Once she decided to go back to work, I felt freedom to ask questions. We could talk freely. It occurred to me that the reason I didn't ask her any questions was because I didn't know how. I didn't know how to say "What did you do before?" without making some sort of implication that she was now doing nothing. Or that I was focused on the wrong things. So I asked nothing.
I felt slightly ashamed, somewhere in the back of my mind, until the prospect of becoming a stay-at-home mother became real to me. Not long before we left Maryland, I blurted out, "I'm sorry I never asked you any questions. It's about to happen to me, and I know it's going to suck and that it must have for you. And I'm sorry."
A woman my mom's age approached me on my last Sunday at our home church in Maryland. "You have to find a MOPS group," she said. And also, this: "You have to come up with an answer for when people ask you what you do. Other than being a stay-at-home mom. Because when that's your answer, the conversation stops." I told her I had a business that I would eventually, hopefully, be spending some time on. "That's good, go with that."
Friends, hear me. I love my children. I adore being their mother. I find myself delighting in things I never would have imagined-- in the doing, in the listening, in the witnessing. I do feel I am learning to embrace my role and this time. I am often honored and humbled. But I've never been keen on my role as mother completely defining me. Why should I have to stop being all the things I was before?
Nearly five years into my motherhood journey, I am very aware that I haven't stopped being most of the things I was before. The difference I think, as a stay-at-home mom, is that often no one seems to care. Either because they thought they knew all they needed to know or because, like me, they didn't know how to phrase it, in the two months since I last worked, no one I've met has asked me any questions that weren't related to my husband or children or non-work-or-college-related past.
Then I went to MOPS. Kicking and screaming. I felt that an organization called Mothers of Preschoolers was bound to corner me farther into the pigeonhole of motherhood. I thought we would have nothing other than children in common; I thought they would make me decorate cakes (which I have totally done on my own; I don't know why I was so offended by this possibility). And I was wrong. (Husband? You reading this? You might want to print it out for future reference.)
For the first time since coming home, someone asked me what I did before-- they asked everyone. In that room, with those women, we were all whole people with multidimensional lives. We were all slightly disoriented, complex people who are also mothers. I was so grateful to be seen. I told Daniel all about it on the phone that afternoon, how I'd been wrong, how my hopes were high, how happy I was to have been....acknowledged.
Then the next day, talking to another mom about our kids, I was asked another question.
"So your daughter goes to school Tuesdays and Thursdays. What do you do on the other days?"
I stammered. My eyes grew wide. And I never actually answered the question. Huh. Not sure which is worse.