Musings

When Do You Feel Most Like a Mom?

By: Jen Shoop

A girlfriend of mine told me a few years ago that she treasured the experience of dropping her children off at daycare. She said that there was something about bending over to plant a kiss on her son’s forehead while in a suit and heels that manifested a childhood vision of motherhood for her. I found it inspiring that her paradigm of motherhood had always unblinkingly accommodated a career, and I also intuitively grasped the appeal of the kind of moment she was capturing: there are times, as a mother, where I am keenly aware of my maternal role, and they often take place in front of an audience. There was a moment earlier this summer at a family reunion that spanned three generations during which the youngest children had been sent off to participate in an outdoor activity with a few baby-sitters. All of the adults were congregating on a lawn and the children were traipsing across the far perimeter. My son saw me from maybe fifty yards away and screamed: “Mama! Mama! Mama!” as he sprinted across the greensward, arms outstretched, enormous smile across his face. He leapt into my arms, threw his arms around my neck, and planted his cheek against my shoulder. A murmur rippled across the party — knowing smiles, nodding heads, “awwws” and tsks of approval at the heartwarming scene. I felt at that moment profoundly seen in my motherhood. It was as though my five years of preening, nurturing, reading, lullabying, rocking, steaming vegetables, singing the ABCs, packing lunches, pressing palms against foreheads, disciplining, soothing, holding hands, answering questions, pouring milk lay just beneath the glass on which we stood in embrace, the outline of all of my tendernesses made visible to those around us.

I thought to myself, consciously — “I am a mother.” All other identities receded, like waves at low tide. Even five years into this role, I am still on occasion startled by my possession of it. Oh, yes. I am a mother?

It is strange, though — I felt my label as a mother at that moment, my discernible shape as one, but the moments in which I feel I most fully live out my own motherhood is when I am doing something impossibly repetitious to the point of maddening and yet I feel inside a kind of immovability. A steadfastness that bears me through. I am thinking of endless nights sitting on the floor of my son’s shoebox of a nursery in New York City. It was too small for an arm chair, and so I would rock him to sleep against the roar of the window AC unit sitting on the floor in the dark. My arms would be shaking, my eyes leaden. I am thinking of cluster feeds with both babies, waking every 30 minutes to nurse, so beyond fatigued that I felt ashen and nauseous and riddled with headache. I am thinking of laying beside my feverish daughter for hours on end, and holding my son as he threw up yet another time all over my clothing, the floor, the bed. I am thinking of carrying my children across hot sand and slush lagoons, through subway stations and torrential downpours, in multiple feet of Chicago snow and the muggiest of D.C. summers — my arms burning with fatigue, my muscles aching for relief. I am thinking of sitting on the floor of my daughter’s room waiting for her tantrums to subside — just perched, silently, sometimes with my eyes closed, waiting for the storm to blow over. I am thinking of turning the pages of hundreds of books I know too well — ones I can barely stand at this point — and playing the same games, and singing the same songs, and telling the same stories over and over again into the vast infinity of their imaginations. I am thinking of the painfully long days of quarantine, especially when we were cloistered in New York in 2020, and I would sit and stare at the familiar shapes of my daughter’s bedroom and feel as though my soul was quietly disintegrating as I muscled through playing Barbies or Duplos for the millionth day in a row, with no end in sight. I am thinking of the pique of getting ready to go out to Central Park during those days, too, when everything felt absurdly tedious and I had to give myself a pep talk to even start the twenty-minute long process of putting shoes on feet and packing the proper snacks and cajoling my daughter onto the toilet before walking out the door. I am thinking of rolling out and then wiping down the same dinner placemats night after night, and filling the same cups of milk, and slicing everything into tiny, non-choking-hazard pieces. I am thinking of directing my children to brush their teeth, and saying the same prayer and affirmations every single night of their lives.

It is in these quiet, unobserved moments of motherhood that I see myself carried forward by nothing but the purest maternal instinct.

Yes, it is amidst this skein of repetitions —

that I find myself as a mother.

Post-Scripts.

+Focus and the fibers of motherhood.

+On parenting fatigue.

+On nurturing my daughter back to health.

Shopping Break.

+Fall uniform material.

+As is this under-$20 striped tee from H&M in the “khaki” color.

+Obsessed with this coat.

+This beautiful Thierry Colson blouse is now on sale for 60% off (even more if your order totals over $250…)

+Also loving this gingham top. All the cool Euro girls are wearing La Veste.

+A great transition-to-fall evening caftan to throw on after work and before bed.

+Also love this cutie mini dress to throw on. So easy to wear!

+OH my goodness. This pink feather-trim blazer is, like, everything.

+SLVRLAKE denim is trending – have been seeing this all over the place!

+This fleece sweatshirt is one of my absolute favorites for fall — love the texture and fit.

+Still loving chocolate brown this season…this top is SO good.

+I have had the best luck with henley tees from Gap over the years — so cozy to layer beneath sweaters or puffy vests for casual weekend moments. This one in the white/cream color will be a total star in your winter wardrobe.

+MHM YES to this topper.

+This passport sleeve sparks joy.

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9 thoughts on “When Do You Feel Most Like a Mom?

  1. This is so beautiful. So true. Your musings totally resonate with me and I too feel so achingly proud to be a mother.

  2. I’m in the early throes of motherhood (2 1/2 week old!) and simultaneously anxiously & excitedly look towards so many of the moments you’ve mentioned here… anxious for sick days and tantrums, excited for hug-reunions and forming our own daily traditions. I still don’t quite feel like “mother” is part of my identity yet – it’s too new – but am surprising myself with maternal instincts and deep-rooted emotions (love, of course, swirled with an instinct to protect, mixed with knee-jerk elation when I see her after a few moments away in another room + a dose of constant awe). I’ve always loved reading your reflections on motherhood, but they definitely resonate in a new way now.

    1. OH! Also – I have that Thierry Colson blouse and can attest it’s stunning in person and well worth the investment (wishing I got it at that price!).

    2. Aw – yay, Erica! So happy for you!! We’ve all been rooting you on. I completely remember the phase in which you find yourself now. It’s all so new! I remember the “knee jerk elation” — almost a shock (!) that this tiny body belongs to you! xx

  3. I relate to all those visible (and invisible) moments of feeling and identifying as a mom, and will also share that I think I’ve been showing up more as a mom at work in a way that is complicated. A colleague of mine has been consulting with me about her own career path, and a few times has made comments like “You’re a mom, so [ your path is different from mine in xyz ways ].” What she said was always true: I’ve made different choices, settled in various ways even, AND I have this whole other realm of my life that fulfills me in a way that my job inherently does not need to (unlike, presumably, hers). I’m not even that close with this person, so it was interesting, and even a little shocking, to realize that she had perceived this about me and my identity. Sometimes I’m self-conscious about this — that I must be so visibly a mom, who prioritizes that identity — as if I should be a different kind of woman. But ultimately, the truth in what people see is enough for me. I really am a mom first, and I’m happy that way!

    1. Hi Susie – So interesting how motherhood can factor into workplace perceptions and roles. This is not exactly what you are saying but I remember a friend saying that she felt like she could tell which people on her team had children vs not because the ones with kids tended to have more of a no-B.S. mentality, as if parenthood had led these people to “get to the point” more quickly? (She admired this trait.). It was such an interesting observation and it has made me think about how knowing that people have kids has shaped our impressions of them and their workplace attitudes, capabilities, etc.

      xx

    2. Yes! I do think that parents necessarily must have more crystallized priorities — whatever those priorities are — and correspondingly feel more authorized to say “no” when needed. This leads to a clearer picture of the job, more efficient work, etc. etc. in ways that are usually quite practical and admirable! (The flip side is, in more toxic environments, it can lead to judgment about not being “all in,” or something?)

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