A Mother’s Self | By Sarah Ann Noel

To celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, we’re doubling up on motherhood posts. My post yesterday, and Sarah’s post today are eerily through the same lens. Just, timing, distance, and our unique lives separate us. I hope with this, we’re all able to join in and appreciate the varying degrees of womanhood and motherhood in this community.Thank you for being here. LaTonya

The week Woman of Color released, I flew to Brooklyn to be with LaTonya for her launch party. I returned to the city that’s felt more like home than most places, spent my days with kindred friends, immersed myself in sunshine and art, filling my stomach with bagels and coffee while my soul filled up too.

What’s more, I did it alone…

I packed a suitcase just for me. I waited in the airport listening to my music. I read a book on the plane. I made my own schedule—sleeping, eating, socializing. Sometimes I sat in silence. I did all of this without one thought for what was going on with my children at home. Sure, I FaceTimed with them. I chatted about their days with my husband before nodding off at night. But I existed for half a week without concern for anything but myself. Though I admit this with immense guilt, I try to take a break like this at least once a year.

When I was a young girl, I imagined the defining moments in my life that would equate to my perfect picture of adulthood. Adulthood seemed like a static destination, albeit one with phases, but that once I got there, I was sure to know. I would feel in my heart and soul the way I saw my own mother. I would be elegant and confident and ready for whatever stage of life I was in—not just prepared, financially, socially, or emotionally, but that it would come at the time my heart was soft for it.

The first hard lesson of adulthood, of course, is how much faster the time moves, that you’re made to contend with things that feel out of your league, and just when it feels normal and you’ve got a handle on it, life hands you the next piece. There is no “feeling” a certain age, only feeling your way through new situations, new perspectives.

Generally being a future-thinker, completely unable to quiet the anxiety of What Is To Come, I recognized this early on. I was analyzing my present-to-future path, horrified at how quickly each milestone would come, and how little time that left for being young and impulsive. This was the second lesson of adulthood, for me, and it was a good, fun one. I embraced it. I took charge of my own path, my own thinking, my own dreams. I traveled as much as I could and I filled my time with things that felt life-giving to me. I nurtured hobbies and skills, even picked up a few new ones. It was a blossoming time of life and the time I really discovered myself.

When I found out I was pregnant with Iris, and I knew my life was going to change, I vowed that though my circumstances were changing, I wouldn’t let my core self shift. I thought I could maintain my identity, just add “motherhood” to the resume.

In my last essay for Latonya, “Don’t Shrink”, I wrote,

I’m not the first woman to lose herself to motherhood. In fact, I’m certain that it’s just a part of it. You can’t help but to sacrifice something of yourself, letting your little tenant take a piece of you with them when they leave your body and head out into the world.

The third lesson of adulthood was that I couldn’t be who I was before, after my daughters were born. I was changed—from the inside out. Of course, this is the sacredness of motherhood, to experience this metamorphosis. But I didn’t transform into something not human. I didn’t surrender my individuality. If anything, motherhood is an addition to one’s self, not a subtraction, but it takes some organization to access those pieces that are independent of your children.

For me, it’s been a long time coming. My daughters are now both school-aged, and even still, most of my brain space centers around them. Every mother has her own struggles with this balance; mine come from the role of work-from-home mother, where all the lines are very blurry and no matter how I adjust the weight of each piece, no matter how smoothly it all seems to go, there is always a lingering feeling of failure. If my kids are playing nicely with each other and I kick ass at work that day, I feel sad that I didn’t spend more time with them. If my day is bombarded with school events and household chores and a to-do list left unchecked, I carry the weight of my personal sacrifice into my mothering. And apparently, when I take an annual break, indulge the parts of myself normally left untended, and actually refresh and revive, in the end, that also comes with a side of guilt.

This is the part I’m working on because the newsflash is: nothing will ever be balanced. Much like that first life lesson, this journey we’re on is always changing. Much like I think I’ve scheduled out a work day but then school is unexpectedly closed or a client schedules a last-minute meeting, so does life keeping churning out unplanned circumstances. We just do our best to compensate.

Some day, though, my daily mothering roles will subside, and what I will be left with is myself again. There’s a heaviness to this, the sadness of them growing up; but when I really look at What Is To Come, what I fear most is being a stranger to myself. Maybe the vacation is accompanied by guilt, but it’s also an investment in who I’ll be and how I’ll be living later on. So I visit my sister in Nashville. I take the writer’s retreat in San Francisco. And I make sure to not miss my friend’s Brooklyn book launch. I reorganize and set that independent self free.

(Photo and words via Sarah Ann Noel. Thank you, Sarah)

3 thoughts on “A Mother’s Self | By Sarah Ann Noel

  • Reply Liz May 8, 2019 at 11:01 pm

    Just a month ago, I had the chance to take a 4 day trip by myself. Not for work, no husband, no kids. It was my first trip longer than 30 hours on my own. It was amazing. I moved at my own pace, saw what I wanted to see. Didn’t worry about anyone needing a bathroom, a snack, a break – just me. I flew on a plane and watched movie after movie, no interruptions. I loved seeing them all when they picked me up, but oh my did that trip give me something. I felt so reset and think I need to do this at least once a year, if I can. I need it, I didn’t know how much I needed it.

    • Reply latonya May 9, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      I love this so much, Liz. Sometimes we don’t realize it until we go. Thank you for sharing and for reading Sarah’s post!

  • Reply Maria Confer May 9, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    Such a beautiful post! These words are resonating with me hard and I juggle a growing business while being at home. This bit in particular
    “Every mother has her own struggles with this balance; mine come from the role of work-from-home mother, where all the lines are very blurry and no matter how I adjust the weight of each piece, no matter how smoothly it all seems to go, there is always a lingering feeling of failure.”

    Thank you, Sarah Ann Noel

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