Yesterday marked three years since I became a mom. It wasn’t at all what I’d imagined. My daughter was five weeks old and I only had a few minutes with her. Social workers and nurses watched us. I looked down at her in my arms and she was a stranger. I didn’t instantly, intangibly feel she was my daughter. I didn’t have a clue how long we’d be a family. And I didn’t fall in love at first sight. I became a mom in a dark room of strangers, beeping monitors, and the smell of sanitizer. I was cautious and alone. I was engulfed in new information and entrusted with a new life. Surreal and unknowable, until it’s known, my baptism into motherhood was odd — cold even.
One of the many, many strange things about being a foster mom is that I could stop being a parent at any time. Should I decide I don’t want to do this anymore my kids would be placed elsewhere. I could be told at any random moment of any random day that my children are moving to their biological parents, relatives, or strangers. There are no guarantees in foster care, except for the guarantee that it could be over any moment. Life is like that for all of us, but in foster care it’s a knowledge that glares at us with relentless ferocity day and night.
When my second child reunified with his parents I kept on being a mom. But the only children in my home now are full siblings. If one of them leaves, the other will leave too. Although in my heart I will always be a mom — in my heart I was a mom even before I was a mom — legally, if they left…
I would be no one’s mom.
Can I tell you a secret? Whenever that possibility — being no one’s mom — interrupts my tentatively blissful consciousness, my mind skips right over the sorrowful goodbyes and the emptying of my home and heart, and lands in a clean apartment with nice things that haven’t been broken or drawn on, a full-time job I love, a thriving marriage, world travels, and paid off student loans. To survive the paralyzing grief, I scavenge for shiny signs of life in the world of after. And not only that, but I wish it would hurry up and be after. If it’s going to happen, just let it happen. I don’t imagine more motherhood. And I’m not proud of that.
In the immediate before all I wanted was to be a mom. I was willing to walk away from my education and aspirations if I could just have a baby. I wanted to stay home, nest, and nurture. I wanted to have long autumn walks with my sister and her kids. I wanted play dates and mom friends. But my motherhood was born in an isolated, windowless NICU room and grew into parenting a highly sensitive child. And, even though I love motherhood, my other dreams didn’t, in fact, die. Everything I wanted in the less immediate before remained. This part is hard to communicate because it inevitably comes out wrong, so let me first say: there’s nothing just about being a mom. I admire stay at home moms and I wish I felt at home in their ranks. But I don’t. Because it’s not who I am. I’m not more than that or less than that, I’m just different from that.
This is who I am:
I balance motherhood with student-hood, parenting with teaching, and paperwork with more paperwork. I shrink in shame and qualify daycare each time I tell someone that’s where my kids spend their days. I swallow envy when peers reach my goals before me. I feel insufficient, unnatural, and disconnected in a room of mothers. I come to life doing what I love — and then feel guilty that what I love isn’t playing on the floor with my kids. I struggle to fit laundry and cooking and cleaning into my schedule — so I don’t. My mom folds our laundry, my husband cooks our food, and we have a cleaning lady; all of which, by the way, has never stopped making me feel pathetic. In doing so many things, nothing gets my everything. In doing so many things I’m, in so many ways, less than I want to be.
But I’m also this:
I’m passionate, devoted, brave, smart, and compassionate. Everything I learn at a desk makes me a better mom and advocate for my kids. Everything my kids teach me makes me better at loving people and puts heart to all my head knows. I may be busy and often overwhelmed. I may not be the best housewife. I may not do crafts or plan to homeschool. I may not have a minimalist’s photogenic home. But I’m living through fear — of losing love and failing hopes — everyday. And every one of those days I’m getting closer to long dreamt dreams. And every one of those days I’m cramming my kids full of my affection. I’m embracing purpose over safety and wholeheartedness over comfort. I’m making myself at home in the arena, sometimes getting my ass kicked and sometimes taking names.
Maybe I won’t ever fit the mom-mold. But I hope someday I’ll be thoroughly, deeply proud of that. More, I hope that my kids — whoever they’ll be, for however long — will know that it’s okay to be all the things you want to be. It’s okay to stick with the things that are really hard work. It’s okay to do things a little different than everyone else. It’s okay to stop trying to twist into a shape you’re not, to stop sanding down your corners, to stop shrinking.
It’s okay to be it all.