Torn

September 26, 2006

Edited. Yes, already.

It’s been a challenging few days. The Husband has been working non-stop, which leaves WonderBaby and I in a sort of single-parent family condition, wherein I get very, very tired and sometimes cranky. (How real single-parent families do it, I do not know, I really, really don’t. I would be dead from exhaustion by now were it not for the presence, however erratic, of my husband as a parenting partner.) Also, we couldn’t celebrate our anniversary, because he was working, which was sad. And, I got sick this weekend and had to spend much of Sunday afternoon laying on the floor on a sniffly haze while a hyper-mobile WonderBaby stomped on my head (which, because numb, did not suffer much damage.)

These things, however, are all manageable. What I’m really struggling with is a sort of identity crisis.

I am no longer a full-time stay-at-home-mom. Nor, however, am I full-time working mom. I am something in between. I have gone back to teaching at the university part-time, because they made me a nice offer and because they said please. And because I like teaching, and because I want to keep my foot in that particular academic door.

So, on Mondays and Wednesdays I leave the house and leave WonderBaby and head out to one of the suburban campuses of the University of Toronto and I teach political philosophy.

I like doing this. I’ve long been ambivalent about seriously pursuing a career in the academy, but not for lack of love for teaching. I love teaching. I love turning students on to these dusty old books, these fusty old ideas, bringing these to life in the same way that my teachers brought them to life for me. I love seeing students get excited about the puzzles of philosophy. I love it when Plato and Machiavelli and Rousseau and Nietzsche seduce them and transport them and inspire them to talk, to argue, about philosophy and politics and life.

I love this. But it’s not motherhood. At the university, I am ‘professor,’ or even, sometimes, ‘Ms.’ (and, once, Mrs… which completely blew my mind.) But I am never recognized as a mother, as somebody’s mom. Never.

Which, although understandable, feels strange, because I have come to so fully identify with my identity as mother that to be anywhere and to not be wearing my ‘mother’ hat feels awkward. Awkward, in part, because I had never, ever thought of this identity as a ‘hat,’ as an identity that could be removed and set aside. Nearly every breath that I have taken, nearly every word spoken, since November 14, 2005, has been as a mother. Even when I went back to teaching, briefly, one evening each week for 6 weeks in the spring, I still felt every inch a mother. I walked and talked as mother; I wore my motherhood as a badge. I announced to my class at the very first lecture, I just had a baby. I had spit-up stains on my clothes. I wore LilyPadz inside my nursing bra. My body felt WonderBaby’s absence, every minute of that absence.

Once, during the break in the lecture, while standing at the lectern, fussing with my notes, I burst into song:

I love you
A bushel and a peck
You bet your pretty neck
I doooooo!!!

My head was full of motherhood. I did not, could not, leave my motherhood behind.

Now, I can, and I do. I can and do leave it behind.

And it feels strange, so strange. It feels strange because I both love it, and hate it. I love the feeling of freedom, of being unencumbered by stroller and diaper bag and the random paraphernalia that attends babycare. I love the silence of my office. I love that my head is filled with the words and ideas of dead poets and philosophers, that I can concentrate, think, that the flow of ideas between head and page or head and mouth is not interrupted by Raffi or the Johnny Cash Children’s Album. It is freedom from motherhood. It is exhilarating.

But it hurts my heart. In the moments that I pause, and think of WonderBaby – and there are many such moments – my heart contracts and I very nearly gasp for my next breath. I miss her, I am missing her, I am missing seconds, minutes, hours with her. It takes all of my power to keep from running for the bus and heading for home, in those moments.

How can I choose to be apart from her, I ask myself. How can I choose this? But I do choose it. I must choose it.

I must choose to be both mother and myself, these other selves. But it feels, sometimes, like my identity has become fragmented, torn. Will it always feel this way? Or will I, gradually, knit these selves together? Come to terms with all of those missed moments of motherhood?

Or will I, one day, just run for the bus?

If you’re going to make a break for it, Mommy, take a cab.

**********

Call to Action posts are still being added to the Changing the World, One Blog at a Time list. I’ve gotten a bit slow on adding the links, but they are still coming, so keep checking back and keep sending them in.

**********

Because you all keep asking: yes, the Johnny Cash Children’s Album is real. How have you been living without it?

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    { 70 comments }

    creative-Type Dad (Tony) September 27, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    Wow! You and my wife must share the same brain.
    I solved it by cloning her. So now she can bo both and the same time.

    sunshine scribe September 27, 2006 at 7:49 pm

    Wow can I relate to your every word. When my guy was 15 months old I went back to work part time and had such a difficult period trying to sort out “who I was”. I wasn’t out of the mommy-groove long enough to be fully non-mommy yet I was somehow.

    Must you choose? You can be both of your selves at the same time or separately. There are so many dimensions to you and at different times of your life (and even different times of your day) you will lean more one way or another. Is my identity fragmented? I think in a way but I have picked up those fragments and found a new way to arrange my puzzle or patchwork. You will to. You will to.

    Hugs.

    Must have a subway date for my guy and his cute younger girlfriend. He’d LOVE that :)

    MrsFortune September 27, 2006 at 9:07 pm

    Wow, you captured these sentiments so perfectly. Even though I can only imagine what “the silence of my office” must be like, i.e. a silence unencumbered by a buzzing baby monitor, I can also imagine what it would be like to be away from my baby love. But be thankful you have the opportunity, the options, the choice. I lost my job and haven’t found another one so I’m wearing the mommy-hat because I have to. Not that I don’t like it, I do, it’d just be nice to have that choice.

    tallgirl September 27, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    I’ve been back to work part time since peanut was 3 months old. I recently increased my hours to barely part time.

    I am an engineer and find if funny sometimes to tell a contractor about the quality of his work or instructing someone on how to build a series of buildings or whatever, when I want to do is play peek a boo.

    I care a lot less about work and take it a lot less seriously then I did before. But sometimes, when I am really on, and I am doing what I need to do to get something done, it feels so good.

    Dana September 27, 2006 at 10:40 pm

    When I read your post, I started to remember when I had to go back to work after maternity leave. I only got six weeks. I cried all day at work and my boss wasn’t very sympathetic. That made it all that more difficult. I remember how angry I was at her — she had a seven month old at the time and I thought she would have been more understanding.

    It’s so hard to be so many different versions of our self. I agree with you.

    Queso September 27, 2006 at 10:56 pm

    Oh dear. I’m so right there with you. In fact, I think there’s a lot of us out there. We should start a support group for this. We’ll call it “Moms” and we’ll meet at the bar.

    Lady M September 28, 2006 at 12:03 am

    Like Julie and many others, I went back to work full-time when Q was 10 weeks old. Because I had kept the different areas of my life fairly separate prior to becoming a mom (high-tech career, dancer/choreographer), I thought that I’d be keeping my family life separate too. I didn’t think that I’d swap parenting stories with other colleagues as much as I do, or actually tell someone when I need to change my schedule to accommodate a pediatrician’s appointment. I’m still working on blending the “parts” of me, but it feels healthy – I like it, although I’m still worried sometimes that people knowing that I’m a mom may threaten career opportunities. I guess that’s just part of the game.

    WonderBaby will continue to thrive because of the loving and thinking environment you provide for her. And your students are so lucky too! There are so many people in real life and in the blogosphere that you influence with your good thinking. :)

    Ruth Dynamite September 28, 2006 at 5:57 am

    Oh the guilt! The agony! Feeling torn! It’s all very real and I think we all experience it to varying degrees. It can drive you to drink (gulp).

    The scary revelation for me was something my neighbor said, five years ago, when my kids were very little: “They need you more as they get older.”

    Yes they do – in different ways.

    This is one of those discussions that never ends…

    Kvetch September 28, 2006 at 7:38 am

    Embrace it, cradle it, nurture it. Use all your mothering instincts and skills to baby your own “other” self. You are fortunate, as you know, to have the opportunity and ability to have a joyful career and a happy home life. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. I long for the days when I was able to take off my SuperMom cape and put on a pair of heels. Strutting my stuff felt just as good as pushing a carriage. It’s a dicotomy you share with millions – and so eloquently described – makes me wish even more that I had more of an opportunity to do it myself.

    Kate September 28, 2006 at 9:31 am

    Wow, I could write a novel on this subject, being torn between my career and motherhood. I’ve decided that neither is the ideal situation, and that if you can find the balancing act between the 2 you’ve scored. Good luck in dealing with it. It’s tough. You’ve written a great post about it.

    TB September 28, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    This is something I’ve already been contemplating, and my baby isn’t even in the world yet.
    I think it is so very important to maintain a sense of self and not get completely lost in motherhood, even though I am positive it would be so very easy to do so.
    We owe it to ourselves and our husbands and children to remember and celebrate all the parts of ourselves as women.
    Thanks for writing about this subject so beautifully.

    ninepounddictator September 28, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    I so know what you mean. That whole “finding a balance” thing is bullshit.

    It’s impossible too. You must accept that. Accept that no matter what decision you make once you become a mother, you will always feel that it’s not exactly the right one.

    If I knew the secret to balance, trust me, I’d share it! I think the easiest thing to do is take one day at a time.

    I’m a working mother, and every time I don’t pick up The Dictator from school, I feel bad.

    But also, I like working too. So I guess there is no answer. And that, mommy, is the answer.

    Desitin's Child September 28, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    My sweetie worked 95 hours last week. I’m not kidding. So I know about the feel-like-a-single-parent-even-though-you’re-married thing. It Sucks.

    My problem with work is I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want to be “engaged” at work but I also want to hold it at arm’s length and work part-time so I can be connected enough to my kid.

    Cynthia Samuels September 28, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    My dear friend we never run for the bus. No. We never stop being mom, either. What we do is allow other things in our lives to exist. As children grow, they need to learn autonomy and so do we. The screenwriter for Running on Empty told me “Parenthood is the only relationship where you measure success by how well you say goodbye.”
    It does not negate your love or commitment if you walk out of the door without your daughter to go to work – nor does it make you less a loving, committed mother.
    There’s a season for everything – cherish the spectrum of experience — it’s a blessing.

    Rebecca September 28, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    64 Comments?!?! Holy Crap! You are such a blog super star these days. ;-)
    Sorry, anyway… I loved this post because it really illustrates how tough the mom/woman/working girl identity is for all of us to sort out. Even super cool political philosophy professors. (I have a political science degree, and that was my FAVORITE class!) Again ANY WAY, I am going through something sorta’ opposite from you. I am longing for a PASSION outside the home front. I would love to be able to carve out an identity outside of my domestic life, without sacrificing time with my son. You know, have my cake and eat it too. Here’s to hopping we can all find the middle way or whatever we are searching for.

    Phoebe September 29, 2006 at 4:07 am

    On my first day back at work, I stood in the centre of the store and started blowing rasberries. Suddenly I realised I wasn’t at home and was mortified. I’m not sure if anyone saw me, but it was a little weird.

    Dawn September 30, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    You know, C,as I sat crying in my ne therapists office this week, this very thought came to me. When did I integrate being a Mother into my identity…Did I ever fully? Was that one of the reasons I held so fiercely to my work, my external self? My worry of disappearing into Mother and no longer knowing Dawn?

    Dammit, you have set the wheels to turning.

    Damselfly October 1, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    Hee hee, don’t you just know some diligent student was taking notes on your “bushel and a peck” song?

    Mary Tsao October 1, 2006 at 11:43 pm

    I’m coming late to this conversation, but I definitely know what you’re talking about. I keep contemplating different part-time jobs and I’m just not sure… I want to “keep my foot in the door” and I also want to be with my kids as much as possible. I also want to do other things, too. I’m worried that I will fill up all of my leisure or free time with work because that’s what I’ve been conditioned to do for decades. How could that ever benefit my kids? Or me?

    Tough questions. Good luck to you this semester (quarter?) — hope you come to feel comfortable with the balance you’re attempting.

    scarbie doll October 4, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    I gotta tell ya, it’s these types of posts that I appreciate the most. I went through the same thing 6 months ago. It gets easier.

    What you haven’t talked about, interestingly enough, is what you do for childcare. I’m curious because The Moms and I have been having this debate over beers for the past few and we’ve come to the agreement that there is no perfect solution. Wondering what your take on this is.

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