The conversation usually goes like this:
Person: Wow! Congrats on getting into NYU! That’s an incredible opportunity.
Stacey: Aww, Thank you. I’m really excited.
Person: Is your son going?
(Here, as we say in theatre, is a “beat”. The length of the “beat” usually depends on how many times I’d been asked that question within 48 hrs. The extent to which I go to explain my choice is directly proportional to the level of maternal guilt I’m feeling that day, but it all boils down to this:)
Stacey: No, He’s not going (… insert excessive rambling here as needed.)
(Next, the reaction. It varies and is typically some combination of: 1. A “beat”, some type of facial grimace, followed by an expulsion of air … usually from the mouth and then 2: Oh … )
Person: … who is he staying with?
Me: …my mom.
(Now, the conversation either ends here or rambles on in some awkward dance between my guilt and the other person’s judgement/the judgement I perceive them to have, then dies an even more awkward death in pregnant silence.)
This post is not an explanation of why my son will not be moving to New York with me. This post is about the fact that this question is always the first to be raised with mothers pursuing lofty goals.
I have watched my mother, and countless other mothers “sacrifice”, martyr their peace, happiness, and in some cases their physical existence for children who didn’t benefit one way or the other from said sacrifice. In some cases this “sacrifice” was ultimately the child’s downfall. Why? Because all that additional motherly love was enabling, that’s why. Mothers and specifically single mothers have for far too long worn the badge of the martyr, forfeiting any dreams or potential they had before they gave birth. It’s as if your goals and desires for yourself can’t exist in the same space as parenthood, or if they can, those goals and desires had better damn well be minimal and involve a papoose. (I just pictured my 5’8” 155lb 14 year-old strapped to me as I navigated Washington Square and died a little.)
Ye verily I say unto all the mothers who think they have to give up happiness and personal satisfactions in order to be a “good” mother … fuck all of that … in its entirety. I am a 37 year old woman with a lot of life left (hopefully), and a lot of shit I want to do. I love my son immensely and will not cease to handle my basic parental responsibilities, while also continuing to do everything within my power to guide him into a successful life. That, for me, is what parenthood is about. I refuse to give up my life as a testament to what a wonderful mother I am. I would rather live a full and purposeful life that can serve to inspire and empower my child into a better way of living. My pursuit of a full and purposeful life just happens to involve me being away from my kid for a while. This is not an ideal situation, but it is not Life’s job to serve up ideal situations. Besides, I’m pursuing graduate education for baby Jesus’s sake, not smoking crack. (Unfortunately, the latter in the eyes of some, seems to be a more acceptable reason for a maternal hiatus :/.)
Then there’s the shitty male/female double standard. If I were a father, even a single father, I don’t think anyone would give a second thought to me taking off to school or even better enlisting with the military and leaving my son with family. In fact, it’d be encouraged. This, in the eyes of some, makes a father joining the army, potentially being deployed to war, and killed a better choice than me, a mother, pursing higher education. I don’t blame fathers. Hell, I don’t even blame the people who ask me this question. It’s kind of just the way things are. We exist in a patriarchal society where the man goes out hunts the meat, clubs us over the head then …
Maybe you think I’ve written this assuage my guilty conscious and maybe you’re right. Maybe I don’t give a fuck* what anyone thinks. Maybe I do, but I shouldn’t because it’s my life. Square biz, I don’t know a parent who doesn’t have regrets about choices they’ve made raising their children. I know I will have regrets a plenty, possibly with the decision to leave him in Charlotte for two years topping the list. Time will inevitably reveal the decisions that will land my ass in a shitty nursing home per my son’s request. However, If I look at my parenting job so far I can honestly say the danger of me stewing in my own juices while medical staff is on break is pretty remote. All I can do is check with my gut, check with Sonny Jim, and pray for the best
*Please read the linked article ad nauseum. You will either become completely reckless, stop being afraid of what people think and live, or both. Shouts to KNKYTHT for sending it to me, it was the highlight of my week.