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