Adjectives are thrown at us from the moment we arrive on this earth. Even as an infant, you may be labeled as “strong-willed”, “easy”, “challenging”, “happy”, or “man, she’s got a temper on her!” Many joke and find ways to make this baby appear to be as real of a person as possible in between the eating, pooping, sleeping and crying. 4 things that aren’t the best verbs to describe what this tiny little being really is during that time period. What’s interesting is now that Brooklyn is (insert her age) she’s at an age where her personality, interests and passions are starting to shine. However, I still struggle with labeling her anything right now, or ever. She’s a work in progress, just like her mother, and things change every time I turn my head. Today she likes to play the piano in the basement for 20 minutes, maybe a messy science project is being worked on at her “safe table”, or she wants to try the new theater class at the park district. Tomorrow she will probably ignore the piano, play “Baby Baby” with her Not an American Girl Doll (yes, I’m one of THOSE moms), or tell me “ACTUALLY Mama, I don’t want to do that theater class.” I’m a mom sitting in a Dunk Me Tank at a school fun fair with curveballs thrown at me every 5 seconds as I duck and pray the bull’s-eye doesn’t get hit by accident.

I hesitate to do anything that closes my daughter off from where she may land in the future as well as push her to do anything she may feel she is supposed to do. I never want her to question a new road, challenge, career, interest or passion to a point where fear takes over and she stops. My hope is she grows and adapts with confidence into the woman she’s truly destined to become. That change is met with excitement for the new challenges in front of her.

Growing up, I don’t remember being labeled anything by my parents and honestly felt supported in any path I took. I was involved in sports but was never referred to as “athletic”. I was a cheerleader but wasn’t stereotyped as one (if anything, the opposite). I tried out for plays but wasn’t in the theater crowd. I got involved in Spanish Club, dabbled in speech, had good grades and pretty much wanted a taste of everything. I would say the words that people identified me with were in a special section of my yearbook my senior year where the class would vote for certain categories like “Best Looking”, “Best Athlete”, and “Most Likely to Succeed.” Well, I wasn’t any of those but I did get categorized in the “Life of the Party” and “Best Sense of Humor” awards. The photo had me posing next to my friends holding a beer bong attached to an empty keg (I believe someone brought in a real bong as well), my signature tongue sticking out, and to top it off a “surf’s up” hand gesture that I assume was attempting to scream “PARTY!” I was proud of both “awards” and that I was fun to be around with a pretty rocking sense of humor.

Let’s just say I had ZERO problems living up to my high school awards in college, perhaps too much. I still love talking about the times I had and stories that make people’s eyes open as big as quarters. My father-in-law pokes fun at my partying ways as I gently nurse the one drink I’ll have that night. I think he secretly wants to hear some dirt on his daughter-in-law and loves to get in a few laughs. The stories also make me a real live human being. My humor is threaded throughout my years in college and to this day, even at my sorority reunion, we all laugh at stories as I continue to tell new ones in the unique way that I do. I remember my father telling me at graduation,

“Well, you may not have been magna cum laude,

but you did have an awesome time in college.”

At the time he said that I thought, “Gee, thanks Dad” as my brothers both graduated with honors in Engineering, along with Masters degrees and then some. Within time, though, I grew to really appreciate and be proud of what he told me. I wasn’t using my degree for anything but damn I had some amazing experiences, fabulous friends, and a damn good time in college. To this day, old college friends tell me how much fun it was and how I made them feel. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Along with my personality and drinking habits, I somehow managed to have a killer work ethic from the moment I started to work at 15 years old. Bagging groceries at the local grocery store wasn’t glamorous by any means, but the options for a 15 year old were naturally limited. I worked there throughout high school, was promoted to checker, and my senior year I eventually outgrew that job as I headed to a local shoe store where some of my friends worked. That job carried into college and filled up my checking account when I’d be home during the summer and breaks. I didn’t have the luxury of parents filling that account so I could focus on school. I had to do both. I strapped on an apron in college and began cocktail waitressing at a popular sports bar with the end result of bartending. Walking into the tanning salon I frequented at college, I asked if they needed help so I could earn extra money and free tans as a bonus. With all these jobs I showed up, worked my ass off, barely ever asked for days off, took other people’s shifts, and was never fired.

When I started working after college, the strong work ethic I had throughout high school and college traveled through into adulthood. With each job I had, annual reviews were stellar, goals were always met (and then some), and I always got a raise. I knew my value and where I wanted to go next. During my hospitality career, which was my true career and passion, I had to write quarterly goals and how I was going to measure their success. If anyone out there knows about SMART goals, you feel my pain. They were presented to my boss and we went through them together to create a plan for that quarter. The handshake and “I know you can do this” was given as I left my boss’s office.

I thought I was going to be in this career until the day I retired. It was never in the cards to be at home with my daughter. I had no idea what was truly in store with how my life would change once I had her. How much I craved the reviews, the goals, the accountability, the support and promotions. The job of “Mom” was null and void of any of these things and I didn’t realize at the time how badly I craved them to feel important and needed.

Another identity definer was where I lived. I know it sounds crazy, but living in the city was a huge part of my identity. I mean, I even blogged about it as therapy when I moved to the suburbs after getting engaged to my husband (“Downtown Julie Brown to Suburban Mom” was my blog!). Granted, I wasn’t kicking and screaming when I moved to live with my fiancé, now husband, but I definitely shed a lot of tears as I packed my apartment and closed the door to the chapter. I felt like I was in a final episode of a long-running television series where the last moments of the episode had the character gently placing the keys to her apartment on the fireplace mantel and then shutting the door as she said goodbye. Being a city gal was a BIG identity definer to me. For me, it meant a person was “hip”, “in the know”, “exciting”, “well-rounded”, “stylish”, “modern”, “cultured”, and if you were a mom, you were all those adjectives along with the word “mom” behind it. I was proud to tell people where I lived and that I was doing it all on my own with my career. It didn’t help that I had a slew of friends around me reinforcing the same ideas of what it meant to live in the city as a mom,

“Oh I’ll NEVER move to the suburbs, KILL ME if I ever do!”

“I’m definitely raising my kids in the city, I’m not sheltering them in suburbia.”

“The suburbs are so BORING, and look what happens to you when you move there!”

“There’s no culture in the suburbs.”

“There’s no diversity in the suburbs.”

The first night when I moved into my husband’s cookie-cutter, beige, suburban town-home was definitely a hard one. I stood in the kitchen surrounded by boxes when my childhood friend and her husband stopped by with a “Welcome to the Suburbs!” gift and a big hug. They knew a lot was changing for me. They were the ones that set me up with my husband, I had resisted because of where he lived, so I think they felt some sort of responsibility (I joke about this but I’m sure they felt they had to come check in on me and see if I was convulsing or itching). I was living in the exact place that I proclaimed I’d NEVER live in- and I stress the word EVER. I lived within rows of town-homes, each looked the same as the next, there was a cornfield close by, a water tower, some power lines, and a Home Depot within spitting distance. The icing on the cake was that everywhere I turned every female I encountered was a mom. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I was definitely not in the mom-zone yet. I was barely ripping off the Band-Aid to suburbia.

5 years after the move, I was finally adjusting to living in the suburbs. Yes, you read that correctly. FIVE YEARS. What happened? I had a baby. Until I had Brooklyn, I was in deep with my career, still commuting to the city, and really wasn’t interested in making new friends. Especially ones that weren’t in my world, and I wasn’t in theirs either. I had my college and high school friends that I was still hanging around with, so I was set. Within my career, I was jet setting around the country, making my goals, making good money, entertaining clients, and enjoying a lot of freedom I didn’t realize I had. Even though my stepchildren were in our lives a lot, they were at an age where they were playing with friends and didn’t really want to hang with Dad and their stepmom. To a certain degree, they were pretty easy and low-maintenance. Plus, both my husband and his ex had both been very active with their kids and have a great relationship. So I was more of a friend blazing through here and there than an active parent.

When I had Brooklyn that winter, it was an instant 180. No person, no doctor, no class and no book will prepare you for when that baby is in your arms. Especially when you walk out of that hospital, into your home, and you’re faced with reality. Alone. I thought I would be able to handle being a working mom, and had always planned on “making it work”. Within the first week of having Brooklyn home, I knew my life before entering that hospital was impossible for me to handle as a new mother. My career didn’t have a work-from-home option. I was commuting 2 hours each way (yes, 4 hours a day) where I was leaving my house at 5:45am and then arriving home by 7:30pm. If I had a client dinner, I was home at 10pm the earliest. Then on top of it, there was the travel. So basically I knew if I stayed with this job, that I would never see Brooklyn other than being up all night with her and weekends. And that broad was up ALLLLLLLLL fucking night. How much you ask? Every hour-and-a-half if I was lucky. I remember walking around my dark home with her screaming and as I looked out of one of our bedroom windows at the insane snowstorm blowing around thinking, “How the fuck am I going to make this all work?!” Other thoughts that crept in included, “What am I going to do?”, “What will I say to my boss?”, “What about my insurance?”, “Will we be OK financially?”, “What if I am not working for long enough where I can never return to this industry?” Those thoughts traveled through my brain in a matter of 30 seconds as I looked out the window, tears welled up in my eyes and the blizzard of snow in front of me got stronger.

I felt I had no choice

What I told myself that I would NEVER be was exactly what I was becoming. I was turning into a stay-at-home suburban mom out in the middle of a cornfield with a Home Depot on the other side. That sounds terrible to actually write out loud but for years I had assumptions and internal stereotypes of the SAHM in suburbia. If you ever get the chance to read my “Downtown Julie Brown to Suburban Mom” blog you will smell the fear from your computer screen. As I was facing huge change and reality, I remembered those talks with my friends over endless drinks and cigarettes exclaiming “I’ll NEVER move to the suburbs!” or “I can’t IMAGINE not working!” or “I’ll NEVER lose myself in motherhood!” We were a bunch of 20-30 something girls with ZERO children and all the answers. The pressures and restrictions we were already putting on ourselves, the suffocating identity that didn’t allow breath or movement. The exclamations that didn’t have to be our truths.

The word “NEVER” is a dangerous word for anyone, especially a mother. I’m learning to never say “never”… well, except in this sentence. The word “NEVER” led to my identity crisis I had, which definitely contributed to my unwanted feelings after having Brooklyn. This word, “NEVER”, created some pretty high expectations & plans that I had in my brain even before I met my husband. Brooklyn just happened to be the reality that put a wrench in all of those “NEVERS”, but it can happen in so many other ways in a mom’s life. It travels all the way into how you raise your kids- the word “NEVER” can create that unrealistic perfection and judgment where the majority of the time you will find yourself eating your words.

Learning how to be open to the possibilities of life, new experiences, new friends, passions, and creative outlets can make you realize your identity is far beyond your career, where you live, how you dress, how much you party, how often you travel, what you do for fun or the mother you are. There’s an actual person inside with other things that fuel your soul & personality. Maybe some pretty amazing things that have been hiding behind your career, the lifestyle you had, or the person you wish you could be, but something else is pulling you another direction. It’s OK to switch gears for a bit, I’ve learned that nothing is permanent. Maybe it’s just not the time to be working full-time, maybe it is. Perhaps you can’t go to Mexico for a week on a whim but someday you’ll be able to but may not want to. Or the freedom that you took for granted may be lessened during this time but someday you’ll be able to have it again, and hopefully appreciate it more.

All of the above can be overwhelming to think about at this exact moment while you’re in the mucky trenches of motherhood. Trust me, I wasn’t having any of those thoughts but I so wish someone had told me them. I wish someone had told me that I was beyond my job and that I could feel important by looking inside of myself, and not rely on reviews or promotions given by others. I wish that I wasn’t so judgmental and close-minded to geography, and that I could make any place happy and fulfilling with the family I had and the satisfaction I needed to build to make it my home. I wish that I could have seen that my humor and fun spirit was still in my heart and soul, it was just being muffled by the urgencies of motherhood that made me too fucking exhausted to be fun. I would have loved to know how important it was for me to dig deep for other passions and interests that hadn’t been unleashed yet. It would have been wonderful to have the books, podcasts, groups, friends and community to share all the ways they traveled beyond motherhood. I wish a friend had told me how it was OK to find what made ME happy versus always on call for my baby’s needs. To just tell the guilt to go away for once so I can connect to who I am beyond the “exhausted mom” that so many label me as.

Why do all of this on your own when there are so many that can help you with your new road & purpose that has thrown you up in the air with your skirt over your head? My brain wasn’t working in that mode that first year, even the second or third. That’s why I started to become drawn to others to help me and how they made me feel like I wasn’t a failure, lazy, weak, boring, worthless and one-dimensional. My life is a lot of work, the toughest career I’ve had to encounter. Roles have changed, location has changed, rules are different, shifts have occurred, new team members have come on board, and I have a partner in all this. Every day, week, month and year still brings changes and for the sake of my sanity and my soul, I needed to pull in the resources to figure out how to navigate this world. That I’m a woman beyond my career, where I live, where I go, how high I go, and how long I go. I’m a woman beyond motherhood and deserve to find things that bring me joy without feeling like everything is a definition of the mother I am. I’m not the “cool mom”, the “crunchy mom”, the “hot mess mom”, the “positive parenting mom”, the “organic food mom”, the “stay at home mom”, or the “working mom”. I’m a unique mom who has chosen to adapt to her ever-changing world and stay connected and true to what gives her joy. You are the same, you just have to go out and find her.

From one unique mom to another,

Michelle Mansfield Blog

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