By Jeannette Bone // Illustration by Stacey Walker Oldham
A couple of things have changed in my life over the course of the last eighteen or so months. They were big events—life-defining, actually. The largest and most welcome change was the birth of our daughter, Adeline. Yeah, yeah, it should go without saying that her arrival was spiritual, emotional, and the coolest thing I’ve done in my entire life. Period.
I was ready, for the most part, to have my life upended and rearranged. And it was. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the subsequent labeling that started happening, even before I labeled my own self a “mother.”
I wasn’t prepared for the redefinition of my sense of self. In fact, I bristled a bit when I was first dubbed an AMA (woman of “advanced maternal age”). It’s a real description that sets you apart from the rest of the under-thirty-five birthing world; insurances even treat you differently. But age is in the mind of the beholder (or something to that effect). I was still climbing mountains and drinking good beer. How was I an AMA?
And then there was that other change. I lost my job, my office family, the weekly routine, and I stopped operating in the “real world” of adults, ideas, opinions, and strategic plans. I was at home now, an AMA without a professional rudder and with a kid to anchor me there.
Well, the cool thing about the fading field of print journalism is that you can basically do your job from anywhere, as long as you have a phone and keyboard. So I shifted gears. But the rest of the world still needed a label.
What do you do?
It’s a common question, often asked thoughtlessly as openers at parties or events. It’s a question that can lead to connections, stories, mutual acquaintances, and even an offer to buy the next round. But this question became decidedly more difficult to answer.
I am a woman of advanced maternal age, I thought, but quickly recoiled, as not many understand that I actually find that label funny.
I’m a writer, a journalist, I change up to five dirty diapers a day, I work while the kid sleeps, I make a great cup of coffee in the morning. Did I mention I’m a writer?
Where do you write?
I work from home.
Oh, so you’re at home?
Yes, but I’m working on this great piece …
With the kid? So you decided to stay at home and raise the kid? That’s great.
Yes, but ... yes. (I sounded defeated at first.)
For many months, this was how the conversation went. I wasn’t being asked to offer additional information about my career or my efforts to put ideas into words or to tell stories. It was decided for me. I was at home.
But for years before, I wasn’t at home. Instead, I woke up in the morning, drank really good coffee, and headed to work. I produced real, tangible words that people read, had opinions about, and responded to. I had a staff.
So now I was an AMA who was at home. Labeled. Boxed. Moving on.
Thankfully, I’m not alone in this foxhole. And thankfully, I have other mom types who can talk on the phone while making their kids pizza, who get up early enough to have a cup of coffee with me, and who steal away a few hours to allow me to feel, well, more like myself.
I called a friend the other day to ask her a question about schools and education. She asked, “Why are you calling me about this?”
“Because you’re a teacher, and you know a thing or two about these things,” I said.
And my friend, who is at home with three children, all of whom are still in diapers, replied, “Thank you so much for saying that. I wondered if people still remembered that I am an educator.”
What I have learned in this relatively new life position is that the idea of motherhood contains many subtle layers as we progress through its various seasons. I have friends who are currently in the trenches with me, duking it out every day with babies under the age of two. Then there are mothers who are starting the climb out: their kids can, for the most part, dress themselves, ask for help, and tell them where it hurts. School is now on the horizon, and the next season—one that’s less about diapers and day care and more about bookbags and after-school sports—is starting to unfold. And the layers continue …
So while the world wants, almost needs, to stick a label on my life, I am beginning to acknowledge that I am in a season of it that didn’t necessarily transition the way I thought it would, but is unique to me and my family. Finding comfort in this new skin has taken some time—more than I anticipated, but I’m careful to not allow the label to stick.
Now, when someone asks, What do you do?
I say, Where would you like me to start?