Mom, Mother, Mudda

A mom by any other name is still a mom

A few years ago, the high school from which I graduated started issuing an all-alumni directory. Actually, a company from White Plains, New York publishes it; phone banks of employees call alumni to gather vital statistics and information about missing persons, and, oh yes, to offer the happy opportunity to obtain a directory for an inflated purchase price. A "Whatever Happened to So-and-So": ridiculous but irresistible.

When the call first came long ago for my particulars, I, still in the first few uneasy years of motherhood, asserted that I wasn't just a stay-at-home mother. I was an "Actress/Homemaker." I needed an epithet, for this directory would be going out to all those comrades in teenage angst who watched me give a commencement address in June 1979. (For the record, I was not the valedictorian of my high-school class or any other educational endeavor; I'd merely won so many Biggest Mouth awards over four years that they gave me the opportunity to blather on one last time. The speech was fair and photos document a crooked hat. Why didn't anyone tell me?)

I was certain my classmates and family members expected me to amount to something of consequence: actress, journalist, lawyer, psychologist . . . something worthwhile and fascinating.

In all my years of aptitude tests, academic counseling, career guidance, and long-term goal analysis, never was staying home with children proposed. My fruitful fantasy life never visited the island of cozy domesticity. No one, myself included, expected me to end up as a full-time mother of two.

When I coyly described my circumstances--"Oh, I'm only a mother"--the publishing company suggested the term "homemaker." And it was proposed in such a crisp, matter-of-fact manner, I felt a comforting wave of validation wash over me. I was Something, not Just a Mom.

The few job titles I've had have been pretty short lived and somewhat unimpressive: waitress, bank teller, volunteer, chronic volunteer, crabby volunteer coordinator. I decided "actress" was a quasi-legitimate description since I had performed with some regularity in community theatre for over a decade, and was even receiving an occasional paycheck. Granted, my net proceeds rarely covered the cost of a few hours of baby sitting, but it was comforting to have some sort of professional designation.

A few months ago, the same company wrote about an updated directory. This time, I have decided to insist on being identified as a "Mom." For I am.

I'm not doing much acting these days. At first, I thought it was the time and energy constraints--it's hard to have Shakespeare memorized and ready to go for an evening rehearsal--but now I think, for me, it's something more. Momness is such a production in and of itself that I just cannot find the juice, or the drive, to add on any more performances.

The day is spent in improvisation (how to make erranding entertaining), analyses of the classics (Malcolm especially enjoys the tale of "Hamlet and the Moody Prince" or "Macbeth, the Bloody King"), dramatic discipline (there is a purpose for and story behind most of the manners demanded by polite society, i.e., why do we shake right hands instead of left? ), and showmanship (making every reading of The Velveteen Rabbit as special as the first; I have yet to make it through without weeping).

Neither am I a homemaker. I didn't build this structure, and I clean it only when absolutely necessary. While I love where we live and strive to maintain some vague semblance of order, my home does not define me. Inevitably, there are times I wish it looked more like a grown-up house and less like a back-yard fort. My occasional excursions into the world of crafts and the finer things usually fail; sometimes miserably, often hysterically. The projects designed to bring us closer as a family leave my kids bored and me deflated. Because the tasks are so unnatural to me, I can quickly turn into the kind of mother I detest, a sentiment usually shared by the rest of the family at these times. Attempts at home beautification often deteriorate into a battle for table space. Heck, it's easier just to let joyful chaos reign. So I wade through the scattered toys and peek out the uncurtained windows at the weedy yard without missing a beat. And even when the clutter is managed and the decor resembles a coherent scheme, I am not defined by these surroundings.

Of course, I am doing a respectable amount of writing, but it's hard to acknowledge that in the form of a professional title. Maybe it's too new an endeavor. Or perhaps because what I write is so personal, I'm uneasy about having my life, as I write about it, or the writing itself laid open for criticism.

I am a writer? Nah, I'm just a mom who writes.

I know a mom who's a nurse. And one who's a filmmaker, another who's in marketing. Lots of them spend all day with their children, but some don't. Many of the moms I know are teachers, administrators, a few are ministers, and there's even the one who edits this magazine. I can call on any of them for sympathy and humor when a day doesn't go well, for they've had such days, too. Their children aren't perfect, neither are their homes, their marriages, or their lives. We share the bond of realistic expectations. We're all faking it to some extent, choosing our battles, and focused, by and large, on the same long-term goal:

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