A couple of years ago, I had an interesting interaction with a first-time mother-to-be. Before you think I have achieved a miracle in remembering an interaction I had years ago, let me assure you: I only remember it because I wrote it down. My brain is as fried as yours, my friend.
This particular morning, I discovered a horrific lack of coffee in my house. So, I did what any sane person would do: I loaded my band of unruly boy children into the car and headed to the bakery down the street. As we were patiently and quietly waiting our turn (lies!), a pleasant looking young woman, wearing makeup, high heels, and an adorable pregnant belly, struck up a conversation.
“I don’t know how you do it!,” she exclaimed. “I am so nervous.”
I laughed and promised her that her baby would not be entering the world as the trio of jumping beans before her. She smiled and we exchanged a few more pleasantries as we waited for our orders. At the end of our conversation, she dropped this fun nugget: “I just hope I don’t turn into that mother that completely loses herself, you know?“
I am really not sure if the young lady was being passive-aggressive, brave, or totally oblivious.
Before her stood That Mother, so desperate for coffee that she buckled three pajama-clad children into five-point harnesses at 8 o’clock in the morning, drove those children to a bakery, searched, found and paid for downtown parking, unbuckled those children, corralled/carried/dragged them inside, and caved to their demands for sugary baked goods for a solitary cup of sweet, rich, hot life nectar.
Before her stood That Mother in yoga pants with a hole in the left thigh and a t-shirt with a mini-van on it, declaring, “This is how we roll.” Before her stood That Mother who had not purchased makeup in six years, who had forgotten the very definition of “hobby,” who had not been alone with her husband in six months, and who once discovered her brush covered in stray cat hair on the front porch at least three days after her son took it to start a neighborhood grooming business.
If anyone in the entire universe could be accused of losing herself in motherhood…it was That Mother before her. But what does that even mean?
I am not wandering the wilderness. I am right here.
For some, motherhood happens instantly. The moment they place that squirming bundle in her arms, her soul pours right out of her and into that little being. I’ve seen it happen and it is beautiful, but it did not happen to me. As I gazed at my first baby through the wavering plastic of the incubator where he lay like a fish out of water, I shattered into a million pieces. Love filled my heart instantly, but the impact of that love was sudden and jarring and it took a while to catch up.
Ever so slowly, I crawled toward Motherhood until it finally felt like I belonged here. Now, all these years (and kids) later, is Motherhood the only thing left?
As a mother, I share everything. All day, every day. I share: my time, my love, my energy, my body, my bed, my belongings, my breakfast. I share it all and I share it willingly. So, there is not a lot of room for the me of me right now. The slivers I do find are sacred. They are not readily available for public consumption.
When I had all the time in the world to spend with myself, it did not feel invasive to share that self with others. I would take pictures of sunsets and wax poetic. There was always time for new thoughts, so I gave mine away freely. We could argue about politics and religion! I would wear clothes that I thought might make you like me more. I would take a few minutes out of my morning to paint my face. It is not like that anymore. This is not bad. It is just where I am in my life at this time.
The world’s opinion of my clothes, my hair, and my personality simply do not matter anymore. But this does not make me lost. I know exactly who I am, and I will share it if and when I feel like it.
I don’t remember what I said to the young lady at the bakery. Probably something self-deprecating and moderately humorous because that is usually how I handle awkward social situations. The truth is, I understand what she meant. I too hope that she never loses herself because that really would be a terrible thing.
But would you like my unsolicited advice? Before you assume that a person — any person — has become a faded, simple creature, please take a minute to look just a little bit more closely. People are complicated and precious; even That Mother rocking holey yoga pants. Perhaps, especially her.
See them, please see them, because they are not lost; they are standing right in front of you.