A while back, I happened to catch the Anne-Marie Slaughter interview on Fresh Air in which she explains why she believes “women still can’t have it all” and to my surprise, I found myself understanding this argument. I found myself almost - almost agreeing with it. I had quite a life before I became a mother, and despite myself, I found that maintaining my pre-motherhood identity and everything that came with it was so much harder than I had anticipated. I’ve said in the past that I’m less and more of who I am than I’ve ever been, and I stand by that. I have lost a lot of what made me who I was. I can’t be everywhere at any time anymore. I can’t drop my motherhood status and jump back into the scene whenever I’m tired or need a break. But, on the other hand, I’ve never known myself so well. I’ve never been so in tune to my body, to my spirit, to my ancestry and to myself - my deep, instinctual, inner woman. I’m less and more of who I am.
Motherhood is a life-changer, there is no doubt at all about that. But does it have to be a life-ender? While I was pregnant I had this vision of myself as an all-powerful super-mom with my baby strapped to my chest as I went about my life as usual. Class, work, docent meetings, museum tours, garden upkeep, doggy play-time, family outings, home decor and general upkeep, crafts, etc.
How hard could it be?
When I was pregnant, and I mean really, really, ready-to-pop pregnant, I was helping set up the Museo Urbano exhibit at the El Paso Museum of History and dreaming of this kick-ass mom that I would be. Another volunteer, Sandra, was there with her baby girl and I watched the two of them in awe and with high hopes. Here this woman was, new to motherhood and still holding her own in our community. Beautiful. Powerful. Capable. That was going to be me.
When I tried to take Arco to class with me when she was 2 weeks old, I had a very rude awakening. I don’t want to get into too much detail, so suffice it to say that I was still in a reasonable amount of pain from labor, among other things, and my tiny baby didn’t seem to dig the classroom as much as I’d hoped. While we sat trying to analyze the construction of a classic American poem, Arco thought she’d occupy herself by loudly slurping away at my breast, stopping for the occasional grunt, burp, or fart. Needless to say, it was a little distracting. That, on top of the pain I was in, was too much to put up with, in my case. All I wanted to do was get home, get topless, and nurse my baby in the privacy of my own home. So that’s what I did. I petitioned for incompletes and have happily been completing the semester from home.
About a week later, I tried to take her to a docent meeting at the El Paso Museum of History, and the results were equally disappointing. During the opening lecture on the history of the ASARCO plant, Arco made it super-duper clear that this whole situation was not her idea of a good time. I ended up having to leave the meeting to wander the museum as I bounced her to keep her from crying as she nursed and napped. Again, I found myself wishing we were at home.
At a certain point, I starting to wonder if it was possible, this dream of mine. Could life as I knew it go on at all? Was this it for me? Was everything outside of motherhood gone from my life? How could it be that my newborn wasn’t into borderlands history and literature? But yet, here we were. My desire to do right by my baby was overwhelming, and it seemed that dragging her around the city with me just wasn’t … well, right.
I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy staying home with Arco. On the contrary, I loved it. That’s why I wanted it. Every day that we went out, all I wanted to do was get home. I loved our bed, I loved our super-secret cuddle up and nurse time. I loved our sleepy evenings napping and sipping home-made chai tea with a movie or lullaby playing softly in the background. I loved our rocking chair and nursery. I loved our new family and our life together. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t miss my old world, my old life, or the old me. I just wondered … why can’t I have it all?
So, Arco is about to be 4 months old, and things are changing every day. She is lively and fascinated by the great, big world, and even if she may not understand classic American literature or Chicano history, she likes to hear all about it, she likes to watch people move. She likes to hear people talk. She likes to watch what I do. Things have been changing for the better, I would say, and I often think that if I were to take her to class now, things might be different with the experience I have now. I’ve got the hang of this in a way I simply didn’t two weeks into motherhood. I’m growing into my motherhood like a new pair of over-sized mom jeans. Sexy, powerful, bad-ass mom jeans.
A few days ago the curator for the Museo Urbano exhibit emailed me to ask if I was available to help take the exhibit down and I didn’t hesitate to hop to it. This morning, we woke up early, dropped daddy off at work, paid the internet bill on the way, and got to the museum right on time. It wasn’t until I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of glass case that I realized:
without noticing, I’ve become my vision.
There I was, with Arco strapped to my chest and two arms full of artifacts.
Beautiful. Powerful. Capable.
I remembered standing in this very room watching Sandra and dreaming about my motherhood - and this was it. My dream come true. I realize I’ve been doing it for weeks, little by little. A restaurant here, a farmer’s market there. And now it seems I’m working my way back into my identity and my life as I knew it. I doubt (cheerfully doubt) that it’ll ever be the same. I will never be the same. I’m not who I was a year ago. But I’m more than who I was.
So can we have it all? Can we be mothers and maintain our pre-maternal identities? Yes, sometimes … and eventually. It’s a process. A strange, beautiful, and evolving path. One I’m looking forward to walking … with my baby strapped to my chest.
July 6, 1907: Artist Frida Kahlo Born
On this day in 1907, female painter and wife of fellow Mexican artist Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, was born in Mexico City in her famous Blue House. Known primarily for her striking surrealist self-portraits, Frida was also an avid political activist. The Blue House (La Casa Azul) in which she was born and returned to in her last years is now a museum dedicated to her life.
A collection of 6,500 of Frida Kahlo’s personal photographs were opened to the public for the first time in 2007 and were placed on display at Artisphere in Arlington, VA earlier this year. If you didn’t get a chance to see the exhibit, you can view some of the photos here, and read a Q&A of curator and photographer Pablo Ortiz Monasterio about putting together the exhibition.