It is freezing in the Midwest today. The kind of cold that gets in your skin and doesn’t go away all day, no matter how many layers of clothes you put on, or blankets you cuddle under, or how long you leave the fireplace on. I have a notoriously low body temperature all the time, my hands and feet are almost always like ice, and so when the Midwest finally gets cold like it is today, I know I will not officially warm up until June. It’s far too cold to go out and do anything so I layer pajamas on and decide to hibernate.
Sunday is my chore day, my day to accomplish things around the house. I do laundry and change the sheets on the bed. I wash dishes, and start cooking meals for the week ahead as we both hate to cook after getting home from a long work day. I pack lunches, and tidy rooms and vacuum and collect trash for Monday’s pickup. It’s a thorough run down of what needs done; a routine of domestic tasks. I don’t particularly want to admit it to MJ, as I rather enjoy the advantage of being the “productive house-conscious” one, but I like the routine. I enjoy the sense of completion, the pride of crossing something off my “to-do” list, and the overall outcome of a cleaner, neater, more organized living space. Everything is in it’s place, everything is ready for the week ahead, and that makes everything easier for me. Life, for me, always feel better when well organized.
This Sunday is no different, except that I do all my chores in a turtleneck, heavy sweater and wool socks, and while drinking copious amounts of hot tea. MJ is coming down with a cold and he stretches out on the couch with Munchkin curled at his feet and a book in his hand. On more than one occasion I’ll walk past with the laundry basket and find he’s fallen asleep. I tell myself if I get everything done, I can join him. The Cat follows me for most of my activities. She enjoys the feel of laundry fresh from the dryer, and she stands on a chair and meows at me while I cut vegetables for a pot roast, insistent that if I am in the kitchen I must be there to feed her. When I head to the library and wrap little presents I got each of the nieces and nephews for Valentine’s Day, Cat follows and attacks each bit of ribbon I tie around the packages. It’s a pleasant day, a simple day, a household being run, and yet my mind is trailing off elsewhere.
When we first picked out our washer and dryer for the new house I wanted a washer that was front loading. At 5′ exactly I’ve always been annoyed by laundry machines I have to lean down into, barely able to reach the bottom with my stubby arms, and always with the rim pushed painfully against my breasts as I attempt to unload it. Unfortunately, the one we picked didn’t fit into our basement and we ended up with another top loading machine. Laundry is my domain. I always do it, mostly because I actually enjoy it (what is more wonderful than clean clothes?) and MJ hates it. But when we first starting trying to conceive I jokingly pointed out that if I got pregnant, he’d have to take over. With an expanded belly there was no way I could reach down and unload the washer.
It was only one comment said once, but now I think about it every time I do laundry. No matter what else is on my mind or what else is going on, the second I get up on my tiptoes and reach down toward the wet clothes I think of it, like some kind of muscle memory resurfacing. I feel the top of the machine press against my chest as I stretch my arms and I think, “if I get pregnant…” and then my thinking stalls.
There have been days I must admit, and I do so shamefully, that I have stopped. That I have stepped away from the washer and thought, what is the point of all this? What am I doing laundry for? What I am keeping the house clean for? Why do I make lunches and dinners and vacuum? I know why. I don’t mean to imply that I don’t. It’s just that there is this part of me that has reduced all these day to day household tasks into the work of a mother. This is what moms do, I will think sometimes, as I plan out our weekly meals and write up a grocery list. This is what moms do, I will think as I clean the dishes, or fold the laundry. This is not at all what moms do. But the good part of my brain that makes rational arguments and deconstructs stereotypes has been jammed up by fertility medicine and longing.
I never knew my own mother as anything other than a mom. That’s seems obvious, but it’s not really. My mom was and is a lot of things: she was a teacher and a student and a lawyer and a poet, and yet in my kid-sized mind she was always just my mom. In my childhood I didn’t know any adult woman who were not mothers. My aunts were mothers already or became ones when I was too young to understand they weren’t already moms. My grade school teachers were all mothers, and had pictures of their kids around. My first grade teacher would have her daughter visit when she has home from college and we were all awed and amazed at how old and mature and a daughter could be. My friend’s moms were moms, and quite literally that was all they were. I never knew any of their first names, I never saw them do anything other than fix us snacks or drive us to play dates or gymnastics. So when I saw my mom wash dishes or fold laundry, I thought, this is what moms do. And when I saw my friend’s mom make us lunch or cook dinners, I thought, this is what moms do. I knew in theory, though I didn’t know any, that there were women who weren’t moms, it just seemed that their life must be very different, cause they didn’t have to do any of those mom things, they could do whatever they wanted. This was, of course, the thinking of a child, and I quickly got over it.
For most of my life I have been an adamant feminist; an independent woman, and a single person with their own home. In all my years of single living I never thought about doing laundry, or dishes or cooking or other chores as something related to “being a mom,” as I had as a kid. These were the things I did for me, for a clean house, for my own happiness. Because after all, that’s exactly what they are and exactly why we all do them. Even moving in with MJ didn’t change that. Sure there are the days where you can’t stand to clean another of your partner’s dirty dishes or deal with another dirty sock on the floor, but those come for everyone and are for the most part, few and far between. I never questioned our life together, or the chores that went into it, never, until now.
Now that we long to be parents, now that I wish I could have that moniker of “mom,” I have some days where the laundry taunts me and the dishes upset me and the grocery list makes me sad. I have days where I step back and think, what is the point of all this?
I can say honestly, in complete sincerity, that this is one of the most ridiculous, inane thoughts I have ever had. I don’t know why I think it. I don’t know why I think it more than once. I have no good reason for explaining it other than to just admit that there is this pang of confusion and frustration that bubbles up sometimes and makes me think that I am not a mom. I am not, and here are all the mom-like things I am doing, and none of them make me a mom. That thought also makes no sense. As a feminist and former philosophy major, I’m embarrassed to admit to it. It’s gendered, sexist, and moronic – I get that moms do not enjoy doing chores and no one is stopping dads from doing it all. And yet, shame at this level of inanity has not kept this thought from coming up every now and then on a Sunday morning, bent over the washing machine.
This Sunday I think it once and then spend the rest of the day annoyed with myself. I am not doing laundry to be more mom-like, I am doing it because we need clean clothes. Nothing about ever being a mom or not impacts whether the laundry needs done. So I take the last load and dump it into the dryer and then, even though I am not finished with everything, I grab a book and curl up on the couch opposite MJ to read, because at least if I am busy reading it will be harder for my mind to think stupid things. But I should know better. For each page I read, I zone out a bit more and think about whether I’ll get to know what it means to be a mom, period.
Maybe it’s the cold, or maybe it’s just me being tired, but ultimately, I cut myself a little slack. I get up and head into the kitchen, and while checking on the pot roast I think to myself that maybe what’s going on is just that I am sad about not being able to have kids. Maybe I’m just trying to undo a lot of my past thinking. Maybe I’m trying to undo the assumption that I would be a mom. And I think that realization is just moving its way through each part of my life until I can get to the end and say: here is my life without kids, here is what it is going to look like, how it’s going to work, and here is who I am going to be. Because while MJ and I may be stuck in this land of limbo right now, waiting each month to see what will happen, hoping to turn into parents, the truth is that, no matter what, there will always be more Sundays, and there will always be more chores, and you have to chose to do them and live them as who you already are.