What does it mean to be an American Mom? It is defined by all of the things I don’t do as much as those that I do. I don’t make apple pie. I don’t stay at home. I don’t co-sleep (though I tried). I don’t take my kids with me when I run (I bought and sold a jogging stroller within a week when I realized how much I cherish running alone). I don’t maintain a spotless home (far from it). I don’t always say yes to my kids, but I don’t always say no.
American mothers are as diverse as American neighborhoods, towns and cities. We represent all colors, shapes and sizes. We have diverse religious and spiritual practices. We even become mothers differently, opting for home vs hospital birth, attended by midwives or obstetrics, adoption or foster care. And yet the commonalities that all mothers share are powerful and present in our daily lives, and those of course are the children who make us moms.
Much of my reflection on motherhood and culture involves non-parenting work related issues. Since my first child was born 4 ½ years ago, I have worked full time, part time and no time to varying degrees. I sometimes long for the easier schedule of a part time job, but when I was employed in such a position, I found it challenging to make it work for my family financially. My career requires commitment, and anything worth committing to requires time, energy, and presence. So do children. Since becoming a working mom, one of my biggest challenges is getting out the door in the morning, bags packed, coffee travel mug in hand, cell phone charged, teeth brushed. Mornings in my house are not all sunshine and smiles, but they do always include a good breakfast, a hug and high praise for getting socks and shoes on in a more-or-less speedy manner. The drop-off involves more hugs during tense but special minutes where we say goodbye and each go our separate ways.
At the end of the day, reunions are bittersweet. Sometimes the boys are thrilled to see me, running up to greet me, pulling me toward the car. Other afternoons they long to stay and play, tumbling on the playground and laughing with their friends. Then it’s me that has to drag them home.
I am fortunate to live in a progressive and beautiful city in the Pacific Northwest where planning one’s family is not perceived as anti-life, but is the right thing to do. Breastfeeding my babies in public is not only accepted, it’s encouraged! Buying and serving locally sourced, healthy, organic food is easy and convenient due to fantastic local supermarkets and farmers markets. Many parents in my city commute by bike, and tagalong bicycles and bike trailers abound. For my eldest’s first birthday, his dad gave him a bike helmet that covered his whole head. We are able to get to the coast in 90 minutes, and we often have miles of breathtaking, rocky shore all to ourselves. I don’t ski, but if I did, I could drive less than an hour to reach the soft white stuff. My almost five-year-old is going to take snowboarding lessons this winter, and people won’t wonder why on earth we’d sign him up for such a sport.
Growing up in a very different part of the country, I was parented by a stay-at-home mom and a frequently traveling father for several years. While raising three girls age five and under, my mother took classes and completed a Master’s degree. She reentered the workforce when I was about ten or so, but managed to maintain a schedule where she came home when we did. We lived in a safe, friendly suburb located outside of the nation’s capitol. From an early age, my sisters and I developed a strong sense of democracy and political processes given our proximity to Washington and my parents’ educational style. Far outside the Beltway, our attention is now more focused on local and regional news and decision-making, and I sometimes miss the national experience.
But I am happy to be raising my own family in the western part of America, and for being an American mom. My children have opportunities unknown to many children both in the United States and internationally. As we enter this month of November, and celebrate Thanksgiving later in the month, I reflect on all that we have today, and give thanks. I am grateful to be an American Mom.