This one has been simmering for awhile. It’s hard to know what to say about a return after three years of living somewhere else. I really liked it when a friend of a friend took me aside and said, “it’s kind of like two different planets, right?” I don’t know enough about the person’s story to know her own experience of planet switching, but she gets it. Yes, another planet. One where a ton of grace and a non-anxious presence is key for survival.
I have been attempting to enter into life on this particular planet with a lot of curiosity, taking note of changes I see around me, and trying really hard not to judge them. One change that has been huge for me is the cultural difference around mama identity, (what the cultural expectations are for who a mama is and what she does). It’s best explained by the two bags I most commonly used a) before we left for Mexico three years ago and b) while in Mexico. I hadn’t remembered the size of purse a, and when I unpacked it from a box, I thought to myself, “wow, what all did I have in there??? (answer: diapers, extra clothes, sippy cups, books for entertaining, snacks for filling gaps, a glasses case for my husband who doesn’t carry a bag etc).” My first reaction elicited dread and regret, and an adamant declaration to my spouse and my mama, “I am NOT going to be using this one again!”
While purse b is a gathering place for essentials; keys, wallet, glasses (all my own), purse a was a place where I gathered all the things I was carrying for other people. It’s a symbol for me of what it means to be a mama in America at this point in time, where we carry many things that do not belong to us, both physically and figuratively. As I have conversations with mamas I am related to, go to church with, or brush elbows with at the pool, the confusing haze/different planet experience is beginning to lift. I now have a vague recollection of talking about sleep training with enthusiasm, keeping a list of goals I had for all the other people in my household with strategies of how to get them there, and enjoying long conversations on the subject of home renovation. But for now, these still feel like foreign subjects (like a language I haven’t studied for years), and I feel like an alien as I reluctantly enter back into them.
I was amazed by the conversations I had with moms at the pool this week. Each one told me (without my asking) that their goal for having their kids in swimming lessons was so that they could learn to save themselves if they needed to. I felt too strange and silly to say my own truth, “I signed my kids up so they’d have lots of fun learning about something they love.” I just smiled when the swimming teacher said to me, “your kids are so relaxed!”
I know being a mama in the US was not always this stressful, but I also know that it always had its challenges. A student giving an oral heritage report in one of my classes last week talked about the difficulty his mama lived through as a divorced Latina in Brooklyn in the 1970s. He said she survived by forming community with those around her, and somehow, together, they all got through it.
The story took me back to a moment the first Sunday we returned to our church. Something about the experience, absorbing the pain and beauty of change, made me want to hold a baby and cry in a corner, so I did. In the midst of that experience, two mamas sidled up next to me, not saying a word. I don’t know if they saw me crying, but their quiet peaceful presence held me like angel wings.
So, to all of you mamas living in the US out there carrying bags way too big for your shoulders, I see you. We are in this together. If you ever need to pause and take a deep breath, you are welcome to come sit by me.