I once had an elderly woman stop me in a Walmart parking lot with some advice. “You’re walking too fast with your baby,” she said. I had only one child then. She was around 17 months and I, on that particular day, or in that moment, was attempting to hold her hand to walk from our narrow parking space to the front door of the store, very quickly.
“Slow down, baby girl,” the woman said, smiling in a way that seemed to beg me to see the humor in my quick steps and the stumbles of my toddler. I smiled back then, laughed, and said “I would,” I think,” or that I “am going slowly for my baby.” And to this she smiled the kind of smile that comes when you know that the person you’re talking to hasn’t really understood what you’ve said and won’t hear what you say until they have the ears to hear it. I knew this then, but I promise, I didn’t know what to do with that sentiment.
I’ve always been a fast walker. It started in high school. It started because I was usually nervous and didn’t like how intentional walking slow felt. It became a habit from there. I’ve always been that kind of woman, or the kind who wants to communicate her importance through all parts of her being, so fast walking, intentional steps, came with the territory.
I say all this to say that when the woman in the parking lot stopped me to tell me that I was “walking too fast with my baby” and that I should “slow down because her legs weren’t long enough to keep up with mine,” I couldn’t do any different. I didn’t know I was walking fast. And that my daughter’s legs were practically limp against the pace I thought we should go to hurry into the store, just didn’t register.
Fast forward two years, after the birth of my second child, things did begin to register. I wrote this post about it and named that anecdote as my “come to Jesus moment in motherhood.” I didn’t say it then, but, behind the sentimentalism about the pictures and who I perceived myself to once be, was a very judgmental, ugly thought.
“I was a selfish mom.”
I said this aloud, but only to myself, that evening with my pictures and with tears in my eyes.
It was late in the evening, then, and my children had fallen asleep. And I was there with my laptop and this guilt, this painful kind of guilt that I was selfish for walking too fast and for thinking of only myself. There was guilt and embarrassment at what my small child must have looked like to that elderly lady. Legs small. Stumbles. Trips. Trying to keep up with me, the lumbering giant of a woman who was too big to look down.
I said I would change then. I said I would be different then. I would walk slow, literally and metaphorically, and I would, as compensation for my sins of selfishness, allow myself the “right” to lose myself in motherhood.
I would write less, leave the house less, and try to become someone else. I would become just a mom.
And so that’s what I did much of last year.
I read somewhere about the dangers of this path, this path in which mothers lose themselves for their children. But I ignored the roadsigns. I was too busy looking at my toddling toddlers that I couldn’t see anything else. I didn’t want to see anything else. I didn’t want to see…me.
My mother warned me of women she knew who did this. She used her life as a cautionary tale. She told me a story about how she felt going to the grocery store for the first time in decades without her children. “It’s like I lost my limbs,” she said, recalling that day and the discomfort that she felt in being just by herself, being herself, when for so long she had just been a mother. I heard her and sympathized, but I didn’t get it until recently, or until a few months ago when I started wearing make-up.
I have never been a makeup kind of girl, so in my 30s, this whole thing is very new to me. I was in a bathroom at my mother’s house when I first attempted to line my eyes with the eyeliner I purchased from a drug store a week before. That first attempt was a mess. My hands shook and my arms arched and I kept over-lining my upper eyelids, mistaking them to be shorter than they really were.
I think the genius of a good makeup artist is that they have confidence in what they’re doing and in themselves. They know their face, its lines and curves, and apply makeup almost like it’s a dance. Or, at least that’s what I can gather from watching the magic of every makeup vlogger I’ve followed on Youtube in the past months.
In the bathroom, looking at my bare face, I had none of that. I didn’t have that confidence or an understanding of my face. In fact, in that moment, or with my children not in the picture, that time in the bathroom was the first time I’d really seen myself in years. It was scary in that way, but in meeting myself, again, it felt so new and exciting and invigorating and courageous and amazing. “Hello, Jessica. How are you?” I seemed to say then and in every selfie I took that day and in the days after.
I now line my eyes every morning. I do it not because I think makeup is necessary to me being a better mom. No, I do it because I love the excuse it gives me to look at myself in the morning, to feel my face, to know it, to dance with it. So I line my eyes and my children sometime watch. “Mommy, what are you doing?” they sometimes ask.
I can’t explain it now but this routine of mine reminds me to be a woman. I don’t say this to them, but I think it. It reminds me that I am a woman and that I am a human and a mother, too. I contain multitudes. I need this reminder.
I used to say that it was having children that changed me. And, it was that. But…also what changed me was growing up and into the kind of woman who can walk slow and fast and be confident enough to know when to change pace, the kind of woman who can look into someone’s eyes when they’re speaking and hear them. It’s only when you become a certain kind of woman that you realize, with children, that you can be you and a mother and that rather than pretending to be a certain kind of mother for appearances, you will just be yourself.
That woman in the parking lot…she wasn’t really telling me to slow down. No, I now know that what she was really telling me to do was to be in this moment of life enough to know when to look ahead and when to look down and when to adjust, when to walk slow and fast and when to grab your children in your arms and hold them and when not to. Geez. Yes, it’s all that.
I wish I could see that woman again, just to show her how far I’ve come. I wish I could see her and say “thank you.” I wish I could say that I heard her and am really hearing her now.
Have you lost yourself in motherhood and found yourself again? Tell me your survival story and how you manage(d) to stay, well, yourself.
p.s. I’ve nominated this post in the HEART category of BlogHer’s Voices of the Year. If you are so inclined, willing, and able, please vote for me.