Last Thursday and Friday I was in a meeting room at a hotel that faces the waterfront in Portland, Oregon. For two days I was sharing ideas and planning goals with our operations team. Its a group of exceptional people, all very smart, all very good at what they do. Listening to us collectively I was once again struck by how much I like each and every one of my peers and how well we collaborate.
For a couple of days I was free as a bird, even though I was working. S took care of the zoo, the kids were at their dad's for a couple of nights. No one was calling my name, needing to be let outside, demanding a snack or requesting my presence.
Even after things in my marriage got really bad, the thought of separation was terrifying to me. It wasn't being on my own, it wasn't fear of falling into a financial black hole. What I imagined I would not be able to cope with was spending nights or weekends or even longer without my children. Merely considering being away from them made it hard to breathe. So when the end of the marriage inevitably came, as much as it was a relief, fear remained.
The first night my children stayed with their father felt like the longest night of my life. I couldn't concentrate on anything, sleep eluded me, and when I finally did sleep I had horrid dreams. I'd already given up the role of being my husband's wife; now I felt like I was abandoning, however briefly, being my children's mother as well.
Throughout those first months, Friday nights were a struggle. Mondays weren't so bad, I always had work to keep me busy and so much to do with taking care of animals that I didn't feel the emptiness of the house until almost bedtime. But Fridays into Saturday mornings -- too many hours alone. I didn't even consider going out or socializing. For a few months, I immersed myself in the computer, playing games, the same place I'd escaped from an unhappy marriage became the place I hid from the bitter pain of missing my children.
Winter was long and it was dark. It wasn't until spring came that I began the slow crawl out of that hole. My friend had our trainer out for a clinic at her place, which got me out of my house and back on a horse. That clinic led to weekly trail rides, led to me finding my dream horse, led to friendship and laughter and fun. Fridays and Saturdays began to take on a new shape, no longer looming on the horizon as time to be endured but as something to anticipate. I was not only finding a role for myself outside of mother, I was building a friendship, meeting other people who shared my interests, being outdoors. Outside of my job I was meeting other people whose first impression of me wasn't that I was somebody's mom or somebody's wife. I was ME.
I started fostering for the rescue, and staked claim on another role for myself. I began to understand that although being my children's mother is the most important job I have, even though its a job I will hold until I die, it also won't be as encompassing forever as it is now. Someday my children will grow up and start lives of their own. Between now and then, they will become more independent, finding their own roles in life, and they will need less of me. As that gap widens, if all I have been is "Mom," who will I then be when they don't need me anymore?
Women with children often get pigeonholed as being little else than mothers. Women without children often get pigeonholed as women who are "missing" something in their lives. Our reality can be - truly is - so much richer than that.
I believe it is important for anyone, but especially for women with young children or careers to carve out space in their lives to do the things that interest them. Music, photography, crafting, cooking, gardening, creating artwork, writing, carpentry, car repair, remodeling, horseback riding, karate -- whatever those things are that make you feel truly alive when you do them. Find your groove and go do that as much as you possibly can. You will not always be your job, you will not always be herding children from school to dance to basketball games. There will come a day when you will be at loose ends more than not, and if you don't have something to fill that void, I guarantee you will feel a greater sense of loss than the person who has already discovered their passion outside of work or parenting.
I'm no longer bound by fear of losing my role as a parent. I realize that mothering my kids is something I will do to varying degrees throughout my life, but it is not the only thing I will do.
When I'm free of the responsibility of my life, for a few hours or a few days, I'm no longer stumped for ways to fill that time. I'm not spending countless hours interacting with other characters in an online game -- I'm spending rich, immensely satisfying hours interacting with my animals and with other people in real life, taking part in activities that bring me tremendous pleasure. It wasn't until I learned to honor my own needs and find my own niche that I was able to outpace the fear of loss that was holding me hostage.
I am a mother. It is the most important job I have - FOR NOW.
I am also: horsewoman, animal rescuer, singer, writer, musician, friend, bibliophile, manager, someone's love...and for a few more weeks, puppy chew toy.