Because I have a child, I spend a good amount of time around kids and their parents. (Funny how that works.) And 95%* of the time, having a child is common ground for friendship (or, you know, tolerance), even among strangers who overhear that I have a 5-year-old boy at home.
"I HAVE A 5-YEAR-OLD TOO," they'll say, perking up. "So, Frozen, huh? Any luck getting that shit out of your head?"
And most of the time, these fellow parents are perfectly lovely. We chit-chat about the local schools, or about a new activity in the area, or about a movie coming out that looks good but we'll probably never get to see it because kids, amirite?
Except sometimes these perfectly lovely parents are, say, my doctor, or my mother's kidney surgeon, or a college professor who teaches students who are only 5 years younger than me — and that's when it creeps back, just a little. Hi there, insecurity. Welcome back.
I assumed my young-mom insecurity would quietly die as I got more comfortable as a mother, as a woman — and, for the most part, it has. Except there's still this society-conditioned narrative buried somewhere in my brain, and with just the right trigger, the insecurity takes a few rejuvenated breaths and proceeds to squeeze the air out of me like a day-old birthday balloon.
Suddenly I see that these parents (who are in the same parenting stage as me) have nannies, and medical practices, and memories from the '80s beyond finger paints and boo-boos. These people have lived, and they're established in adulthood. Me? I'm still getting settled in.
Pppfffppfpppfffffffffhfhfhfhhhhhh (the sound of me, deflating)
The difference between Liar Michelle and Post-Liar Michelle is that I can now recognize the insecurity for what it is: Something internal, based on a constructed story that isn't real.
But that doesn't stop the story from continuing to be told — whether it's in advertisements, or TV shows, or mom blogs. There's an image of "mom" that a lot of us don't fit into, and in my most vulnerable moments, I use that story, that image, as a standard to fall short of. It's silly and unproductive, but it's true.
Wouldn't a "real mom" have special tricks for getting out stains? Wouldn't a "real mom" wear something more conservative? Wouldn't a "real mom" own an iron?
And so I remind myself: I am a real mom. There might not be a young-mom arc on Parenthood that didn't involve abortion (tell me Drew wouldn't have made an incredible example for young dads!), and my mom might help me out more than a "real mom" would ever need, but I'm raising a child and doing a fine job.
Now allow me to remind you, as well.
Hey you, in the kitchen, still learning how to cook and currently burning the chicken — you are a real mom.
You with the stacks of textbooks, a class schedule hung up on the refrigerator, and the stress of finals looming — you are a real mom.
You with the tattoos and cut-off shorts from Forever 21 — you are a real mom.
All of us renting small apartments, and planning our budding careers, and wearing bold lipstick and colorful hair and nose rings. All of us feeling growing pains as our adult identity forms and develops. All of us who feel "less than," at times.
We are real moms.
Forget the narrative about motherhood. It's only a story; it's always been a story.
You are real and you're important.
Just look at the way your kid looks at you. That's as real as it gets.
*Or whatever. You know how I feel about statistics.