What It Means To Be a Badass Mom

Photo credit:  Peter Olivetti

My friend Anne and I are about to be outed. On June first we will be presented very publicly as Badass Moms. And truth be told, badass was Anne’s word and then I wrote it down, so we brought it on ourselves, but it started off as one of those funny things said between two friends, something that popped out on in the wake of a small adventure between two stay at home moms.  The word showed up as a surprise to us, which is what makes the piece fun and funny and probably why after writing for awhile in a cozy between-Facebook friends kind of a way, a decent scrap of my work found its way to a really good editor at a national magazine.  

That said I never imagined showing up anywhere in public as a badass.  In fact, when my mom read a draft of the piece she said, “It’s great.  It captures exactly how badass you are,” meaning, of course, in agreement with the piece itself, just barely.  

And in the time between submitting and reviewing the final proofs I’ve had to think about what it means to be a Badass Mom, not a nice mom, not a loving mom, not a good mom--not that there is anything wrong with those aspects of momming--I hope there are moments when I rise to the occasion of all of that.  But life is about to dub me a Badass Mom, which feels a little weird (and according to my fourth grader, slightly inappropriate).  And so it’s something about myself I’ve had to ponder.  I have had to try it on for size, to stand in front of the mirror, to squat down, to look at myself and think, can I wear this thing?   

What I’ve decided is that it fits--it fits me and the things about motherhood that move me and amaze me.  Badass fits the feats I see my mom friends pull off in the everyday and in the most extraordinary of days.  It fits the moms, like my own mother, who dress in suits, or the ones who throw on jeans, it fits the moms who didn’t shower today, or who were on air at 5AM, or who stay in their pajamas writing or who wear uniforms of any kind that demurely conceal their secret strength, their jaguar, their wolf, their diva, their wizard, their high priestess, their collection of experiences that has wizened them and made them ready for the anything and everything that will happen today or tomorrow or in the far future.  

Being a badass mom means you had a baby.

By accident, right on time, after years of trying, or once you find the right other mother to help you.  After countless days of peeing on sticks and poking in the belly, in the middle of a settled life, in the month your husband left you, before the right partner showed up, or the year your grandmother died, you did it.  You lived through morning sickness and spotting, anxiety, and losing one or two or many hopeful circumstances along the way.  You survived the seven month fetus, the five month fetus, the one you pulled out of yourself alone on a hospital bed.  Badass means you counted chromosomes and kidneys, you listened to the tiny timpani drum heartbeat thrumming, while you laid on the table your own heart  full of hope or dread, or most of the time both.

Being a badass mom means that one day, hugely full and weepy to the touch, or slow and stubborn, or way too soon, or way too late, or alongside the life of some other woman, you traveled to the edge of life's primordial soup to pull the heavy chain across your gunwel.  Badass means you bloomed like a flower, or passed out under the gas, or flew to China, or shat on the floor, or kneeled on all fours or sank into the bathtub at home.  Badass means you were cut open or cracked open or torn apart or dried up.  You are a badass because for one second, or one minute, or forty-eight hours, you were the parted red sea, the space that makes way for life’s progress.

Badass means that after all that push and gush, all that blood and effort, all that unknowing, there came a moment of absolute clear staring silence. Badass means you touched the softest thing.  You held in your arms a piece of you who is entirely not you, the one you pulled through the portal, and is now wrapped in swaddling, breathing tiny breaths that smell as sweet as fresh cream.  

You had a baby.

Being a badass mom means you suddenly realize you are a living Russian Doll, and every age of yourself is cupped around the age before it.  Your baby cries and cries, and somewhere down in the wordless tiny version of you, you remember what it was to be a stranger on the planet, how terrifying the light after darkness, how very cold or hot or dry this place is compared to the place before. Badass is the tenderness that coos when you are at your wits end, that pats and pats and pats, or rocks and rocks and rocks, that sleeps standing up and walks all night long.

A badass mom hears her child scream like a banshee for the one-and-only-purple-sippy-cup, the guitar shirt, the giraffe lovey, the torn up blanket, the socks that don’t feel weird, the warm milk, or the cold milk or the milk that comes from a box, and remembers her own shirt that had an itchy tag, or the sniffle snuffle socks she liked that squeezed her ankles just right and made the perfect sound when she ran her fingernails across them.  A badass mom remembers the feel of her thumb pressed against the roof of her mouth, as she sucked against the night, imagining Mommy was just right there on a night she was out of the house.  A badass becomes a giant bowl, wide enough to catch the tears and tantrums and the sometimes tsunamis of our children.

For every badass mom there will come a day early on or later in the game when things take a left hand turn, when feeling every age of yourself makes absolutely no difference at all, because this kid is not you.  You wake up to the fact that your child is on a journey of their own, with a limp that will never go away, a disability, a scar on the eye, a relentless anxiety that shoots off like a gun, that keeps them up, that keeps you up and has you on the hunt.  A badass mom searches outside herself, she leans on wise friends, and sometimes on experts who teach her about her child, this animal she thought she knew so well.  She stands in the wide gulf of not knowing, her heart breaking for all the things that will never be, for the life she imagined that is never going to come.  A badass is fierce enough to love across the divide, when navigating the distance between the apple and the tree might as well be a trip to the moon.

As a badass mom you are also an old dog who can learn new tricks, or a new dog who can still do the old ones.  You run marathons, you run fifty miles in the dirt, you run 13.1 miles across the Golden Gate bridge, you run across the street to help the neighbor.  You sit silent and still in a room with strangers and feel like you’ve jumped naked into a cold pool.  You get on the plane with a xanax.  You pull a tarot card.  You’ve accepted Jesus into your heart and you post the most beautiful Scripture on Facebook.  You learn to make your mother’s best dish and you record the stories of your ancestors.  You buy four scooters and scoot across town with the kids.  You lead a team who dresses like superheroes and a team who invents the self driving car.  You empower patients.  You buy a thousand different gift tags at Michaels and learn to quilt.  You take your story from A to Z and back again.  You learn to surf and how to write like a motherfucker.  You remember who you are.

Remembering who you are means you never forgot that this whole story started with the starlight in your pants, that hides, under the fly of your jeans, tucked in the Lululemons, right behind the crease of your black Armanis.  In a moment's notice, or after an hour of foreplay, or a month of help with the dishes, or a year of nursing your first child, you can be fifty shades of gray, you can sext your husband, or you can do a lap dance or a strip tease or be on top of your partner because of the way it makes you tingle from the inside out. A badass mom has figured out, that in this chance of infinite lifetimes, having been born in human form, you’ve won the ticket to the ultimate ride, and you get onboard and slide into love over and over and over again.

A badass mom understands her place in time, she perceives that she is one link in an infinite chain of life. She is not afraid to open her eyes to the fact that at her most magnificent she is a collection of cells, a whirlwind of atoms, a pinch of stardust blowing through the universe. She no longer fears being anonymous and unknown, because she knows with hard won certainty that this is the one and only route to everything, that being tiny is the only way out of living a small life.  Being a badass mom means you are this fearless.  You have thrown your life into the lot of the devoted ones, the ones who gave it all to disappear into the flow.  You have joined the tribe who knows how let it go, how to dance with it all when it comes and to trust just as much that in the great void you will know exactly how to let it lie.

That is what it means to be a Badass Mom.

If you enjoyed this post, you will love Paradise in Plain Sight, by Karen Maezen Miller, and Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Both books instructed the style of this piece and encouraged me to be brave.