Motherhood: How To Maintain Your Professional Distance

When I was nine months pregnant, we moved from our one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom.
07/18/2016 01:35 pm ET Updated Jul 19, 2017

When I was nine months pregnant, we moved from our one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom. One of our movers, upon noticing my condition, was much more excited than a stranger should have been. He had four kids, he explained. They were presently at home with their mother, who we're just going to assume is a saint, and he said that when he came home at night and saw them, there was nothing better; we'd see.

Before he left he shook my husband's hand; then he rested a palm on my stomach and said three words. Three words my husband and I have repeated to each other many times since, usually when our daughter, now five, refuses to put on her shoes, or whines for six hours straight, or sits down in the middle of the sidewalk, a block from home, because she is "bored" of walking. He said: "Kids is fun."

I tell this story not only because I take pleasure in irony not to mention his casual disregard for subject-verb agreement, but for something I'll draw your attention to now. The part where a stranger puts his hand on my, a pregnant woman's, stomach.

Many a pregnant woman before me has complained about her personal space being invaded by well-wishers. My mover's behavior is of note because, before that moment, no one had actually dared touch my pregnant belly. My expression had telegraphed "bad touch" louder than any 1980s afterschool special.

Of course, to me almost any touch is a bad touch. Truly, it's a wonder I got pregnant at all.

But as any mother knows, once you're pregnant, all bets are off. And all hands are on.

Your doctor's, first of all. And if you thought the whole obstetrical experience was invasive, then you actually have the baby, at which point you're introduced to a whole new definition of someone being up in your business.

After she was born, and despite my aversion to touch, I decided to breastfeed my daughter.

This set a very bad precedent. Totally gave her the wrong idea about my boundaries. I stopped after four months, but even though she didn't rely on me for a beverage anymore, she still seemed to believe my body belonged to her. That did not change as she grew into a toddler, and has still not changed now that she's 5.

If Mommy sits, clearly she intends to be a chair. Why else would she sit? Oh, she's eating. Since that makes it hard to squirm onto her lap, that's a good time to jump on her back and pretend to be a monkey. Mommy loves that.

Same with exercise. Talking on the phone. Going to the bathroom. "Mommy," she says, "what are you doing in there? Can I watch? Do you need help? I'm a very good wiper."

As for showering, it seems like I will forever have a three-foot shadow loitering outside the curtain, sometimes keeping up a running monologue, sometimes battering me with questions, sometimes creepily silent. Waiting.

This past September my daughter started kindergarten, and her first semester she got in trouble for pinching faces. Although it was more like smushing. Hurting others was not her intent. It's how she shows she loves you. Her love hurts.

Clearly not thinking it through, I sat her down and told her she could do it to me, and only me, not her friends. So now she smushes my face morning and night. When I had dental work, I told her to stop. Her response: But then where can I hurt you, Mommy?

More than the constant physical contact, sometimes it's her invasion of my mental landscape with her constant talking and questioning.

I'd ask my mother if I was like that, but I can't get a word in edgewise with her either. Maybe the chatting gene skips a generation. There are times I want to say to both of them: How about we sit in quiet contemplation?

Maybe the need for solitude skips a generation too. Curiously, my mother also talks to me when I'm in the bathroom. At least she stays outside the door.

My mother grew up in a big Italian family all living within feet of each other. As for my Irish father, his nuclear family was estranged from his extended family.

Therefore my mother and father grew up with different experiences of domestic togetherness. Mom favored big family gatherings; Dad -- a man who respected professional distance -- preferred to stand by himself in the kitchen in his boxers eating dry wheat toast chased with a Manhattan.

These two people had two children, my sister and me, and this foursome was what I grew up with.

Then I married a man with a large, mostly Italian family, including six nieces and nephews, and was instantly immersed in my mother's ideal. But it was one I hadn't experienced firsthand.

I was shell-shocked at first. So much noise! So many birthdays! So many feelings and opinions!

This was how it was supposed to be. What was wrong with me that I wanted to hide in a corner and rock back and forth? Couldn't we do Thanksgiving by e-mail? Exchange memos at Christmas?

It was becoming hard to maintain my professional distance.

Then, 10 years later, after everyone had given up on my husband and me having kids, we had my daughter. She's the youngest, and everyone dotes on her, so what's not to love? My daughter certainly can't find anything. And nothing makes her as happy as everyone being together.

She is the star, and she runs from adoring fan to adoring fan but no matter what, she always comes back to my corner and asks if we can "hold hands, and talk, and be best friends." At which point my professional distance crumbles and I say, "Of course."

So she sits on my lap and chats until finally, done, she places both hands on either side of my face and presses as hard as she can, taking my breath away with her savage love.

It's then I recall the wise words someone once said to me: Kids is fun.

This post was one of four winners in the Term Paper of the Year competition at the 2016 BlogU Conference.