Friday, August 17, 2007

The M Word



Is this thing on?

Now, where was I?

A couple of weeks ago, as I was cleaning the kitchen, my son sat at his father's laptop playing educational flash games at an excellent, if somewhat goofy, phonics/reading site called (mad props to the mother of Bub and Pie for mentioning it briefly on her blog months ago). He came across a section of the site that focused on practicing the proper pronunciation of vowel pairs, such as "ai."

I listened to him surreptitiously as he read each practice word as it popped on the screen. Every time he would read a word, he would add a little commentary about it. something I've noticed him doing often as he learns to read-- I suspect it helps him remember new words.

"Snail. I like snails. They have shells."
"Pail. You can put water in a pail."

So, here I was, smiling proudly to myself as my three-year-old boy read real words, all by himself, when suddenly, I heard him say,

"Maid. Mommy is a maid!"

Now, why was I so appalled when I heard those words innocently escape his mouth?

I mean, it is rather understandable that he would draw such a conclusion. After all, my son sees me wiping counters, sweeping floors, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming rugs, dusting bookcases, folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, watering plants, etcetera, etcetera, day in and day out, every single day. A woman cleaning the house, according to the cartoon picture I assume must have accompanied the word, is called a maid. Mommy cleans the house, so Mommy must be a maid. It was a perfectly logical assumption for a three-year-old to make.

I laughed nervously, and called out cheerfully, "Isaac, mommy isn't a m-a-i-d, maid, because mommy doesn't get p-a-i-d, paid for cleaning the house!"

But inside my head, gears were grinding.

There's nothing wrong with housecleaning, of course. We all have to do it, or pay someone else to have it done. And, despite the stigma historically attached to it by our society, I believe strongly that the maintenance of a household is honorable, honest, important work, especially when associated with the care of children.

And wasn't that belief of mine part of the reason I decided to stay home with my son in the first place? Didn't I make this choice, in part, because if if I had gone back to my low-paying outside-the-home job, I would not have had the wherewithal to pay someone what I considered to be a fair wage to do the important work of keeping my home and caring for my son?

It wasn't the idea that my son might see me primarily as a housekeeper that bothered me, I decided. It was my fear that that might be all he saw me as.

After all how could he know-- how could he possibly know, at such a young age, all the other things I have been? All the things I have wanted to be?

How could he know, for instance, that in high school I ran long distance races, or that in college, I wrote high-minded papers analyzing literature and film in multiple languages, that I once spoke Spanish and Hindi well enough to write essays? How could he that I once won awards for my amateur photography? That I once built sets and hung lights in a theatre, where I met traveling performers from all over the world? How would he know that I used to have picnics in parks in at midnight? That, before I met his father, an adamant non-dancer, I used to go out regularly at night to dance swing or salsa late into the early morning?

How would he know that I have at least ten novels in my head that have never been written, let alone published? That sometimes I wish I could go back to school and get a second bachelor's degree in botany, just for the heck of it?

How would he know any of this, when, day in and day out, I get up in the morning, and clean, and cook, and tend the garden, and read my son a few books from the library, and help him practice learning to hold a pencil properly according to the instructions of his occupational therapist, and clean some more, and build a few towers with Duplos, and cook and clean again, and perhaps spend a few hours writing descriptions of dressers or something, or watch tv and read depressing news articles on the internet until I feel like a zombie, and then go to straight to bed?

I feel strongly that I am where I need to be right now, caring for a person that I love in the best way I know how, and yet, I can't help but fear on certain days that I'm losing my identity in such a way that, one day, when my son needs less of my time, it may be very difficult to find myself again.

How do you, the rest of you, find the balance between being a good parent, and being true to yourself?


Update: Lisa at Midwestern Mommy has nominated this a Perfect Post. Thanks, Lisa!

Perfect Post Award for August 2007


R said...


I often find it difficult to be true to myself. . . and I'm not even yet a mother. I'm not the one to turn to for advice on these things; I'm the one to turn to for drinking-wine-and-moaning about these things.

However... no advice aside... it was SO super great meeting you! I'm so glad you came!

Lisa said...

I'm SO HAPPY you came out with us last night. I've missed ya girlie.

You bring up some points every woman struggles with. As Seth grows I find the way I see myself is changing too. BUt as he grows you will have more free time to pursue your old (and new) dreams.

(I've always wanted to go back to school and study botany just for the heck of it too!)

Anonymous said...

Firstly, I think what you are doing now, being a mother, is cooler than anything you listed and don't let society brainwash you into thinking otherwise. None of that stuff will matter ten or twenty years from now but your son will.
A large part of who we are is mothers, a part of us we weren't able to discover until we had kids. We uncover another dimension to ourselves: more patience, greater intuition, etc.

Yet I still nurture my interests. I still prune that which I can return to once my kids leave the nest.

Dawn said...


Yes, I understand - intimately.

Which is one of the reasons that I felt I HAD to continue with my career ( even as I was not being paid nearly enough).

I felt that I needed to preserve My identity - the non-mom, non-wife one.

One of my issues over the last year has been this loss of status and trying to re-establish myself in a whole new environment.

For me, at least, it goes well beyond what/who Emily sees me as- and much more about keeping the internal Dawn on keel. I knew this from very soon after she was born.
I knew that to suppress the Dawn who needed the external "stuff" would mean a Mom to Emily who was incredibly mentally unhealthy, and could lead to bad things all around.

Of course blogging has served this for me as well. When Terrance won't listen or doesn't laugh, I turn to the internet.

You will find the right ground for you, I promise.

Ruth Dynamite said...

We all struggle with this. For me, it was about carving out time for me to do something just for me (write/play tennis/drink wine with friends). It's essential.

JessiTRON said...

How much do we know about our own mothers? I would love to know what she dreamed about, what her goals and interests were before I was born. I should ask her... but it seems like such a personal question, and it never seems to be the right moment. Will I ever find out?

Right now all our children need to know is that we're there for them. This is the easy part.

Anonymous said...

Dude, I don't have an answer for that, but if you do someday get those novels written, I'll be a Beta reader and give my opinion happily!

I think Mom is a job title that beats all other job titles. Seriously, my accountant title isn't even worth capitalizing but when I say I'm a mom, I feel as if I'm doing something important.

Isaac is a toddler, and I'm sure that you, being the creative diva you are, will find a way to interact with him as more than a maid, a cook, a laundress, a tutor (for when your child prodigy goes to school) or any other role Mom encompasses. When he sees that you know all about dreams and hobbies and finding who he wants to be, he'll know you have them too.

Or you could print this post out and show it to him years from now.

How much do we really know about our parents' desires as people beyond their parenting of us? I think I might need to pick up the phone and start asking some questions. After all, they're people I don't want to overlook, since they're so important to me.

Anonymous said...

Don't haven't lost your identity! Share the gifts that you have with your son. Show him your photography and talk to him about it. Teach him Spanish. Write him poems. Take him out for special picnics. Teach him how to dance. You can still maintain your identity and be a mother to your son. Isn't it wonderful that you have someone to pass this gifts on to?!

kristi said...

I totally get what you are saying. Maybe you could show your son some photos of you running in school, and doing diffent things with your life, or you could even make a scrapbook of it. That way he sees you as more than the "maid."

Anonymous said...

Great post and a well deserved Perfect Post award!

I struggled with this a lot when I was a new mom at home with three very small children. What has helped me is to pursue other interests outside of being a mom. Those are the things that help keep me sane and offer a great outlet from stressful mommy days.

Bananas said...

Wow... really great post. Here via midwesternmommy.