When I was a little girl, I wanted to be…a little boy.
I chose short hairstyles and preferred He-Man to Barbie. I liked remote control cars and pretended to be the Karate Kid. Once, I tried to pee standing up.
The doctor told my concerned mother not to make a big deal out of it. He was right. It was a phase that passed – I wore a dress to prom and years later married the man I danced with and birthed babies the way women must.
But between then and now, I've tried on identity after identity like so many pairs of pants in the fitting room, searching for the perfect pair that fit like a glove.
In high school, I was a runner. I tied that label onto the soles of my feet and let it carry me through those four years and beyond. When the balance between pride and pain tipped too steeply onto punishment's court, though, I stepped out of those shoes and left that identity to soak in its puddle of sweat.
In college, I wanted to be an engineer. I thought it was what all the smart kids did. But as I began to walk to required track, I found nothing that interested me in the scenery. I saw only miles and miles of numbers and logic and I felt no passion. So I derailed.
And then there was Maggie, a girl I met during my year away from college as an Americorps volunteer. Deep down, I loved her. I wanted to be her.
Actually, deep down isn't right. I wore it all over my face as I watched her animated beauty with wide eyes. She must have noticed. But she put up with me. Perhaps she sensed how fragile I was back then. That I was still in my shell with soft, vulnerable skin.
She knitted. She ate no meat. She bowed her head before meals but attended no church – hers was a god found in the trees and cupped between her hands. She didn't always wear underwear. She saw beauty everywhere and netted it onto white edged photographs. She cared deeply about the world.
But I couldn't wiggle into her mold. I felt weird without underwear and my knitting tied itself in knots. Too many beans in my diet gave me gas and I didn't have a good camera.
I'm not a boy. I'm not a runner. I could never be an engineer. And I'm definitely not Maggie.
But I am a mother.
This is an identity I will never grow out of or leave behind or decide against or realize just isn't me.
It IS me.
It washed over me in relentless tidal waves when I was in labor for the first time, drenching me in the kind of pain that made me want to jump out of my skin and leave it writhing on the floor for someone else to deal with. But I couldn't. I had to hold on and hang in there and breathe breathe breathe. And I did.
When that baby was born she was mine. And I was hers.
I found myself in her eyes and later in her sisters' eyes. And I lost myself in them, too. Sometimes I strain to see my own toes wiggling in the often white-capped, often muddy, often whirlpooling waters of loving them. But I'm finding that if I lie back and let mothering close over my head, I can still see and breathe and be.
I can be a writer and a baker and a lover and a sun-catcher and a watcher and a sponge and a believer and a think-deeper and a critic and a grower and a student and a storyteller and a connoisseur and a giver and a take-backer and a champion and a seeker and relentless and poignant and focused and strong.
I am a mother. I am me.