Redefining Me

I remember talking to a work colleague shortly after getting married. She was curious about my baby-making timeline, as so many back then were. We were in a conversation over coffee where I assured her that “3-5 years is our target.” I clung to that timeline as my early married life mantra, much like when I was a college freshman announcing to anyone who asked that I was going to be a pre-med and English double-major so that I could write medical textbooks upon graduation. A far cry from the Psychology and Philosophy routes I actually chose.
"3-5 years is our target.”
-I clung to that timeline as my early married life mantra.
Since 3-5 years is basically 10, it seemed like an accurate target at the time. One of the things that she told me as she admired her manicured nails and smoothed her dry-cleaned slacks was that she couldn’t remember anything about her life before her kids were born. It wasn’t apologetic, it was a statement. She had been married for four years before her first child, and she alluded to the idea that the time had been a hazy blur of disposable memories.
I cringed. I wanted to leave this conversation. Even back then I could tell exactly when someone was going to espouse unsolicited advice under the guise of “mentoring.”  I was not disappointed.

Now I realize that she wasn’t necessarily trying to advise me, she was confiding in me based on her experience. I wish I remembered everything she had said.

Three and a half years into my own motherhood experience, I find I am having the complete opposite experience as my former colleague. I remember a lot about our pre-children years. I remember what we did, where we lived, who we spent time with, jokes that we found hilarious, the restaurants we would frequent and what our daily lives looked like. I can remember these things in uncharacteristically acute detail, especially in the midst of a meandering toddler conversation or a particularly messy diaper blow-out.

And I find the hardest part about this “remembering” rabbit-hole is this realization: I used to know myself.

I knew how I handled social situations, what made me laugh, the moments that contained personal fulfillment. I knew how others viewed me, what they counted on me for personally and professionally, and what the expectations were for the relationships I was a part of. I knew in detail my triggers for anger, stress, and disappointment, and I also knew what I could contribute to the world around me to make it a better place. I spent hours thinking about my personal life purpose and that eventually translated into a career of assisting others in articulating and owning their own understanding of their purpose and applying it to creative personal and professional situations.

Then I had Judah.


When I was first pregnant with him I remember thinking thatpretty soon I would feel more like myself. I thought the only thing I was experiencing was physical change. Then I had this sweet baby boy and I continued to clumsily grasp at the hope that it wouldn’t be long until old Jill will reemerge and everything will get back to normal.

The days and weeks started to flow together to form the past three years. Everything about my life was different but I continued to assume that aside from my circumstances, not much had changed.

The thing is, I can’t quit my job, trade in my daily Starbuck’s for lukewarm day-old coffee, surround myself with new mommy-friends, and pour my life into nurturing a new person and expect to be the same old Jill. Laundry of that magnitude changes you. Kids music blasting in the car changes you. Knock-knock jokes and fort building changes you. Focusing thought and energy on meal plans and pre-school decisions changes you. Seemingly inconsequential moments of activity blur together to create a new life.

My life of intellectual service to others turned into a literal manifestation of physical service to my family. All of the household jobs I formerly skirted or delegated found their place in my own personal daily routine. 
And I was ticked.

If only someone would come do my laundry, clean my house, and make all the meals, THEN I could go back to the Jill I knew. 

If only I could have a day to myself, time to focus on my side projects, and have 10 minutes of pure relaxation, THEN I would see a glimpse of my old self.

Aaron and I set up my life to humor my perceived needs. Judah was at the babysitter’s one day a week, Aaron and I shared household responsibilities, and he listened to my evening pontifications of what else I could do to get back to myself.

The problem is, I was chasing an image and understanding of myself that no longer existed

Kids change you. Period. 

Now, different things make me laugh, cry, or get angry. Being a parent will never allow me to go back to my former years of not being a parent. And I am finally, FINALLY, getting to the point where I no longer mourn the pre-children days that seemed so full of freedom of experience. Because when I look back, they really don’t compare to what we have now. Those years contributed to who we are as a family, but I look at them in a similar way as I look at my years in middle school, high school, or college. They happened, I made the most of them, and I exited those periods of my life wiser (hopefully) and ready to tackle the next phase.

So maybe I agree with my colleague after all. It’s not that she couldn’t remember her life before kids, it’s that she isn’t the same person and she refuses to dwell on that. 

If I talked to her again now she would probably tell me that the “old me” is long gone. I won’t find her in the piles of dirty dishes, the pre-school car line, the work projects I finish while bobbing my infant on my knee, or the handprint salt-mold I made for the grandparents. She would tell me that it’s time to stop resting in the disappointment that wraps around me in that futile search and embrace the beautiful new version of myself. The me that laughs loudly, cares endlessly, hurts deeply. The me that sees value in teaching my children about generosity, bravery, and empathy. And the me that can impact and influence others positively in amazing new ways because of my experiences as a mom. 

Then, I may find, I actually like this new version of me.
Jill tiptoed into motherhood 3 ½ years ago, leaving full-time work as a college administrator, career coach, and grant writer. She now spends her time “momming it up” with her two little sidekicks, Judah (3 1/2yrs) and Frances (3 months), and totally hit the jackpot with her software engineer studmuffin husband of 12 years. Most recently she has taken up educating people on and selling essential oils, which adds to her fairly eclectic but totally normal moonlighting roles of higher ed consultant, personality assessment trainer, and play-doh enthusiast.

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