Until we ‘left home’ to travel, I knew with certainty who I was.
I was a mother to four kids.
My kids ate home made food and baked from scratch cakes. I cooked for people when they were sick. I always had a house full of kids – my own as well as other peoples. I carried alot of snacks with me – for my own children, and other people’s. I organised birthday’s and remembered to buy presents.
I was available. I was reliable. I was on time. I was tired.
I came to see that I had built an identity on the badges I had earnt as a mother. The breastfeeding badge; the cooking badge; the homemade costume badge; the preservative free birthday party badge; the Christmas crafts badge; the always available badge; the planning badge; the reading bedtime stories badge; the ethical present badge (wrapped with eco wrapping); the package free lunchbox badge…
I wasn’t only a mother. I was also a friend. I had badges for that too. And plenty of badges for being a daughter. A sister. A daughter-in-law. A wife. I had so many badges I practically had to make myself a new coat on which to wear them.
Part of the excitement of selling our family home and most of our belongings was, for me, the opportunity I saw to be something different. Maybe someone with no badges. Maybe just ME.
The thrill of leaving Australia for unknown adventures was real. People were interested in what we were doing and also, often,slightly confused about why on earth we’d give up the very nice life we enjoyed in a safe, affordable city with great weather to live with no income, no family and no specific plan. I was admittedly slightly scared about who I’d be without those things – and also confused about why I’d consider giving them up.
Packing up our things was a kind of metaphor for unpacking myself. Who would I be without my French cast iron pots or my Thermomix in which to prepare nutritious whole food meals? How could I show the world who I was without my full collection of kitsch knitted jumpers? Would my hair grow out without my regular hairdresser to tame my (untamable and more than slightly greying) locks? It wasn’t sensible to bring my brown leather vintage tote but was I really a backpack kinda gal? As I carefully wrapped my grandmother’s old china into boxes and decided what would be stored and what would be gifted, I had the realisation that I most definitely wasn’t the sum total of my things. On the other hand, I had been comfortable, and comforted by those things and who on earth would I be without them?
For much of the past year and a half, I have been a travelling, unschooling mum. Not because that moniker defines me but because one has to introduce oneself as something! And for a while, particularly when living out of a suitcase and rotating the same 3 sets of clothes, I really did feel like an unschooling, travelling mum!
Now though, in 2020 with travel plans ground to a halt and a house to furnish, I’m all at sea again! Most of my badges have been discarded. I’ve definitely lost my homemade food badge; I can’t remember the last time I sent a birthday card and as well as just forgetting both my niece and my cousin’s birthday, I admit to only remembering my brother’s birthday because someone reminded me!
I’ve felt the distance from friends and family in Australia keenly and I’m insightful enough to know that as well as actually missing THEM, I’m also noticing how lost I feel without being available. And NEEDED. My sister had her first baby this year; 2 friends have had cancer; another friend lost her mum. The old me would have been cooking meals, looking after children, making phone calls and generally being whatever was needed. Now, when I speak to friends I hear about all I’m missing and all the gaps that I’m not there to fill. Except that there aren’t any gaps because others are filling those roles. I am constantly torn between feeling glad that my friends and family are so well supported or sad that they are fine without me.
Among the layers that 2020 has encouraged, no – forced, me to unpack has been my customary positivity and optimism. Aussies are typically known for a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude and it’s true that both my husband and I usually epitomise that. It’s a combination of believing that we can be masters of our own destiny and what some would say is a possibly naive belief in the goodness of humanity! In any case, when one identifies strongly in this way, there’s not much space for complaining. And boy have I felt like complaining lately!
I still can’t say exactly WHO I am but I do know what I’m not. I’m no longer a mother whose eye twitches at the idea of her children eating food from a packet; I can forget to send a birthday present without it eating away at my soul; I can bear to be sitting here at almost 7pm with absolutely no idea what we will eat for dinner. There are muddy paw prints on the kitchen floor. There is washing to put away. We have no adventures planned (apart from the daily adventure of living with 2020!) and I now cut my own hair. Almost all my cooking pots are second hand and we don’t own a food processor.
Today, after living out of my suitcase for a year and a half, I put my clothes in a chest of drawers – that I own. None of that defines me but it’s all a part of me.
This year has revealed to me, more than any other, with the exception of the year I became a mother, that holding an attachment to an identity, leaves little room to explore ALL that we might be. And it can be painful to let go of things to which we’ve held so tightly.
Embracing my role as a mother has been beyond rewarding but when I’m honest, I can see that my version of motherhood has been narrow enough that I’ve found it hard to see a light in myself beyond that.
Identifying strongly as an unschooling mother, might make it harder for me to accept any of my children wanting, one day, to go to school.
Dedicating the last 13 years of my life to living with my children without working outside of that role has made it hard for me to see where I might earn money and contribute financially to our family.
Resolutely wearing second hand clothes sometimes finds me feeling guilt about wanting to buy something new.
It can also be case that when we hold such a strong grip on our own identity, we can judge those who hold other truths. In unpacking how I see myself, I’ve also peeled back the layers of how I see others. And in doing so, I’ve found so much space for us all to be many things.