I am the mother of two very active, energetic boys. Like a lot of other parents, some days I feel as though I’m trapped in the whirlwind of their schoolwork and squabbles, their interests and insecurities. It’s not uncommon for me to forget to sign an assignment book or to make the cookies I promised for a birthday or class party. And there are a lot of days that we’re standing at the bus stop and I notice that my younger son is wearing an orange shirt with yellow stripes paired with black, blue, and white plaid pants, or that my older son’s pants are about an inch above his ankles. On those days I cringe and hope that their teachers don’t think I’m blind or fashionably-challenged, or worse, that I sent my kids raiding the Community Aid donation bin in our church parking lot (please don’t take that the wrong way; I love thrift and consignment shops). It’s just that in the rush-rush-rush of getting ready, I just didn’t notice.
Yes, sometimes I’m left feeling a bit like the survivor of a natural disaster. But that’s not the mama issue I’m addressing this morning.
I just read a blog post by a young mother in which she bewails the fact that there are times she feels a bit invisible. Now, the cause of her invisibility is the absence of candid photos of her and her children. In her post, she states that she feels quite adept at capturing photos of her husband being an awesome father to their young children–wrestling with them, reading to them, snuggling on the couch with them. The invisibility comes in when she realizes that her husband isn’t quite as into snapping candids of her and the kids as she is, and that makes her feel a bit invisible, or unnoticed, as she puts it. (You can read the whole post here Feeling Invisible )
This got me thinking about the whole maternal invisibility issue, and I realized that up until recently, I had been suffering from my own invisibility, or unnoticed-ness. As I stated in the beginning of this post, I have two boys who are fairly active. Neither is involved in any kind of sport (they definitely get that from their mother), but they are both involved in Scouts, as well as in church-related activities like Junior Bible Quiz and the Christmas plays, and my older son attends Bible Released Time and plays the violin.
How does that make me feel invisible, you may ask? Well, one of the best things about being a stay-at-home mom is that I have the time to be involved with the boys’ activities. I’m a Den Leader with Cub Scouts, I teach Sunday school and try to help with JBQ and the Christmas plays, I’m the School Coordinator and Song Leader for Released Time, and I’m as active as I can be with PTO activities at school. By the sound of that list, I should probably be writing about being exhausted, not invisible. Well, I could, but that’s another post.
Because of my involvement with all these things, I am quite well known at church, at school, and in the community, so how am I invisible? Well, it may seem kind of silly, or even self-centered, but for a long time, I felt as though people didn’t know ME. They knew me as Wesley’s mom, Wayde’s mommy, or even Mike’s wife.While I am happy to be all those things and I wear those badges proudly, I often felt as though people didn’t know who I was. So many times, I’d volunteer in one of the boys’ classrooms, and another parent would approach me and say, “You’re Wayde’s mom,” or I’d hear another volunteer say, “Go ask Wesley’s mom to help.” A part of me wanted to scream, “I’m more than my kids’ mom! I have a name!” The issue became even more overwhelming to me when I realized that these same parents knew that my kids were into dinosaurs or trains or Minecraft, but they didn’t know that I liked to write or that I have Lyme disease. I picked up little tidbits about the other parents, like Rikki’s mom works in finance or Kyle’s mom is into photography, but I wondered if anyone knew anything about me? Sure, some of that was and is my fault, as I fully embrace the Introvert part of my INFP personality. I am far more apt to listen to the conversations going on around me than I am to jump in and offer information about myself.
So I often felt smothered by the invisibility of ME, but I never did anything about it. I just accepted it as part of being a mom and told myself that this too would pass. Until one day when I was visiting my aunt. We got to talking about my mom, who passed away when my younger son was only six weeks old. I mentioned to her my feelings of invisibility and commented that I was really starting to feel like my own mother, who to me never seemed to have much of a personality. My aunt told me that I was doing a wonderful job of being involved with the kids, but she cautioned me against becoming so wrapped up in my family that I lost who I was. She told me about an Aleta (my mom’s name) that I never knew. Oh, I had heard about her from my much-older brothers and from much-older cousins, but she had never existed as far as I was concerned. My aunt told me how clever, witty, and creative my mother was in her younger days, and how she somehow lost that part of herself along the way. And she said something that truly scared me–she said that I was on the way to having the same thing happen to me.
I think that may have been the point where I realized that I needed to reclaim myself. I knew it didn’t mean pulling out of all the kids’ activities, nor did it mean leaving my husband and kids. It just meant that I needed to get honest with myself and think about what I wanted to do, about who I wanted to be, and then to take steps towards doing it.
That’s really how I got myself on the road to publishing my first novel. I have always been a writer; I have stacks of notebooks filled with poems, story ideas, and musings to prove that. But I realized that somewhere along the way, publishing had become something I’d get around to someday–when my Lyme disease is totally gone, when the kids are grown, when we have more money…
Everyone knows that someday so very often turns into never. I didn’t want that to happen any more than I wanted to remain so invisible that I completely lost myself as my mother had. That’s why I pursued this dream so vehemently, even when my husband wasn’t so sure about it. I admitted that it might blow up in my face, that I might be a complete literary failure. But I just knew that I could not, would not allow myself to get to the end of my life and then have to look back in regret, wishing I had given it a shot.
To me, that was an even greater fear than being invisible.