"But you have the best job there is, the most important one. You are a mother. You are raising a future generation. What could be more important, more rewarding, than that?" I hear this sentiment from well-meaning friends, family, and strangers when I talk about my hopes and dreams that have nothing to do with my children. Sometimes, I feel like my identity is irrevocably chained to being a mother. Becoming a mother transformed my entire existence, and I love my children more than anything in the world, and I truly love my life with them. Though it does mean that I can no longer not be a mom, regardless of my children being with me in that moment or not. But the challenge I now face is proving to myself that my identity is much more than Mother. I am me — being a mother is only one aspect of that.
I stepped out of the house alone for the first time in weeks. I was going to the library to look at books that I wanted to look at, without sticky little hands tugging on my pant legs and running down random corridors while I tried to take a moment for myself. As I walked toward the car, I became acutely aware of my body, my surroundings. It was so quiet. I looked behind me, expecting a little one to run to their side of the car, waiting for me to buckle them in. But no one came. It was just me.
I took a step, feeling a little wobbly. I had forgotten how to walk on my own. I felt naked, my human shields gone. I had been wearing the Mother mask for so long that I wasn't sure who I was outside of that role. It opened my eyes to my desperate need to learn to be me again, instead of just being a conduit for the well-being of everyone else.
I buckled myself into the car and looked behind me again; just checking, since they are always there. I pulled out onto the road, waiting for the chants of:
"Play Elsa 'Let it Go'!" (The 4-year-old loves Frozen.)
"No, I want Linkin Park!" (My 8-year-old has great taste in music.)
I left the music off. The silence grew louder.
I felt a moment of freedom, but my brain took over: "Think about your kids. You aren't with them right now. What if they need you? What if they feel like you would rather be alone than with them? What kind of mom are you? You're supposed to give every ounce of your being to them!" No, I thought. That can't be true. My kids need to see, my daughter needs to see, that I am my own person with my own interests and passions. Being a mother shouldn't mean I have to sacrifice all of myself.
How will my children know that mothers are supposed to be individuals if they don't witness it? How will they learn that they can have children and also pursue their goals and dreams if they don't see it happening? My 8-year-old said to me the other day, "To us, you are Mama, but to other people, you are Sam. I like Mama and Sam. Sam does some pretty cool things. Both of you love me, though." Both of us do love you, little man. I love, love, love being their Mama. But one day, my kids will grow up and begin their lives separately from mine. And without them, I still want there to be a me.