Monday, July 09, 2007

Identity


I had more time to prepare for the idea of becoming a wife than I did for becoming a mother. Pregnancy lasts nine months; my engagement was a year long. I took two prenatal classes, and I would say at least three premarital classes. None of these stats matters though, or seemed to foretell which was going to be the more difficult transition for me: that of single girl to married wife, or that of child-free me, to being someone’s mother.

I admitted here to having a “huge” identity crisis when I got married, and then not when I gave birth. So this is my attempt to think about why this was so. First, I remember how true it was; I have an image of my new husband and I attending a small Bible study in our new town, and me deliberately sitting across the room from him so that no one would confuse us, as—I don’t know—one Borg-like unit. I never once shied away from claiming my new son as my own, however; the closer I could be to him in public, the better. I can’t imagine how odd it would have felt if someone hadn’t known I was his mother, if they had guessed I was his nanny or something. But during the early days of my marriage, it would have been fine if people had not immediately known my marital status, so that I could be a separate entity distinct from the guy I chose to sit across from. My husband, M. didn’t react this way at all. For him, the more he could throw around the phrase “my wife” the better. I could tell at times he was practicing it, that the words didn’t come naturally, but he always said it with some measure of excitement and pride, with a pause afterwards and a glance towards me as though seeing if I liked what he’d said.

I got married when I was 29. M. and I had been engaged for a year, and had dated for a year and a half before that. But the thing is, there is only so much time and energy you can spend on “Why are there no decent men?”, “Will I be single forever?”, and “Please Lord, don’t let the verse ‘Sing, O barren woman . . . because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband’(Isaiah 54:1) be a verse for me” without the singleness becoming an indelible part of who you are. The girls with the boyfriends, strangers. The girls bonding over why there are no guys, me. I remember one day at work, after university and after my year abroad, sitting in the cafeteria by myself and observing a table of married middle-aged women: they had mom hair and they had mom hips, but they had men. It wasn’t fair—I didn’t have mom hair or mom hips—and I resented them their good fortune, and my as yet unburgeoning one. But I didn’t see how I was going to be crossing to that side of the cafeteria any time soon, being such a single person and all.

On top of feeling generally somehow single, I craved independence and self-sufficiency. To this day, I have to have alone time on a regular basis or I lose my equilibrium. I saw marriage as a potential threat to these, even as much as I wanted to be married to my husband-to-be. I worried about negotiating my (solitary) needs with my new identity as wife, co-dependent: What is my space? What becomes our space? Before the wedding, M. moved some of his things over to the new apartment and placed his lab coats in the closet: to me this became the symbol of our space, which amazingly included his stuff too.

The wedding day came and went. You can’t tell from my wedding pictures that I didn’t believe any of it was happening, in that surreal kind of way brides can experience their own wedding days; I just looked happy, in fact, I looked happier than I’d ever been. Once the honeymoon was over, and we moved into our apartment, with his stuff, my stuff and our stuff, I had the luxury of standing apart from my marriage, and drawing inwards to myself, to have those moments when I could look at the fact I was married (really gobs of time to do this, since I was in a new town, knew no one, and was looking for a job). What resulted was a feeling that everything had changed while not much had changed. Eventually I got used to people knowing me as a married person without ever having had the chance to know the single me. I even got used to the words “my husband.”

When I became a mom, I didn’t have that luxury of standing back and ruminating (way too sleep deprived). But more than that, I accepted motherhood much more graciously. Even when a great representative of the me I used to be—my brother—watched me with my new son, and said incredulously, “Do you realize you’re someone’s mom?” I knew it was true, but so? Your point? The fact of motherhood didn’t rattle me a bit; the act of motherhood, well, quite a lot.

There is nothing like getting married and having kids to make one feel so changed and so ordinary, but ultimately so very (despite what Stats Can says to the contrary) happy. And it is possible, I find, to do these things—marriage and motherhood—with my own style, me-ness, and identity, rough hewn and still under development as it is.

2 comments:

bubandpie said...

I covet your scanner - what a great photo.

This post reminded me of that dream you had where Raj moved his ties into your closet.

Mommy-Like Days said...

Oh my goodness--yes, THAT dream. I forgot about it. . . :)