Getting, and feeling, lost

For a “softer” look, she should loosen the hair from her ponytail. Makes ALL the difference.

This past Sunday was kind of a rough one for me.

We just hung around at home, mostly, but I’d had a long, demanding week at work; taking care of Neve and Lily was draining enough that I never got the chance to shower or brush my hair or teeth; the short yoga pants I wore were also worn during the previous night as pajamas, and they were stained with Neve’s milk spit-up; and I had a headache, so although Joe managed to give me time for a nap, I still grumped around and snapped at everyone intermittently.

I was feeling sorry for myself, and empty, and subhuman. It seemed that over the course of just a few years, I’d become a woman whose entire life, outside of work, consisted of nothing but repeatedly pulling Neve down from the coffee table (where she perpetually longs to “surf”), negotiating meals with Lily (“How many bites ’til I’ve eaten a good dinner?”), and countless Sisyphean domestic details.

I stared longingly at the untouched Sunday New York Times on our kitchen table, remembering when I had the time and freedom to read it through, and go for a long run, and talk with my husband about the articles I’d read. I used to be interesting, I thought. I used to read have Sundays filled with rest and joy. And more generally, I used to travel and read entire books (that didn’t have talking bunnies or ducks) and see my girlfriends and take occasional, two hour bike rides.

So although Joe had planned to make a stir fry for dinner on Sunday night, he looked at me that afternoon and said, “You don’t look like you’re up for doing dishes tonight. Why don’t we just order something?”

I didn’t argue.

And when it came time to pick up the pizza and salad, I leaped at the chance to make even a cameo appearance in the real world. But then I realized, Oh, wait, I look like hell.

Stepping in front of the bathroom mirror, I loosened the hair from my ponytail a bit to get a little volume on top of my head, so as to not look quite as harsh and rigid.

And then I nearly cracked up, looking down at my spit-up-on black yoga shorts. “Yes,” my last remaining shred of vanity intoned, “that little hair-pull makes ALL the difference. Instant MILF.”

I went to the pizza place, and they looked at me like I was a sewer rat – which, in their defense, I resembled.

Yes, we all had those days in college when we went to class in our pajama bottoms and didn’t shower. But back then, it was a kind of decadent self-indulgence – play-acting that that final paper we procrastinated on was going to be better by virtue of our not taking 10 minutes to bathe – and we were 20 and looked hot no matter how much we let grooming slide on a given day. Doing the same as a 40-something just feels like you’ve surrendered, thus losing your place in the world of civilized, well-groomed adults. And it’s depressing as all get-out.

Coincidentally, later in the week, I came across a short essay online called “Invisible Mother,” by an unknown author. Though the entirety of the piece didn’t speak to me, in terms of its conclusion, this part did, particularly after my experience on Sunday:

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’ Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I’m invisible. The Invisible Mom.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this?  Can you open this??

Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, “What number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, “Right around 5:30, please.”

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude – but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s going, she’s gone!?

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in.

I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, “I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription:

To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.

Nice note. It doesn’t make it any easier to push through days like Sunday – when you feel like a cipher, here to serve others, instead of a living, breathing, thinking human in your own right – but it’s sometimes nice to know that the billion invisible things you do as a parent might occasionally be recognized by someone. Anyone. Maybe another parent feeling the same way.

So here’s a note from me to all of you parents out there: I admire the greatness of what YOU are building when no one sees.

Strength and courage to us all.

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