It was a note, stuck on my windshield, a little soggy around the edges from the dusk dew. A love note I suppose, of sorts: a description of me by a bemused new boyfriend, trying to figure out who I was. Because, to be honest, he was finding it pretty tricky. Lawyer. Slacker. Fashion lover. Farmers’ granddaughter. Party raver. Solitude craver. Books, Ibiza, horse riding, pleather trousers, yoga, rom-coms, tequila, glitter streaks and long wellie walk through muddy fields. I loved them all, unexclusively, and in every-changing measures.
It took until my mid-twenties to figure out that it was okay not to have to belong to one camp. That I could skit back and forth between the things which made me happy, without fearing I was suffering from an identity crisis because – I had learned – lots of people didn’t like it. It was frustrating and confusing and made me hard to define and, I suppose, understand. It was greedy. I should not want to study hard and care about wearing make up. I should not play bongos on a yoga retreat, and then sling on a Barbour and wellies and pick up clays at my Uncle’s farm shoot. I should not be able to lift my soul with opera and trance music; with a cello concerto and thumping good pop. It was not until after university that I eventually I found people who also revelled in the variety of life, and they became my best friends, as we squirmed our way out of the boxes people wanted to put us in together.
But then I came across a new box. Motherhood.
The weirdest thing happened when I had a baby. The lid came closing in again, and – for a time – I let it. I tried to figure out what kind of mother I was: which tribe I belonged to, because social and mainstream media told me I must pick one. I wore Bretton tops and legging jeans and talked about breastfeeding and buggy fit and of always smelling just faintly of newly curdled vomit. I felt my inner self shrink back as my baby took centre stage. My job was too difficult to return to part time, and so I didn’t. I was going to be a full time mother and make the best of it. So, quietly, I found myself slipping back to the 1950s. Suddenly all things domestic were my domain. Laundry on continual rotation so that, at any time, there were always other people’s clothes to wash or hang or fold. I wore outfits with toddler snot scratched off the sleeve and anonymous stains rubbed with a cold cloth pulled from a sink full of washing up. I was the kitchen stockist, nutrition provider, burnt pan chiseller, bag packer, diary planner, administration manager. Somehow, by giving birth and giving up income, this new role of sacrifice and service had refined me. Wife and Mother. Mother and Wife.
I told myself there was no time to be anything else, but – now – I am not sure that was completely correct. Because the truth was, I think, that I had got into the box myself, and closed the lid.
What I read and saw gave me a rolling narrative of what motherhood was supposed to mean. Instagram and blogs and articles of ways in which it was full of no sleep and boredom and self depreciating humour, and that I must medicate myself with gin and cake and go to sit in cafes and cry. They were right: this was true, and I was relieved that I was not the only one living it. But that was not the key part. Because becoming a mother was hard in a different way – it was a redefinition that I was completely unprepared for. I had not understood the loss of liberty, not just physically, but mentally. I had not understood that there will now always be a space in my brain and heart that is occupied by gentle worrying. That never being alone does not always mean my children have to be in the same room as me.
My daily existence was about other people, both physically and mentally, and so it was not just the head-swimming exhaustion that made me climb into a box: it was not knowing who on earth I was anymore.
Some things have happened recently that have flipped up the lid. Unexpected opportunities which have gone beyond the babies, and have made me remember the kernel of who I am. It turns out it was there all along, dormant, waiting for me to notice. I feel like my face is tipped up to the sunshine: that I have closed my eyes to its warmth and am waiting, arms stretched, for the courage to climb out.
Maybe I will do all those things again – climb up trees, dance on beaches in moonlight, cry at concerts, put on a suit and heels and stride through the city, make something – but maybe it is okay if, this time, my two small boys come with me – in person, or in my heart – because I think I am starting to realise that, although I am their mother, I am also – mainly – still me.