Sunday, May 10, 2015

FYI: My Motherhood and Identity, 2015

Before I was your mother, Loves, I had a mother. You would have adored her. She would have eaten you up! We would have had to say, “Stop!  Please! You love us too much!” But we wouldn’t have, of course. We would have enjoyed it—there’s no such thing as too much.

She would have been a grandmother like none other. Well, like her grandmother, actually, from what she told me. I knew this about her. It’s just that, it wasn’t until I lost her that I realized how completely she was a mother. By this I mean a mother was what she aspired to be. All she aspired to be. It was the sum of her hopes and dreams. It was her dream come true.

I can tell by your wide eyes that you find this interesting, but also, curious. Why am I telling you this? I know, this description wouldn't have been all that interesting to me either while my mother was still organizing our family gatherings, kicking off yet another tradition, and calling to check on me when I was too busy to talk. But, now that she is gone I realize what it meant.

My mother wasn’t conflicted about her role. My mother was educated, she worked part of the time and she even successfully launched a new career in her fifties. A fifty-something drug rep, with silver white hair, competing with all those twenty-something blondes and beating her sales goals. She was something! She was good at whatever she did away from home, but her passion was being a mother. And more importantly, she didn’t care to be defined differently. If she enjoyed recognition from her colleagues or friends or community she was happiest if it had to do with her homemaking.

I remember when I was nine following her shyly through our house as she gave a tour to friends who had asked to see it. They were impressed by the hardwood floors she had refinished with my father, and the curtains she had sewn, and they oooed and ahhhed at my younger sisters’ bedroom. It was a Raggedy Ann and Andy theme. She made life-sized dolls, and a ceiling swing for the dolls to sit in, matching twin bedspreads and pillows. She was a good cook too--the best cook in their dinner group they would say. And she was the kind of grandmother who would get down on the floor to play with her grandchildren. I remember her about six weeks before she died, laughing and barking under the table. On all fours under the table! And she was on oxygen. When we were finally brave enough to talk about what was coming, she told me she had one regret: that she’d only been a grandmother for eight years. It was too short.

Sometimes I hear her voice in mine when I am singing. I remember my mother saying once when my sisters and I sang with her, that we all the same voice. She was teary about it because she thought it was beautiful and I think I rolled my eyes. But the realization keeps coming, as I decorate your bedrooms, and cook for your aunts and uncles and cousins, and sew your Easter dresses, and cry easily, and feel this overwhelming compulsive need to nurture our family. I am in most ways my mother’s daughter. And you are my daughters, which is why I am telling you this. Because you will push against what makes me me and her her, or you will embody it. Or maybe you will find something in-between. You are so young; it is too early to tell. But I want you to know and try to remember what has made me the happiest. Because for you--for women, and mothers especially--value and identity seem to keep getting trickier.

While your little sister napped this afternoon I asked you two what you thought I did before I was your mother. “I don’t know. Sewed… typed on the computer… Kissed daddy.…” You are right. I did all of that. But I did more. It’s so funny that you have no idea of my life before I was your mother, but it is perfect too. That’s how it should be. But you will learn that, unlike my mother, who left college to marry my father and had me when she was barely past twenty, I graduated and had a career before I even dated your father. I was an overachiever, a teacher’s pet. If there were honors to be handed out I usually received one. I went to an East Coast women’s college where the environment was designed to help me become a woman who could change the world. Many of the graduates have. But I never wanted to change the world. Somebody needs to. But I can’t think on that scale. I just want to focus on you three little people and your father. And so all that education didn’t necessarily help me become what I truly wanted to be.

I fell into advertising and was able to earn a lot of money working on technologies that might change the world, even if I didn’t. I presented marketing recommendations to rooms full of executives. It was fun. I felt valued. I might have run the office, but I switched to part time work when I had you. I remember sitting in my office after a great client meeting, feeling competent, successful, and seeing a picture of you, and thinking, “That was great, but I choose you. I choose you!”

I decided to stay home full-time when your little sister was born. Years before I became a mother I had been learning to knit and crochet baby hats, and was buying matching sweaters in three sizes and making detailed activity plans for family home evenings we would have once you arrived. At book club I had been envious of all the stay-at-home mothers—their days sounded much better than mine, even if I did get to travel and eat at nice restaurants. I wanted to drive in a preschool carpool too.
Maybe I love this so much because I had to wait for it for so long. But I was still a little bit embarrassed when I told some people I was quitting. I know generations of women fought so that you and I could be educated and have careers. And sometimes I thought my identity as “working-professional-turned-mom” might precede me as I dropped you off at preschool, and showed up for the first grade Halloween parade, and took my turn hosting a playdate. That those work accomplishments would somehow lend me more legitimacy, more value, than that of being a stay-at-home-mom. But people know me now as your mother, and surprisingly, being your mother is enough. It doesn’t need to be more than that. There are all sorts of left-brained justifications for staying home with you, but I want you to know that being your mother is also what inspires me. You are my muses. Everything I love to do, I can do for you, or with you, and teach you to do too!

I used to have a fantasy about driving home a fancy convertible for your father as birthday surprise. I thought it would be so great to be able to afford that gift. But then I rode a bike with him on a Sun Valley trail with two of you in tow and I realized that was the better dream, and it was real! Sure, some days I wonder what I’m accomplishing and so I have to detail my activities to your father in case he wonders too: “I unloaded the dishwasher, and then I took Scarlett to preschool, and then I went to Costco, and picked up Scarlett, put Tess down for a nap, and by the time I had things put away it was time for Audrey to come home…” And I still get frustrated, because I didn’t become a different person when I decided to do this full time. I am still overcommitted with homemaking and housekeeping things, and task oriented, and deadline driven—always trying to pull off the impossible by squeezing in one more project before we leave town. And it’s true, I am a “bloggy” as you and your father call it, because I fell the need to record what I am sewing or knitting, or cooking, and, yes, it’s nice if someone else gives me a pat on my back. 

But I think what I am learning as your mother, as we try to keep improving our rhythm of school, and picking up, and playing and eating, and loving, while things keep changing, is a lot more important than what I was learning while developing new marketing messaging or earning a raise. And even if every day doesn't involve a spontaneous field trip, or end with a creative art project, I am so glad I am the one who gets to argue with you about what you are wearing every morning, and make your lunches, and pick you up from school, and read to you from Little House on the Prairie. I’ve realized being there for all the ordinary things adds up to being there. And that means a lot. I would hate to miss any of it. I am not waiting for you to be a bit older so I can get back to what I really enjoy doing. I am happy, doing this.

When I asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you answered, “a vet” and “a marshmallow.” A marshmallow? But, who wants to be a mom? “Ummm, kind of.”  I hope you will get to be whatever you dream of being. Go to school as long as you can, and work in an interesting job. Travel. Be brave. Be interesting. Be you. Maybe one of you will change the world. But whatever you do, I hope you will make time to be at home with your children, too. And I hope you will feel passionate about things you can do from home so that when you make the choice to be mothers there will be plenty to keep you interested, and busy and happy. Bring enough experience home that you don’t feel like you are leaving your true self somewhere else. Because whatever you become as women you can be as mothers too. If you are detail-oriented, or creative, or handy, or funny, or a great researcher, that will make you a better mother too. I can’t wait to see it.

But what do you think I’ll do when you grow up? “Help us with our kids,” you say. I sure hope so. I choose that!


This essay was written a few years ago for an ebook compilation on motherhood and identity. The ebook wasn't published so I am free to share it here. As I re-read it I think about what I would say now about the way I view being a mother, since different things take a front seat at different times. And I feel the need to add a disclaimer about this being my individual view and experience and not an admonition. But rather than "update" this, or offer a bunch of caveats, I think I'll leave it for what it is, and wish you all a Happy Mother's Day. 

In church somebody commented that Eve was called The Mother of All Living before she even conceived children. All women have motherhood in our makeup. It is our potential and our destiny, whether we are birth mothers or not. I am so grateful to all the women who have mothered me and my children. Their wisdom, encouragement and love have made all the difference!


Skirt Fixation said...

A beautiful legacy, a beautiful tradition, a beautiful gift to pass onto your children. Thanks for sharing.

katieP said...

This. Is. Everything. Thank you for putting words to these feelings!

Sheila Perl said...

Thank you for sharing these thoughts with me. I love being a Mother, my children are grown and I have one grandson. Such joy my children have brought me!

Nicole said...

This was beautiful! I also received an education before I became a full time stay at home mom to three boys. I always get asked why I am "wasting" my education staying home with them! I love it and wouldn't change it for the world! I feel I am doing more important work at home with my boys than I ever could outside of the home.

Mereknits said...

This is by far the best post you have ever written. IT is gorgeous and it speaks of so many things close to my heart. I LOVE being a Mother, I take my job very seriously, maybe too seriously sometimes. It is the very best work I have done in my life. Thank you for this post.

Seaweed and Raine said...

So much of what you wrote, I relate to. But then, I confess to having days where I just want to get a moment to myself too. Motherhood is such a delicate balance.
"...But the greatest of these is Love" 1 Corinthians 13:13.
I think that kind of sums up motherhood. I'm glad you had such a wonderful role model in your mother. Keep mentoring not just your own girls, but others to live with such confidence in who they are, and what they are passionate about.

Celeste said...

I think the biggest difference in the world is made by a lot of us just trying to make a difference in our own little part of it.

It's great to live in a time where full-time motherhood gets to be a choice and not just an expectation - even if the emotions that go with it are sometimes complicated.

Bari Jo said...

Beautifully written!!! Loved reading this! :O) Made me miss my mom, too! Your girls are very blessed to have you for a mom!

Elasha said...

I love this Anneliese! I too want my girls to feel brave enough to take on the world -- and to embrace motherhood if that is their desire. Thank you for sharing.

Kirstin Gentry said...

What a sweet post Anneliese. Your mama sounds like quite the woman. I aspire to be like her- defined only by the roles that are closest to my heart.
Also, your girls are so lucky to have you as their mama. ;)

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