Letting Go of the Mother I Was for the Woman I Might Be

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Since I had my first child almost fifteen years ago, at the age of twenty-two, I have not had a career. I have conceived of myself, when the notion of career is referenced, primarily as a mother. Any economic activity I have been involved in along the way, any volunteer activities, were adjuncts to that primary, central role. What I wanted to be was a mother -- other things as well, certainly -- but a mother was my first obligation, the large middle bubble on my mind map from which all other notions sprung.

I have three sons, the youngest of which is now seven. And a year and a half ago, I started writing again; a longtime practice that had been mostly abandoned over the years of cloth diapers, of parent-teacher conferences and shopping trips. My husband was more than supportive of this. He had been telling me to. Mike believes in my writing more than I do, despite my sitting at the computer long past when it is time to start dinner and other irritating things. I wrote. I threw a little blog up onto the internet, patched together with craft glue and scissors on a Blogspot page, and some friends and relatives read it. Then some strangers read it. Within the last six months, I became interested in page views, in guest posts, in putting up quality content. My blog stopped being something I did merely to amuse myself.

And somewhere in this process, I was changed. Sitting at my computer at the end of a day that has consisted of writing, planning my writing and thinking about writing, I realized I had started to conceive of myself as a writer first and a mother second. How hard to type those words -- the words that seem to betray those whom I love most.

But, my story goes like this: All my young life I knew I would go to college, get a degree and be brilliant. In difficulty or victory, I counted on it, with the arrogance of the only child. I knew I would go out into the world and do something wonderful. I took my own lazy sweet time, making college span five years and getting no further than my general ed., but, all the while, I was being told by professors that I was brilliant and full of potential. So my present was this mediocre life of coffee shops and cigarettes and AA meetings, but my future was a promise of greatness.

And then I got pregnant.

It all turned on a dime. I never got my degree. I ended up in an unstable marriage, waiting for my electricity to be turned off. I threw my intellectual focus into reading reams of books on the subjects of child development and education. I taught pre-school with my child in tow. Periodically, I would form a plan to do something that looked like a career identity. I lead an important environmental committee and thought that might turn into a paying job as a project manager. I was trained as a volunteer in a transformative education and I thought I might be able to lead a course, if I first went through years of training about as rigorous as a Shao-Lin monk's. I wrote a column for a newspaper.

But everything I did was always just potentiality. When I went back to school, I got pregnant again. When I was ready to take the next step with something, I became distracted and disorganized and trashed it. So, I ended up just being Mama. Which was fine.

But here I am writing and, at some point, it dawns on me: it's no longer a hobby. It's my job. And it is somehow my real job, more than the one that pays me, although I take that one very seriously. So I am now working over forty hours a week, between both jobs, and doing this with a chronic illness. I still have all the unpaid jobs I had before, based on my being the one who worked part-time: make dinner, shop, plan trips, plan birthdays, buy teacher gifts, field all logistics. I am dropping the ball left and right. I lack motivation. And I'm furious. Why the frack, I think, do I have to do everything?


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