I was reading an article the other day on Salon.com about autism. It was a personal essay written by a novelist and somewhere in there she dropped the following quote from anthropologist Kate Barrett:
“Parenting today has become an acceptable out, what we call a ‘master identity.’ It’s become a way we don’t do other things in our lives: whether it’s fashion, whether it’s work, whether it’s romance, whether it’s fitness. Being a parent — especially being a mother — becomes an acceptable excuse for not doing other things.”
The novelist used this quote when she was talking about mothering a child with autism. She was explaining about how she didn’t relate to mother’s who devote their lives to the care and advocacy of their child when there are other things they could be doing. Gosh, did those two thoughts stick with me. The idea that just being a mother is not enough.
I’m not sure I completely understand what anthropologist or novelists do, but I do know what I do. I am the interpreter between my child and the world. I am his advocate. I am a researcher, a teacher, and a therapist. I am the protector of his health and a record-keeper. I am preparing as best I know how for his future–pushing skills like reading and writing, investing in technology, and watching closely when others with similar disabilities succeed.
I am NOT a powerhouse mom. I’ve never spoken at the State Capitol about the need for services–although my state is one of the few that wait-lists children with disabilities (for as long as ten years). I still haven’t bought the dang Wright’s Law book even though people have been telling me to for two years now. I’ve never organized a group to walk or fundraised for cerebral palsy, or epilepsy, or even the March of Dimes. I’ve been to one PTA meeting and found it overwhelming to say the least. I admire the women who do these things, but I’m not one of them. I waste precious time on things like finding coordinating outfits for a special occasion. I goof off on Twitter, and obsessively update my Goodreads profile. I’ve probably wasted weeks of my life on Facebook.
I am just a mom. Some days I find myself scarily unambitious. I’m not secretly filled with a novel or dying to start my own business selling jewelry or candles or cooking supplies. Most days I’m too tired to attempt anything more ambitious than reading a book.
It is enough–being just a mom: being a cook, a therapist, a teacher, a guide, a chauffeur, a nurse, an advocate, a cheerleader, and a personal assistant; being entrusted with mindless jobs like making bottles, reading food labels, scheduling appointments, wiping butts, singing silly songs, and reading that story one more time. Really.
Maybe when my kids are older (and less needy) and I’m getting a little more sleep, I’ll do something that the rest of the world finds more valuable. I could go back to teaching, which I found incredibly rewarding, or spend a little more time painting. They won’t ever convince me, however, that these jobs were more important than the one I’m doing now. It’s unglamorous and truly, anyone can do it, but that doesn’t make it less. I’m giving my children the foundation upon which the rest of their lives will be formed. I’m passing my values on to my children in a physical way–hoping that this will help create adults who do the same. I’m walking the walk even when it’s messy, painful, and exhausting.
So yeah, I’m just a mom, and that’s fine by me.