First, some bad poetry by yours truly:
Once a teacher of literature,
Purveyor of words and ideas,
I now disseminate Cheerios,
Teach nose-blowing, please and thank you.
Some days I am lost
In a sea of trains and tiny socks.
While there are a great many things to love about being a mother (and I assure you, there is a lot that I do love), I have found that becoming a stay-at-home parent has created a serious power struggle within me. And honestly, I did not expect this.
As I and many of my fellow at-home mamas stand on the precipice of sanity, I'm left wondering how it is that we- the stay-at-home parents- can maintain a sense of self. This isn't to say that I don't have a sense of purpose. I do. I believe wholeheartedly in what I do. At the risk of sounding saccharine and cliche, I will say that staying home with my children has been an absolute gift. I know the time I've been able to spend with my children is irreplaceable and I am so thankful I've been there for the first steps, first words, and the little bumps and bruises. Nonetheless, I can't help but think that parts of me have begun to disappear along the way.
I used to be a teacher. I used to teach and discuss literature all day, every day. (Or almost every day... there were, of course, the obligatory days of discussing why it is not okay to steal or to yell or to sleep through every class. Or take your pants off in the middle of a Socratic Seminar.) I used to create curriculum, discuss ideas and teaching strategies with colleagues, immerse myself in piles and piles of poetry. I used to meet with friends under the guise of planning, and end up discussing the glories of Walt Whitman or the intensities Heart of Darkness.
Now, I spend my days playing trucks and cleaning sticky little hands and faces. I change diapers and fetch tiny pairs of underwear covered in trains or Sesame Street characters. Instead of reading Emerson, I read Dr. Seuss. Rather than grading papers, I do laundry and make baby food.
I'm not complaining, exactly. I like reading Dr. Seuss. I love getting down on the floor and playing with my boys. I feel good about making healthy food for the kids. I do NOT miss grading papers or the politics that are ever-present in public education. But it's a strange transition from individual to stay-at-home mother. An individual's decisions are based entirely on the individual. She may take her partner into account and may even put her partner's needs ahead of hers at times, but she is still her own person.
As a stay-at-home mom (especially of children under 3), my childrens' needs always come first. This doesn't necessarily sound significant, but it means that everything I do must ensure that the kids are taken care of first. On the small scale, it means I can't even pee until I'm sure that both kids are safe and aren't going to climb atop a table or pull a pot down onto their heads. Even then, one or both of them usually follows me into the bathroom. On the large scale, it means that my needs are sometimes not met at all. I can't sit down and write when inspiration strikes. I can't go to yoga or sit and read with a good cup of coffee. I can't unload the dishwasher when I want to because the baby tries to crawl inside and yank all the dishes out. It means I can barely complete a sentence without interruption.
And again, I'm not complaining in the way that it sounds like I'm complaining. I've chosen this life and, as frustrating as it can be, I feel good about it. I know that despite difficulties, it's the right choice for my family and I feel lucky to be at home with my children. I know that being a working mother has its own giant set of problems that I can't begin to understand. I can only speak to my own experiences and for me, it is hard to feel like I'm disappearing under all this mothering. I love identifying as a mother, but it's getting to the point where that's ALL I identify with. Most of the time I am no longer Shannon; I am only Mommy. And this leaves me feeling sad and confused.
Recently, I've had a few opportunities to spend quality time with some wonderful friends and some wonderful drinks sans kids. (Thank you, Husband o' mine!) What I find is that I revert quickly to my old self. I am relaxed, listening intently, laughing and swearing like a sailor. It's awesome. This is not to say that I don't like myself as a mother, but I like other parts of myself, too. Having a few hours of uninterrupted conversation with a friend feels so indulgent now, and I find that I crave it like mad. I am clamoring to get out and find more opportunities to be me. To figure out who me is now. Not separate from Mommy, but in addition to.
And this, in great part, is why I started this blog. I wanted to have an outlet, a way to nurture the part of me that gets buried under all the diapers and laundry and milk cups. I still want to be Mommy- it's my most treasured role- but I think it's important that it not be my only role.
I am more than diapers, damn it. Sometimes I can write words in a row. Hopefully those words sometimes manage to sound nice and make sense and possibly even cause a person to think or laugh or smile in empathy.