On the way home from preschool, my middle daughter usually keeps up a steady stream of inane chatter. She talks about the art projects she did that morning and conversations we had yesterday. I give myself permission to listen with only one ear, rotating through several noncommittal exclamations. “Really? Hm. That sounds interesting.”
But this afternoon, as she gazes out the window toward the scruffy, green pines lining the far side of the highway, she is quiet. I appreciate the relative silence of our drive, the ample room it provides for my wandering mind, until she suddenly announces, “I never want to be a mom.”
I’m glad she can’t see my face directly as I process this statement. Never? I struggle briefly with feeling judged, hurt that my life as a stay-at-home mom already feels like an inadequate aspiration to her. What does she see in me that makes her want the opposite?
“Why not?” I ask, searching for her face in the rearview mirror. I keep my voice light and even, in the small, (probably) vain hope that she will forget all about this if I don’t make it a big deal. Like all preschoolers, she has a fickle way of disregarding things I’d like her to remember, but grabbing the horns of ideas I wish would run away.
“Because I want to be a ballerina. And a real artist!” she exclaims. In the edge of the mirror, I can see her wide, earnest eyes as she turns toward me.
“Oh,” I say lamely. After a pause, “You know, mommies can do all kinds of things! You could be a dancer and a mommy if you want to.”
“I know!” she replies gamely, tilting her head forward and raising her palms for emphasis. She pastes on her biggest squinty-eyed smile. “But…” she trails off for a moment. Then her voice takes on a squeaky cheerfulness, rising in pitch as if she is opening door number 3 to reveal my prize. “I just don’t want to be a mom.”
I want to tell her that I found myself after becoming a mother. Not in that cheesy, motherhood-made-me-whole kind of way. No. Being a mother pushed me to the absolute end of myself. When I was hanging on by a thread, that’s when I finally started wondering what I wanted from my life. That’s when I finally remembered my childhood dream of being a writer.
Ta-daaa! I want to shout. I’m doing it! I’m doing now what I didn’t have the courage to fail at before motherhood.
I want to tell Caitlin about this recently rediscovered joy. I want to tell her that being a mom won’t stop her from doing the things she loves. Moms can be artists and coaches and entrepreneurs and engineers. If you want to make something amazing happen, just ask a mom.
But I button my lips. I know that trying to force this issue, trying to convince Caitlin that God may call her into motherhood, or that motherhood is worthwhile, will only make her dig in her heels.