Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." - Isaiah 30:21

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mommy is a Verb

I went running because I was cranky. And because some days, let's face it, kids are just annoying.

I happened to jog by a woman holding a toddler and speaking firmly to a five-year-old. Clearly a mom, her clothes said. You know. Mom clothes.

I've always had, like, this thing about looking like a mom. A friend once told me she took out her nose ring after someone assumed she was her son's nanny. My first thought was, Isn't that a compliment? I found my old blog recently, and apparently I've been dealing with this since Laney was a newborn and I cut my hair short. After a few weeks, I cut it even shorter so that it couldn't possibly be mistaken for a "mom cut." Somehow I didn't like the idea of having my hairstyle determined by the existence of offspring. I don't know, maybe it's weird. But there it is.

In the same way, I've always bristled at the whole stretch mark quote about being a tiger and a tiger earning its stripes. No, dammit, I don't want stripes. Shut up and stop trying to make me feel better about it.

So as I jogged past this woman, I thought, What is my issue with this? Why do I dislike the idea that my clothes or some other element of my appearance reveals me as a mother? It's not like I don't want anyone to know. I'm proud of my kids. Annoying moments aside, I like being their mother.

But it isn't about them. It's about the fact that when we talk about mom jeans, or mom haircuts, or mom cars, or when we refer to someone as a soccer mom (or, for that matter, a M.I.L.F.), we are defining that person. We are oversimplifying all the pieces of their life into the generic M-O-M, like there's some specific set of characteristics that accompany the designation.

So what?

So I'm starting to think it's dangerous.

When I have "mom hair" - which I frequently do - isn't that another way of saying it's my kids' fault I look like a slob? Isn't it an opportunity for me to blame them for my sub-par appearance? They aren't responsible for pulling my hair into a ponytail nearly every morning, I am.

What if instead, we shrug our shoulders and say, Yeah, a lot of mothers have messy hair. Funny correlation there. Or hey, maybe some women have messy hair and some don't, and nobody cares. That would be even better.

Of course, it's not really about appearance. But it causes me to wonder how we see ourselves. When Rowan was born, when I came home from the hospital knowing that for the next year, at minimum, I was neither working nor in school, my thinking was, Well, now I'm just a mom. I even said it a bunch of times: "I don't have to be anybody else. Just mom."

Well, no. False. If I am created as a multi-dimensional individual who is many things to many people, if I have a set of skills that are meant to be shared with the world, then why am I going to reduce myself to only one of those roles and allow it to consume my entire identity? Isn't that kind of, you know, wrong? 

To be clear: "Mommy" is without question the most important role I have ever played, and most likely will ever play. That is, it's the most significant thing I do. But it's just a small piece of who I am. And what kind of regard are we showing for the other people in our lives, the people with whom I honestly believe that God had connected us, if we define ourselves purely as mothers? Doesn't that mean these other non-offspring people don't count for a whole lot?

So here's my project for the next few months: I am going to avoid the use of the word "mom" as an identity. Instead, I'd like to think of it as an action word: To mommy. To mother. In the same way that Christians have - rightfully, in my opinion - emphasized that love is a verb, not a feeling, I want to forget that mom can be used as a noun. I will not use it to define anyone, myself included. My kids deserve better than that, and so does everyone else I know. So do I.

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