The Most Popular Person in the House
season of engulfment
I peaked socially in first grade. I was in such high demand that the little girls I ate lunch with wanted to make a schedule designating who'd sit next to me on each day of the week. I refused, wanting to choose where I sat, despite not always being the most judicious about it. Perhaps accordingly, my popularity waned in adolescence. I've had better luck in adulthood but haven't experienced the kind of unmitigated popularity I had at that first grade lunch table again.
Until motherhood. It’s what I wanted, but I was honestly unprepared to be in such high demand all the time. I cannot walk into a room containing my children without having at least one physically adhere to me. If I attend to one exclusively, the other is likely to dissolve into heartbroken tears. Recently, the baby crawled after me sobbing while Joe and I attempted to leave the apartment for a date (leaving the girls with Joe’s sister, whom they adore). Eva had a tantrum the other night because I wouldn’t let her stand in the bathroom and watch me shower. It was (way) past her bedtime, or I probably would have.
“Mama’s very popular in this house,” remarks Joe, who also likes me, although it’s impossible for us to have a conversation at home when the kids are awake, and after they go to bed I often want to sit in the dark in silence.
Because I sublimate most feelings into maternal guilt, I sometimes worry my children cling to me so tightly because they can tell I haven’t given them all of myself. I hear about other kids Eva's age starting to spurn their moms' affection and wonder why she isn’t doing more of that. Is it because we spend half our waking (and sleeping) hours together instead of more (or less)? Is it because she can tell my mind is sometimes elsewhere when I’m with her? I started out the pandemic negatively judging Joe’s use of noise-canceling headphones but now have my own pair that I use when there’s too much screaming.
I’ve read Winnicott and know that I usually fall into the category of “good enough mother.” I know I’m teaching my kids important lessons when I establish limits and boundaries. I know separation anxiety starts to intensify around Joanna’s age, although I don’t know what Eva's at the peak of since she’s the first kid I’ve had her age.
I also know this is temporary. The reason I’m writing about it in a seasonal newsletter is that my younger baby, my last baby, turns one this month, so there’s a feeling of finality to every milestone. My days at a premium are numbered. Where there's currently surfeit, there will one day be scarcity, and isn’t this always the way it goes.
But it’s good to know I crave freedom this intensely. Maybe that will lessen the sting when I one day have it.
Seasonal recommendation: put on all the colors and go puddle jumping.