trackies, women who only talked about their kids and those who turned up at work after nine when I had been there since seven. Now I am on the ‘other side’ I understand how and why it happens.
My reflection looks exhausted, almost drained of motivation. The tasks of feeding, washing, shopping and playing with young children don’t offer the same adrenaline rush of project deadlines and meetings. I remember complaining about how most meetings were a waste of time. Now I just wish I had some time to waste.
There is a slight pang in my heart as I miss the career I worked so hard to create. Although I can say the right words about this being a new stage in my life, how I chose to be a mother blah blah blah, if I am really honest, I sometimes resent putting my career on hold. I worry I might lose some of my own ambition as my focus shifts to the needs of my family. I guess that’s why I started external studies, to keep my mind active. Not sure how I am going to find the time for it but at least I have an outlet.
I watch my reflection as I run my fingers through my hair. It is in desperate need of a cut and colour but that will have to wait until the kids can visit their aunty for a couple of hours. I could attempt an appointment on a day I only have the younger one, but he is so busy now I have no idea how I would occupy him even though they promise to have you in and out in no time.
I lean closer to the mirror to inspect the dark shadows under my eyes. Not surprising given parenting doesn’t come naturally to me so I tend to worry and over-analyse a lot. I confess to recently buying a tub of ‘miracle cream especially formulated to reduce the signs of aging’ – and hopefully sleep deprivation. The women on the commercials look so fresh and I crave to wake up and look fresh. Okay, so I choose to ignore that they have the benefit of stylists, make-up artists, lighting and air-brushing, but these days I am willing to give anything a go – especially if there is the slightest possibility it can work in less than 30 seconds.
I yawn and realise that though it is only mid-morning, I am already wishing the day away, waiting for 9pm when finally I can fall into bed for some uninterrupted sleep. Trying to mask another yawn, I remember the mornings when I used to get up at six because I wanted to. Walking the dogs, getting ready for work, scoffing a high protein caffeine-infused breakfast to embark on a day full of unexpected challenges and, more importantly, adult conversation.
Sadness clouds my eyes. I miss my girlfriends. I miss chatting endlessly about nothing. I miss discussions that went from the latest episode of ‘Sex and the City’ to world events to office gossip, all in one coffee sitting. I miss the spontaneity of life, of getting a call Friday afternoon and heading out for the night a few hours later; of no obligation and minimal responsibility; of only making decisions for one person.
I grab at my baby belly in frustration. Yes, I know I had two big babies but when does knowing a reason make you feel any better? I feel like telling girls in their twenties who plan to some day have kids not to bother with tummy exercise and healthy eating because inevitably child bearing will reverse all that effort in an instant. I scoff at the mirror and at my cynicism.
I lift my once voluptuous breasts into their pre-breast feeding positions. Immediately my opinionated stand on plastic surgery shifts. The thought of a lift and perhaps a size adjustment suddenly seems like an excellent investment of hard-earned money.
I am tired of standing here feeling frumpy. I look at the pair of pre-baby jeans I was considering squeezing into today. There is no way I am getting into them today but that won’t stop the torture of trying. I know I am the only one who can change my body but at this moment it feels more satisfying to whinge.
Although I stare at my reflection alone I gain some solace knowing that at this exact point in time it is possible there are other women all over the world doing the same thing. Remembering when they would only whiz past a mirror to re-adjust an outfit or fix their hair because they were confident and happy, and had no need to stare at their reflection longing for something different.
As I stand here looking at myself I confront the foreign feelings of self-doubt, fear of failure and insecurity. I look like a lost tourist with the map upside down reading multiple signs pointing in all directions trying to find the right way. More than lost – stuck.
And just when my eyes are about to fill with tears at all of these thoughts, a mop of curly hair appears in the mirror and little arms wrap around my legs. I look down at the cheeky grin and sparkling eyes. With a child’s innocence, my two-year-old looks up and says, ‘You look pretty, Mummy’. At that moment I hear the gurgles of my little boy waking from his nap.
Looking at our reflections I start to understand it’s not necessarily about letting go of who I am, nor is it about creating a new me. It’s about finding a balance to nurture me as a person, as a mother and a partner. The kids will be young for such a short time and like everyone says, ‘It goes so quickly’. I know the day will come when I am no longer the primary influence in their lives and when I have so much time on my hands I just wait for them to fill it.
Becoming a mother has had such an immediate impact on every aspect of my life. Nothing I read or was told ever prepared me for all the dynamics of parenthood – the positive and the challenging. I do think it is one of the hardest and most judged jobs in the world, but the rewards are priceless and eternal.
I throw my little girl over my shoulder and she bursts into giggles. As we walk away from the mirror to fetch her little brother, I understand there is nothing wrong with a little time for self-reflection, but slowly letting go of those feelings is a good start to embracing motherhood.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem