I recently had one of those moments, the kind where time stops and I can suddenly see myself from the outside.
I was conscripted away from my sink of dishes to play “school” with my four-year-old. She was the teacher, natch.
“Here’s your work,” she said, handing me a piece of green construction paper. “Put your name on the top.”
And I paused. I know my name, obviously. But I was, in that moment, unsure what to write. Weird, right? I took my crayon and wrote J-E-S-S-I-C-A. Jessica. And it had a strange look to it. Foreign, almost. Something from long ago. Is that me? Is that my name? When was the last time someone called me “Jessica”?
I spend a lot of time at home with my children where I am called “Mom” or “Mommy” or “Mama.” I respond to it immediately. If I am out at a store and I hear someone else’s kid say “Mom!” I usually react to that too.
I do, from time to time, interact with grownups. But somehow, I’ve become “Mom” with them too.
My husband is the person I spend the most time with, along with my children. Trying to get the kids to identify us as “Mom” and “Dad” and to be absolutely sure that those vocabulary words made it into their little baby brains, my husband and I call each other “Mommy” and “Daddy” in front of the kids. We refer to each other in abstentia in the same way, I guess to avoid confusion or the need to explain whom I was talking about: “Daddy is still at work, but he can help you build a fort later…” “Mommy really needs to drink her coffee first, so let’s go outside for a minute…” And so on.
But, for some reason, we do it when they aren’t around too—out of habit, I suppose. It is, admittedly, a little creepy, and I force myself to call my husband by his first name as much as possible. And I guess he does call me Jessica—or Jess, occasionally—but since I’m usually the only other person in the living room, the addressee is easily assumed without a proper first name used to identify the co-conversationalist.
I started to think about it more. Even when I leave the house and enter the “real world,” people rarely call me by my first name. At the pediatrician I am “Mom,” at my kid’s school I am “Mrs. So-and-so,” at the grocery store I am “m’am,” and even with my friends I am “girl” or “mama” or we are drinking wine facing each other anyway so there’s not much reason to use first names. Communication between friends in texts or social media is lovely and helps me stay connected to people, but I rarely hear anyone actually say my name. I almost feel more connection to my little profile picture (which isn’t even me usually!) than to my given first name.
So then there I was, sitting on the floor surround by crayons and stickers, having a minor identity crisis. Well, to be honest, I was only furthering the identity crisis which began some time ago. Who am I?!? What is the meaning of life, and where the heck do I fit in to it?
My first name has been the only constant in my life. I have gone through lots of change. I am living in my sixth state, I am using my fifth email address, I am driving my fourth car, and I am on my third last name. I have lost family members, and I have gained a few too. Friends have come and gone (though some have hung around for a pretty long time and I am so grateful for their stick-with-it-ness). The path from my first boyfriend to my husband has been winding, to say the least. And I have been Jessica all the while.
So why did my name look so foreign to me, written in crayon on that piece of construction paper? I was Jessica when I became a wife, and I was Jessica when I became a mother. And I will be Jessica when and if I become a grandmother. This Jessica person is in it for the long haul, and it might be time I start paying attention to her again. Not at the detriment of my family or anything; be not alarmed, gentle reader. I don’t think I’ll have to run away to join the circus to find myself. Not yet, at least (my act needs a lot of work). But, perhaps it means I can put the parenting books up on the shelf in exchange for some tween vampire books or to reread some of my favorite Jane Austen novels every once in a while. Perhaps it means that I can drag my kids out into the garden or go to a museum, not to provide them with an educational experience, but because it’s what I like to do.
I am not who I was before—before children, before marriage. But part of that person remains in me somewhere. She was fun and sarcastic and swore like a truck driver. In becoming this other version of me, this “Mom” character, I have put aside some of the things that made “Jessica” who she was. And in some ways it was necessary. But in my attempt to fully embrace my role as “Mommy,” I lost sight of “Jessica.” I’m starting to find her again—well, the new her. She’s not entirely the same as she was, and I’d like to think she’s better than before. A little wiser? Hmmm, maybe, maybe not.
Now that I am slowly emerging from the fog of babies, I find myself looking around and at myself and wondering who the heck am I now? So much of me has been discarded or put on hold in order to make space for all the things I felt I needed to be “Mom.” Trying to do the right thing for my kids and be a good example doesn’t always leave room for some of the more “interesting” sides of me. I’m not regretful; the early years of parenthood demanded I put a lot of time and energy into keeping small humans alive. I’m sure the coming years will continue to make similar demands. But now, for some reason, I feel like there is a small, itty-bitty, space for me to start bringing Jessica back into the picture. And that space gets a little bigger each day.
I want my kids to get to know me, not only as “Mommy” but also as Jessica. And that means I have to be Jessica sometimes.
And now I’m going to Starbucks, where they will write my name on a cup and say it out loud for all the world to hear! And when they call out “Jessica” I will answer loudly and proudly, “Yes! That is me! And that is my grande half-caf percent three pump no whip caramel macchiato!”
My name is Jessica. What’s yours?