4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
The other day I heard that Tori Amos song on the radio. I was driving in the minivan, picking the kids up from school. I was loaded… with carseats and backpacks and disgruntled little people asking why I had brought oranges for snacks.
If they’d had the words, it would have sounded like this, “Why the f@*# are you giving us these s#!++/ oranges?!” And they’d have pelted me in the head with clementines. Like oranges are such tragedy.
It was the song that begins “Excuse me but can I be you for awhile?”
It was one of those songs I’d listen to while I painted my senior year of college. Paintings that quoted Frida Kahlo and looked like I’d been studying too much Alice Neel, like I needed to be naked but hated being naked, like I’d fallen in love with Cadmium yellow but couldn’t be bothered to clean my brushes.
I got something to say, you know, but nothing comes.
Yes, I know what you think of me, you never shut up
I remembered this song so vividly: from the relationships where I erased myself, the moments with my family when I erased myself, the jobs where, well, a little bit I erased myself. Overachieving, overachieving, jazz handssssss.
I remembered it from the summer job where I’d arrive at the quaint bake shop as the sun rose and I’d bake exquisite cookies for the people driving to the private pearly white beach up the road. The job where I’d sweat in the tiny kitchen and lose myself in huge mixing bowls and measuring cups and the sweet hot smell of cookies. That was a disappearing that I could get behind. I was so happy there even if I wasn’t always happy with myself, even as I resented the quilted chub-suit coating my midsection thanks to those amazing cookies.
But what if I’m a mermaid, in these jeans of his with her name still on it?
Hey, but I don’t care ’cause sometimes, I said sometimes I hear my voice.
And it’s been here… silent all these years
The kids fell silent as I sang every last word lost in memories of long-ago painting studios and summer job kitchens.
“But where do you know that from, Mama?
“How do you know that?”
“Where’s that song from?”
“What’s that from?!”
They were insistent in that bad boyfriend way they have, that way that says they love you, they need you, they couldn’t live without you, but everything you do is slightly less than what they’d hoped from you, and also, where are you going? And also, how do you know that song?!
I wanted to tell them it was one of the first songs that saw the me inside the me. But I’m not sure they’d understand. I wanted to say that this is how it felt to feel my toenails growing, to not be able to touch my own skin, to want to crawl out of myself.
I wondered, especially for my girls, what their songs might be.
Watching the 2015 Grammys this year next to my husband in bed, I was stunned by the utterly odd, totally visceral performance by- “Wait, who is that? Who’s singing? Is that lady in the white wig singing? Wait, is that Kristen Wiig? Is that the little girl from Dance Moms? This is stunning. I am stunned.”
My husband helplessly replied, “Do you live under a rock? Didn’t I set up a Spotify account for you? Gees. It’s Sia. It’s Chandelier, baby. It’s the number one downloaded song on Spotify.” (Ah, my totally hip husband gets me again.)
I lay in bed in the dark long after he’d gone to sleep and watched that live Grammy performance again and again on my iPhone. Is this the kind of heart-wrenching, soul-spewing song my girls will choose? Oh, yes.
Gotta get out now, gotta run from this
Here comes the shame, here comes the shame.
And so today in the car my six-year-old daughter asked me what my favorite song is.
“Thunder Road. What’s your song, baby?”
“Shake it Off. And also, Fireworks, by Katy Perry,” my smart, complicated, nurturing little girl answered, the one who got the stomach flu because she was the only one who would get near her twin brother when he had the stomach flu, the one who will purposefully get her older brother to hit her because some attention is better than no attention, the one who rocks the soccer field without knowing she’s doing it, the one who said she hopes I don’t get F-A-T (she spelled it) even though I aggressively proclaim how gorgeous all our bodies are, even mine, even my saggy twin-pouch, 44-year-old midsection.
She is also the one who moodily declares how bad a mom I am, and then minutes later, how I am the best mom in the world.
You don’t have to feel like a wasted space
You’re original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow
Maybe a reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow
And when it’s time you’ll know
You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July
And this is what I’d choose for her.
Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, some romantic interests will be fake, fake, fake. Perhaps there will be a multitude of moments in a studio or before a computer, in front of a mirror or in someone else’s bed, or at a mixer in a kitchen filled with the sweet smell of cookies, filled with self-loathing. (Can we ever avoid this self-loathing completely?)
But what I would wish for my dear, sweet, strong daughter, and for all of the fragile little girls that reside in the heart of grown-up women everywhere, if my wishes could make this true, you will shake it off. You will ignite. Not silent, not ashamed. Never silent. Never ashamed.
You’re gonna leave them all in awe, awe, awe.
Boom, boom, boom,
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon.
Even brighter than the moon. Boom.