I have a very different life nowadays than I did a few years ago, when I was living in a tiny apartment in a hip neighborhood in Chicago. I was always out on the town, and I attended social events of all kinds. I tried to take advantage of all of the cultural opportunities the city had to offer. I walked around for hours at a time feeling proud and exhilarated, like I was part of something larger than myself.
My present-day situation could not be more different. I live in a house in a town with bars and restaurants that bear the names of popular franchises. The cultural opportunities in my town are limited, to say the least. I keep saying I can’t stand it here, but the truth is, this is where I had my son and where my little family came into being, so deep down I kind of love it.
What I don't love, however, is being stuck in the house with my little boy all the time. When I used to entertain the idea of me becoming a mom, I always thought of myself as the super-active kind, who'd wear really cute outfits while pushing the stroller. My kid would be super social, because we’d be regulars at so many local joints.
Now, I wear sweatpants ninety percent of the time anymore, and I can say with certainty that there are no establishments that would recognize me and my child. Because when I am with my kid, we’re indoors. At home. The majority of the time. That's in part because of the limited cultural opportunities my town has to offer, but for the most part, I don't go out with my kid because of my social anxiety, if I'm being totally honest with myself.
I was diagnosed with anxiety after the birth of my baby boy. I'm certain I was dealing with the symptoms before, but his arrival really shot me into outer space. Everything overwhelmed me, and everything worried me. I could not calm down, and I constantly obsessed over seemingly minor concerns — all of which are considered symptoms of anxiety.
It wasn't until recently, however, that I noticed that I have a habit of never leaving home with my son. I noticed this because I noticed how much I was noticing other toddlers with their moms. I would spend minutes creepily staring at moms and toddlers in parking lots, grocery aisles, the library. I stared because I knew I was witnessing a form of magic – a glimpse of a mother with her child – during the very, VERY short time our children are small.
Our house is the only place where I have ever felt mildly prepared to be a mother. So I’ve kept us there.
I would grab my stomach or place my hand on my heart, feeling the missing of my little one. He likely wasn’t far away – still at daycare or home with his dad, while I ran errands alone. I could have chosen to grab him and bring him along, but I didn’t. So there I stood, with tears in my eyes. They look so beautiful together, moms and their littles. They look so perfect. They fit so right. But the mothers who look lovely in public usually aren’t the ones losing their cool, and that’s who I fear I would be if I took my son out while I, say, went grocery-shopping, or picked up the dry cleaning.
Sometimes, I feel like I'm having a complete breakdown just getting out of the house. Sometimes, it’s the car seat belts twisting that will really set me ablaze, or the fear that he might poop when we can’t utilize the changing pad. Sometimes, it's the suspicion that he’ll throw a fit or need to eat, or I’ll need to pee, and he’ll touch the public bathroom toilet seat while I’m trying to finish up. It wouldn’t really matter what he did or didn’t do – anything he could do out of the house caused me fear. Fear that outside of my stable environment at home, I wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Our house was the first place my son and I came home to. It's the place where we figured out a rhythm, a tempo; the place where we manage feedings and peeings and poopings and plannings. It's the only place where I have ever felt mildly prepared to be a mother.
I want to get outdoors with my baby. I don't want all of our memories to happen within the four walls of our house.
So I’ve kept us there. Not entirely on purpose, but I do. I keep our relationship restricted to our house as much as I can, because the thought of what might happen when we venture outside its confines terrifies me.
The thing is, I know there are going to be meltdowns, whether we’re at home or out. He's going to touch dirty things, home or not. He's going to challenge me in ways I've never been challenged and I will have no choice but to live up to the challenges. I want to get outdoors with my baby. I don't want all of our memories to happen within the four walls of our house. There is a lot of life to live, even in this smallish town. There are places to go and people to see, and I intend to make us a part of them.