In my mind, I put on my A-line, knee-length skirt and my tasteful navy pumps. I button up my capped sleeve, silk blouse and slip on my heirloom pearl necklace. I apply just enough lipstick to brighten up my face and a couple quick swipes of mascara. Then I put on a cheerful blue apron and shepherd my son into the kitchen where I let him rummage around in the pots and pans cupboard while I whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and let him taste one warm (but not too hot) out of the oven. I expertly wipe the chocolate from his mouth while transferring the cookies to a cooling rack and turning off the oven. Then I hang my apron on a hook, unnecessarily smooth down my hair and carry my son to the living room for book reading and snuggles.
In real life I throw on a ratty, old t-shirt and jean shorts. I lace up my sneakers and shove my frizzy hair under a baseball cap. I don’t remember the last time I wore any makeup at all. While my son rummages in the pots and pans cupboard I frantically rush around the kitchen, throwing together peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and sniffing the milk to see if I can stretch it one more day before going to the grocery store. I crazily fling myself across the kitchen to catch the mop which is falling out of the broom cupboard onto my son’s head while closing the refrigerator door with my foot. Then I wipe the peanut butter off my hands, ineffectually dab at the jelly stain on my shirt and carry my son to the living room for destruction and mayhem.
I don’t know who this mom in my mind is. She certainly isn’t anyone I’ve ever been. It’s not a function of motherhood that I dress the way I do or that I exist in a constant state of mild panic. I’ve always been this way. I spend just as much time on my appearance now as I did before my son was born. I eat just as much peanut butter and jelly. I haven’t changed. But that mom is still there, in my mind.
The mom in my mind leaps up to greet her husband as he comes home from work. She doesn’t fling the baby at him the moment he walks in the door and she doesn’t suggest they order take-out from the weird Chinese food place downstairs. She acknowledges that, just as she’s been working hard at home all day, he’s been working hard at the office and she gives him a little space to change his clothes and look at the mail before she rushes off to the bedroom to stare at the wall and breathe in and out. She is as put-together, calm and in control in the evening as she was in the morning when her husband left for work.
She is there in my mind. But she isn’t me.
My friends tell me to let this other mom go. What’s the point of trying to be someone you’re not? They say I should just love myself the way I am. And it’s tempting. My husband does. My son certainly does. But I’m ambitious. Being a stay-at-home mom is the job I chose. And it’s a job I love. It’s been my aspiration all my life. So I want to do it well. And while most days that mom lives only in my mind, there are some magical, crystalline days on which that mom is me. Or at least, I embody some part of her. My son and I make cookies. I tidy the living room. I put on a skirt.
So even though no one would fault me if I sent the mom in my mind away to plague some other housewife with her perfection, I think I’ll keep her. She’ll stand on a pedestal in her tasteful shoes, the ideal of motherhood to which I aspire. I mean, we all need something to strive for, don’t we?