Making a meat pie for your infant requires love, patience and every pot you own, but yields unexpected delights.
First, broil a gorgeous piece of meat. It should cost the price of Italian shoes. Then gather fresh vegetables, about 60 different kinds. Peel, de-seed, chop, and roast. Next, make mashed potatoes from scratch. Since your infant lacks teeth, locate the Cuisinart, which you have never used, dust out the stray hairs and dead bugs from its container; try to figure out the blade while avoiding amputation. Place all of the ingredients into its belly and push GO. Feel terrific about this milkshake of meaty love you’ve created for your son.
Later this afternoon, feed it to him in spoonfuls at a downtown café, ignoring stares from the People Without Children who have only recently awakened for the day. Just don’t be too surprised when the meat milkshake is barfed out at such violent velocity that you will be picking this meat pie from your bra in the restroom. How did it get in there, you will wonder, and why does it look exactly the same coming out as it did going in? Try not to be secretly thrilled about the horrified faces of the People Without Children, as, not unlike the prom-goers in the movie Carrie, they get sprayed with the creamy, beefy puke.
The meat pie is just one example of what happens when I do not work. The workaholic self creeps, ghost-like, into the body of the mothering self. And when I work, the mothering self raises her eyebrows, hands on hips, and wags a guilt-inducing finger. Working and mothering is a devastating dance. The question is how can I be perfect at both?
As a commercial director, I am lucky. When I work, I work hard. But days go by where the only time spent with Owen is when he is asleep. My jobs last a month. This is exquisite torture. When I am not working, I am home. We reconnect like long-lost lovers; we kiss so passionately and so often, my husband says, “That looks weird.”
The transition between the two is never seamless.
Here is what happens when I AM working:
About six months ago, I took Owen to a music class. I was in the middle of a big job but sneaked out for one precious hour. We were sitting in a circle, in an echo-y, blonde dance studio, my son shy and clingy, when in walked another mother-son duo. Owen’s eyes went wide and he said, “Mommy?”
This mother looked a little like me–dark hair, big eyes, a red sweater like mine. I smiled. Shrugged at the other moms.
Until Owen got up, toddled over to her and shrieked, “Mommy!” His tiny voice was suddenly large, looming in the hall. A little amused, a little embarrassed, I pulled at his arm–“No sweetie, I’m your Mommy.” He shook his head. He pointed to her. “Mommy!” He climbed into her lap and buried his head into her bosom, her pillowy, full bosom–my own bosom having long since melted into candle wax drippings. She was the better version of me, softer, rounder; available. The other mother’s son was busy strumming on the vent at the back of the room, so she said it was fine and cuddled my son.
It was a lonely walk back to my orange mat on the floor. Singing the “Lone Ranger” theme song with the group, a cappella no less, is impossible when your heart is broken. He howled when I pried him from her at the end of class.
That night, I called my pediatrician, Googled “reincarnation,” and sobbed in the shower.
The other day, Owen and I entered Washington Square Park, when we stumbled upon a film crew. I ran into Reggie, the camera assistant from my crew.
“Whatcha shooting?” I asked him.
“A commercial for Puma,” he said.
“Hmmm. Puma. I did a Puma job once.” I tried not to sound, god forbid, jealous.
After we waved our goodbyes, I couldn’t help but think of the great job I did for Puma. People said it was an especially good Puma commercial. Therefore, shouldn’t I do all the Puma jobs? I mean, how could they, the Puma Corporation, do a job in my own backyard without me? With one eyeball on my son and one across the park at the film crew, I strained to relax and ignore that green ache in my stomach.
Then a little boy with a tiny Afro came into the park with Thomas the Train and my son went absolutely ballistic. My son covets trains the way I covet jobs. And Tiny Afro wasn’t sharing. Owen picked himself up and threw himself to the ground repeatedly as though bouncing on a bed. He banged his head on the gravel. He screamed, “Thomas! My Thomas!” and did that thing two year olds do.
And as he flailed, with snot streaming into his neck, I suddenly threw myself to the ground and cried, “MY JOB, MINE! Mine-oh-mine-oh-MINE!” I stamped my feet. I banged my head on the gravel.
And I screamed. I screamed for all the jobs I would do and all the jobs I wouldn’t do. I screamed for the look on my little one’s face when the nanny shows up. I screamed for the look on my mother’s face, the way she raises her eyebrows when I tell her I won another job. I screamed for the lascivious producers who have asked me on break, “You gonna go . . . pump?” I screamed because there are too few hours in the day. I screamed for guilt and ambition, for love and for death. I screamed and bawled and flailed and thrashed. Then there was silence.
There is something to be said for a tantrum. My son and I caught each other’s eyes lying there on the pavement by the slide, the gravel sparkly in the sun. We both sniffled, rubbed our eyes because we were tired, realized that maybe we needed a snack and definitely a hug.
Slowly, we got up and went to each other. I smoothed out my red raincoat. I helped him into his stroller. I wiped both our noses. And as we strolled past the shocked nannies and mothers, past the Puma ad agency and crew, it occurred to me that there is no perfect and there never will be.
My son and I went home and had lunch. Since I was not working and we had the whole afternoon in front of us, I decided to make a meat pie, of sorts. This time, we made it together, out of hot dogs and string cheese and leftover spaghetti.
It just might be the most delicious thing yet.