This week was the first week of classes for the spring semester. New beginnings, new people, new professors, new class schedules. I, too, am new this semester, or at least newly returned to the pursuit of yet another advanced degree (without those letters after my name I suppose I’d be like a car salesman riding a bicycle). What’s really new this time around, though, is that I am now, in addition to all my other definitions, a mother.
As is typical during these first class sessions, there was a lot of introducing going on in my classroom – my name is so and so, I work at such and such, and so on and so forth. One at a time we went in a circle stating our name, age, educational background, occupation, and one interesting fact about ourselves. Amazingly enough, all of the women in the class responded with the same response, which was some variation of “I’m a mother and I LOVE being a mother!”
Some of the “interesting facts” included: “My boy just turned three and one quarter years old and he’s my world!” and “I have a sixteen-year-old daughter and even so I decided to start over with a six month old!” and “My kids are all grown, but they never stop being my babies!”
There were ten women in the classroom, including me and the professor, and of these ten women only two did not mention children – the foreign student, who had enough trouble just spelling her name for us, and me. One woman did not have children, but feeling the pressure perhaps of so many experienced ovaries she dug deep into her toolkit and found two nieces and a nephew with which to define herself. The men in the class, on the other hand, seemed entirely immune to estrogen. One bragged about his bowling record, and the other lamented the Superbowl (stereotypes all around, I know, but I’m not making this up!).
Now, I have estrogen, speak English fluently, and my ovaries certainly have a bit of experience, so what exactly was my problem with this line of conversation?
My problem begins with the fact that this is not the first time I have been in this situation. I first noticed the trend at a big staff training I was asked to present at last year. We started the day with a similar exercise – state your name, your position, and something interesting you want the rest of the staff to know. The first woman to introduce herself talked about her horse, the second woman talked about her cat, and the third woman exclaimed that the most interesting and exciting thing about her life was being a mom. This then prompted every woman who followed to say My name is X, and I love being a mom! When it came around to me, I caved – everybody knew that I was recently returned from maternity leave, and I didn’t want them to think that I wasn’t enjoying motherhood. But I also didn’t want to be pigeonholed. Obviously being a mother is important to me, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing a blog called Mom at Work. However, no matter how much I love my child, being a mom is not the thing that defines me. Which begs the question, what does define me?
In the short time that I have been writing this blog, the theme I am continually coming back to is identity – the old me versus the new me, the feminist versus the doting mother, the club kid versus the college administrator – but not, oddly enough, my identity as a mother, per se. And this is what is so interesting to me about being a mother, not that it takes over my identity, but that I see all of my different faces reflected back at me in the experience of this other little person.
I’ve carried a lot of different IDs in my life, from different schools, different countries, different certifications and different associations. One person I used to be carried a press badge, another carried proof of a pending Greek residency visa, yet another carried a monthly Madrileño bus pass. I used to think that with each new shift I was simply scraping off the old identity and leaving it behind, the way a snake leaves its old skins, but the experience of raising my daughter has shown me that this is not the case at all. I’m more kaleidoscopic than I thought, and I bring all of these old identities with me into my parenting experiences like an overstuffed wallet full of expired library cards.
Which brings me back to the women in my class. Of course I understand that a one-line response to the “tell me something interesting about yourself” prompt is by definition an oversimplification, and of course I’ve simplified it even further for the purpose of getting my point across, but the standard “I love being a mom!” has really gotten under my skin, precisely because being a mom has revealed to me just how many other roles I embody. So I’ve been working on my response for the next time this prompt comes up.
My name is Anna. I love my daughter, and I love being a mother. I especially love that my daughter demands my best, and that motherhood has made my best even better. I spent so many years of my life hopscotching among different identities as I struggled to reconcile the myriad past and present versions of myself, but when my daughter was born this struggle simply stopped. And in the same way that I can now embrace both experimental memoir and working mom blogs, I embrace being both mom and everything else that my daughter has shown me I am and still can be.