Happy Martyrs Day! Moms Receiving Care, Compliments, and Cunnilingus

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Zoom in on my epic lady mustache and wrinkles. I turned 39 last October, I’ll be turning 507 this fall.

This is me, lying in a hammoc, taking selfies and watching ‘Big Little Lies’ on my phone with headphones on while my husband and kids do whatever they’re doing somewhere else. It’s me unengaged because I deserve time to myself. It happens to be on Mother’s Day, but that’s not why I’m allowed (and allowing myself) to do it, it’s because I get to have my own time, space, hobbies, and self, independent of them. It’s necessary for all of us that I get to be a whole, autonomous person. Also, although in the caption above, I made sure to point out my wrinkles and mammalian facial hair, when I posted this on Instagram and a friend said “Perfect!” I just said, “Thank you.”

THESE are new developments. Not skills I was taught. I was led to believe that my greatest purpose was to enhance others’ lives, so I hustled and strained to do that, not giving it much thought. I was a helper, a server, a muse, but was very, very bad at being helped, served, or serviced.

My need to put others’ needs and feelings before my own was compulsive and paralyzing. I was so hell-bent on giving to you and not taking for me, keeping the balance forever in your favor, that you never really got to know me at all. I felt like I was only loved for the love I could give. I never took into consideration what prioritizing others’ needs above my own might do to me, where it might leave me emotionally, physically.

Even now as I write this, there’s a loud voice(s) in my head saying, “But it’s a good thing to be a helper, it’s a beautiful thing to serve.” Yes, BUT with boundaries, with limitations, with intention. It’s also critical to be served. It can’t be all one-direction. If I pour all of me into every one else’s cups, I’m empty, I die of thirst. If I’ve never learned how to take when someone is offering to pour into mine, I’m empty, I die of thirst.

Some of my giving to others is out of joy, out of open-hearted, grateful, eager love…but a lot of it is out of shame. I can’t say no, I can’t take for myself, because that would be selfish and I don’t….do that, I don’t deserve that, I don’t have that role in our relationship. Giving because I’m being held up by shame doesn’t feel safe or fair or right, but I do it because I should, because it’s expected, because if I don’t, someone else will have to, and that’s unacceptable.

After kids, I became angry all the time at my husband. All. The. Time. I would wake up at 5:30am, take a shower and come out raging, seething at what he hadn’t done the day before, or hadn’t even recognized needed to be done. I would nurse a kid, then go to work full-time, pumping between surgeries, while charting and planning our meals and making doctors’ appointments and organizing birthday parties, and writing Christmas cards, and remembering to buy all of our parents’ birthday presents, and to pay the bills, get home from work and start it all again and, and, and….I hated him. He wasn’t helpful, in fact, he was worthless AND asking for sex. He was worthless, AND needing my love and affection and affirmation, in addition to needing me to run his fucking life. I couldn’t trust him to take care of anything. He’d do it wrong or forget to do it or roll his eyes over being asked to do it. I’d be the nag and he’d be the put-upon man-boy. I HATED IT.

Only now, with many years of distance and self-reflection and improvement on both our parts (and kids who are no longer babies) I can see that I wouldn’t take the help that he offered. I couldn’t, because it meant I was failing. I didn’t know how to take. I only knew how to give. Babies take a lot. I gave and gave and gave on top of all that I’d been giving to before babies, and I was just empty. I was dying of thirst. I was pissed, and I was hurt.

Turns out, he hated it, too. I thought he was having a gay-ol’ time just enjoying his hobbies and having all this luxurious time to himself doing…? I had no idea. I just knew it wasn’t things on my to-do list. Well, it turns out he had his own list, and he was trying to support the whole house of cards I was building, as best he could. And he was feeling rejected and pushed away, and it hurt.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

When I FINALLY read the last few chapters of “Fed Up; Emotional Labor, Women, and The Way Forward” by Gemma Hartley, I thought, well, shit. I had been totally on board with the majority of the book — we teach men not to engage in family responsibilities, to expect to be served, to leave messes everywhere for women to clean up, to hold the floor and not listen, to take and take and take, while we teach women that we’re on the hook for absolutely fucking everything, to serve, to be quiet and small, and that we can never, ever, give too much. I was happy to conclude that men are worthless and terrible and emotionally stupid and mean, and women, especially myself and my friends, are awesome. I knew it. We were right all along. High fives all around, except to my husband. Don’t touch me.

This same husband, the one I was mad at chronically and who wasn’t allowed to touch me or I might bite him, actually read the book, and finished it before I did. He told me, cheerfully, that the end of the book talks about women’s responsibilities in the mess that we’re all in.

Nerts.

I didn’t want to read, from someone whose experience was so much like mine, and whose research and judgement I trust, that there was something I needed to work on to make things better. I AM DOING ENOUGH WORK. Wasn’t that the whole thing!?

Like I said, well, shit.

I’ll let you read the book for yourself (don’t skip the end) but basically, yes, men need to step up and do more, be more caring and involved. Mine did, too. Also women need to let them. I did, too. We control every aspect of parenthood and house-making and we box men out. NOW THAT BEING SAID, I can tell you ten million stories of men not trying that hard, and being very cool with just skating. BUT women don’t take the help, don’t take the partnership. We feel compelled to do it all, be it all, or we fear we’re not serving our purpose, we’re not being enough.

And it sucks for everyone.

He had to step up, and I had to step to the side. We had to do it together, each in our own way, discussing, constantly, what we see in front of us that needs to be done. These lists often don’t match, and that’s where really, really difficult conversation on expectations come in. Eventually I could trust him that he was trying his best, he wasn’t out to either show me up (my deepest fear), or leave me dry. I had to learn to take. NOT taking was splitting us up and ruining my gut. I didn’t want to be mad all the time. I felt sick and bitter and still couldn’t do all the things, even though I was frantically trying to, 24/7.

ALSO, I didn’t want my kids growing up seeing me as just a tool for their, or their dad’s use. I didn’t want my only characteristics to be about what I do for other people.

“The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.” -Carl Jung

ALSO, I worked hard to stop making apologies and excuses or to deflect compliments. That wasn’t easy. I still feel like I’m failing someone by having chubby armpits. I had to force myself to learn to just say “thank you” when someone said they liked something about me, instead of describing how it could have been better, how I’d been aiming for something else and fallen short, or to say, “Yeah, but look what YOU did!”

ALSO, and this is a whole post for another day, but man, from VERY early on, we’re taught that sex is all about penis pleasure, and both parties are encouraged to be pretty focused on that goal. I was like most women I know, severely ill-equipped to focus on my sexual needs within my heterosexual relationship. It was much more mortifying for me to learn to ask for pleasure than it was to give it. It felt, again, selfish, self-focused, embarrassing, demanding, to spend our shared time on me. I am lucky to have a loving partner who doesn’t let me get away with that, and years and years of working toward equality, in the bedroom and out.

So, on this Mother’s Day, I hope you are given, and can receive, the gifts of caring, compliments, and, if you want it, cunnilingus.

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