Say It Without Apology: Motherhood Isn’t Everything

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Meet some of my new plant friends!

It’s great to be back here writing. We survived the two weeks of distance learning, and the boys have now been back in school for a couple weeks.

It’s taken me longer than anticipated to get back to blogging because during the time I was with all three boys at home, I gained a new obsession: houseplants.

Random, I know, so let me back up a moment.

Dreams of a 20-Something

Mid-way through 2021, I marked the milestone of having been a stay-at-home mom longer than I’d been a working mom.

It was a weird development for a staunch feminist who, at age 20 or 25 or even 30, would have never dreamed of setting aside professional ambitions to raise kids.

Circa the mid-aughts, I had my sights set on a position with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I had it all planned out.

I’d be based in Geneva or New York, spending a fair amount of time jet-setting to Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

I’d use my impeccable French and Spanish skills, in-depth human rights knowledge, and love of meeting new people to make cross-cultural connections and campaign for people’s rights.

…and What has Actually Transpired

Fifteen years later, I haven’t left the state, let alone the country, in well over a year. In fact, I can go days, even a week, without traveling more than a two-mile radius from my house.

My French and Spanish are collecting cobwebs in my brain’s crawl spaces, and the new connections I forge are mostly with other (quite lovely) parents at my kids’ school.

I still am firmly committed to human rights, a concept whose core is the value of every human being. But in lieu of campaigning globally, my human rights practice now consists of treating the people I encounter in daily life with as much kindness and compassion as possible.

Life looks much different than I thought it would…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In this season of parenting young kids, I’ve chosen to honor the home-loving nurturer part of myself and am reaping the joy that comes with creating meaningful moments and memories with my kids.

The ambitious adventurer with a passion for social justice issues is still there, but on hiatus until the kids are older.

Busy…but Needing More

This fern is called a rabbit’s foot fern because of its fuzzy rhizomes that look like–you guessed it—rabbit feet. I went from alarmed to delighted when I learned the plant was supposed to look like that! Behind the fern is a China doll plant in need of some serious grooming.

So back to the two weeks of distance learning and how it led to a houseplant obsession.

In terms of filling the hours, I was busy. Besides assisting with Google Meet tech issues and coaxing the boys to get in their daily minutes on the literacy app, I still had all my usual tasks — nursing the baby, changing diapers, figuring out the never-ending cycle of meals and snacks, containing clutter…all the myriad tasks that go into running a household and caring for kids.

But in terms of filling my mind, I was bored.

Yes, I love my kids and feel privileged I get to spend so much time with them while they’re little and still like having me around. I’m genuinely happy that the ambitious adventurer part of me is on hiatus.

However–and this is a BIG however–I love learning about new topics, analyzing data, tackling big projects.

I’ve found I quickly sink into a funk when I’m not using my brain in ways other than keeping the baby on a nap schedule or brokering peace negotiations between the older two.

The funk came fast and furious when the distance learning stint began.

I still haven’t figured out this gal’s exact species, but her vibrant green and unique leaf structure have made her one of my favorites.

Normally, writing provides my much-needed, non-child-focused outlet, but during a period of triple childcare duty 24/7, I couldn’t find the time or concentration it requires.

Having recently discovered the work of Hilton Carter, plant guru extraordinaire, I turned my focus to adding more greenery to our space. I requested books from the library, pored over Etsy plant shops, and proceeded to add a dozen or so new plants to my collection.

Of course I knew nothing about the light, water, or soil requirements of these plants, so I then spent hours gathering that information. It was crazy-making and absolutely wonderful.

So that, my friends, is why I didn’t start writing again right away once the kids were back at school — houseplant overwhelm. 😆

Growing a houseplant obsession (about time I fit a pun into this post!) became such an engaging pursuit that I still had tons of work to do once the kids were back in school.

On one particularly memorable Tuesday evening, I stayed up til almost midnight making a list of which plants needed new pots and what size those pots should be. A little ridiculous and oh so rewarding.

More than a Mother

I’m learning to propagate! I’ve christened this bright windowsill in our dining room “the propagation station.”

The most important thing I realized during that forced return to distance learning is this: to continue to thrive as the at-home parent, I must at all times have SOMEthing that gives me an identity other than wife and mom.

Writing does a wonderful job of filling that need around 75% of the time. But when illness, pandemic-related chaos, or other life-gone-awry moments make it too hard to find the concentrated time that writing requires, finding another outlet is essential.

It’s not a “might be nice to take up a new little hobby” kind of situation, though I could see how it might look that way to an outsider. It’s a NEED. An “if I don’t learn and create something new today, I will become depressed” kind of need.

Because mothering littles is so all-consuming, it can seem impossible to hang on to other parts of our identities in the midst of it. And our culture does an excellent job of portraying a good mother as one who puts everyone’s needs before her own, who sacrifices her own well-being in the name of loving her children.

In the words of Glennon Doyle in her powerful memoir Untamed:

“Mothers have martyred themselves in their children’s names since the beginning of time. We have lived as if she who disappears the most, loves the most. We have been conditioned to prove our love by slowly ceasing to exist. What a terrible burden for children to bear—to know that they are the reason their mother stopped living….When we call martyrdom love we teach our children that when love begins, life ends. This is why Jung suggested: There is no greater burden on a child than the unlived life of a parent.

So here is my entreaty to myself and to you, fellow mom:

Fight the good fight for your non-mom self.

Fight for your right to have conversations about topics completely unrelated to your children.

Fight for your right to pursue interests that add to your quality of life, like, I don’t know…houseplants. 🙂

Fight for your right to be excited about what comes next as your kids get older, instead of floundering as they assert their independence and leave you identity-less.

Fight for your right to give a big middle finger to the patriarchy because let’s be real here, most men don’t feel they have to sacrifice their sense of self (or even just their right to shower and pee in peace) when they become parents.

Take Glennon’s advice, and fight for your right to exist and keep living.

And maybe buy some plants while you’re at it.

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  1. Excellent post Katie! So glad you are back at it. So much of that resonates. PictureThis is a great app for identifying plants.

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