So, I kind of have a crush on Michelle Williams. What can I say--I have this thing for strong women. She is a single mother who has had to deal with the loss of her child’s father, and she’s had to do it in the public eye. I feel this kindred connection with her in (single) motherhood, but also in her feelings about strong female friendships. More than once, she has claimed that the love of her life is her best friend, Busy Phillips. I understand that sentiment and feel it in my soul as I feel the same way about my best friend.
More recently, Michelle said something that made me love her even more. At a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, Williams said, “I think when you become a mother, it’s sort of difficult to separate yourself from being a mother. Being a mother is not only who I am in my relationship with my daughter, but it’s a part of the kind of work that I wanna make and the relationship with the person that I want to be for her. So there is really no area of my life that is untouched. It’s at the center of everything that I do.”
After reading this, I wanted to stand up and clap, to profess my love for her, to yell, “Preach, Michelle!” In a few sentences, she had articulated what I had felt in my heart for some time. Culture has promulgated this myth that motherhood creates an either/or dilemma. Pick a topic, and there are always two camps and seemingly no middle ground. Either you breastfeed or bottle feed, you use cloth diapers or disposables, subscribe to sleep training or co-sleeping. And there will be critics no matter what you choose.
And nowhere is motherhood seen as a handicap as much as in the career world. If you choose to stay home with your child, then you’ve given up on your dreams and failed to live up to your potential. If you go to work full-time, then you’re obviously neglecting your children. And if you find some sort of balance or try to “have it all,” then you can only hope to be mediocre in all areas. I hate this false ideology more than I hate doing the dishes, and that’s a lot.
See, I refuse to be either/or. I am both, and I am better for it—not better than you, dear reader, just better than the human, woman, and mother I was yesterday. I am both a mother and a teacher, and I don’t feel that these two parts of myself are in competition with one another. Instead, they ebb and flow, weaving together present and future, failures and successes, heartaches and joys.
I taught for several years before I was a mother, and I loved it as much then as I do now. But now I see students with new eyes. I primarily teach freshmen, and when they come in on that first day of fall semester, I don’t just see excited, slightly nervous eighteen-year-olds, I see a gaggle of mothers’ babies who have left the nest for the first time, and I feel a tinge of those mamas’ aching as I catch a glimpse of my future. I try to smile a little more brightly those first days, listen to their concerns masked as jokes, and calm their anxieties. I am not their mother, but I am Deacon and Nora’s mother, and I know how I would like them to be treated.
As much as my motherhood comes with me to the classroom, so does my work come home with me. My children see me lesson planning and grading. Inevitably, throughout the semester, they will attend some of my classes, too. And I hope they are learning--not freshman or sophomore composition, of course, but learning and observing that their mother is passionate about her job, education, and other humans. I hope that makes them proud, and I pray it encourages them to chase their own dreams.
I am in this unique and beautiful position right now to see both ends of the spectrum simultaneously. Separating motherhood from career, even if it were possible, would only be at the detriment to both because, as Michelle so beautifully stated, motherhood “is at the center of everything that I do.” So my goal regarding both my students and offspring remains the same: to send kind people out into the world.