I was thinking the other night about my identity and the first time I ever gave it any serious consideration. When I was in Jr high I had an afternoon paper route (which now sounds as quaint as those hoops kids used to push around with sticks for fun). I delivered the Detroit News up and down two streets near my house every day after school, which meant most days around 4:00. If I had to stay late at school for some reason the papers obviously got out a little later, and if school were closed I was able to get the papers out earlier. There was one customer at the end of my route who was never happy with me. I think he had a system of complaining to the Detroit News regularly in order to get coupons for free papers. The man drove me crazy. In any case, one afternoon he stopped me to complain that the paper had been delivered too early the day before and I needed to deliver it exactly at 4:00–no earlier, no later. I apologized (the whole time wondering why he couldn’t wait to look in his door until 4:00 if he really didn’t want to see it before then) and tried to explain that my schedule wasn’t that predictable. He rolled his eyes and said, “It’s just one paper, how hard can it be?”
Just one paper? He really didn’t understand that he was not the only customer on my route? That I had more things to do in my life than just deliver his paper? I was dumbfounded, and my whole walk home I thought about how the problem stemmed from the fact that to this man I was simply “the paper girl” and I had no identity beyond that. Of course if all I was was the paper girl, I should be able to accommodate him however he liked because I did not exist for him beyond that one label. I started to look at myeslf from every angle and realized how fragmented my identity really was in this world. Depending on whom you asked my identity was different and tailored to each person’s experience. I was a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, friend, student, artist, violinist, girl from math class, the kid my dog barks at every afternoon, the one who can solve your Rubik’s cube…. I had known that before, but it was the first time I realized that for most people I was just the one thing they knew me as, and that was all. It made me a little dizzy to think about all the different roles I simultaneously filled and the whole time I’d just thought of myself as me.
Today I typically go by “Mom.”
Usually Aden’s Mom, sometimes Mona’s Mom, and when Quinn is old enough to have friends of his own I’ll be able to add Quinn’s Mom to the list. I really liked being called Mommy, but Aden gave that up at age three for Mom or Mama. Mona followed her sister’s lead and did the same, and eventually so did Quinn. It always makes me smile at a crowded gathering of parents and kids when a little voice yells, “Mom!” and all the women respond.
But beyond Mom, the label I hear most often is Violin Lady. My husband and I opened our own business at the beginning of last year, and if anyone is making a list of recession proof ventures, they should add violin shop to it. I’m not sure why we’re as busy as we are, but I’m pleased to be doing what I enjoy and actually making a living at it. I build instruments at home and at the store I do a lot of repair work. Ian reminds me regularly that the minute it isn’t fun we can shut it all down. So far I’ve loved every day. I wanted to create a space that my kids would feel comfortable in too, and they love coming to the violin store. We have a popcorn machine and a kids’ table with crayons and they find lots of ways to keep themselves entertained when they hang out there with me. Check out my window washers (and what? You don’t have a giraffe who does windows where you are?):
Making instruments is much harder to do when Ian’s away because there are many steps where I need large blocks of time to concentrate, and that happens best when the kids are out of the house. But even though the work lacks a consistent look when I try to carve a violin when I’m home with the kids, I need to keep working. I plugged away at both a violin and my own viola during Ian’s last deployment and it helped me keep my sanity. As much as there is no label that pleases me more than Mom, I have trouble being just Mom. I’m a better parent when I have an identity beyond that. Stealing time after the kids go to bed to work in my shop makes me feel like my own person again. I like being able to point to something I’ve made progress on that has nothing to do with laundry or dishes. I like that I have a distinctive label my kids can use when describing me to others that goes beyond Mom. My greatest hope for my children is that they create lives for themselves where all the facets of their identities bring them satisfaction and joy.
The one label that currently makes me uneasy is ‘Army Wife.’ It makes me sound as if I’m married to the Army and that would have to be considered an arranged marriage at best. I’m always taken aback when I discover someone knows me only in that context. Being described as the wife of my husband’s profession seems so far removed from the person I think of myself to be that I don’t feel remotely connected to it. We don’t live on a base, my husband keeps his military life far from his home life, and we seldom have the opportunity to interact with other families in our situation. I suppose all of that makes denial on my part easier, but the truth is we are one of the modern versions of a military family, and the sooner I come to grips with that the better.