Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Much has been written "for thinking mothers" as if the rest of us don't think at all. I wish to be not just a mother who thinks, (I happen to think all the time and many of us do), but more importantly, I want to be a Mother Who Has a Life. I USED To Have a Life. Way back when.

When I first moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago, motherhood was the last thing on my mind. Wasn't even on the radar. Most important was getting that illusive record deal, making great music with a terrific band, and having the ability to wow audiences with my shear magnetic presence, sparkling vocal performances, and passionate songwriting. That was it. That was meaningful to me. My life was about music, travel, flowing income, being inspired by talented musicians, finding excitement and entertainment in all the wrong places, and climbing an upward trajectory career path. Who knew what I could achieve and where I would end up?

I now have a 4 yr old, a husband, a home that we've poured hours of sweat equity into repairing and upgrading, and a lavish garden that was once a cement slab. There's also that soft flab that was once a firm wall of abdominal flesh. And music? Well, my attitude there has gone soft too.

In my early weeks in LA, as money began to run out, I picked up some freelance catering work. It was pretty basic stuff. You know, any monkey could do kitchen help: unload, set up, heat stuff up, dish up plates or make artful arrangements of food on large buffet platters, tear down, wash up, load the truck, turn in my apron and collect my hourly rate. Definitely not glamorous. Definitely labor intensive and repetitive work. But it paid pretty well and I was good at it. Plus it was freelance. I only booked events I wanted to do, or had the time to do. See, in my heart I was all about making a big bang with my music.

It's just that the bucks always seemed to come from my work with food.

Perhaps it was my competence, artistic sensibilities, ability to sense and avert impending disasters, or perhaps it was just that I spoke English (you'd be surprised on that one) and knew my way around a kitchen, but within a few months I moved up from your basic kitchen assistant, to chef, then head chef, and then kitchen manager where I was more air traffic controller than food handler. Soon I began overseeing large staffs, organizing makeshift kitchen equipment layouts in the middle of anywhere--streets, lawns, driveways, beaches--for all kinds of events…movie premieres, product launches, industry parties, intimate celebrity-filled dinner parties and soirees in every location imaginable. The logistics were endless.

(You try finishing unroasted turkeys in a bank lobby with no heat source other than rolling hot boxes full of sterno cans whose smoke might at any moment trip the sprinkler system. Not only that, but also get it carved up and plattered in an hour, just in time for the buffet to open to 250 guests. You "ad lib" a fish sauce for 150 people with limited supplies on location when you discover the lovely saffron cream sauce the kitchen sent over ended up all over the bottom of the catering truck due to a reckless driver racing to get to the location. You set up a functioning wedding kitchen under a tent on the beach with sand blowing and no running water. Been there. Done that. It's do-able.)

Ultimately I began to get offers to come back and cook privately for the rich and famous in their homes. Discretion, being agreeable, turning a blind eye, problem-solving of every imaginable kind many times not even related to food, gave me a peek inside how "they," (the "haves," and by that I mean the holly shit "haves"), live. Movie stars, tv stars, record company execs, media moguls...I've cooked for many. LA is weird that way. Believe me, I've seen ungodly excess wealth.

Example: former clients of mine, a family of three: husband, wife, and daughter. It's the same equation as my little family today, except that he owns a record label and at the time had a house staff that consisted of a full-time nanny, 2 full-time housekeepers, 2 personal assistants, a private chef, (I heard the new chef has an assistant now too), a handyman, a personal trainer, a weekly manicurist who does housecalls, a massage therapist, a daily private swim teacher for the 6 yr old, and anyone else they might need to hire in, which they did on an ongoing basis. Christ, it's just the three of them! And that's just the house staff.

I've heard some nannies make well over $25/hr, same as some high-end housekeepers who barely speak english. That's more than double what Disney pays its average production staffer who works 12-14 hour days. Ever wonder what the entry-level wages are for a skilled assistant film editor or executive assistant at a record label? Actually, they pay crap...but we'll save the economic discourse for another day.

Why does it take so many people to run so few? Are they just incapable of doing anything for themselves? Are they just THAT important? Busy? Or is it just because they can? LA is a strange town where third world immigrants and fresh off the bus newbies like me take care of the rich. They feed them, bathe them, clean up after them, and raise their children. I guess it was no different with the royals in biblical times, but I digress.

I share this really only to contrast what I am and what I've done, and how I choose to mother. Perhaps if I had all this expendable cash and didn't choose to be so present in my daughter's life, life would be much different for us as well. Perhaps my mothering transition wouldn't have been so bumpy. Perhaps if--and it's a giant if--we could have afforded night nurses or a full-time nanny-or even a regular part-time nanny- I might have gotten some sleep and logged in some uninterrupted work time. I might have even built an empire by now.

Still, it's a weird place to be from my vantage point. With an eye to what it can be like with all the resources and staff in the world...contrasted with our almost non-existent "help" and add to that where I came from, the enormous pain-filled hurdles of my past which made me feel lost and abandoned and so lacking...and now facing my own conflicts about being a mother, a good one, a present one, and yet...STILL BEING ABLE TO FIT IN A LIFE...a career, an independent vitality and creative identity without having to hire out to do it, without neglecting my daughter…is it even possible? Will I EVER feel rested and caught up? Will I ever recover? Will I be, will our love relationship be, as resilient as I intend or expect it to be? What do I expect? I have no idea...except that I think I must have been expecting too much, or maybe, not enough. I certainly was not expecting where I am today. I'm certainly not "having it all" as they say.

Mainly, I USED TO HAVE A LIFE. Perhaps I am still resisting what my life has become. It certainly isn't what I expected. I certainly wouldn't consider this view of my life right now a "full life" in a self-fulfilling way. Yes, I've got the house, the husband and the beautiful child, (and quite a nice backyard too), but where is the "ME" in it? What happened to her? Where is the fun girl, the danger girl, the sexy girl, the rockin' chick--the one who used to stay up all night and forget to eat or sleep, writing songs or obsessing over someone else's playing, or analyzing a cd over and over? That just doesn't work anymore. I used to be interesting. I used to be stimulated. Now I'm just plain tired. Depleted, empty, and yes, sometimes resentful, and yes, sometimes angry too. Why is my sacrifice to have a family so seemingly larger, deeper, more confining than his, my beloved husband? He's still doing what he used to do. I can't seem to fit back together.

I hardly knew what I was in for, and some days I am clearly fighting the change into Motherhood, because pre-kid, one truly has NO IDEA what it's like. You may think you know, you may observe friends and family members, you may appear to be sensitive and empathetic since I was all of those things too, but one never truly knows just how much your life will change on the other side until they themselves go through it...bravely, alone, woman by woman, and then, once done, your life is forever changed, you cannot go back. You cannot undo motherhood. You cannot even test-drive it. You just jump in, and then, it is done. For life. For your child. For your family.

It is truly an amazing and transformative ride. I don't really regret it, it's just, I USED TO HAVE A LIFE too.




Suzy said...

There's that "one foot in front of the other" thing you have going, one transition to another and so on.
I can only imagine where this writing transition will take you...
You have several unique vantage points...keep going kiddo!

Carrie Wilson Link said...

You are still in the hell realm of motherhood. Your life will start to come back when Sienna is in school full-days. Whatever you do, don't volunteer yourself away then, though, be extremely protective of your Tanya time!