What Will I Be When My Kid Grows Up?

01.12.10: Leo's 20th month

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Last night, Aaron had a performance—a recasting of the major work he staged right before Leo was born. Last night’s was a beautiful, and very different, approach to the same basic material: words and music that he began writing well before we even dreamed of having a baby. This performance seemed somehow older and wiser, and more sure of itself, in all its weirdness. As I sat in the audience, I envisioned this piece accompanying us through the coming years. Perhaps, growing and changing, this will become Aaron’s life’s work, something that he revisits and adds to as his experience and viewpoint evolves.

The idea of that kind of continuity, even just imagined--possible yet totally uncertain—fascinates me. Sure, I’m fairly confident when I try to envision parenting Leo with Aaron by my side as our little boy grows up. But what else will I be doing?
After the show, we headed out to a bar to celebrate (and milk the night out for all it was worth!). I caught up with some of Aaron’s musician friends who I hadn’t seen in a while, and found myself telling one of them that I am beginning to wonder what I am going to be when Leo grows up.
That line of thinking is a little scary: am I on the road to becoming a burnt-out empty nester with nothing of my own going on? Better to feel scared now, when there’s time to take this on, right? As Leo heads towards school age, I hope I will know more about where I’m heading too.
This kind of uncertainty has come up for me repeatedly during the 20 months that I’ve been a mom. And I know I’m not alone in confronting these issues—surely, no mom can escape having to wrangle with how much of her identity she is ready to give over to motherhood. And of course how fulfilling that is depends on the moment: on a good day with Leo, I see how much we benefit from being home together, making a simple soup for dinner, playing hair stylist in the tub, then reading a book before bed. On those days, I love doing something I’m so invested in and so good at. On a bad day, when the nap’s a bust, dinner is a stalemate and half the bathwater ends up on the floor, well, it would be nice to be able to focus on my other talents.
Lately, I feel like I’m gaining some perspective on the first year of motherhood. So often during Leo’s infancy the days were loooong and I was exhausted. I frequently felt a need to accomplish something tangible to bolster my confidence when naps went awry, breastfeeding was hard, or a plan to, say, leave the house or make a meal was derailed by mundane issues. I needed to see proof that I was still an effective, capable adult, not just a big boob with little to distinguish me from my infant other than increased neck control and toilet training.
Looking back on that year, I realize how much I was doing even when I was doing “nothing.” And I appreciate how hard it was to do that nothing: to be patient, available, flexible…selfless. I didn’t always do it gracefully, and I still don’t, but now I see that being with your own child is a huge job even when it looks like child’s play. It’s as emotionally and physically draining as it is wonderfully enriching. Of course full-time parenting is not for everyone, and certainly the nanny we shared part-time was a wonderful support for us, but that first year, and the next few years before school starts, are not forever, and making motherhood a bigger priority during that time is a fairly natural imperative for many women.
I now feel that I needn’t have wasted time worrying that I was getting derailed in my career, copping out in my social life, and in other ways focusing on all the things I wasn’t doing instead of appreciating what I was doing at home with Leo. Now, as we begin to look at preschools for next fall, I’m pitching more articles, coming up with a plan for my next cookbook, and feeling eager to do the things that won’t happen without my initiative, and to make the things that won’t exist unless I create them.
Being married to an artist is an inspiration to me, and a reminder that the work of one’s life only comes together, only makes some kind of sense, in retrospect. Going forward, I just hope I can remember that if I’m not doing something, it’s invariably because I am doing something else. Who knows what I’ll be when Leo grows up? All I know for sure is that while I can’t see it now, it will make more sense than I could possibly imagine.

Recipe: Creamy Carrot and Rutabaga Soup