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Mother's Day is Sunday and while I usually feel uninspired to write what feels so overwrought, I had a thought this week -- half asleep and underwater after an unusually hard time.
I was watching Bo build houses with her Lincoln Logs when all at once she ran out ...
It wasn't just one house she was working on. It was several. Four, maybe five ... six ... she became frustrated when she realized she had used all the blocks in the box -- that there weren't enough logs to finish the roofs and that all of her little houses would remain unfinished unless she ... BAM! ... knocked them all over.
Which is exactly what she did.
"But Bo!" I said. "You can't expect to build all of those little houses with that one box! There just aren't enough ..."
In the beginning it's just us ... little girls who come of age. We have our box of blocks and every morning we work on building our little wooden houses just so ...
We have enough blocks to build something complete, even grand. Something that is ours. THIS IS WHO I AM, we say, finishing our houses. THIS IS JUST FOR ME.
Years later, when we grow up a little bit, start working entry level jobs we realize we need to build another house. A house to work in ... to make money in ... a house that allows us autonomy --- to support ourselves financially, to pay rent, bills, a car payment.
Our little box of bricks gets a little more difficult to navigate. We have enough blocks to build two houses -- personal and professional -- but it would be really nice to have more bricks. So we peruse ... look around, ask a friend, a parent, strangers. We borrow a brick here and there. For those of us who have a hard time asking, we attempt to make our own out of paper and glue, sticks from outside, stones.
For many of us, we will prioritize our professional houses. Because they need to look presentable. They need to bring in money. Respect. Our livelihood. Professional houses must look strong, especially for women. They must look sturdy. Dependable. Modern.
And our personal houses ... well, they have to take a backseat. They just do.
Later on, when we find a partner ... we realize we have to build another house. A relationship house. We go back to our box, realize its empty, shift some blocks around in order to build our third house. Some of us have an easier time than others. Some of are natural engineers. Some of us, not.
Most of us don't have enough blocks to build three sturdy houses at once, let alone two. We have to choose which house is most important. We pull from our first house because we are willing to sacrifice ourselves above all...
It isn't anyone's fault. There just aren't enough bricks. So one by one we pull from our personal houses... like Jenga... hoping it won't fall.
Because relationship houses need to be maintained regularly for them to stand strong. Because we expect our personal houses to be there regardless. Because it isn't just about me anymore, we say. It's about us.
So we rearrange the furniture and split our blocks in half.
Meanwhile our professional houses suffer. Because gender roles are in ALL OF OUR ears. Because we cannot help but want to be taken care of... in the ways men and women have been programmed to depend on one another... for care.
I need you to support me.
But I need you to support me, too.
We don't know what that looks like because for thousands of years, everything was different. And progress cannot change the past. Osmosis cannot be reversed. Not yet, anyway. There is too much we have inherited through bloodlines and bedtime stories...
We can't help but want certain houses to look certain ways.
So we build and rebuild and work with what we have...
A child is born.
And that child needs his own house. He has his own needs that are not personal. Or professional. And these needs become priority because he/she is too small to build his/her own house. We pull more blocks from our various houses. Relationships change. Career goals change. Our personal house falls to the side.
Some of us will then go on to have another child.
And another and another...
Pulling blocks from everywhere in the process.
From the relationship house.
And the career house.
And the other children's houses...
But most notably, from our own house... the personal house. The original structure. The one that was JUST FOR ME. JUST FOR YOU. The one that resembles something else entirely now.
Sometimes we think maybe it's altogether gone.
Certainly some of us have days where we can't find it... where we're not sure it exists anymore.
"Is a feeble house a house at all?" we ask ourselves.
"Can we seek shelter inside rooms without walls?"
People warned us years ago and we rolled our eyes because we were strong and capable. Of raising confident children. And maintaining a sturdy marriage. Pursuing a career...
"I'll never be like that," we said.
"I've got this. Muscle arm emoji."
We were right. WE ARE STRONG and capable. But somedays we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror, shaking our heads... Somedays we yearn for the house we had all those years ago -- the house that was JUST for us. The house that we cannot, even if we wanted to, rebuild.
Lately I have had a hard time finding my own little house... The one I started with. The one I have always told others to maintain. The one that belonged SOLELY to me. The one that had nothing to do with my marriage, career, children...
And when I do stumble upon its remains -- survey what's left... I can't help but remember how it used to look... when it was just one house -- THIS house... before I had to break off a rib and then break off another rib and then break off four more...
It's hard to breathe when you've pulled your ribs out of your chest.
It's hard to rebuild your primary home when you've run out of materials.
You would have to make them in order to create something for yourself. Or take from another house.
Adam was a mother, you see. And Eve was her child...
Because my daughter's house and my other daughter's house and my other daughter's house and my son's house have been the houses I've hung my mirrors from. Perhaps that is where they are safest.
After all, their structures have always been the sturdiest of the bunch.
"But Bo!" I said. "You can't expect to build all of those little houses with that one box! There just aren't enough..."
And I started to think about all of the women, all of the mothers, whose personal houses are shrinking, falling, caving in and how frequently, quietly we go looking for our starter homes -- searching for the smoke that once swirled from our chimneys, only to find that it's gone.
I thought of all the women -- all the mothers, who some days find themselves resenting the other houses... and all of the bricks they had to pull from their own roofs to build new, structurally sound homes for spouses, and jobs and children.
And how sometimes we can't help but crack under the pressure of having no place to call our own. Sometimes hearing our names called from all the houses at once makes us want to run away...
But those aren't even my name.
Sometimes being celebrated for being a mother feels hollow because we know that part of ourselves already. It's all the other parts we can't find.
Because we are so many things to so many people.
And so few things to ourselves.
We don't mean to be cynical.
We are grateful for everything -- for every house... we would change nothing about our lives. But in the same way we celebrate our gratitude, recognizing our frustration can feel like such relief.
Like, FUCK THESE BRICKS. I WISH THERE WERE MORE BRICKS.
I would be lying if I said I didn't sometimes miss MY HOUSE.
I would be lying if I didn't admit that so much of what I've built outside myself has been from materials that used to be JUST ME.
Sometimes I don't know where to go...
Because building homes from everyone else has meant knocking much of mine down.
And I wish this post was more eloquent than it is... I have a small window of time to write this post and no time at all to edit... I have a small window of time before I have to pick up my kids from school.
And my husband comes home.
Which is why I'm going to stop this post now.
Like its house.
Like ALL of my houses.
Because I feel this great need to let anyone who needs to know know that it's okay. That NONE OF OUR HOUSES could ever possibly be finished. We don't have enough blocks. And sometimes that realization is so overwhelming I cannot help but knock them all over...
And that's okay, too.
It's okay if all of our houses are in disarray.
Building houses is fucking hard when there's only so much brick...
There are only so many blocks in our boxes.
Sending love and light to every one of you -- wherever you are -- in whatever house you're struggling to build/rebuild/mend/find/realize.