By Halina Newberry Grant
I saw that, Ms. Bartender; I saw that eye-roll and smug smirk you exchanged with the waiter. And I could read your lips when you said – in reference to our table – “Mom’s Night Out” followed by a “kill me now” expression.
I love your edgy mullet haircut thing and your throw-back flannel and half-shirt – sincerely. Even when I had time to stay current with fashion trends and get my hair cut regularly, I didn’t look as cool as you. But little do you know, I can still feel that spot on the palm of my hand that used to ache at the end of the night from opening too many beer-bottles, just like you. And I can still smell the rotting limes in the bar mat, and hear the chime of the metal scoop in the ice bin, and smell the vapor from the whisky bottles after pouring endless shots. And I actually think I was better at being a bitchy bartender than you are – drunk with the power of running the party from my station in the well.
I’m sure I look like an alien to you with my middle-ish aged friends laughing too loud, getting too tipsy on one drink, imperfect liquid eye-liner and lipstick smeared and possibly lactating through my shirt in that corner booth. Just please, don’t minimize and marginalize me with that eye-roll thing dismissing our “Mom’s Night Out.” Yes, I’m a mom, you nailed it. But on this coveted night out I need to be everything else that I am – which is so much more than a mom.
When I had my daughter about a year ago, everything else I am was eclipsed. Motherhood is certainly the most important of those things – after all, is there no more vital a task than keeping a tiny, vulnerable human alive? But the other parts I claim as my identity – wife, lover, friend, writer, obnoxious drunk, actor, wry humorist – evaporate in the day to day slog of prying sticky clinging fingers from my thighs, repeating the word “balloon” over and over with enthusiasm and offering tiny portions of many foods, hoping this time something makes it into my daughter’s mouth instead of the dog’s.
So I need this. I need a night out with friends where I run my mouth manically about every non-parental thought I have throughout the day (I’ve been storing them away in a locked file box in my brain) while solving world and relationship problems and drinking too many Very Dry and Very Dirty Martinis with Extra Olives and wearing heels with something clean and sleek and black and low-cut in a non-nursing tank kind of way. I need all of that. The mom part of me needs to take a back seat for a night.
I put off becoming a parent for as long as was biologically possible because I was terrified of losing myself. I feared I would lose my identity out of neglect or laziness or distraction when I had kids. I would lose the time to invest in my creative life. I would give up on myself, and let myself go physically and mentally. I would lose my friends. I would change, and my world would shrink and I would lose my personhood – all those parts of me that make me me.
Instead, what has happened is that my “self” is clearer to me – I can see her plainly, but she’s like a passenger in the car, a person always next to me who I love to have conversations with but the conversation is constantly dangling, and I have to wait to finish a thought or flesh out an idea until the next time I’m in the car with her. She’s infinitely patient, but we miss each other terribly when we’re apart.
And I haven’t lost time – the only difference is that it is now more valuable to me.
And my “personhood” has evolved into all those things that I want my daughter to see in me when she’s old enough to understand; like how to be treated with respect as a woman. How to prioritize creative pursuits and somehow make a living. She will see that being happy is more important than anything else. Through watching me, she will learn how to navigate in the world while maintaining vital core values and how to maintain essential relationships with family and friends.
So on this night out with my girlfriends I can feel the fullness and bigness of my life (which shrinks to about 29 1/2 inches and 20 pounds when I’m home all day with my daughter.) We talk about much the same stuff we talked about before some of us had kids; sex, significant others, scandalous dating adventures, daily successes and failures, my propensity to fall down in the middle of the street, our goals and all the life stuff that drew us together in the first place. This is all central to me holding on to the me that I am at my core. I go home refreshed and more balanced.
What I want from the world, and from you, Ms. Bartender, is to be seen as a person, not just a mom. As much as I want my daughter to see what a wonderful thing being a mom is, I don’t want her to ever see me as just a mom. And when the broader world sees moms as a category rather than as nuanced individuals, we’re sending the message that being a mom is a very small, simple, limited thing – rather than an essential part of a much more complicated whole.
So I will forgive you, Ms. Bartender. You are also just a small part of a much more complicated whole. It’s not my job to convince you or the world at large to see me and other moms differently. It is my daughter who I must teach that labels don’t define us, they only limit us.