During my 12 years in college, I sat through many courses and took part in countless academic discussions. There are a handful of classes I remember quite vividly, including one particular child development course during which I had a profound epiphany about my self-identity. I can recall the moment rather clearly, right down to the outfit I was wearing and the classmates who were sitting around me that morning. The course content we were reviewing was Erik Erickson’s developmental stages, which describe human development as it occurs throughout the lifespan. I was tired beyond belief that morning…my second son was suffering from yet another ear infection, and I had spent most of the night cradling him in an upright position, as that was the only way he was pacified. That would have been fine, if I were a horse. But sleeping upright is not my normal mode of op, so by the time the alarm clock sounded, I was seriously hurting. Somehow I managed to drag myself out of of the house, assignments in hand, and drop my oldest off to kindergarten before battling the mess of morning traffic, darting across campus in search of the shortest coffee-house line, and into my seat at the lecture hall all before 9 a.m. One of my single, childless classmates began complaining to me about how hard it was for her to balance college social activities with school work and I resisted the urge to drown myself in coffee to escape her petty complaints, or at the very least inhale caffeine into my lungs to resuscitate me from my zombie state. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary because we immediately launched into a debate that brought me out of my sleep-deprived stupor. That morning, my professor introduced us to the concept of identity foreclosure. In short, people in identity foreclosure have committed to an identity too soon, without ever having thoroughly explored their other options. We usually think of identity foreclosure in a negative sense; as in, the person who has settled for less than they might have been. We assume that this clipping of the wings is something unnatural and restrictive. But that day, as I wiped the sleep from my eyes and glanced around the university campus, I realized that for me (at the time, anyway), foreclosure was my biggest asset.
According to Erikson’s theory, my life was foreclosed upon the day my son was born. Gone were the days of normal adolescence, typical high school life, and the freedom of youth. I was a mother. And though I was also still daughter, sister, friend, and student, it was motherhood that consumed my every waking minute. There was no time for youthful exploration…heck, I could barely find the time to shower. And when I did get a moment of “me” time, it just wasn’t the same. I realized this the first time I tried to leave my infant son at home and go for a girls night on the town. While everyone around me carelessly laughed the evening away, I found my thoughts were with my baby. Was he eating okay? Would he fall asleep without me? Did I pack him enough diapers? Did I remember to leave an extra set of clothes? During a bathroom break, the girls around me were busying themselves in front of the mirror, reapplying lipstick and whatnot while I quietly dipped into a stall to make sure my nursing pads were still in place. I just couldn’t quite bridge the gap between normal “social” teen, and young parenthood. So I kinda skipped out on it altogether. The social teen thing, that is.
For the remainder of my high school years, and most of my undergraduate college life, I threw myself into role of mother, student, and significant other. There was little room for anything else. But you know what I realized that day in class? That wasn’t necessarily a negative thing. It allowed me to focus strictly on my family & studies without being distracted by the enticing “what-ifs” we sometimes get caught up in when we allow ourselves to wonder what might have been. You see, unlike some people who have children later in life, I never struggled with the feeling that motherhood cramped my style. Motherhood WAS my style. I owned it. I thrived in it. and I’m certain my children have benefited because of it.
I was chatting with a couple of mothers the other day who had their children later in life, and they were reminiscing about “the good ol’ days,” you know, the ones where they got to sleep in till noon, take off on spontaneous weekend trips, never worrying about babysitters or child-imposed curfews. The days before the tiresome task of care-taking for little children became the center of their universe. My “good ol’ day” fantasies circulate around the years I had only ONE child to manage, as opposed to four. There were never any weekend whims or lazy mornings to look back on longingly. Since 16 and on, my life was about compromising my needs to meet those of my child’s. And for me, that’s okay. You see, when my other children came along, I never felt suffocated, or resentful, or nostalgic for easier times. Does that mean I never get stressed, or weary of the day-to-day demands, or frustrated when my kids do things like pee their pants in the middle of a crowded department store on the day that I happened to forget to bring a spare change of clothes? Absolutely not. I’m human, after all, and parenthood is not for the weary. I have my moments of impatience, and exhaustion, and maybe even the occasional meltdown. But it is always with the underlying understanding that this is who I am. This, is who I was meant to be. Did I mention that my other job is that of teacher? Yeah. I’m in my element when I’m nurturing children.
So here’s my latest realization: Someday my children will all be grown, and when I am retired, I will no longer be in the classroom with students. Which is why, I’ve just recently embarked on a new kind of soul-searching. One where I define myself apart from the role of mother, and teacher, and baby whisperer. It’s been a little over a year now, and I’m beginning to see glimpses of who I am during moments of quiet solitude. When I’m alone and free to do whatever I please. When no one is tugging at my pant leg begging for a juice box, or shouting across the playground, “MomMomMomWatchThisWatchThisWatchThisMooomAreYouWatching?!?”
I’m reveling in the fact that I’ve got a new lease on life, and the possibilities are endless. Whoops. Did I say lease?
What I meant was, I’m about to own this sh*t.