Ron and Simon left for Scout camp today. And I have to say, I don't like how empty the house feels with 1/3 of its usual occupants gone.
Several years ago, I was in a book group or some such setting where the host asked us to say something about ourselves that wasn't, "I'm so-and-so's mother" or "my husband's wife." I thought, "Well, of course, I can define myself just fine without them. I'm Bobbie. I . . . like to write. And read. And play the piano. I'm an editor. And I guess that's it." Then afterward, I thought, "What's wrong with defining myself according to my kids or even husband? What's wrong with calling myself a mother and a wife and then an editor or writer or reader or pianist?" I mean, my life is intentional. All of it is. I made conscious choices that landed me here, exactly where I want to be. I have a right to claim all the labels I want since I'm the one that wrote them in a black Sharpie, peeled the stickers off the paper, and pressed them against my chest.
Also around that time, I read "Year of Wonders" and remember clearly how the main character talked about becoming "too" attached to her child. Well-meaning friends warned her not to love the child completely until he turned 2, but she doesn't listen. Child mortality rates were still so high at this time that people knew there was a pretty good chance the baby you birthed and loved even for the first couple of years wasn't going to make it beyond the toddling stage. Although not much about the book was light and happy, this particular part really broke my heart. I wondered how and if parents really could separate themselves from their children like that. How do you not fall in love with your children from the moment they're a part of you?
I sat watching my younger three on a playground tonight and paid particular attention to the moms following their children around, playing chase with them, hide and seek, or just slowly circling the equipment to keep an eye on them. And I thought, "Oh, I'm so glad my kids are old enough to play without me having to do that." Then almost immediately, I thought, "Should I be glad? Should I be chasing Ivan around, even though he's perfectly happy without me right behind him?" Those thoughts carried over to "Am I not doting enough? Will they not remember me loving them enough? Do I work too much when they're at home? Should I sit down to do more crafts with them, take them to museums more often, have spontaneous parties for them? Am I a warm mother? A distant one? Cuddly? Prickly? Am I doing any of this right, and if not, is it too late to fix things?"
One of my motherhood fears has always been what comes after they're no longer living with me: Will I know how to function daily without a child at home? I've been afraid of becoming the mother who can't find anything to do except collect recipes to be used during their next visit home and plan every moment of our holidays together.
And is this why we, as mothers, are so often pushed to define ourselves outside of our children? But at what cost? Will alternative definitions of Me mean I have to learn to separate myself from Them?
There are some days more than others that I feel the imprint of the label. And I wear it proudly. Honest to God, I do. And it's a good thing that Sharpie is waterproof and permanent.