Of the pieces I’ve written recently, This is 38 is one of my favorites. Some of the Huffington Post comments stung, though honestly they mostly rolled off my back. But there’s one that I can’t stop thinking about.
The commenter noted that my post was all about my kids, and criticized me for having such a narrow life.
I was totally taken aback by that. I have always been very aware of and invested it (overly so?) the other aspects of my identity beyond motherhood. I work full-time. I write. I aspire and always have to raise children who know that while they are the most important thing in my life, they are not the only thing here. And the truth is that I never really thought much about motherhood when I was growing up. I’ve written before about how I never thought of myself as maternal. I never babysat, I never daydreamed about my future children (or my future wedding, incidentally), I neither breathlessly anticipated motherhood nor expected it to be the missing piece that made my life whole.
And then. Then I had Grace, passed through a season of darkness and bewilderment, and had Whit. Once I finally caught my breath I looked around and I had two children. As I wrote last year, I have been a mother over 10 years now and it is undeniably true that this is the central role of my life. (I feel the need to acknowledge that I am both aware of and grateful for my good fortune in conceiving and bearing healthy children). I have been changed in countless, indelible ways by becoming a mother. One essential way is not a change so much as a return, to the page, to writing, to something I had forgotten I needed. My subject chose me, and while that subject is not specifically “motherhood” it certainly arrived in the hands of my blue- and brown-eyed children, announced itself slowly but insistently as their lives unfurled with dizzying speed in front of me.
Over the last 10.5 years I have sunk into motherhood slowly but irrevocably and I feel a sense of relief whose gradual arrival doesn’t diminish its depth. It seems this is something I always wanted and I love my children more than anything else in the world.
But still. Motherhood is not some kind of missing puzzle piece, it does not render cohesive my diffuse sense of self and purpose, and it does not solve in one grand, sweeping answer all the questions that have always plagued me. No. And I always thought of myself as someone who has many other facets, kaleidoscope that I am: writer, wife, daughter, sister, friend, runner, nail-biter, redhead, reader, lover of the sky, hater of shellfish, insomniac, worrier. I could go on. In fact I struggle mightily to write bios because of this, I think: it’s hard to describe myself, to find the right adjectives. Everything seems both too definitive and not complete enough.
The comment on the Huffington Post has burrowed into my brain. Is it true that I’ve let the other parts of myself atrophy and wither, so that all that’s left is my identity as a mother. Honestly, I don’t think so, but I need to consider that that’s how it may be coming across. Surely that subject that chose me is focused on my children, though not exclusively. I know both Grace and Whit are aware of the other aspects of my life, and they are accustomed to having to wait for my attention when I’m engaged in something to do with work, writing, or with their father or a friend. This week they both go to sleepaway camp. For the first time in 10.5 years I will be without either child for 10 days. I know I’ll miss them desperately, there’s no question of that. I guess whether or not I feel lost, and as though my identity has been lopped off, will tell me all I need to know about this particular issue. Stay tuned …
Do you fret about your identity being too focused in one area of your life, whether that’s parenthood or career or something else?
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