Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Labels again

At Apartment 11D, Laura discusses her discomfort with being tagged "mom" in people's heads. Even in her own.

I'm very happy that the kids are tucked safely away in their elementary schools, and I've been able to spend more time at work. I like that I can tell people that I'm a professor. For some reason, our kitchen rehab guys think it's really funny that I'm a professor (is it the big hair?) and keep saying things like "So, professor, you really want to expose the brick on the chimney? Well, if the professor says so, we gotta do it."

It's kinda nice having a job description that gets a little respect. Sadly, the mom name tag doesn't come with too much street cred. It's not fair, but that's the way it is.

But even if I don't have to use the "mom" name tag, it's still there.

In the comments I wrote that I object to being identified by my employment far more than I do being identified by my relationships. Of course neither of those sets of labels captures everything about me, but my relationships are more important that my paid labor. I take great pleasure in being [husband's] wife, [partner's] partner, and [a number of people's] friend. I like knowing that some people think of me that way. Saying I'm a legal secretary doesn't tell you much about me, while saying I'm the mother of two men says a lot. Maybe that's because I don't have an impressive job, or the kind of job that is a true vocation, a passionate pursuit?

Even so, I enjoy my job, I am well paid and respected, and I work with wonderful people, but I prefer to be labeled with other things: my hobbies (I'm a knitter and a reader) or my relationships, or my food choices (I'm omnivorous), or my religion, or my politics.

I don't think of people by their professions if I know them at all in any other way. I know my therapist, for example, and so I don't think of her only as my therapist, but as [name] who was my therapist and has a daughter and used to be a dancer and prefers alternative medicine and is a Jew. The space in my head where I hold [name] includes a lot of descriptive words, none of which alone can be her identity, and even though my relationship to her is mainly the one of a patient of therapy, that's not who she is, that's just the relationship we had for a while.

In the comments to the post at 11D one person argues that you were someone before you were a mom, but once you have the mom tag that seems to be all you are. What about all those other parts of you? I respond that once you are a mom, you are a mom for the rest of time. You don't stop being a mom, not even when your children are adults and take care of themselves, not even when they start taking care of you, not even, G-d forbid, if your child dies before you. No wonder the things you were before fade a bit in importance and memory.

I understand that the objection to "mom" arises out of how people respond when they find out you're a mom: I've read about the parties where everyone stampedes away on the assumption you have nothing to interesting to say, have no value to add, cannot network them in with somebody important to their career. They assume that's all you are, and that's their mistake and their loss. I know I'm not limited by my labels, even the ones I don't like. But more importantly, I like this one. I like being a mom, I like being labeled a mom, and I'm willing to suffer the dismissal of small-minded people who think that a mom is all I am.

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