Life with Jesus / Social Justice

Don’t Call Me Mommy

{Before inciting a literal mommy war, let me say that I do not care if your children call you mommy. If tiny hands reach for you and wail “Mommy!” as you remove the peanut from their nose, fine. If you refer to your own mother as mommy, even if you are 50, fine. You do you. It does not matter to me one iota what words you are attached to. The following refers to my motherhood and my mother’s motherhood.}

I am not a mommy.

There’s something about that additional ‘y’ sound on the end that makes me shudder. I don’t know why. I have no recollection of ever calling my own mother ‘mommy’. If I ever did call her mommy, by the time I was old enough to understand and remember what I was saying, I had lopped off the second syllable. She was always mom, or for a brief time in 1st grade, ‘Betsy’. I was the eldest and so I set the linguistic stage for my family.

The word ‘mommy’ to me signifies something about my identity that is unwelcome. In my mind, if I was a mommy, I would embody the sort of mother that waited breathlessly for her children to get off the bus, running to greet them for a hug on her knees, weeping in anticipation of losing them the next day for another 8 hours. This instead of getting a shot of adrenaline when the daycare door closes and I dance to my car, alone and childless.

Beth Mommy would wait on her precious babes hand and foot, folding their laundry tenderly and weeping over the small size of baby socks. This instead of making The Kid do his own laundry (“Beth! I don’t have any underwear!” “NOT MY PROBLEM, KIDDO!”) and consistently cursing those cute baby socks that never ever have a match.

Beth Mommy would watch them while they slept, peaceful little snuggle bugs. Instead, I choose to sprint from their bedrooms, resisting the urge to shriek, “I’m free! I’m free! Hallelujah! I made it another day!”

It’s not that I don’t care about my kids or have any affection for them; it’s rather that I know that they’ll live, thrive even, if they aren’t at the center of my universe. I have other things outside of them that fuel me and make up my identity.

I am not a mommy.

I think what bothers me most about the word ‘mommy’ is that it connotes for me a person whose entire identity is subsumed by her children. For Beth Mommy, at the adoption of her first child, she would cry, “Goodbye, cruel world. Goodbye hopes and dreams! It’s nothing but dishes and laundry and arguing over how Ms Rueda solves algebra problems now! I’M A MOMMY.”

If you have any qualms about this attitude towards childrearing and identity, you can take it up with Betsy, or Mom as I call her now. On our recent trip to Colorado, my sister and I were complaining to her that trips with kids are about as much fun as a good poke in the eye and she smiled like we were getting a taste of our own medicine. It is only because she chose to continue working, schlepping her two precious babes off to daycare, that my sister and I even made it to adulthood. Without a break from our constant bickering and bottomless needs, she might have killed us. My mom needed her own thing. She taught high school science and she was damn good at it. She got to use her gifts and talents, stimulate her mind, be around other adults, go to the bathroom without a mini-me following her and asking repeatedly what we were eating for dinner.

In my mind, my mom was never a mommy and I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful that she set those boundaries for herself because it opened up the possibility for me to set boundaries too. It helped me be more independent. When you’re at daycare and Sheila has just snagged one of your fries, you pull up your big girl panties and you deal with it yourself. You don’t need a mommy to insert herself into this situation.

As you can see, I’m deeply resistant to this narrative, that once a woman has children, she becomes one-dimensional. “Oh Beth? Yeah, she was interesting until she had kids and now she’s just a mommy.” When asked about themselves, if men mention that they are fathers (surely they wouldn’t use the word ‘daddy’), the world nods along and says, “And what else?!” in thirsty expectation of the revelation of the other parts of their identity.

Women (outside of mommy circles, er, maybe even inside of them) do not get that same treatment. I’ve seen it happen. I start to tell someone about myself and when I report that I have two boys, eyes glaze over. I’ve lost them. I want to scream, “But wait! Don’t glaze over yet! I’m a complex person! Have I told you about our chickens or my kombucha? I cross-stitch! I can do a head stand! I do racial justice activism! I once saw an adult conjoined twin and my husband had to send me outside because the shock of it sent me into tears!” but their mind is already wandering away, in search of something more interesting.

I’ve started leading with other things first- stringing people along to get them interested before I drop the mom bomb on them. I love seeing the look of surprise on their face when they realize that I’ve just referred to my son. “Oh…you have kids?”

It stinks, of course, that I have to do this. I should be able to identify myself as a mother without expecting the other person to go into a conversational coma.  As I thought about this specific word and why it bothers me so, I’ve realized that I often reduce people to labels, just like I myself often feel reduced.

I understand that our brain function at it’s most basic level has to sort things because otherwise it would get overwhelmed. From very early on, our brains tell us “Fruit good, veggies bad” and we move on from there. So, on a very basic human level, it’s natural for us to sort things into boxes.

However, a problem arises when it comes to putting people in boxes and only allowing them that one box. The first time that I held a conversation with an out gay person, inside my brain alarm bells were going off. “I’M TALKING TO A GAY PERSON. A REAL LIVE GAY PERSON.” It wasn’t any negative emotion that tipped those alarm bells off; rather, I think it was more excitement over having a new experience. But still, my brain was keeping that person firmly in the GAY GAY GAY box, which is wrong and reduces them to a one-dimensional person.

It is only proximity to actual LGBT+ people that has allowed me to cross-pollinate my boxes. For example, for the longest time, I bought the stereotype that somehow LGBT+ people had voracious sexual appetites. Being that my own sexuality was buried so far below the surface of the earth that it sometimes feels like it turned to lava and I’ll never hear from it again, meeting anyone (gay, straight, male, female) with a voracious sexual appetite would cause me to panic and play dead. But when I get proximity to actual LGBT+ people, the story looks much different. It is hard to be thinking about someone’s sexual appetite when they are proudly showing you their latest cross-stitch project or displaying their skills in the kitchen with a jar of artichoke hearts. So, now instead of GAY GAY GAY, I see someone who is a lesbian and a hobbyist and a cook and and and and.

Proximity makes it much harder for us to see each other as one dimensional.

Of course, I don’t mean proximity as in “I sat next to a Black guy on a bus and now I’m not a racist anymore.” Proximity is “nearness is space, time, or relationship” and I think the relationship part is what I’m getting at here (which of course requires space and time).

As a privileged person, my effort to place myself in proximity to marginalized people (so that I can cross pollinate those boxes and stop thinking of them one-dimensionally) has required humility. No one is going to want proximity to you if you’re an asshole who already knows everything. I have had to work really hard to read my emotions and notice that my defensiveness is a red flag that means that there are some rough edges being sanded down by someone else’s lived experience.  I’ve had to get uncomfortable, be in places where *I* am in the minority, recognize my privilege and fight against it, be led by people who are used to being pigeon-holed as one thing.

I mean, I am annoyed that I am pigeon-holed as ‘mommy’ but my life isn’t in danger. I don’t have to worry about police interactions because I don’t carry the label ‘Black’. My human value and right to live safely isn’t up for debate because I don’t carry the label ‘undocumented’. I am not constantly fed the narrative that I must be grateful because I don’t carry the label ‘adopted’.  I don’t have to put up with constant stares and discrimination and people considering me less than human because I don’t carry the label ‘disabled’. I am not consistently lumped together with religious extremists because I don’t carry the label ‘Muslim’. I am not consistently made to feel othered, even in “multi-faith” environments because I don’t carry the label ‘Jew’.

We do damage to one another when we think one-dimensionally.

We all know that Jesus was great about seeing people’s multifaceted identities, sometimes before people realized themselves that they were not one-dimensional. The bleeding woman who touched his robe to be healed wasn’t just a sick lady. She was a faithful woman. The woman who was going to be stoned wasn’t a one-dimensional slut; she was a child of God worth saving, held in the same esteem as her accusers. Zaccheus wasn’t just a wee little tax collector; he was a host worthy of hosting the Son of God.

I’m no Jesus so it requires a little more time and conversation before I can figure people out but I’m here for the long haul.  Forget prosperity. Proximity for everyone! Let’s really dig in, get dirty and uncomfortable, recognize each other’s complexity. This, I’m convinced, is the only way to be truly human. I cannot stomach any more of this dualistic good/bad thinking. Proximity to people who are different than us is the only way forward.

Don’t call me mommy and put me in that box. I’ll try to do the same for you.

*****

 

I recognize that not everyone lives in places with a plethora of people with marginalized identities. No matter! In fact, regardless of where you live, it’s good to start doing your own research and learning before you ask people to educate you. Below are some of my favorite resources. This is list is not meant to be exhaustive by any means. Google will be your friend here.

LGBT+

  • Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on Netflix: I will admit that i didn’t watch this show for a long time because I expected it to be vapid, which is a ridiculous excuse because I absolutely adore vapid television (America’s Next Top Model, anyone?) Imagine my surprised when I watched an episode (Season 2, episode 1 was my first) and wept openly as these gay men shared their stories and helped people break free of toxic masculinity.
  • Nanette by Hannah Gadsby on Netflix: I kid you not, this might be the most powerful thing I’ve ever watched on Netflix. It starts out as a comedy special and halfway through evolves into a one-woman sermon on patriarchy and art and storytelling. It’s truly masterful. If you’re having trouble sticking with it, I promise you it’s worth it when she really gets going.
  • God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. I blogged about this book here.
  • Torn by Justin Lee. I actually haven’t read this one but its been recommended to me by more than one person.
  • Blue Babies Pink podcast by Brett Trapp. Trapp is quite loquatious in his storytelling but there were several points where I had “Aha!” moments.
  • Outside the Lines by Mihee Kim-Kort. Several authors I follow have raved about this book so it’s making its way to my house as we speak.

Race

  • So. many. books. I mean you can google memoirs about race and find millions. A few of my favorite recent personal narratives include:
    • I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
    • When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (this one also falls under LGBT+)
    • Becoming Ms Burton by Susan Burton
    • Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang
  • One of my favorite facebook pages to follow is called Powerful Black Stories. Media representation of people of color is so poor and stereotypical, this page helps me combat those messages that I get because it’s people of color doing wonderful, great things that we never see in the media.

Immigration Status

Religious Minorities

  • I need to do more homework but I do have a few suggestions. Amy Jill-Levine is a Jewish scholar who specializes in educating Christians about what first-century Judaism was like. Her books are challenging and wonderful.
  • For an updates on the Muslim experience in America, I follow Omar Suleiman, Alia Salem, and Linda Sarsour.

Adoption Triad Members– The typical adoption narrative is from the perspective of the adoptive parents. If you want to see a list of my favorite resources from adoptees and first parents, check out the Adoption page on my blog.

I need more! What are your suggestions? What have you read or listened to lately that expanded your universe a little?

4 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me Mommy

  1. Thank you for this post, Beth. Keep it up and know I am always cheering you on saying yes, yes, yes! Also, hilarious about the word mommy because I shudder at the added y too!

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