By Bethany Fitzpatrick
While sitting in the empty conference room and eating the pesto linguine you packed for my lunch, I think of your hands, so long calloused and cracked from working in the weekday weather, splintered and split like old leather, now seamlessly chopping garlic and stirring sauces, painting egg carton caterpillars, and cutting paper dolls in mirror images. When we finally figured out our roles in relation to each other and our child, that awkward dance, the music suddenly changed, and it was time for me to go to work and talk to grownups, while you stayed home playing Candyland and mopping up spills.
Of course, this makes it sound so easy. Any balance is precarious, and a balance with a child at the fulcrum is no less so. I remember, just after I had stopped working and we had moved into that blue Victorian house with the impossibly high ceilings and the paper thin walls, we had an intense fight that centered around your dirty laundry on the bathroom floor. I was eight months pregnant and hormonal as hell, but what I meant to say was that I didn’t know if I could do it, fulfill the roles of full-time housewife and mother too, relinquish all financial independence and gain control of dirty socks that slithered like snakes out of the hamper and all over the floor and dishes that multiplied like rabbits.
And in truth, that was only the first of several breakdowns. After the baby came, I felt caged and foreign, inept and confused, alone in the house all day with an infant who was completely dependent on me. I didn’t know who I was in relation to that tiny being or in relation to the man who had so long ago been my husband or even in relation to the me I had been. You didn’t know me either, and when you asked if things would ever return to normal, I knew you meant me, and I read the tremble in your voice as an accusation.
Some days I didn’t even get dressed, and the only other beings I spoke to all day were the baby and the dog, neither of whom spoke my language. Some days the smallest accomplishment required exhausting acrobatics and inexplicable juggling of time, baby, and other objects.
I remember after that first Christmas, it took all day and finally a melt-down to pack away the Christmas ornaments and take down the tree. Every time I shifted the baby from my arms to her Moses basket, her eyes popped open and she began to mew and fret. Finally, I laid down beside her, taut on the flannel sheets, and nursed her for over an hour, all the while picturing the tinsel strewn, unswept and shimmering, on the scuffed wood of the living room floor. I remember wishing on stars every night for nothing more than a solid block of uninterrupted sleep. I remember turning away from you when you wanted to make love.
I had left a world where there were essays to write, A’s to be earned, parties to attend. In this new world, there were no gold stars. There were no finished projects. There were only wails quieted to tears and whimpers and ever-growing piles of laundry. There were no late-night walks home from the bars with friends. There were only late-night walks back and forth on the creaky floors with a cranky baby.
When I finally emerged from the kaleidoscopic tunnel of new motherhood, blinking in the light of day, I realized I had no friends, and I was too tired to even try to have a social life. Of course, by then you had befriended the whole town with your humor, your wit, and your freedom to stop in at Chelsea’s after work for cold beers and conversation.
I hate to admit it, but I felt a remnant of satisfaction today when I realized that I had forgotten to leave you the car seat, hoping, I guess, that you might catch a glimmer of how I felt then. Hoping that with this new reversal of roles, you might have a chance to understand what it was like for me then.
It’s not that I want you to feel alone and overwhelmed now that you are the parent at home with a small child all day, but I want you to understand how hard it was for me for all of those months, the abyss I fell into, and the way that I struggled to make sense of it all. I want you to understand how it felt to begin all over again, the sea-change that was my becoming of a new self. I want you to understand how it felt to speak a language unknown even to babies and dogs.
Still, despite those days of isolation and frustration, it broke my heart to pry her fingers from my neck this morning and leave her crying in your arms. I’ll miss that time I had with her, and I am grateful that you are there to share it. I hope that this will be a chance for us to find a new balance, to reconnect as we readjust to our new roles.
I hope that this will be a chance for you to understand me then, her now, and you and I together.
Your Adoring Wife
About Bethany Fitzpatrick
Bethany Fitzpatrick has a M.A. in English from the University of Arkansas. She’s a full time mom, and a part time teacher and writer, who loves reading, dancing, singing off key, and playing in the dirt. She has published poetry in the Apeiron Review and Cliterature, and as well as an essay in Mothers Always Write. She has also self- published Becoming: A Journey to Motherhood, a chapbook of poems through Lulu press. Find her on her page on Facebook.