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Woman First, Mom Second

I have something to say to my children. I know they’re listening. Their ages range from 16 to 25 and I’ve been writing for much of their lives in various forms. As they’ve gotten older and moved on or away from home they stay in contact by reading things I write. No one is more surprised about this than I because they spent the better part of their younger years not listening to me and assuring me that everyone else on the planet knew more than I did. But they see me as a mother first. It’s a rare thing when they get a glimpse of me as a woman apart from what they know as their parent. What they have known about me is the very theme of this blog – I very nearly always have something to say.

Not long ago, I wrote about good things I’ve done with my children as I’ve raised them. While I maintain my unabashed pride in my role as a mom, I also realize that my children don’t always see me as anything else. This week, I had a heartfelt conversation with my oldest son who is 19 years old and I could see that he was starting to look at me differently. It’s natural and felt as organic as only something like this can be, but I wish I could tell my children things about me as a woman and a person who is wholly human. If I could tell them, this is what I would say.

Dear children,

What you don’t see about me is how I am a professional. My career has taken several turns even as you’ve been growing up. In fact, as you’ve been growing up, so have I. I didn’t magically come to this place as an adult having figured everything out on my own. I had help on the way with wise friends and mentors who have checked me when I’ve been unwise or selfish or flat out wrong. They have gently nurtured me to get me where I am. Do you know where that place is? That place is as a woman who tries her damnedest in all situations.

You’ve seen my life as not-so-easy, but I made my own bed, kids. I’ve had to lie in it. Sometimes it’s lumpy and it doesn’t feel comfortable. I toss and turn over my choices and decisions, but ultimately, I have to lie there. When I don’t like how that feels, I move. Because what I’ve learned, above all else, is that you are the captain of your ship and if you don’t like the course, you reassess it and plot a new one. When you don’t like the road you’re going down, step off of it and cut yourself a new path. You have every ability to see the destination and head towards the one you want, not the one other people set for you.

Image courtesy of zone41 on Flickr

I am not a victim. I never have been, but I told myself that I was for a while until I realized that I was putting that label on myself. Even if someone else was branding me as the injured party I was the one with the power to change that. Did you know that I didn’t even get that until I was well into my 20s? You’ve seen me as a single mom, a married mom, and now a divorced mom. You’ve read what it is I have to say about each of those stages of my life.

I imagine that sometimes you see me as a strong woman but you don’t know how I got here. Let me tell you, my precious children: it was by making mistakes, thinking I knew better than everyone else, and fearing that someone would know that I wasn’t as smart as I pretended to be. I was sure that someone would point at me and accuse me while screaming, “Fraud!” and that stopped me from growing and stretching and changing for an embarrassingly long time. Guess what happened? No one ever did that. I think people wanted me to feel that way if they didn’t like my Alpha Female personality, but no one ever blamed me to my face. I mistakenly thought they would, but they never did.

Most of the time when we’re arguing about life or choices or the things that you badly want to do, I am spurred on by a force that tells me to help you make a better decision. Sometimes, I’ve let you fail. Yes, I did that on purpose, but never without love and caring from behind the scenes. It’s just like the time each of you has decided that you wanted to do something “grown up” on your own. “Mom, I can walk to the bus for kindergarten ON MY OWN.” or “But I can go to the mall without you and be good. I promise.” or “I know how to do a paper route! You don’t have to do everything with me!” Here’s what really happened: I let you do it, but I hid in the bushes, at the mall, or some place where you couldn’t see me. I just wanted to keep you safe and let you be a big boy or a big girl and feel like you had some freedom. It doesn’t matter if you get mad at me now about that. My job was to keep you safe and I did that.

I never wanted to be buddy-buddy with you when you got to be in high school. That’s not my job. My job is to be an adult and to be your parent. If I do that part right and teach you well and help you grow and let you occasionally fail, then perhaps you will someday grow to be more of a friend to me. But that’s not required. I have my friends and you have yours.

My colleagues respect me because of how I treat them. When I walk into a room my title gets there before I do, but my goal is to also give the people who work for me enough space to be professional, too. You never get to see that part of me and when you have I watched your faces and the incredulity all over it. I can guess that you’re considering that other adults trust me and come to me for advice as an educator. Sometimes, they ask me for advice because I’m a woman or a friend. These aren’t roles you see me in too often because the fact that I raised you trumps however else you might look at me. It’s okay that you haven’t seen that before. You’re noticing things like that now and it affords us an opportunity to talk about things that matter very much to me in my job that you’ve never seen before.

So, you see, my darling babies, I am vulnerable, too. I am weak and scared and terrified and unsure of things. I do them anyway because it’s the only way to be. You’ve seen me make plenty of mistakes and I’ve shown enough humility to share them with you, but when I knew better, I did better.

That’s who your mother is. I wanted to introduce you to her if you didn’t already know. She isn’t perfect. She isn’t always right. She isn’t always fair. She is flawed. After all, she is human. She is okay with you knowing that.

Love,

Kelly

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