There is a specific sound from childhood that still echoes through my ears. It is the squelchy slurp of short-clad legs lifting away from the black vinyl seats of my family’s 1972 orange Volvo station wagon. A vehicle that I later, as a 16 year-old newly minted driver, named ‘The Great Pumpkin’. But the sound reminds me of my early years, and the seemingly endless hours we spent in the summer heat travelling the length of the west coast to reach my grandparents in southern California. Growing up in the 70’s meant a car with no air conditioning, and a back seat devoid of any electronic entertainment. And so there was a litany of imaginative offerings designed to try and stave off the inevitable ‘he’s looking at me’ or ‘she crossed the line’. We played the license plate game, I spy, the alphabet game, first to see the ocean, all manner of distractions were employed in an attempt to preemptively avoid the chain reaction meltdown of three small children.
The diversion that captured our interest the most and held us the longest was ‘Who am I?’. Whomever was ‘it’ became a person we all, in theory, knew. It was then up to the rest of the occupants of the wagon to try and guess their identity through a series of questions to which the only reply could be yes or no. The initial inquires followed a fairly predictable path. Dead ? Alive? Famous? Man? Woman? Girl? Boy? Relative? Live nearby? Far away?
Who am I?
For the past decade I have been a stay-at-home-Mom with the occasional foray into the paid workforce. And because my primary role is defined through the existence and needs of others, I find myself wondering, who am I? For mothers who spend considerable time in the paid workplace, they can be plagued by the demons of guilt. For others, those who are home, it is the darkness of missing identity, the lack of association to ourselves that present as the monsters in the night.
Who are we? In a culture that identifies us by our occupation, who are we? Laundress? Dish washer? Short-order cook? Referee? Taxi driver? Mediator? Health care provider? Academic tutor? Mais, oui. We are all of these. But these monikers describe that which we do all day. It doesn’t address the existential angst of all mothers, working at home or away. Who are we? How do we define ourselves? How can we express this? Nurture it? Honor it? It is critical to our heath and to our family system that we know who we are.
So on this day filled with flowers, cards, phone calls, burnt breakfasts, and accolades aimed at your parenting abilities, take time for the rest of you. See if you can slip outside, look at the sky, and remember being seven. Riding in the backseat with the window down, the wind whipping your hair into your face as your hand, extended beyond the confines of the car, flew effortlessly on the breeze. Envision that girl. Embrace all of who she was, and how she has grown. Find her voice within you, and listen to her whispered dreams. Invite them to float through you, displacing guilt / association. And just before you step back inside, to the pandemonium of parenting, let her know you’ll return next year, to tell her of dreams fulfilled. Keep her posted.