The weather in Atlanta has been beautiful this week, and a friend and I took advantage of this and indulged in a park picnic and some walking with the babies yesterday. On the way home, I began thinking a lot about identity, or more specifically, how much you change (or don’t change?) when you have a child. Here we were, 2 women who have been friends for a few years and used to worry about our professional selves and all the things that come with that. And now we seem to have a whole new focus, in many ways another life.
People often ask me if I miss working or if it feels weird not to spend everyday in the classroom anymore. I have moments. Seeing a school bus drive by while we are on a leisurely morning walk. Grocery shopping in the middle of the day. Driving by my former place of work when the parking lot is full of teachers. These times make me feel as though I am cheating a little in this life, like I’m playing hookie or something. But all together, it doesn’t feel weird at all and I don’t usually think much about the activities that used to take up my every second. The weird thing, to me anyway, is that time marches on. You feel weird leaving your old life and you expect things to freeze somehow because you aren’t there – colleagues to stay the same, students to never grow older, your desk to look the same. None of this is true of course, and time is marching in more ways than one.
This time of year always brings reminders of the passage of time. Mornings become brisk. Leaves fall. The calendar flips to a place where there aren’t many pages left to turn. For me, it’s always when I seem to wake up to say is this year really almost over already?
There are other reminders, too. Jude’s beginning to acquire language, and it’s not a surprise to see him reach and hear him utter “ma-ma-ma-ma” anymore. He’s climbing stairs faster than I’d like. He’s developing a sense of humor evident when he offers me an object and clutches it to his chest just as I reach and say thank you; meanwhile he laughs hysterically like he’s the first person to think of that joke. He’s investigating how things work – drawers, toys, hinges, doors. All this and somehow, not even a year ago, he looked like this.
There are still more reminders. I turn 30 in 5 months, yet I seem to recollect a time when 21 seemed like an exciting, far-off place. I look at college photos and feel like I appear so young in them; I didn’t feel young then. I glance in the car mirror, in just the right light, and I see a wrinkle or 2. The real kind, not smile lines. I’ll remember a class from graduate school and somehow think it was a couple of years ago, only to realize that it was 6 years actually. I crave life as a student and yearn for paper writing when I was so so tired of it at one point. I see photos and updates in my newsfeed that detail the travels, jobs, and internships of students I’ve taught, kids that seemed to define immaturity and possibility a short while ago. Now here they are acting like grown-ups, living on their own, drinking wine instead of cheap beer. Time marches on.
Time changes you, too. I don’t look at fashion magazines anymore. I don’t care that I will never have a golden tan. I don’t cook from boxes anymore. I don’t take shots. I don’t wear heels without a very good reason. I’m not half as restless as I used to be. Or half as naive.
But there are things about me that stay the same, and I love that. I still love my books. I still curse loudly at drivers in front of me on the road before I realize what I’ve said. I still crave solitude. I still utter sarcastic comments when I should or when I shouldn’t. We still drive down the road listening to my same music, only now I have someone in the backseat dancing along.
But one of the many happy-sad things about motherhood is that it somehow makes time march that much faster, and sometimes I get a little frightened that parts of me will get lost along the way. I mean yesterday my to-do list included baking and freezing 2 dozen muffins, washing a load of diapers, and scrubbing the bathrooms. I got excited last weekend when I purchased a floor cleaner I’d heard good things about. I have a masters in English, yet the only literary moments in my day often include reading “The Runaway Bunny” repeatedly or helping chubby little fingers flip the pages of a book.
Little things help me hold on though. I’ll relish a novel, only a little slower than I used to. I’ll meet a friend for coffee or happy hour. I’ll happily listen to “Fresh Air” on the way to tutoring appointments and feel grateful that I learned something new today that doesn’t involve babies or toddlers. I take baths and remain in the water until my fingers look like raisins so that I can drink in every last second of solitude. I curl up on the sofa every Sunday with a fuzzy blanket and a glass of Cabernet while watching Mad Men. On a good day, I’ll set my alarm and get up before the baby so I can shower, dress, and indulge in news and coffee in a quiet house. On a really good day, I’ll wear some make-up and head out with Scott for dinner at a restaurant without screaming children or balloons. Somehow these tiny activities add up to more than something small. Because on days when you look around and wonder whose life you’re in or how you got here, these tiny reminders of what’s underneath fit like a glove, and I feel pretty certain that authenticity is the most important ingredient in the life of a mother. I’m not the mother I see on that sitcom. I’m not the mother I read about in the magazine. Some days I am not the mother I expected to be, but I am the one I am. The authentic one. And to me that makes all the difference.
“Know your own Self. Honor your own Self. Find and be who you really are, at the deepest level of your own being. Be present in your own presence. Give yourself the gift of your own Self.” ~ Swami Nirmalananda