I found myself using these words all too often.
Meeting new people flooded me with anxiety, as I prepared for the question that was about to circle the group...
“So, what do you do?”
I always avoided it if possible. Any excuse was enough of an excuse to get away from that question. To get away from the burning in my cheeks as I listened to stories of how the people around me were law students tackling a degree as well as entertaining a part time job, I heard stories of young and successful people with jobs in high places that were offered pay rises and promotions more often than I was offered a babysitter. Inevitably, the question turned to me. Sadly, the world didn’t swallow me up. My response? “I’m just a mum”.
Now I won’t sugar coat it, and I won’t deny that in these situations I felt a sense of embarrassment. I looked so young, I felt like I’d achieved nothing amongst these people. In fact, the minute the words left my mouth I saw a change in mannerisms, I heard sympathy, judgement, eyes burning a hole in my face as I avoided all eye contact. My ears muffled as the immediate comments flooded in.
“You look so young.”
“Shouldn’t you be at home with your kid?”
“I feel sorry for you.”
“Don’t you work as well?”
And my personal favourite, simply, “Oh…”
For a while I held back, said nothing, laughed, just shrugged it off. But when I woke the following morning to a gorgeous pair of blue eyes peering up at me, the thoughts of the night before began to haunt me. She was so unaware, but the guilt was eating me alive. Now I’m famous for my oversensitivity as a mum, but I didn’t defend her. Well, I didn’t say anything?
But I wasn’t unhappy as a mum. So, after much debating, I realised that what was really bothering me was not fitting in anymore. Not being up to date with my friends and the gossip, not being able to relate to their daily struggles, being happy for their achievements when I had no idea exactly what they’d achieved.
Missing out… that’s what I referred it to at the time. This was perhaps the hardest part of becoming a mum to begin with. I spent endless nights watching my friends go out together, hearing their hilarious stories, and despite the fact their laughter filled an empty place somewhere inside me, I guess I was somewhat jealous.
Now, back to that night.
I know I played it down, but to a young adult that hadn’t experienced it, being a mum consisted of nothing but nappies, screaming, eye bags, sick and night feeds.
To this day, I wish I never bit my tongue.
Because as I looked at her that morning, with my head pounding thanks to the hangover from hell, I focused on every perfectly crafted feature on her face. I thought about how much I put in to her, how much I gave up for her, and how… I didn’t regret any of it. Not a second. No doubt in my mind that she was everything I’d ever dreamed of. I went through hell and back to get her here, I was prouder of her than I’d ever been of myself. She was sensational, she deserved better.
So I came to terms with it, I was different now. I was genuinely happier at home and I was ashamed of that. That partying and missing out on social events was nothing in comparison to the guilt of missing any minimal amount of time with her.
I made a decision.
I decided that the next person that asked, the next “So what do you do?” would be different. I’d hold my head high, I’d look at them with a smile, and proudly and confidently tell them “I’m a mum.”
Now, it didn’t go exactly like that. As a middle-aged, fairly intoxicated woman cooed over a photo of my daughter she could see on my lock screen. “So, what do you do?” she asked. Now, I promised myself I wouldn’t shy away from this. I was proud and I was going to show it, I guess in some way I did as I blurted out,
“I’m just a mum. I know I look really young but I’m older than I look. She’s in safe hands while I’m here and it’s only the third time I’ve left her since she was born over a year ago.”
I don’t know if she had kids herself, but she smiled back at me as I burst out all of these long anticipated and unrehearsed lines.
“You haven’t got to explain yourself to me.”
And that was it.
In all honesty, I’d be surprised if she hadn’t of picked up the sense of panic in my voice and the relief/embarrassment of my heavy breaths once I’d finished my unintentional speech. She was all it took for me to realise. But she never judged me, and I promised from then to stop judging myself. Everything I possessed I gave to her, all I had in me, and I wasn’t going to water it down anymore.
I’m not just a mum.
I’m a fucking good one.