When you become a mother, a certain amount of pride goes out the window. For most women, this divestiture begins with pregnancy. Unless you are a member of a few particular professions or are an ardent nudist, you have probably taken great pains throughout your adolescence and adulthood to prevent people from seeing you naked. You can kiss that modesty goodbye as you shuffle your awkwardly burgeoning body, barely concealed by a thin medical gown that opens at the back, down the hall between the doctor’s office and the ultrasound room. Make this a long, meaningful kiss, because you’ll never see that modesty again, at least not in its familiar form. You will get so used to donning that flimsy gown that reveals more than it covers and spreading your legs regularly for the better part of the year that when the time for actual delivery comes, you will cease to care at all if various loved ones and entire teams of people you’ve never seen before in your life poke and prod your completely nude or insufficiently clad body in places formerly known only to your lovers, and even then oftentimes with the lights out.
It was a funky, musty towel that got me started thinking about the continuum of Mompromises–the personal compromises we make over the course of our mothering. For example:
- Modesty, general (see above).
- Boob Modesty: For those of us who breastfed our kids, I’d hazard a guess that whipping one out anytime, anyplace and plugging it into a tiny mouth ceased to merit a second thought. If you were one of those proper ladies who always covered said boob and baby with a blanket, hats off to you. My trial-by-fire in this department happened in Starbucks when baby #1, The Lawyer, was a few weeks old. Struggling to free a giant, swollen-solid breast from the unfamiliar and corset-like, E-cup nursing bra while cradling the tiny screaming infant, I fumbled, dropping my football-sized breast out into the open for all to see. After that, it was pretty much all downhill in the modesty department, especially once my Jedi-nursing skills increased, my boobs shrank down to human proportions, and baby grew ever onward and upward towards the same.
- The loss of Boob Modesty, by the way, has repercussions that last well beyond the nursing years. It’s been about 5 years since I weaned last child, The Diva, (at age 2); most of my friends have kids in elementary/middle school. We are light years beyond that warm, fuzzy, milky cocoon. Yet at a recent cocktail party, a group of us ladies were chatting in the kitchen as we mixed drinks when the subject turned to mid-life boob-droop. Several of us immediately opened our shirts and lifted our small, modest bras to illustrate our hyperbolic points and compare the results of our Mompromises, with nary a thought to either the husbands roaming without or the whereabouts of the omnipresent kids who were ultimately responsible for this sad state of affairs.
- Personal Space: The ubiquitousness of comfortable baby carriers such as the Ergo, the improved Baby Bjorn, and a variety of different slings (my favorite was the Over the Shoulder Baby Holder) mean that more people are spending more physical bonding time with their young progeny. This is great, especially if you’re a Dr. Sears acolyte. But it also means that an entire generation of kids is getting used to being on you as much as possible, day or night, cementing their claim to that body and what you formerly considered a small but real no-fly-zone of personal space surrounding it. Nothing is sacred, from the late-night rendez-vous with your husband in your own bed to a trip to the bathroom. One battle-weary, early-parenting memory permanently seared into my brain is having to lug a big, loudly fussing baby with me to the bathroom a putting her on my lap as I peed so she didn’t wake up my husband, who had to go to work in the morning.
- Ditto for all the things you used to enjoy doing by yourself, such as shopping for wine or trying on clothes. I once saw a woman usher a toddler and a preschooler into the handicapped dressing room at The Gap, then wheel in a giant double stroller full of baby before shutting the door behind her. I’m sure she got in a lot of quality shopping that day. Luckily for me, our fabulous local discount wine-and-liquor warehouse, the Wine Library, has a GIANT fish tank filled with a variety of tropical fish on the second floor. When the girls were smaller and with me 24/7, I’d tell them we were going to the Millburn Aquarium when I needed to make a liquor run.
- Bathroom Privacy: When’s the last time you went to the bathroom in your own house with the door closed? Yeah, I thought so.
- Personal Grooming: Brushed hair now counts as presentability; a shower means you’re out to make a good impression (PTA meeting/job interview), and makeup means it’s your BFF’s birthday/Girls’ Night Out/high school or college reunion.
- Personal Hygiene Threshold: How low can you go? In a former life, if I ever had to share a beverage with a close friend, I’d simply say with faux generosity when she handed it back, “No, that’s okay, you can finish it. I’m fine.” In the past 10 years, however, I have routinely consumed half-eaten leavings from the plates of my offspring, and–in dire, drought situations–handed them the lone water bottle first, meaning I got to belt down a mouthful of floaties. And then there’s the impetus for today’s non-hurricane-related post: The Funky Towel. I remember when we were young my younger sister was slightly pickier about food than I was, so if there was a too-dark piece of toast on the table my mom would eat it and pop another in the toaster for my sister. Today I did not consume burnt toast, but I did get out of the shower and dry off with The Funky Towel. Why? Because it’s summer and perfectly nice and clean towels get smelly after one usage since they never fully dry in this humidity, then guess who gets to launder an entire linen closet full of not-even-dirty towels? I’ll just wrap my anomalously clean body in the musty funk, thanks.
- Expedient Mompromises: These are arguably the worst, as they mitigate not only the person you thought you were but the newly reconstituted MomPerson you thought you had become. For example, The Lawyer didn’t watch TV before she was walking, and then only PBS shows like Sesame Street, Teletubbies, and Dragon Tales. I made her first birthday cake from scratch and sweetened it with honey and agave nectar; she was almost 2 before she tasted chocolate for the first time.
- Meanwhile, The Free Spirit’s (child #2) very first food at the tender age of 5 months were Goldfish crackers snatched from her sister’s hand. Her TV repertoire expanded to include Barney, as well as assorted Rugrats videos that were administered when I needed to grade papers (I was working as an adjunct professor at the time). When pregnant w/The Diva, I used to pop in the newly purchased Brother Bear movie for the tiny Lawyer and Free Spirit and gratefully snatch a gestational nap. When awakened by, “Mommy, mommy, the video’s over!” I would remotely direct The Lawyer, age 5, to press rewind and play it again. The Diva was pretty much the final nail in the coffin of my ÜberMother standards. She was the first one raised on Nickelodeon shows; at age 2 she surprised me by counting to 10 in Spanish at the playground. When I incredulously asked where she’d learned that (Daddy? Innate genius?) she responded: “Dora.” Oreos? Processed lunchmeats? White bread and Costco birthday cakes? Check, check, and check.