Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Being a (Non)Parent

I didn't have time to paint my nails yesterday before class. Somehow I became too busy with about a billion different things over the weekend, all day Monday, and before I knew it I was jumping in the car and speeding out, using the commute time to pull together some semblance of composure that I hoped would pass for the real thing.

I know its a small thing, and about the last thing that should be on my mind. I've spent the majority of my life with unpainted, bitten, chipped, hangnailed and otherwise unbecoming fingernails, so why stop now? When I got engaged to the love of my life this summer, complete with a ring that's a family heirloom and nicer than anything than anything I ever could have imagined owning let alone actually being given, I resolved that I really was, for the first time in my life, going to take care of my nails. I went out and had my first EVER manicure, (such luxury!), and dug out my nail polish that's been coagulating on itself for the past three to five years. It sort of went along with a decision that my life is going to be more together, that I'll stop for fifteen minutes once a week or so and do something solely for myself.

Sitting in class for three hours, I had plenty of time to pick apart the ragged half-moon cookies the remainder of last weeks polish had receded into. I'd wanted my fellow classmates to see me as professional, polished (no pun intended), a woman who has her life together. But really life swirls around me in a chaotic turmoil of cookie crumbs, unceasing noise, toys strewn across the floor, and exuberant energy turning to fall-on-the-floor tired in less than ten minutes flat.

I'm not a mother, but I still have two children. The first is my much younger sister, who got pregnant as soon as she went off to college by her high-school sweetheart. They got married, it didn't work, and she came to live with me. My second child is her son, now just over two years, smarter and cuter than any two-year old monster should be!

A Rare Moment of Calm
I love my sister dearly, but she is a product of a different generation, and a person very different from me. Her daily activities are divided between MTV, those annoying Kardashian girls, and the rest of the time on Facebook. She has a lot of time for these activities, because she doesn't have a job, despite the fact that my nephew has been going to daycare all day for the past six months. So although she is now in her early twenties, I effectively have a two-year old and a teenager. But none of the concessions that the magic title of "mom" can bring, when you're frustrated, exhausted, baffled at the precosity of a two-year-old or the stubborness of a teenager who doesn't clean, or just don't have time to do your nails. I'm sure I'm one of many, stuck in this precarious position of being "mom," despite not having the title. Especially with the economic downturn, as so many are consolidating households in the efforts to make ends meet, grandparents, other aunts and uncles, sisters, family friends etc. probably unwittingly wind up in the parent role without the usual labor, delivery, and early stages of childhood just as I did.

I read somewhere recently, and I wish I could remember where, that society has no problem with the modern woman having both successful careers and families as long as they manage to still look good doing it. I wish! Whether we are real moms or just have kids at home, aunt-moms, sister-moms, grandma-moms, or Aunt Nana's (as I'm called), we betray the children in our lives in our appearance. Both what is there and what isn't, the smells of perfume or baby powder, jelly on our coats, dog hair on our shirts, the makeup we wear or don't have time to put on, the amount of children's toys at the bottoms of our purses, and, of course, the ragged and unpainted nails. Rather than the labels we are given, it is these small things about ourselves that constitute our identities. Instead of the hat I am currently wearing (parent, grad student, freelance writer, dog rescuer, cat lover, partner, confidante, sister, aunt, daughter), it is instead my faded and chipping nail polish that speaks volumes about my life, if anyone can spare the time to notice. Incidentally I just ran downstairs before publishing this post. My sister was drying her nail polish.


  1. Hi Anaya,
    WOW! My hats off to you, girl! How do you manage to keep all your "hats" in place? I'm a career woman (no children) and I still need more time in the day to finish all my tasks. Pat yourself on the back for all the wonderful things you're doing in the name of "love". Yep! That's what true love is. :)
    Cheers to you from Montreal!
    P.S. I came across your blog and stopped as soon as I saw the beautiful landscape in your background. So, I just became your 19th follower!

  2. Narrow little definitions of "family" just don't compare to the reality, that's for certain. I had a sister-mom. I've been an aunt-mom and an "other-mother."

    One piece of advice I got from a woman who traveled from India to Montana with two children under three--while pregnant--has got me through a lot of chaos: "You can't throw up your hands because the baby will hit the ceiling." That pretty much covers it. There is no giving up and it helps to have a sense of humor.

  3. You're pretty amazing. That man you're engaged to is pretty lucky and you'll make one heck of a mom to your own children someday. I'm leaving two awards for you on my blog.

  4. Thank you so much for the support! Blythe- Glad to know I'm not the only sister/aunt-mom out there :) Shellie - thank you! I'm actually the lucky one though on the fiancee, not many men would be willing to not only take on a neurotic writer/student/etc, but her crazy family as well. I think we all manage to get by simply because he's our shoulder to lean on, cry on, and spit-up on... he deserves a lot of credit for being uncle/brother-in-law/dad too!

  5. Anaya, My adult sister lived with us for more than a year recently due to a failed relationship and a lost job. She has no children but I have three. So I can empathize with your situation. I'm not quite sure how we made it through. There was a lot of deep breathing and temper controlling (most of the time), and eventually she got back on her feet and out on her own. So there's hope. :)