“OMG,” my sister says after I tell her my eleven-year-old son walked in on me in my undergarments. I pull the phone from my ear, as she repeats “OMG” in a high pitch.
“I know. So awkward,” I reply, running my hands through my long brown hair while I sit perched on a counter in my bathroom hiding from my three children.
“Exactly what were you wearing? Was it inappropriate?” she asks, judgement dripping from her words. It would be less offensive if I lie, and say no. Not that I have to defend myself, but it was ten o’clock at night and I was changing into my PJs.
I don’t reply.
“Was it like lingerie?” she asks again.
“It was just my usual lacy undergarments,” I say, biting my lips.
“I knew it. Why do you wear lacy underthings? You are a grown ass adult. Grown ass adults don’t wear sexy things. That’s so weird. I wear PJs from Amazon and underwear that come to my belly button and a nursing bra.”
When she ends the call, my head hangs in shame, but should it? Yes, I’m a grown ass adult, but doesn’t that mean I get to dress however I want that makes me feel good about myself? Would it have been less awkward for my son to walk in on me in granny panties and a sports bra?
I hadn’t realized that motherhood meant I couldn’t wear lacy underroos, and that I had to change my vibe to something more muted and palatable, tucking my actual identity so far down even I wouldn’t recognize me. Granted, my sister has three kids two and under, and my youngest is seven. She’s beginning her parenting journey, and I’m several laps into mine. It took me a long time to push past my nursing bras and get back into something more up-lifting (figuratively and literally).
As I reflect on my undergarments, my mother calls me to ask why I posted “those” pictures on the internet.
“What pictures?” I ask, while unloading the dishwasher with one hand and cooking dinner with the other.
“The ones you posted last night,” she clarifies, her tone in a whisper, as if I had posted something sinister.
“You mean the ones of my new hair cut?” I question.
“What’s wrong with that?” I ask. My hair had looked adorably cute, why not share it?
“I dunno. Other people post pictures of their kids. Why do you post pictures of yourself?” she asks. “And that post you did last week about the kids acting like lunatics. Why do you do that? Just post happy things.”
I step back from the sink and watch the water slowly go down the drain, a metaphor for my sense of self after having three children. I didn’t realize my social media should now be limited to only celebrating my children’s milestones, with me acting like a shadow puppet in the background. How dare I include myself on my own social media account?
“Oh, I see. My social media account should just be for my children, where I pretend they are wonderful and perfect so that other mothers can feel inferior.”
“Yes, exactly,” she says. After she hangs up to go to her Wednesday card game, I slide down the wall of my pantry, consuming peanut butter by the spoonful while the children race through the house screaming my name. Parenting is exhausting and consuming. No matter how hard you work, you never feel like you are doing enough. And during the chaos, it’s easy to lose yourself. Motherhood can snuff out any sense of selfhood. I had three kids in four years. I remember showing up at my pediatrician’s office once wearing two different shoes. My eyebrows grew together like a furry caterpillar crawling across my face, as I woke every two hours to feed my second son who never slept. But after years of sinking into motherhood, I finally let myself breathe again, and to remember me, not as a mother or wife, but as a person.
During the last two years, I started lawyering again and began writing. I started exercising and lost weight. I’m a better mother now that I have regained my identity. Yet, sometimes I still feel judged. Is it wrong to wear fancy underoos as a mom? Is it wrong to post a picture of me on my own social media? Is it wrong to have a sense of self as a mother? I’m not thirsty for attention, but I want validation. I am over forty plus years old, and I matter just as much as the little people I am raising. Ninety percent of everything I do is about them or for them. They are the most adorable and endearing little humans I’ve ever met, but I need a part of me that is about me for me. They will grow up and I will still be here. I don’t want my whole existence to revolve around their achievements and accolades. At middle age, I still have my own goals to reach. I’m not done yet.
And despite what my mother says now, watching her on her own journey of self-discovery at mid-life helped me start mine. When she divorced my father, she went back to nursing school, lost weight, gained confidence, and sometimes that meant letting me and my sisters tend to ourselves. At eight years old, I folded my own laundry and worked in our family restaurant. We had daily chores and responsibilities, and that helped me and my sisters develop into productive adults. I loved seeing my mother push to achieve her own goals. While taking care of four young children, she graduated second in her nursing class even though she hadn't been in a classroom for years. She valued herself, and that taught me to value myself. It's why I've always stood so tall. I hope to set the same example for my children.
So, to all the mothers out there, you matter too. And if you post about your goals and achievements or just anything about you at all, I will be right there cheering you along. You can love your children and love yourself.