being a mom

I’m Trying To Be Happy As ‘Just A Mother’

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Mom-baby-sunglassesThis summer I gave birth to a baby boy. Already the parent of a 4-year-old, I learned almost instantly that being home with a newborn and a preschooler was somehow far more demanding than getting out of the house. Sanity was still a little far off from existing inside our four walls so we spent most of the summer at the pool. Even if it took hours between nursing and temper tantrums and loading up the pool bag with diapers, toys, sunscreen and towels, it was still less daunting than a day spent indoors.

So there we were soaking up the sun, boobs out, approximately every 27.5 minutes and it wasn’t long before we gained an admirer. I was sitting on the edge of the pool watching my daughter kick and splash and get her energy out in the water, rather than on the living room floor. And like clockwork, a woman about 20 years my senior approached me and wanted to see the baby, who was going to town on my left breast.

I used to dread these conversations, when a stranger approached and wanted to know everything about my family and my choices, because they always seemed to come with unwelcomed advice. But as a second-time mother, having been around the block and feeling like I now knew myself as a parent pretty well, I welcomed the minor invasion. It was, after all, an opportunity to talk to someone over the age of four and a half, even if I was half-naked with my postpartum belly hanging over the top of my bathing suit bottoms and my milk-swollen breasts in plain view.

But the cheerful intruder didn’t seem to mind, and we talked easily for a while. Her children were mostly grown, she told me, but not yet out of the house, and she had just bought her son his first car. She shared with me her anxiety about letting him loose on the road and we decided together that parenting is tough no matter where you are in life and how old your kids get. I don’t remember her asking what I did before I had babies or if I “worked” or anything like that. But for some reason I began offering up tidbits about myself, as if I felt I was boring her with my stories about my birth and breastfeeding. In retrospect, I wasn’t. She seemed happy, almost envious, of this exhaustingly magical and fleeting time.

“I also write… sometimes,” I offered, perhaps trying to make myself sound more interesting. “But it’s hard to find the time.” She smiled and nodded. “That’s good,” she said. “Nice to have something for you.” But then she spoke again. This time with a serious tone. “Don’t let anyone make you feel like being just a mother isn’t enough.” Then she took my arm and looked me hard in the eyes. “Because it is.”

At first I was taken aback. What was she really trying to tell me? That I should only ever be a stay at home mom? That moms shouldn’t work? That I shouldn’t have dreams of my own? That I shouldn’t strive to be anything more than a mother?

But then I realized that no, that wasn’t what she was saying at all. She was simply telling me how important my job as a mother was, and how much value it had and will always have – even when it didn’t feel like that was the case, or on the really shit days when everything goes wrong and I want to drown myself in red wine and cry myself to sleep. Though I want to work and I want other things in life besides being a mother to my children, the statement felt so true I could’ve cried. A weight lifted off of my stressed and rounded shoulders. For a moment, the worried wrinkle that took up residence on my forehead some years ago evaporated. “Thank you,” I told her. And I meant it.

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