Envy will be the death of me. Or pride. Or greed. Whichever. I’m not even sure I know the difference. They’re all killers.
I went down a rabbit hole last night. I’m admittedly at a very vulnerable place physically, what with 8 weeks now of sleeping in 3 hour chunks, twice a night. They say to me “sleep when the baby sleeps” but I’m not really great at napping. About 10 years ago, I trained myself to do 20 minute power naps. I loved them. I would wake energized. 15 minutes wasn’t enough. 30 minutes and I wanted to sleep for an hour. 20 was the magic number. But since Huck, I haven’t really been able to do those at all. I don’t get into a deep sleep. I’m always listening for danger. I rarely dream, as I don’t drop into REM sleep anymore. I hover just below surface consciousness these days both in sleep and wake. So never fully sleep; never fully awake. I’m just tired. Bone tired. And, strangely, at the same time surprisingly alert. Like hyper alert. Hyper alive. Hyper sensitive. Hyper everything so that I snap and I cry and I laugh myself into tears at any moment. I’m vulnerable. Skin is on inside-out.
Right before I fell asleep last night I did something no new mother should do. I went down the social media comparison rabbit hole. I found someone I know doing something I want or with someone I know or possessing some talent I assume I don’t have and I scrolled through her feed for an hour. I have been so good lately, not doing that, not obsessing on envy. Mostly, I have felt extremely connected to gratitude. I scroll through Facebook, watching what others are doing with a sense of joy for them. Gratitude for knowing them. Happiness for their path. A sense that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing in the exact place and time I should be doing whatever it is I was led to do. And be. And feel. And mostly, I just want to applaud everyone from the sidelines or offer any help I can give while I’m sidelined. Grateful.
Except last night, I wasn’t. Last night I was jealous.
Like my addiction, jealousy sits there at all times, under the surface, above the surface, both at once, like an itch, like that sleep I can’t get. I forget about it, or I train myself to ignore it and replace it with better things like gratitude, like community, like service and humility. But there it is, just waiting for my exhaustion to trip me up and then – bam – it comes in like the killer it is. Ha ha! I KNEW you’d come back. Lust. Envy. Greed. Pride. Sloth. Gluttony, all of them. They were all there last night like an army of vampires, sucking on my blood, sucking on my serenity.
I’m a mother. I’m mothering. My time is spent in motherness right now and I have no choice in the matter. I don’t get to set my own schedule. I don’t get to choose when he cries and eats and poops and sleeps. He does what he’s going to do and I come crawling at his service, proferring comfort, proferring milk, proferring the woobie. I have learned skills I didn’t know I had. No poop scares me and I can change a diaper in 2 minutes flat. I’m an incredible maker-upper-of-songs-that-all-semi-rhyme-Huckleberry. I can swaddle like a boss. There is no task I cannot do with one arm. I can carry on a perfectly normal conversation with a screaming baby as if it’s just light background noise. I can wander through the day smelling of sour milk spit up that lodged in my hair that I haven’t washed and I barely notice. I don’t suck my stomach in anymore. I like my face without makeup. I am a mother of a newborn. Life is elemental now.
But before I was a mother, I was an ambitious, driven, artist, comparing myself to others, trying to be the best artist I could be, the best writer, the best singer the best performer the best the best the best the best until the best bested me and I was a crumpled exhausted pile of insecurity hidden by bullshit bravado.
That self seems so boring to me now in hindsight.
I still want to create and perform and write and sing and teach and find out what is inside me (just under the surface, like sleep) and grow and cultivate community and learn new licks on guitar and become a better piano player and sing like my friend Bonnie Bishop, even though there’s no way I’ll sing like her because I sing like me, but I love how she sings, all rasp and soul and fluid melismatic blues licks, while I just hold a note like a bird which somehow seems less than, even though the real sober serene, well-meditated Amy knows that neither is better, both are necessary in this world. Damn. See what I just did there? I just went from a list of healthy goals to a comparing myself to someone I love who I know is different to a rabbit hole of insecurity. And Bonnie Bishop is one of my favorite people. An incredible singer. And I’m just thrilled she is in the world singing. The world needs Bonnie. But I just did that. Went there. And it hurt a bit. A decade ago I did that with Anais Mitchell, who is a lovely, lovely woman, and a friend, and a genius and the world is a better place with Anais Mitchell and her songs in it. And yet, at my weakest, I can think to myself, well, if Anais Mitchell is writing songs like that, what’s the point in me writing anything. I give up. If I can’t be a genius…then what’s the point. And then I can look at the social media version of someone, they have art and genius and a baby and live in a cool place with a cool haircut and they look skinny and are 10 years younger than me – I can look at all that, make up some fiction about how that’s better than and they are happier than and in less time than it took me to change the last diaper, I have metaphorically burned my journals and quit all of it.
Now, please know, I know this is stupid. I have had enough therapy/recovery/meditation/prayer and I have enough friends to call me out on my bs to know this is not real. This is my brain on addiction. Lying to me.
And “this too shall pass.”
But while I’m waiting for it to pass, it hurts. This has little to do with motherhood, you may think. But see, no. It has everything to do with motherhood. Because we mother ourselves and when I go there, I orphan myself. Before Huck was even an idea, all I had to do with think about myself and my little plans and designs and I had all the time in the world to follow those desires. I don’t anymore, so my art is segmented into small chunks of time, like sleep.
Right now, I sit here in the rocking chair with a novel next to me and my son is in his crib. My husband is out so I bathed him and sang to him a song I made up with strange Huckleberry rhymes (‘squiggle levy’, ‘stuck on geddys’ ‘truck is heavy’) as I poured warm water over his skin. I dried him off and he laughed. I swaddled him and he didn’t cry. And then I laid him on the cool sheets, turned on the mobile of whales singing “rock a bye baby”, read him “Goodnight Moon” for the first time in a sing-songy high voice like my grandmother did for me, and watched him fall asleep.
A few years ago I would have said I had made a choice to not be a mother. To live the rest of my life chasing this dream. To live on the road, in small towns, on back roads, playing my songs with a marginal amount of fame and be satisfied. I was lying. I wanted the big cities and the big stages and the accolades and to be invited to the cool parties and to be considered Great. And being a mother didn’t fit into that paradigm. There was nothing sexy to me about being a mother or living in the suburbs because the housing is more affordable and the nearest Target is less than a mile away. But here I am. In between the nearest Target and Home Depot with spit up in my hair and milk stains on most of my shirts from my breasts leaking, wearing granny underwear rather than thongs because my C section scar still hurts, hoping for just 15 minutes of quiet while he naps before the 11pm feeding.
I don’t have time for jealousy or sloth or pride or gluttony when I’m here with him. It’s elemental. Down to the bones. Stripped down. Simple. Like the sound of his breathing. Like the music I make with the voice I was given that can’t do an r&b run but can do it’s own thing. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be learning in this season. My friend came to visit tonight and she said I seemed centered in something new. A Kali.
Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be learning about my own art. Maybe my mother-self is teaching my artist-self what my voice sounds like. And it’s simple. No frills right now. And I’m not going to learn that going down any social media rabbit hole when I should be sleeping. I should just be sleeping.