This past winter, when I was eight months pregnant, my husband and I attended a retreat for "thoughtful" Christians on the snow-covered dunes of Lake Michigan. We had a great time and met wonderful, interesting people with whom we enjoyed great conversations. But one man marred my trip a bit: Whenever he saw me, he insisted on calling me mama.
You don't have to know me all that well to realize that there are exactly three small people on this planet who can call me mama and expect a warm reception. While I'm sure this man meant no harm - he seemed decent enough otherwise - suddenly every essay I had read or written in college lambasting sexist language came flooding back into my memory and fueled an anger I hadn't felt in a long time.
Back in our room, I quietly raged (the walls of our old hotel were quite thin!) against this man to my husband. When he offered to kick his sexist butt for me, we both laughed at that thought and my anger toward the man was pretty much over. But the anger toward myself wasn't.
I knew the reason it upset me to be called mama by someone other than my kids had much less to do with the comment's sexist nature and much more to do with my own identity crisis - one I have suffered since leaving the full-time work world to become an at-home mom five years ago.
Truth is, while I love being an at-home mom, I hate being identified as one. I hate it because it conjures up images that don't mesh with how I see myself - or how I am, actually - at all. Don't get me wrong: This isn't because I dislike being a mother or am ashamed of the institution. I love my kids like crazy and am grateful that I'm home with them. For the world, I wouldn't trade being able to snuggle with my kids on lazy mornings, to shuttle them to preschool and play dates, to bake with them in the afternoons, to wander with them through forest preserves on beautiful days. But for as much as I love all this, it's not what charges me. Even after the best times with my kids, I'll poke back into my office to check email or do a bit of work to feel like myself again. And that is the essence of my identity crisis.
So is this because as a child I didn't play with dolls and dream of being a mommy, but instead played office and school and library and dreamt of being a "career woman"? Is it because when I look at my own giftedness and natural abilities, rearing children doesn't rise to the top of that list? Is it because I come up so short compared to other moms who seem so naturally adept at motherhood? Is it because I fear getting so wrapped up in an identity as Mommy that when my kids are grown and the daily tasks of motherhood over I'll no longer know who I am?