What I Wish I Knew About Motherhood When I Was Seventeen

“Why does my entire house smell like cat litter?” I say out loud to no one, because I’m home alone. I feign momentary disgust for the filthy odor but mostly just out of obligation of decency in case anyone were to show up to my house in the middle of the day, unannounced, and wanted some theoretical proof that I disapproved of the state of things.

The truth is, I don’t really care. There are also a million fingerprints on the glass table where my kids had breakfast six hours ago. They’re at school now, and sometimes, if I’m honest, I just really don’t see the point in wiping down all the surfaces that they’re bound to rebrand with their sticky, jelly-hands later that very, same day. This is just how we live, now. Am I supposed to bribe them to make their beds literally every morning? Meh.

Being an adult — or should I say, a parent is way different than I would have imagined when I was younger, although the truth is I really didn’t imagine how it would be very often. I must admit, as a kid in school, no one ever prepared me for the prospect of one day becoming a stay-at-home mom. Twelve years of school, plus a double bachelor’s degree, and not once did anyone introduce the idea, nor did I even entertain the high likelihood that I would spend the entirety of my twenties and thirties managing the extra-curricular schedules of small people; washing and then rewashing the same load of laundry, folding it and never actually moving it off the couch, sniffing random pieces of clothing that I find on the stairs to see if they’re clean or dirty, almost always regretting that decision and lurching the 3-day-old pants over the banister into the seemingly endless pile of laundry, below. Jesus, the laundry.

No, it truly never occurred to me that I would at one point in my still-young life become so wrapped up in the romance of having little babies, changing diapers, nursing around the clock, park play-dates, nursery rhymes and sweet little baby blankets — that I would lose every other concept of self that I had spent the previous two decades developing. Didn’t know that any sense of personal passion, life vision, professional identity- would all be pushed over an abrupt, sharp cliff as soon as I became a mother. No one ever told me to ‘look out.’

And I’m like…seriously? How did this not even come up until now?

So here I am, to speak up about it. Consider this a public service announcement. You’re welcome.

Of course, becoming an adult does not automatically mean that you will become a parent, but in the case that you do, at one point create a new little person or two, I’m just saying- it wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend some time working that into your future plans; leaving some room for that outcome in your sense of identity. Or at the very least, to be prepared for the monumental shift that will inevitably occur in the way you relate to the world once you do create a new, little human.

And please hear me when I say, becoming a parent is literally the best thing I have ever done or will ever do. It is undoubtedly the most rewarding aspect of my life. But also hear me when I say that it is the most impossibly painful, destabilizing and exhausting aspect, too. And also, there really is nothing else. No vacations from the enormous responsibility of loving these new small people you’ve created. But of course why would you want one? No breaks from worrying about whether or not you will prepare them for life in the real world. Cause, dammit, you’renot even prepared for life in the real world. Yeah, we’re all fucked. But my kids know how much I love them. Hope that’ll be enough.

It’s funny- I spent my teenage years so certain about what I would do with my life. Back then I was a musician, a singer. At 17, I decided to go to college and major in Opera. I even had a big, juicy scholarship to a conservatory in Boston, which was a relief because my parents thought that ‘Opera Singer’ was a completely ridiculous life path. During those four years of my undergrad, I vacillated between dreams of becoming a record producer, a concert venue owner and of course, THE prevailing operatic soprano of our age. But then I fell in love. And then I got antsy. So then we got married, and moved across the country to start our new lives in the big, Wild West. We bought a little fixer upper in the suburbs, and got pregnant way too easily and I was only 25 and was still young enough to not understand that my life was about to take a major detour away from all of my big, bad plans.

At that point, I was so caught up in the adventure of it that I didn’t realize I would be pulled away from the career I had planned on, and then eight years would go by and the space between my childhood dreams and my adult reality would grow further and further each day. But of course, motI didn’t know that when I met my son (and then less than two years later, my daughter) I would see just how much I wanted to be their mother and stay with them and teach them about life and witness every milestone and read them books like Charlotte’s Web and Peter Pan and take them to the museum. And where would there be time amidst all of that to produce those records or entertain the concert hall? There just wouldn’t be. There just wasn’t, I was finding.

Truth is, I am just coming to terms with the pain of that, now (maybe?) I sure did exhaust myself trying to fit it all in. Made it a whole heck of a lot less easy and enjoyable than it could have been. And I guess all I’m saying is that it would have been a lot less painful if someone would have just said to me when I was seventeen:

Sweet girl, maybe someday you might find that you want to be a mother and you might fall in love so deeply with your babies and decide to take a break from whatever plans you had for yourself to nurture and love your little ones until they are big enough. And then, after that, there will still be space for your dreams to come back into view. If that’s what’s in your heart, of course.

And sure, maybe those dreams you had for yourself will never come to fruition; not the way you thought they would, anyway. But hey, just so you know, there is also honor and purpose and poetry in being a woman who cares for others, who keeps a home for them and teaches them about God and cooks them food that makes them feel safe. No you may never end up mattering to an audience of thousands at some glorious, old opera house but you’ll matter to that sweet, toothless six year old who needs a song at 2am when she dreams fitfully of falling. You’ll be just what she needs. No fancy conservancy degree required. But lucky her, though cause it doesn’t hurt the matter, either.

And truly, society will benefit from that song you sing her, just as much, if not more than whatever song you dreamed of singing at the Met. Sweet girl, you just might want to end up being a mother, too and I hope you give yourself permission to consider yourself a swinging success of one; big, fat audience or not.

And seriously don’t worry about the kitty litter.

Writer, Musician, Activist.

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