Originally published in January 2016
The weirdest thing happened the other day. My best friend, someone I’ve known for years and talk to multiple times a day, launched into this story about the time she studied abroad in college.
It was a total WTF moment. “You studied abroad?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, twice,” she responded.
It was the weirdest thing. I thought I knew this person—her life history included. How was it that I’d missed the part where she lived on another continent?
But then it occurred to me: I didn’t know this story because I’d never asked. I’d never thought to inquire about my best friend’s study abroad opportunities in college because I met her as a mom. By the time we were bonding, college was something in our distant past, a past that, I guess, didn’t seem important enough for me to inquire about.
Motherhood has this way of redefining us and making everything we once were insignificant. You may be a high-powered CEO at a Fortune 500 company, but when your baby is up in the middle of the night spiking a fever, you’re as helpless and scared as every other mom on the planet.
And for stay-at-home moms, which my friend and I are, the identity loss is even more pronounced. Your whole identity gets wrapped up in childrearing. And it’s not necessarily what you thought would happen, or what you want, but it’s the reality, for a while at least.
Being a mom means you’re on duty 24/7; no sick days, no annual leave. And the work is so draining that, even when you do technically have time for yourself, all you want to do is curl up in bed with a hot cup of tea and watch Friends reruns. Now, it sounds exhausting to carve out time for happy hour with friends, yoga on Saturday morning, and book club Thursday night.
But motherhood isn’t the only thing that defines us. We all have our passions and pursuits. Sometimes they just get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we forget we’re multidimensional people. I forgot that about my best friend, and people forget that about me all the time.
I have to chuckle each time an acquaintance discovers this blog and asks why I didn’t tell her about it. “Because you didn’t ask.” No one ever asks. Once people learn you’re a SAHM, they stop asking about you. The conversation turns to the kids, and we become accessories of their lives.
Last Thursday, I met a friend at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to visit the Mark Rothko exhibit, and it so reminded me of who I was. Did you know I studied art history in college? Did you know I worked at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC? Did you know I like to paint?
Probably not. Because I don’t usually say these things anymore. Because motherhood has defined me for so many years. But I’m starting to come out the other side and beginning to reassess who I am, aside from being a wife and mother.
At the end of the exhibit, there was a quote by Mark Rothko that really struck a nerve:
When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet, it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I shall not venture to discuss. But I do know, that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.
It’s not just artists looking for “pockets of silence” to “root and grow,” though. Moms need them, too.