FeminismHouseholdWork

The Forthcoming Renaissance of Me

My name is not Mommy. I don’t know why strangers think it’s okay to refer to a woman with a child as “Mom.” Call me “Miss.” I’ll even suffer “Ma’am,” or “hey you.” Even my husband makes the rare and fatal mistake of calling me “Mom” rather than by my awesome name. But if anyone besides my two children calls me “Mom” again, I swear I will…what? Okay, I’ll probably just smile and nod. Why? Because upon giving birth to my older child, my identity was swept from under me, and I tumbled headfirst into mommydom.

Night after night I’d spend hours cluster feeding and watching music videos in a sleep-deprived trance. Through the delirium of nursing all night, staring mesmerized at my baby and watching VH1, I became Bruno Mars. I was coming to the realization that for the rest of my life, I would catch a grenade for her, throw my hand on a blade for her, jump in front of a train for her, I would do anything for her. If you became a nursing mother (or bottle-feeding parent of either gender) in early 2011, you may be one of few in the world who sees this video as symbolic of parenting:

The ongoing question is, what would I do for myself?

Three years and one more child later, I’m slowly gathering the bits of my shattered identity and patching them together like ill-fitting jigsaw pieces. I’ve been puzzled (forgive me) that it’s not working out as flawlessly as my obsessive personality would like.

Women are bombarded with messages shouting, “Women can have it all if only your husband shares duties!” Or, “You can have your career and children, but you’ll pay a mommy penalty.” Or, to paraphrase Madeleine Albright, “Chill out, women you can’t have it all at once.”

It’s enough to make me run screaming from my subdivision with my hands over my ears. No matter how far I run, I can’t escape that for me, not having it all at once is my lot. Instead of having it all, right now I grasp desperately to scant, unsatisfying pieces of this and that. Please bear with the following hyperbolic self pep-talk:

I love learning, but I barely stick my toe in the knowledge puddle when someone’s nose needs wiping or milk needs pouring. I’ve been doing my very best to stay one course deep on Coursera. Someday, I’ll go to grad school, or at least throw myself into the knowledge quest full-force.

I love to write, but between work, chores, and kids, I can never get to the meat of any topic. Instead, I take a sporadic hour or two to churn out a blog post here and there. I would never finish anything if I tried to write a well-researched, immaculately organized, or truly powerful piece. Someday, I will write with the substance and devotion of my dreams.

I love and am thankful for my family business. While I’d love to jump into the scientific depths of what we do and make client presentations, my schedule only allows me to do a little here and there. Someday, I’ll wear a power suit and heels more than twice a week like I do now. I’ll reach my professional apex like a boss.

I love to exercise, but while juggling my family and other duties, I feel good if I do some squats, weights, planks, and the recumbent bike for 30 minutes every other day. Someday, I’ll spend hours a day up in the gym just working on my fitness.

It’s like perpetually having small bites of all of my favorite foods, but never enough to satiate my hunger. With so little involvement in each endeavor, I’m so exhausted and achieve so little. The fewer endeavors I pursue, the more I could probably accomplish. Still, anything less wouldn’t suffice for me.

That’s why this recent, popular, American Greetings ad rubbed me the wrong way:

Upon first watch, I must admit I teared up a bit. It’s a sappy and heartwarming plug for parenting. Honestly though? No time to sleep? For most parents, sleep training becomes an option after 5 or 6 months. I’ve gotten a solid night sleep following at least an hour or two of grown-up time with my husband since each of my kids was 5 months old. To me, anything less is martyrdom. What really irked me happens around 1:50 in the video. The interviewer says, “if you had a life, we’d ask you to sorta give that life up.” WHAT?! No. NO. That is the precise opposite of the example I want to set for my children. Yes, my husband and I have far less of a “life” than we had before actually creating life. But as the kids get older, I am getting my life back. And this life will be shiny and renewed. It will incorporate my children like plants in a beautiful garden, but they sure as hell will not be the the only plants I tend and water. (This is an analogy. I couldn’t grow a garden if my life depended on it.)

I must say that I truly cannot have it all at once. Yet, I can still proudly call myself a feminist. Why? Because it’s about choice. I’ve chosen to have two kids fairly close together, and decided that I want them raised by family until preschool. I’m lucky and privileged enough to have the financial freedom to do so, and to have an amazing support system of grandparents nearby.

I might as well conclude with a little more hyperbole. In about 3-5 years, little J will follow his big sister into elementary school. I’ll rise like a phoenix from this Mommy Identity. Like a butterfly from a chrysalis, I’ll shed my yoga pants-wearing, minivan-driving, white wine-drinking suburban mom shell. The new and improved me will emerge and I’ll call it, “The Renaissance of Me.” For now, I’m a bit frazzled and preoccupied with motherhood. But I swear someday, I’ll have them lining down the block just to watch what I got.

 

Featured image credit:  Raghu Jana

 

 

 

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Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy is a mom of two, co-Executive Director of March Against Myths, public speaker, Forbes contributor and author in Madison, WI. She is also co-author of "The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari's Glass House". Follow her on Facebook and twitter @ksenapathy

11 Comments

  1. April 24, 2014 at 11:54 am —

    I relate to so much of this. I’m less patient about getting my “self” back, though. But now that I have a kid, I’m stuck in a place that has nothing for me, so yeah, I guess it’s a “someday” for me, too.

    Love the part about anyone other than your kids calling you “mom”– how did that even become a thing? It’s weird.

    • April 24, 2014 at 10:46 pm —

      Chealsea – patience is so much easier if you convince yourself that the quagmire is temporary!

  2. April 24, 2014 at 9:55 pm —

    I agree with you on SO much of this, including a distaste for that “world’s toughest job” video. It’s not and I’m good with that–I don’t WANT the world’s toughest job. And I can’t stand it when people call me “mom,” (or worse still “mommy”) for some reason it’s especially creepy when they’re my mom’s age and say that. I find it happens a lot in doctor’s offices, which makes NO sense. If the person has my kid’s chart in hand, then they can glance at my name on it. I don’t even mind if they’re indiscreet, just as long as they don’t call me “mom.”

    I disagree on the not getting a full nights sleep = martyrdom comment. Mine don’t sleep all night at nearly a year and a half, not because I’m a bad parent or want to be hoisted on a cross for worship, but because they happen not to make it through the night yet–one for medical reasons, and the other because he sleeps in the same room as the medical reasons one. Anyway, there’s a lot of judgment out there about parents whose kids haven’t hit that milestone yet, and I find many of the moms don’t admit to it until I mention without embarrassment that my guys aren’t there yet.

  3. April 24, 2014 at 10:43 pm —

    Deek – I don’t at all think what you’re going through is martyrdom. I was referring to the parents who make really poor sleep choices with their infants, or think that responsible sleep training is harmful, and then proceed to complain about how little sleep they’re getting when their child is definitely capable of sleeping at least 5+ hours (let alone 8, 9, 10 or more!) The ones who continue to nurse/feed a 6 + month old healthy baby at every little peep or whimper and then wonder why s/he doesn’t get any sleep. Sometimes I think these parents know what they’re doing wrong but just can’t handle the stress/difficulty of sleep training. There are definitely exceptions where sleep training or sleeping through are not at all realistic. It’s a contentious issue, to say the least! I guess this is a topic for another post entirely.

    • April 26, 2014 at 9:00 pm —

      “responsible sleep training” is such touchy territory–one parent’s idea of being responsible about sleep training is another’s idea of abuse. We take a gentle parenting approach because, like Creys Gruffyydd said, what works for one doesn’t work in another, and my brief attempt at a modified Cry It Out method failed spectacularly.

      I absolutely agree on not responding to every peep/whimper. Learning what to respond to and what to let go has been huge in getting our babies/toddlers to sleep longer. They whimper or make a noise, and then roll over and go back to sleep. My coming in to console them would only wake them up and make us all miserable. So, I definitely see what you mean.

  4. April 24, 2014 at 11:10 pm —

    On the sleep thing, kids and families are individual. What seems obvious in one family will not work in another. When it comes to feeding, sleep, loo training, I’ve learned not to be judgy too much. And sometimes people are actually doing what is best for them, but it’s not always easy and need they to complain. They should choose the right audience.
    People warned me that having them start school doesn’t suddenly make life easy. That was my experience. It’s still a balancing act (for me anyway.)

    • April 25, 2014 at 2:33 am —

      Hell what seems obvious for one kid won’t work for another, even in the same family. I ended up with two who were sleep champs, one who was essentially (briefly, thank goodness) nocturnal, and one who didn’t sleep more than a couple hours at a time until she was 14 months old no matter what we did.

    • April 26, 2014 at 9:05 pm —

      I think you’ve hit on something important here, Cerys (besides the hugely important idea that kids/families are all different). . .parents do need to complain (at least I do), and having a sympathetic audience can make it possible to unload all that frustration/exhaustion and then move on to deal with the next day recharged.

  5. April 24, 2014 at 11:53 pm —

    “need they”? Sheesh. I can’t even blame my lack of sleep on the kid

  6. April 25, 2014 at 3:17 am —

    So relate to what you have written! But I have a slightly different take on the “if you had a life” part of the ad. This is my life. It was consciously chosen. I may not have had 100% appreciation for how challenging it can be. I certainly didn’t understand that one can’t do it all and be sane. But it’s still my life. And on the exercise point – 30 min every other day! You go girl!
    My worst worst worst – I sometimes call my partner Daddy!

  7. April 27, 2014 at 8:17 pm —

    I still find it completely lovely that there is a person to whom I am Mummy, and I feel slightly sad that some day he’ll probably switch to Mum because he’ll be too cool for Mummy. And of course to have taught our kid to call us Mummy and Daddy, we obviously had to refer to each other as such when talking to the kid.
    So naturally there comes the occasional forgetful time when I directly address my husband as “Daddy” as though that were what I really called him…! Much hilarity. I do think it’s a bit weird when people habitually address their spouses as a pet parental name, but I guess it works for some.

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