Last night my husband and I attended a birthday dinner for a fabulous (read: childless) friend. I don’t oft have the occasion to gussy, and wore a short skirt to remind myself that I still possess an ass and my one pair of expensive heels to make sure I can still walk in non-orthopedic footwear. Sheldon snapped a photo on the way into the restaurant and as I looked at it, my first thought was, “hey! I don’t look like an elbow in this picture. I’m going to post it on social media the moment I have WiFi.” My second thought was more important, though, and it was, “I’m going to save this photo and show it to my children in a few years when they’re bitching at me for putting the wrong kind of apple in their school lunch…right before I stop making their school lunches and start, I don't know, decoupaging picture frames. Whatever sounds fun for me at the time.”
Making school lunches? Not a cherished piece of my identity.
When I was in the second grade, a psychology graduate student interviewed me and a couple other classmates for a research study she was doing. In the interview, she asked questions about our parents. This is the part of the conversation I remember:
Grad Student: Does your mother have any hobbies?
Grad Student: Hobbies…you know, things she likes to do for fun.
Me: Oh. Um…she loves to drive us around.
This exchange was received with gleeful enthusiasm and shared with every adult on the campus like I was a guest on Kids Say the Darnedest Things. I was reminded of my answer to the "Hobby Question" for years to follow. I didn’t understand what was so funny though. I loved to read and write and play make-believe with my friends. So I did those things a lot. My mom replaced our toothpaste and made food and drove three children to myriad activities. It would stand to reason that she loved those things, right?
Children are like syrup-slathered egos on chubby little feet.
For years before she had kids, my mother was a passionate and successful physical therapist. She adored her job and, I’ve gathered from talking to her in adulthood, deeply grieved its loss when she made the decision to stay home. My dad was gone a lot. There were three of us. I know now how hard she worked, and how lonely and overwhelmed she must have felt at times but I didn't consider those things when I was a kid. Most of my friends’ mothers stayed home. So did mine. Mommies were mommies and mommies…mommied. I had no concept of my mother as a human outside of our nuclear family, as a woman with desires and passions, regrets and history and stories to tell, until I was old enough and autonomous enough to consider myself as a woman in the world. And honestly, that makes me kind of sad.
I’m not suggesting that my mom should’ve given us a speech about the pieces of herself she lost when she decided to stay home and raise us as she spatulaed mickey mouse pancakes onto our plates. I have nothing but gratitude for the unbelievable sacrifices she made to ensure that our every need was met. But children are fierce little narcissists, and for an embarrassingly long time, I not only had the expectation that the laundry would be folded but the belief that she did all that shit because it was fun for her. Driving smelly quarreling ankle biters to soccer practice as a hobby? No wonder she was such a dictator about The Driver Getting to Pick the Radio Station. Good Lord.
I’ve chosen to stay home with my children, and that I have that choice (and the opportunity to make a different one, should I desire) is a blessing I rarely take for granted. I will say though, y’all, that I’ll be damned if my kids grow up assuming that Mommy orbits around the kitchen island and gets her kicks from replacing threadbare pajamas. I want them to understand, at a pace that’s developmentally appropriate and safe of course, that I do not exist for the sole purpose of meeting their needs. I killed at school, y’all. And I succeeded at every job I ever had. I sometimes wonder—without blame—if a part of me has made the choice to stay home with my kids because there’s a lingering subconscious belief rooted in my upbringing that it's what I'm supposed to be doing. I can roast a chicken or whatever, but I’m not really built for domesticity. Y’all know I’m not the most…motherly of moms.
When I ask my daughter what she did at school that day, I tell her what I did, with emphasis on the parts that didn’t involve picking up her toys. I tell her stories about myself before she was born, and when I ask her about her likes and dislikes, I tell her about some of mine. I know I’m not alone in feeling untethered by the identity shift that accompanies motherhood. We talk a lot about how “the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard is my child calling me ‘Mommy,'” and about how “every moment is a miracle,” and less about how small life can feel when it's largely spent servicing par-English-speaking almost-people who keep demanding "BADADAMILKY." (??)
I’m so damn grateful that I get to witness so many of those hysterical, mundane, fleeting little moments. Not everyone gets to drink in all that goodness day after day. My first child came out of me and I became Mommy. Which is the greatest title I've ever borne. But for me, being Mommy means that Lindsey is often cast into the dark corner of the closet with the cute work blazers and party shoes.
I love being mother to my two little snot cauldrons. I may have been made to be their mother. But I wasn’t made to be their mother. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the day-to-day trappings of caring for kids, but let me tell you, I paraded my fancy ass through that house last night, kissed those kids without pomp or circumstance and got the fuck out. Sometimes I need to remember that I was Lindsey before I was Mommy. Every once-in-awhile, when I scrub off the play dough and put on clothes that don't contain spandex, the two can coexist.
If anyone ever forgets: I have a photo to prove it.