This essay originally appeared in the book Regeneration under the byline Loam Akasha-Bast
Betty Crocker, kiss my ass! Martha Stewart, bite me! The mask is coming off, girlfriends. I’m not going to be your Lunchbox Bitch. Ain’t gonna be no laundry whore. Deadbeat dads? We don’t need no stinkin’ deadbeat dads. I’m a bisexual, twenty-something, witchy single mama, from here on out referred to as Bi20s-WSM, and while some of the things I say might appall you, I’m here to tell the truth.
I chose to have a baby at age twenty-one and I chose to raise her alone. By the time I’m thirty – if my love life continues its one-act play – I will have spent all but one year of my twenties as a single mama. And let’s face it. Exploring your sexual identity while sharing a bedroom with a toddler inevitably stifles one’s inherent orgasmic nature.
Bi20s-WSM Personals: Snake-wielding priestess of the kitchen drain sludge seeks androgynous dishwasher punk for sexual housecleaning experiment. Big plus if naked Barbies in the bathtub turn you on.
Let’s assume our twenties are a time to explore our identity, our notion of self in relation to the “rest” of the world. Before we hit our twenties, most of our social interaction occurred with people within one to five years of our own age. We moved through elementary, high school and college as a herd. Then we graduated, high-stepped out into the Big World, and suddenly our peers were gone. Or at least their numbers seemed to have dwindled. Where once I was a college senior in a many-to-one relationship with my adult professors, I am now a Bi20s-WSM in a one-to-many relationship to these strange corporate beings with whom I work. And if being dropped on the doorstep of this grave new world, swaddled in nothing but a breezy liberal arts degree wasn’t disorienting enough, Motherhood severely mutated my connection to other twenty-somethings. Gone are the days when I club all night, crash on the couch of a friend only to wake up sometime the next afternoon. No longer can I afford to wait tables while working on a writing career. I can’t remember the last time I called up my best friend for a spur of the moment movie date. Come to think of it, I haven’t had a best friend since I was childless. Because of finances and childcare resources, I usually have one, – count it, one – chance for a childless social event each month. Talk about putting a damper on spontaneity.
Bi20s-WSM Missed Connections: My dear Spontaneous Interaction, I saw you on the bus today, headed downtown. Where have you been? I miss you. Come back to me. I swear I’ll make more time for you. How’s Thursday?
No matter how evolved my childless cohorts are, they are afforded an infinitely larger amount of freedom which creates a gap between our realities. I have loads of young childless friends, some of them partnered, some of them not, who are not only supportive beyond all reasonable question and love playing with my daughter, but who cannot possibly fathom why I never seem to have time to return their phone calls.
And no matter how much I may understand the parenting experience of the dual-income, mid-life-baby, suburban mama, our alter-identities are almost always disparate. I know dozens of great moms with whom I can talk for hours about bedtime routine strategies, car seat laws, and hunting for a good kindergarten, but who just don’t understand why I pierced my nose.
Bi20s-WSM Approved School: Upon learning that a kindergarten boy was teased by an older student for kissing another boy, the teacher replies: “You can kiss anyone you want to, as long as it is okay with them. It is nobody else’s business and the next time you get teased go find an adult to help you.”
Bi20s-WSM Denied School: Upon taking the tour, the smack-happy PTA mother announces, “If your child gets into this school, and you’re not prepared to work your butt off as a parent, then you’re not a good parent.”
I don’t fall for all that mother guilt. Okay, I’m lying. The socialized mother-guilt tape plays in my head almost as often as I find myself humming I’m A Little Teapot. There is a ridiculous amount of mother-guilt in our culture. Some would have you believe that the entire reason our society is going to hell is because of bad mothers. Let me just say that the pressure of the mother-guilt is even more constipating when you are also presenting yourself as 1) young and single; 2) bisexual; and 3) a witch.
From the Bi20s-WSM Horror File: Just spent my lunch hour inserting a rectal suppository up my constipated 4-year old’s ass. Sat near the toilet eating my lunch while she groaned and grunted. Yum.
The pendulum of identity exploration swings wide in our twenties. Experimentation is the name of the game. When I first (consciously) realized that I was attracted to women, I immediately announced myself a lesbian, ended a two year committed relationship, cropped my hair, started wearing boxers, and vowed to sleep only with women. I declared emancipation from the Penis and tried on my new identity as Vagina Lover. Two years later I ‘fessed up to the fact that I was also still a fan of the phallus. I identify as bisexual only because that’s the best explanation I have for my varying levels of attraction to different guys and gals. Even the word bisexual is only a benchmark on the spectrum of human sexuality. I feel a certain pressure to “equalize” my relationships with men and women in order to “prove” my bi-ness. What a load of crap. The truth is, I am attracted to – and have sex with – both men and women, but I seem to get emotionally involved more with men. The way I see it, we all have a range of attraction to different genders and those levels can change (or not) throughout our life. We get to choose the identity that feels most comfy; but we may not choose right the first time.
Unfortunately, this identity trial and error is rarely seen as a valuable process in trying to establish a sense of self. Even worse, one is expected to stop all that nonsense upon becoming a parent. The general public does not look kindly upon mothers who experiment with their sexuality or spirituality. Apparently, you are supposed to have the perfect (static) identity before you have children. You should have cultivated all your values with precision and accuracy and expect them to never change. That way you don’t mess up the young’uns too much by exposing them to sundry cultures, beliefs, attitudes, and lifestyles.
Old-School Mama-Rule #1: Mothers have no sexuality. They should have more in common with the Virgin Mary than with Mary Magdalen.
Being a witch, I’m down with the sacred feminine. The Goddess is all good things and the Goddess is all bad things. Actually, the Goddess isn’t really good or bad at all. She just is. She’s that delicious cross between the Marys. She is mother and temptress, creator and destroyer all rolled into one. If the Goddess can manage to simultaneously be maiden, mother and crone, I think I can pull off a little identity exploration in between the lunchboxes and laundry.
My path toward witchcraft was not so much a wildly swinging pendulum as it was an evolving path. When I first moved to San Francisco, I joined Glide Memorial Methodist Church, a diverse, cutting-edge church that (to my observation) practiced what it preached. Having grown up in a conservative Christian mid-western town, I was impressed by Glide’s radically inclusive message and community work. No matter how poor or marginalized you were, there was a place for you at Glide. While the message was right, the commute was a little far for me. I wanted to create spiritual community closer to home. I found a Unitarian Universalist Church in Oakland, just blocks away from my house. The UU church led me to CUUPS, the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, which opened me up to the beautiful earth-based spirituality known as Witchcraft. I just kept moving along toward what felt right. Each step of the way brought me closer to feeling grounded in my spirituality.
Identity is fluid. Who I am today is not necessarily who I’ll be tomorrow. I’ve had to let go of some of my expectations. My inner Mr. Rogers whispers, “The word for the day, dear mommies, is Surrender.” Surrender. Give up to someone or something; sign away my rights; acknowledge defeat. My twenties have been a time of little control over anything. No control over job, money, or sense of self. I’ve been living paycheck to identity paycheck, balancing an emotional budget and a baby on my knee. My sense of self has been eating Ramen for a half-dozen years but I suspect there is a freezer full of steak in the basement of my psyche, if only I can figure out how to get down there. This time in our human development begs us to give in to the discomfort of not knowing who we are and to acknowledge that self-doubt is a necessary step in the quest to find confidence. In fact, doubt becomes the fire that forges a strong sense of self-assurance.
In case you think I’m getting too preachy here, I must confess that part of me believes that as a mother, I’ve skipped all the ugly, nasty shadow work that is so integral to what authors Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner refer to as one’s Quarterlife Crisis. I can be kind of self-righteous about this sometimes. I mean really. Figure out my life’s direction? Carve out a personal identity? Resolve self-doubts? Balance the many demanding aspects of personal and professional life? Come on. I’m just trying to put food on the table. Baby needs a new pair of shoes, honey, and I ain’t got no time for self-exploration.
The truth is, the inner work just got infinitely more urgent. I’m caught in a paradox of ultimate tension. Not only am I responsible for the murky task of sorting out my own physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs, I’m also spearheading an eighteen-year campaign to determine – and supply – those basic needs for another small being. Parenting forces you to relate identity faster than you can dart a sick toddler’s projectile vomiting. Figure out what is important to you, and figure it out quick. Assume control, even if it feels like a paradox.
Motherhood is a subculture unto itself. I know that no matter what else I am, I will always be a mother. Exploring my identity while locked into the role of motherhood makes me feel grounded and it makes me feel trapped. The good news is that I have a built-in safety net. I’m probably not going to do anything too life-threatening in the holy sacred name of Identity Exploration. On the other hand, where the hell do I meet people? And when I do, what chance in Hades do I have that they will be even remotely interested in the whole package?
Bi20s-WSM Personals: Dancing Green Serpent Goddess of the Temple of Legos seeks pragmatic idealist who enjoys temper tantrums, power struggles, and fairy tale endings. Bring your own Rubber. Duckie, that is.
Here I am, legs spread wide, straddling two roles. I’ve been riding the stiff tension between responsible caretaking and neurotic self-indulgence for almost a whole decade. No wonder I feel exhausted, isolated and misunderstood. My expectations for life in the Real World, as well as those I had about Motherhood, crashed to the ground like a tower of Legos once I moved beyond the theoretical. Stripping away the mask means facing up to the bloody, ugly reality of what lies beneath. It’s shocking because it’s unknown.
This is the tale of a twenty-something who meanders toward self-actualization in the midst of tea parties and toilet training. There is no end to this story. The plot is ever evolving and I’m not sure what comes next. With any luck, your heroine will scuttle through some grand rite of passage and land safely into the next narrative, where Betty and Martha star in a tantric tragicomedy of transformation and rebirth. Until that time, look for me in the Bi20’s-WSM Personals, where stretch marks are sexy, the breastmilk’s on tap, and revolution comes from a small voice crying “I’m done pooping, Mommy. Come wipe my butt!”