The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
When I’m alone, I eat everything bagels. It’s a silly bit of decadence. I love the crunch of onion, salt, and garlic. I enjoy the strange confetti of sesame, caraway, and poppy seeds. But only when I’m alone.
When I’m with my kids, I eat plain bagels.
In my early years as a mother, I would eat the skin off an apple and then give the fruit to my kid. Peeling an apple seemed like a waste. If you peel the skin with a knife you end up throwing the skin away. I got in the habit of eating the outer layer right off apples, plums, and even grapes.
I wondered if my existence was to eat only the skin of the apple while passing the fruit along to my offspring. I wondered how many more times I would stare at a plate of strawberries, bitten at the bottom with the fruit of the top and the stem intact. How many times I would eat a plain bagel, when I wanted everything?
This is motherhood. It is some regrets. Some hunger.
I’ve tried to figure out why some of us want to have kids, why some of us decide to have kids, what happens to those of us who can’t, and those of us who do and despise it.
Parenthood isn’t a riddle easily solved. I thought about parenthood as Roxane Gay spoke at Agnes Scott College thanks to Charis Books.
Gay’s book “Hunger” is a “memoir” of her body and society’s perception of our bodies. It is also a memoir violence and an assault that occurred when she was 12 years old. Someone’s child.
As Gay talked about her life, I had a strange feeling that I had made a mistake. That I shouldn’t have become a mother. It is difficult to explain, but other people might understand.
She was gang raped at age 12. It was not her fault. Or her mother’s fault. Or her father’s fault. It was fault of an evil group of young men with the intent to hurt and show power and dehumanize another person. Another girl could have been the victim. Another boy could have been the victim. It could have been me.
I sat in the audience thinking of kids at age 12. Those kids could be my babies. Even though my rational mind knows her assault had nothing to do with me, I feel blame. I think I could have prevented it. I don’t see a 42-year-old woman on the stage. Same age as me. I see a child age 12 and think of all the wrong the world can do.
I think quite rationally that maybe none of us should have children. I remember hearing something similar a few years ago.
“The world is a terrible place. No reason to bring children into it.” I thought it a cruel statement. Now, I’m not so sure.
Women who avoid motherhood are deemed selfish. Parents, particularly women, who express disdain or disappointment with parenthood are vilified. We are supposed care and love children. Selfless at each moment. Exhausted with worry. Sleepless with so much more to do. There are hands on our bodies, bodies in our spaces. Toiling the fields. The words we use to describe parenthood remind me of physical labor and being hungry.
There is nothing rational about it.
When a child is born, a parent is born. The unpredictable chemicals go off in our brains. I can see how the brain might reject parenthood. It is a good defense mechanism.
The decision to become a parent, once made, can’t be undone. A parent must be happy from day one, every day of the week, every day of the year. It’s a trap. And a lie. It doesn’t work the same for everyone. There is no switch to make the regret go away, but maybe there should be rules for regret.
- Seek professional support. Find a safe space where you can express how you feel without someone judging you.
- Your feelings are valid. It is okay to say your regrets.
- There is no such thing as perfection.
- Instead of saying “I made a mistake” say “I made the best decision at the time.”
- You don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations except your own.
- Find what you do like and focus on those things.
I have a friend who feels lost because she cannot have children. I have another friend who despises motherhood. She hates it. It isn’t the despair that concerns me, but the fact that this kind of despair is frowned upon.
I remember the day I thought I was the apple. My skin had been gnawed off by my offspring and work and life and exhaustion. There were hands on my breasts, on my body, and in my mind. I couldn’t find peace. I was tired of the lemons and didn’t want to make lemonade.
I make a conscious effort to live without regrets. I am fortunate. I actively create happiness each morning. It isn’t an easy thing. I conjure it with a prayer and magic. I conjure it in habit. It is difficult to create. Some of us can’t overcome the chemicals in our brains. Some of us can’t overcome our disappointments, worry and regrets. Some regret goes deep. Some hunger cannot be fed with food.
I remember the day stopped worrying about the apple skin. I can’t control the universe of regret and evil and despair. My desire for control is no better than a gang of boys who want to hurt the world.
I know why I eat everything bagels when I’m alone.
The seeds and spices cling to my teeth and tongue. It is messy. It is ugly. I can be imperfect when I’m alone. I can love the bitter and strange and salty when I’m alone. That’s wrong. I’ve been wrong. You only eat the skin off the apple for a short period of time. I haven’t done it in ages.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.