Some days I feel like I have it all figured out. My job, motherhood, adulting, everything. Other days- honestly I have no idea what I am doing. I have no idea how I made it to 32. When did I become an adult? When will I feel like an adult? How am I entrusted with the responsibility of raising this tiny human? How am I going to achieve growing him into a thoughtful, empathetic, responsible adult? How am I going to survive until tomorrow?
I hold myself to a standard that I don’t hold anyone else to. I always have. My mother affectionately calls it my invisible bat. I wield it with efficiency and creativity. I spent my formative years-and beyond- searching for that thing that would garner love and acceptance. I was searching for what would make me enough. Smart enough. Talented enough. Interesting enough. I have a laundry list of accomplishments and activities in this search. Academics, swim team, dive team, track, chorus, theater, jobs. It didn’t stop at high school. I have striven to be enough, to feel secure, throughout my life. The endless search for something that makes me feel worthy. Something that makes me interesting enough to hold someones affection. Something that makes me enough to hold my own affection.
This constant quest for that “thing” makes me willing to give away pieces of me. As a wife and partner I gave away huge chunks of myself. I didn’t give them all away at once, they were small erosions over time that I didn’t notice. Fragments I surrendered willingly. And then I became a mom. The moment I became a mother, I relinquished the rest of ‘me’ to the men in my life. My entire being became centered around Moose’s sleeping, feeding schedule, if I was producing enough milk, medicines to administer, milestones being met, tummy time, his fathers schedule, the household chores, and my job (as I only took 4 weeks off before returning to work via telecommuting). There was no time, energy, or thought left for any of my needs beyond trying to eat and sleep when I could. There was no one in the background worrying about me or trying to anticipate any of my desires. No one that was concerned about if I was happy, fulfilled, or felt taken care of or loved.
Though my situation is unique to me, it is only the details that change. The broad strokes of losing your identity as a new mother- that is all too familiar to a lot of women. You become so engrossed in the larva that has filled your life, that you forget you were a person without them once. You don’t want to be without them. You can’t think about anything but them. You love with a part of you you never knew existed. You worry about things that were never important to you. You rejoice in things you previously took for granted- like a person feeding themselves. And you are more concerned with poop then you ever thought imaginable. Your world revolves around poop. Did they poop? What was the color and consistency? How often do they poop? Is the lack of poop what is making them cranky? It’s endless.
So you throw yourself into this new identity- Mother. You abandon your old self. It isn’t a conscious thought, it’s instinct. The first time I left Moose with his grandmother so that me and his father could see a movie, I felt a guilt so powerful I could hardly breathe. How could I leave him? Would he be ok? Would he be good for his grandmother? Dear God, please don’t let him turn into a monster when I am gone. If he is terrible, I am the only one that should have to deal with it. Please let his reflux be ok…
It took me losing my husband to find myself again. I didn’t realize how much of myself had disintegrated until I was alone. How much I had sacrificed. Moose was asleep and there wasn’t anyone left to fuss about. No one else’s needs but my own to consider. What did I want? Who was I?
I realized I was a shell. My only claims as a person were wife, mother, and designer. And now I was down to just two of those things. I had lost my essence. I had lost my laughter.
Over the last (almost) four months, I have rediscovered who I am. What I like. What I don’t like. What I am willing to endure. What I am not. I paint a bit. I am bad at it. But I like it. I have started training for a 5k. I feel like I can’t breathe and my butt jiggles when I run, but I feel empowered by the accomplishment every time I survive. I make time for myself. I indulge in cookie dough after Moose goes to sleep. I watch whatever I am in the mood for. I sing again- even if only for Moose and myself. I spend the night with my best friend. I laugh with my whole body. I enjoy my son with a quiet peace that I cannot explain. I sit on the floor with him and watch him flip pages in his books or shred a tissue in my lap. I smell his hair and kiss his face. I blow raspberries on his neck to make him giggle. We go on adventures big and small. I soak in every moment.
I allow myself to find pride in what I do for a living. In building this business with my dad. I do not allow myself to feel shame for my ambition. Not a reluctance to admit how much I love my job. No question to talk about it as much as I want to. My confidence is growing again. It is a ‘two steps forward one step back’ sort of process, but at least it is moving.
Being more than a caretaker and housekeeper makes me a better mother to my kid. It shows him an example of what he can be. It shows him what joy looks like. One day I will be gone. Hopefully a day far, far from now. And I don’t want him to remember me as the woman that cooked and cleaned for him. Though I do those things. I want him to remember belly laughs with me. I want him to remember getting covered in paint for an art project with me in our back yard. I want him to remember a full life with a dimensional, complicated, strong woman. I am working to find her again. I am working to love her. I don’t know when I will say that I do. But I pray that one day I can. Because I want my son to love himself. I want to be an example to him of forgiving yourself for your shortcomings. For loving who you are, not just who you wish you could be. Not just who others want you to be. Not conforming. I want him to see me embrace that I am loud, weird, awkward, and a little crass at times. I want him to see me accept who I am at my core without apologies. I want him to see me correct the things that I want to without judgement to myself. And change them for myself, not someone else. I want to be better for myself, but also for him.
Finding yourself can be difficult. Therapy helps. But it can also be fun. I take it one day at a time. One tear at a time. One discovery at a time. One laugh at a time. That’s all I can do. But honestly, I think I am doing pretty well. I am showing my son what hard work looks like, and that it is ok to be unsure sometimes. I am showing him that putting yourself on a priority list is imperative. That caring about others in important, but you have to care about yourself, too. You can’t let your love for other people overshadow your love for yourself. Put on your own oxygen mask first. And find those people to fill your life that wouldn’t have it any other way. People that love you for who you are. People that want to participate in your life the way you are. People that pour into your being as much as you pour into theirs. So here’s to the journey. Here’s to loving yourself as much as you love your family.