A Reflection on Womenhood on International Women’s Day by T. Ravenscroft
Growing up, my mother used to lock herself in the bathroom. To my adolescent concept of time, it seemed like hours. In reality, my mother was only inside for 10 minutes, speed-reading a trashy romance novel she was only allowed to indulge on the familial porcelain throne. But that measly 10 minutes became the butt of familial jokes for years – pun intended.
In a grim twist of fate, the only door in my house that locks is the bathroom. It’s 6:15 am. I’m straddling the toilet, per usual. My morning started 2 hours ago. Fueled by the drippings at the bottom of an orange juice carton, I rush to type the final sentences on a new script. I hear the faint crescendo of Alexa alarm clocks– I know my time is short… before THEY find me. Shadows creep under the door as the scratching begins. The door handle rattles. To quote Michael Crichton’s famous raptor scene in Jurassic Park, “they’re learning.”
Then wailing begins: “Mooooommmmm!”
Dismounting from the toilet lid with the grace of John Wayne, I steal a quick glance in the vanity mirror. I haven’t changed my shirt in three days. Plastered across my saggy chest, in the faux vintage typography indicative of any self-respecting Walmart motivational t-shirt, reads: “All Who Wander Are Not Lost”. But thanks to my lopsided mommy melons, the “st” gets trapped beneath my left underboob, so it reads more like “All Who Wander Are Not Lo”.
I pause, realizing I actually am Lost… and Lo.
I’ve been a mom since I was 19. I’m not asking for sympathy. I know how it happened. And while the ‘blessed’ virgin managed to have a baby with her “side ho”, my life’s script lacked the magic to warrant an entire religion, not mention book deals and tv adaptions. I kinda wish I had written it, think of the residuals.
But Jesus-jokes aside, I’m a sucker for a good story. One of my favorite folktales is the Selkie story. For those of you who aren’t familiar, here’s the highlight reel:
1. Magical seal comes ashore. Sheds her skin. BOOM! She’s a woman.
2. Perv man steals skin. Trades for eternal wifedom. Barters for a baby (or 6).
3. Baby #1 grows. Finds skin. Gives to Mom.
4. Mom Dips. Literally
I OVERSTAND the selkie mom. Feeling trapped. Craving freedom. And wanting to sprint naked into the nearest body of salty water.
I won’t lie to you. I regret having my kids so young. I wanted to finish school, to have my 20s- that time when we’re expected in a ritualistic dance of Western privilege to make bad decisions or slightly sketchy ones. To explore the jungles of the world or at least as far as my own bush- to do all the things that are supposed to help me find myself. I wanted my “Eat-Pray-Love” story, more like my “Eat -(Me Out) /Pray-(I Don’t Fail Econ)/Love- (My Body Enough to Stop Wanting to Vomit After Every Meal) story.
For years I tried to recapture this time. I’ve tried balancing a career, and raising kids and fantasized about the idea of actually going back and completing my degree. I’m still hoping one day they will just give me an honorary doctorate for my contributions to society through my work on a particular superhero franchise- which honestly has had more impact on society than the impending global warming crisis. Actually, I want a damn Nobel Peace Prize.
Flash forward 20 years later…I’m 40. With two marriages in the game and enough kids (double digits people) to start my own cult – my life is a reality producer’s wet dream. Plus the kids are an investment, as my retirement plan. I rest easy in the fact knowing that at least one of the kids won’t hate me enough to stick me in a nursing home #ShadyPinesMA.
Keeping a marriage together through a transcontinental move, a life-threatening illness (mine) and the collapse of the economy is rough. Oh, and there was also that little affair I had with a woman last year, who turned out to be one of the greatest love lessons of my life. Imagine a lesbian version of the Horse Whisperer. It was messy. But all of this is messy.
I say this with every fiber of my being: I don’t know what’s next. And as the mantle of motherhood begins to slide off my body, I struggle with who and what is underneath. I think some part of me hopes that “she” is still there. Untamed. Unexhausted. But who’s to say my life would have been any better, or more content had I… had she, never come out of the water.
So is the moral of the story to say fuck it, and slip back into the skin…my skin of ‘before’? Before I became what was expected of me. A statistic. When you’re knocked up at 19 it’s easy to get knocked down and stay down.
But I’m not the Selkie. I cannot dive back into the water, forgetting my experience on land. My home, my husband, and my children…that skin, the one of my former vision of myself, doesn’t fit anymore. It’s too small, and inexperienced. Because skin absorbs- taking in more than just water and air. It soaks up the places we’ve been. Our tears. Our laugh lines. Our scars. Our botox.
Maybe if someone actually asked the Selkie, if she really needed her skin, she would say no. With or without her skin, she still is wild; craving the rush of the wind, the darkness of the depths of the ocean. And regardless of what others see- her husband, her children, and her community, HER magic, HER power, resides within. It’s in her marrow; permeating bone. Swimming in her cells. Perhaps that is the real “Kinder Surprise” of this story: that she never really needed the skin at all.
So what is the answer? I’m asking you, as I type this. The women reading this. The mothers, the daughters, the sisters, and the grandmothers. How do we return to the ocean? Can I allow the past to be a part of me? Do I become a myth? Or do I morph into something else? Not simply a Selkie, but a new creature who doesn’t merely don the skin that was stolen from her, but rather takes it in her teeth, shredding it with her canines, letting it roll in her mouth, as her saliva mixes with her past. Swallowing whole all that she was; rolling in the digestive juices within the bowels of her being to become something new. Feral. Honest. Unapologetic. A new Folktale- that allows the Selkie to evolve, rather than stay in a story that was dictated to her…not for her.
I’m not saying this will be easy. The waves are always going to come. The ocean is always going to be there. Vast. Wide. Slapping me in the face with a salty surprise. And much like putting on your jeans after they have come out of the dryer, this new skill will feel tight and stiff, until I wear them, breaking them in.
I know I have to get better at swimming, but I trust I can never truly be lost…regardless of what my greasy t-shirt says. Lost is something that exists outside one’s self; outside of this new skin. Plus, if all else fails… I have Google maps on my water-proof Iphone, so I think I’m good…for now.
Happy International Woman’s Day!
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