This Mothers’ Day I want to acknowledge that each of us has at least two parts, and both parts are worth celebrating–the part that’s “Mommy,” and the part that’s not.
The day my children were born, my world turned upside down (in the most wonderful way). People had warned me that my life would change forever, and I expected the physical aspects of it (the lack of sleep, the diapers, the physical presence of two small humans in my house)–but I had no idea how strong the emotional changes would be. I didn’t know how my feelings about myself would change. I didn’t know how my self-identity and my understanding of my role in society would change. No longer was I just mild-mannered Jackie Novatt. I was now “Mommy.”
But what does that mean? I was now not just responsible for myself and my husband–no, there were two helpless beings dependent on me for everything, and my life became dedicated to make sure they were fed, warm, safe, and comfortable. Sleep, showers, and hot food for me were exchanged for snuggles, cries, smiles, coos, and cleaning poop–lots of poop.
And while I was exhausted and overwhelmed, I also jumped wholeheartedly into this new role–if my babies needed me to run to the ends of the earth, I’d do it. My wants and needs were no longer a priority–my role on this planet was to ensure the safety and growth of these two little people. There was no turning back, and as tired and scared as I was, I was also deeply satisfied with my role.
It took me a long time to realize that, while being “mommy” in the house is certainly a major and extremely important part of my life, it cannot be the only part. Jackie was still in there somewhere, and I needed to find a way to let her out. But I hesitated–could I be both at the same time? If I took time to acknowledge the existence of Jackie, would my kids somehow feel neglected? Finally, like many moms, I realized that a healthy balance would actually make me better at both roles.
So, how does one find that balance? It’s different for everyone. For me, part of that balance comes from my job. Science and teaching are so deeply a part of who I am that I’d honestly do it for free if I didn’t need to pay a mortgage or buy groceries. For the hours I’m at work, I get to be Jackie. I get to think, learn, and work on a project I’m passionate about. Then I get to come home and be “mommy” again. While there are certainly challenges in scheduling sometimes, it’s truly the best of both worlds.
My balance also comes from solidarity with my fellow parents, in my case, the local chapter of Multiples of America. This club has introduced me to other amazing people who had their identities change when their kids were born—several at once! I see how they find that balance and I get inspired. One sings in a band. Many find success selling different products through at-home businesses. Others play sports, or volunteer with religious and scouting groups. Many are out with their fitbits, working to be healthy. I see them following hobbies and passions and improving themselves while at the same time, I see the amazing jobs they are all doing with their kids. They play, teach, comfort, and guide their kids and they mentor new parents just starting this journey. One side doesn’t detract from the others.
I realized the importance of this balance again when I participated in my synagogue’s Purim spiel, a fun theatrical re-enacting the story that the Purim holiday is based on. We practiced for two months before the show, and my mom and husband questioned why I agreed to do it. Why would I agree to go out after the kids go to bed, after a full day of work and parenting, to practice for a show? I began by saying “but I committed to it,” and “they’re depending on me,” but I realized that wasn’t the true answer–the true answer is that, darn it, it was fun! I enjoyed it! I got to re-visit my previous life as a theatre kid, dance, sing, and re-discover a part of Jackie that had been hidden for years.
Then I’d come home and enjoy my role as “mommy” again. Why did I find it so difficult to admit that I’m doing something because I enjoy it? Why is it so much easier for me to justify leaving home if it’s because someone else needs me, rather than because I want to? While I work on figuring out the answer to that, I admit here publicly and (almost) without shame that I participated in the Purim spiel because I wanted to.
That’s my story. As we look forward to Mothers’ Day this week, I celebrate both parts of you, my fellow moms and primary caregivers. I celebrate the your taking care of your kids, feeding them, teaching them, clothing them, and molding them into kind, caring human beings. But, I celebrate the part of you that’s just you. You are still in there, and you’re important. If you’ve found your balance, that’s great. If you haven’t yet re-discovered the you that’s hiding under the “mommy,” I encourage you to look for her and let her shine.