So, one of the most unexpected side effects of motherhood (so far) has been my inability to poop alone.
And maybe inability isn't the right word. Certainly, I am capable of pooping alone (I don't have, like, a co-dependent colon that refuses to do anything without moral support). In fact, given the choice, I would prefer pooping alone. But motherhood has taken away that choice (well – unless I can train my bowels to release between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day ... and even then there's no guarantee of solitude. Not with cats around).
The kids pretty much trail me all day. If it weren't for their propensity for whining, yelling and dressing in a dizzying variety of mixed prints, they'd make excellent PIs (Inconspicuous is not a word I'd use to describe them – except when they've snuck off with my phone to watch videos of grown men and women playing with children's toys). They're like the animals at the petting zoo – always keeping an eye out for the people with the plastic cups, because those are the people with the food. (In this scenario, of course, my children are goats and I'm a plastic cup.)
They jockey for my attention and never allow me to go too far out of range.
And being in the bathroom with a closed door is out of range.
So what happens is, they'll follow me in.
If I'm in the master bathroom (i.e. The en suite or the "we've arrived" toilet), Lily will barge in and pull up the window shade so she can see what's happening in the back yard and I can see what's happening in my neighbor's bedrooms (you know, should they also have opened their shades). When I tell her that I'm in a vulnerable spot and would rather not be on display for the neighborhood at that particular moment and reach to pull the shades down, she'll laugh in my face and put them right back up. I'm usually not in much of a position to do anything about it.
Then she'll start wrinkling her little nose and complaining about the various smells wafting through the tiny room*. I'll remind her that she could leave the bathroom at any time and that I would actually prefer that she not come in. But she, of course, will refuse. She also refuses to believe that her own excrement might emit less than pleasant odors. But that is a problem for she and her therapist to work out together in another 20 years or so.
Sometimes I'll make it into the bathroom with enough time to lock the door, only to have the girls standing right on the other side, pounding the door and screaming as if they're being hunted by a pack of deranged hyenas and I've selfishly only saved myself.
"MAMA! MAMA!!!" They'll scream. "LET US IN!! LET US IN!!!"
And I'll understand why every once and a while an animal might eat their young.
I'll do my business and open the door and there they'll be. Waiting. Always waiting. Sometimes the dog is there, too. Usually a cat for good measure as well.
It doesn't really matter what I'm doing in the bathroom – if I'm in there, chances are they are, too. They like to play with my makeup brushes, casually using them to dust off the top of the toilet or apply eye shadow on the dog. When I'm toweling off from the shower, they sometimes pretend to milk my "udders" or blows raspberries on my stomach.
For those of you who are horrified, I, too understand how weird all this is. I don't encourage these invasions of personal space. In fact, I tell them flat out that I'm not a cow and that my body is my personal property and not some sort of live-action sensory experience you'd find at a museum. They're mostly undeterred.
And its not just in the bathroom, either. On any given day they'll pretend to be my baby penguins nestling between my legs with their feet on my feet and insisting I walk around the house with them. When I sit or lie down, they immediately jump in my lap or climb on my shoulders, fighting over who gets to sit where.
"Girls! I'm not furniture!" I tell them.
To which Jovie responds, "But Mom, you're so comfortable!"
Like I'm a La-Z-Boy or something.
The other day I was lying on the floor in the family room (which was a rookie mistake on my part). Lily bounded over to me, sat on my stomach and proceeded to play the bongos on my she-bongos. She likes to crawl into bed with us every morning around 6, which I don't mind because I love to snuggle with my girls. Only Lily can't be still. It's physically impossible for her. So she climbs all around - her sharp knees are perpetually jabbing my sternum or thighs. The other morning she jabbed her pointy elbow right into my eye socket – I was fairly certain if I opened my eyelid, my eyeball would just plop onto the bed. I started thinking about what I could use as an eye patch for the day.
They have a knack for invading any moment of respite or relaxation I attempt at home. If I do yoga, they'll leap on my back during down dog, or else battle for greater territory on the mat.
Last weekend, under instruction of my new page-a-day calendar, I took a bath. One of my children (whose name will not be mentioned because of the embarrassing nature of the conversation that follows) interrupted.
Me (hearing someone trying to enter bathroom): The door is locked what do you need?
Child: I need toilet paper.
Me: What happened?
Child: Well, I went poopy in my pants and then I went to my room to get new underwear and when I took off my messy underwear I got poop on the floor so now I need something to wipe it up.
Me (sighing heavily): Was it a lot of poop or a little poop?
Child: It's not a lot of poop. Just a little smooshed in the carpet.
Me: I'll take care of it.
(Gets out of water, dries off. Cleans up carpet poop.)
I could go on. But I imagine I've filled my 2017 quota for oversharing and stinky bodily functions. I don't mean to be gross (OK, that's not totally accurate). I guess I mean I'm not brining up all this potty talk for the sake of grossness in of itself.
I'm sharing because motherhood is intense. And it's intense in the most unanticipated ways. You know, when you are pregnant, all anyone talks about is how you're never going to sleep again. There are stories about an explosive diaper-changing incidents or the terror of watching a kid fall from great heights. But the meat of nonstop, full-contact day-to-day child-rearing cannot be translated.
Nobody told me, for instance, that I would actually look forward to playing hide-and-seek with my children – because by finding the absolute best hiding places in the house I could buy myself a few minutes of quiet (that is, unless, the dog finds me first and barks and barks, alerting the seekers to my location ... which happens frequently).
That's right. I hide from my children. And I know I'm not alone.
I love them. God, I love them so, so much. I love how Lily giggles when there's a certain amount of chaos (like when the zookeeper couldn't catch the bunny hoping around after her presentation on small mammals). I love how Jovie scrunches up her entire face when she tries to wink. I love their twinkly eyes, their soft cheeks. Their made-up songs and impromptu dance parties.
I love them in the most intense and unanticipated ways.
But nobody told me that in doing this, in becoming a mother, that I would lose my autonomy. Not just my "me" time, mind you. I mean the sense of agency I have over my person. They grew in my body and came out of my body and still claim my body as their body. And they command attention all the time, which means that my brain never full seems to be my brain anymore. That becomes theirs, too.
Georgia, my old neighbor, once said about life with her adult daughter with special needs, "I don't know where she ends and I begin."
I completely get that. Though I'm only six-plus years into my journey as a parent. Georgia has more than three decades under her belt.
There are times I just want to pry open the clenching jaws of motherhood and crawl out through its teeth and run away from being "Hey mom? Mom? MOM?! MOOOOOOOOOM?!!!!!!!!!! MOMMMMMMMMMMY!!!!!!!"
Just to remember, even if its just for a moment that I am something else, too. You know? Just go back to being Susan. Whoever she is.
And what happens when you're in this place, when you are giving yourself over to all the household elements, the second things get quiet – the kids are in bed, the dishes are done, the day becomes still – you retreat into your den and snarl like a honey badger at anything trying to get close.
Like, your husband for instance. Who is also tired and anxious after long days at work and ridiculous commutes and who just wants to connect with his wife, who has inexplicably and inconveniently morphed into a porcupine.
The other night Brad and I went out on a date to see Louis CK in D.C. (stay tuned for his next comedy special -- it was filmed at the show we were at, which was so, so awesome in all the ways. If you listen closely, you might even hear me snort laughing all the way back in the second to last row of DAR Constitution Hall). While we were grabbing dinner I was explaining all this to Brad. How it wasn't that I was anti-intimacy or anti-marriage or anti-motherhood or anti-him – it was that I just felt ... spent. I figured that at some point the kids would get bigger and grow weary of hanging all over me all the time. There will come a day when I will actually miss Jovie randomly hugging my legs or Lily nuzzling her nose in my ear. And I don't think it will be too long into the future. Children speed up time. They make years go by in seconds it seems.
I told Brad it wouldn't be too long before he got his carefree (though somewhat crustier) wife back. I'll go back to being a less-encumbered version of myself.
I'll be aware of where my children end and I begin.
Though I imagine my girls will forever be ghost limbs. I will always feel them there on the other side of the bathroom door, long after they've left the nest.
Just another unexpected side effect of motherhood.
* In these situations, I'm reminded of my own childhood. When my older sisters would request my presence in the bathroom while they were ... unloading ... because they wanted someone to talk to. I'd whine and complain and get grossed out, but always ended up sitting on the edge of the tub while they took care of business. Why? Because I idolized my older sisters, and relished the opportunity to spend time with them. Even if they only ever summoned me to the throne room.