I stood beside my husband trying hard to maintain eye contact with the speaker with two little hands wriggling for freedom in mine. I had given them the speech before we went in: though I understood the temptation, they were not to ask for candy and needed to understand we were not there for them. I was exhausted, overwhelmed and ready to cry but knew it was important that I be there. So as I waited in one of those rooms, filled with mourners and smelling almost nauseatingly of chrysanthemums, we stood in line with others who came to pay their respects to the family of the man from our church who had recently passed away. I had never even actually met him because we haven’t been at our church all that long and for a lot of our time there he has been sick and unable to come. Still, I had spoken with his daughters and wanted them to feel loved and supported. I scanned the room and smiled, but as I saw the people approaching I inwardly groaned, because by now, I was well acquainted with this routine. People walked up to our girls and gushed over how beautiful they were and, “oh my, look at those dimples.” While I tried my very best to concentrate on what people were saying, the girls whined about when we were going to leave. My husband was introduced over and over to family from out of town as the associate pastor and father of these two charming and delightful children. I waited patiently. Anytime now, surely someone would acknowledge me. But as I stood them, smiling politely, I was no more than a footnote on a page. When I was acknowledged at all, it was to be told what a wonderful husband I had and how blessed I was to be his wife. If introduced at all, I was nameless. Just an accessory, really, on my husband’s arm. I felt as important as the tie he was wearing. “This is his wife and his lovely yellow tie.” His wife. Pastor Sam’s wife and Evie and Nora’s mom. Nameless. Faceless.
The girls began to really get antsy, as little girls do in a funeral parlor filled with nothing to do but to try to wriggle free from their mother’s iron fist grip. After twenty minutes of “your husband is the best thing since cherry pie” and “oh. You are so lucky to have been blessed with such a husband and children. Count your lucky stars the heavens were smiling down on such a person (I’m sorry. What’s your name again? Yes. Yes. That’s right. Sam’s wife)” I gave up and let go of their hands. Before I knew it, they were trying to race each other down the hallway all the while I was trying to keep my attention on the funeral director who was shooting jokes at my husband left and right. I told them they needed to sit, which to them translated into jumping violently on the couch. The elder of the two smirked at me, knowing full well that my blood pressure was rising, which meant her fun was just starting. Through gritted teeth and a plaster smile I told them to sit quietly in chairs within arms reach of me. Once they had done so, the older one began to bounce in the chair, again to try to see if she could crack me. I really think this girl has a future in interrogation some day. At this point, my head was throbbing, my feet were screaming, and my heart was drumming in my ears. I shot the girls that look that only mothers can give that says something like, “I love you but if you choose to cross me again I will sell you to the circus and make sure they give you a terrible job like cleaning up elephant poop and scraping gum off of bleachers and brushing the lion’s teeth…” A man from our church chose that moment to mosey on over to us and tell my girls how good they were and how sweet and charming and pretty they looked. Again, I was acknowledged only by a conspiratorial smile as if I would readily agree how well behaved they had been. The elder of the two flashed me her dimpled, smug grin that I know translates to her, “I win”. At that point I think my smile must have looked akin to one someone must have when they are sent to an insane asylum because her smile faded quickly. The gentleman from our church must have seen it, too, because he chose that moment, the first time I had been acknowledged as an individual the whole evening to say chidingly as he walked away over his shoulder to,” enjoy the journey. ”
Then I screamed. I did. I yelled that I, too, was trying to be thoughtful and considerate by being there and that it had been by my choice, not obligation. I shrieked that I did, in fact, have a name. When I was born to my two, lovely parents they did not put on the birth certificate “Sam’s wife”. I stomped my feet a little, threw some really poetic insults at the condescending comment, and stormed out of there, wives and moms around the world applauding me, my oldest daughter gawking at me and my husband giving a great speech to everyone about how I was the love of his life and what he, in fact, would be without me
…… In my head. That whole, lovely scene only played out in my head. What actually happened was I smiled again, politely, not really dignifying the comment with a response, then grabbed the girls by their hands, ushered them outside, put them in the van and lamented to my husband about how I have lost all identity as a mom and wife, how no one seemed to even see or acknowledge that I was even there, other than to scold me for not ” enjoying the journey “. I may as well have a name tag that says ” Hi. My name is wife and mom. ”
This idea of identity theft is sort of a recurring theme in my tales of woe, actually. Just yesterday I was crying to him about it again. I have people tell me all the time how incredible my husband is and how lucky I am to have him. Though I usually respond with a very sincere and hearty word of concurrence, it can also be discouraging, because though he has earned every single word of praise, I can’t even be introduced by my name if I’m introduced at all. When I begin my lamenting it usually sounds a little something like this: I feel like a job. I am the packer of lunches, the finder of socks, the kisser of boo boos, the maker of meals, the comforter, the cheerleader, the team mascot, the folder of laundry, the discipliner, the cleaner….. You get the idea. I’m rarely even called by my name. I’m, “Moooooooooooooom!!!!” most of the time. There are so many days when I sit back and wonder how it came to this. How did I lose all sense of who I am as a person and become a job? When did I become so faceless and nameless? When did I become nothing more than arm candy for my husband and a convenience to my children? If I’m honest, some days I can be downright resentful of my family, because, in the spirit of being totally candid, so much time spent being a mom you are undervalued. You are taken for granted and abused. In fact, there can be an attitude that you should be cleaning up after them, cooking for them, and taking them where they need to go. And my husband, who truly is this amazing man and great spouse, can’t meet all of my needs all the time and can get wrapped up in work or coaching soccer, because, despite popular belief, he really is only human and the poor guy can only do so much. So he can’t always see that I am drowning sometimes in loneliness and frustration. I heard once that when people were polled, what they wanted most was to be appreciated. I also read this somewhere: you know you don’t appreciate someone when you think it’s their job to do anything for you.
A pet peeve of mine is to go to a restaurant and see people treat the service there like their own personal slaves. My mom used to be a waitress and I only know a fraction of how hard that really was on her to be on her feet all night, dashing to fill orders, to be hit on by drunken men, to have people yell at her because their steak wasn’t prepared to their liking though it was no fault of her own, to work for crummy tips, all with a smile plastered on her face. But I have been out with friends and witnessed some of them treat our servers in this way, making snarky comments, ignoring them when they check on our table, and not offering any word of gratitude and say something like, “They’re getting paid for it.” As if passing them a lousy tip gives you the right to treat them any way you want.
OK. I digressed a bit. But here is my point: Just because someone has a job it doesn’t give anyone the right to treat them as less than human. As a means to an end. A job. Hence my point. As a wife and especially as a mom it so often feels like I have lost all sense of self and feel underappreciated. My children, as I did to my own parents, don’t get how much I sacrifice for them on a daily basis, and honestly, I don’t expect them to until they have kids of their own.
As I have been sitting here writing, I wanted to tie this up with a nice little bow; a word of encouragement and enlightenment to those who are struggling like me, most days just trying to keep my head above water and sanity in tact. So here it is, my incredible words of wisdom: you’re not alone. When I talk to my friends, most of ’em feel the exact same way. Being a mom is tough. Sometimes being a wife, even if you’re married to a really great guy like I am, can be really tough, because all of a sudden you wake up one day and realize that you have lost so much of who you used to be. I think I used to be fun (I think??). I used to be spontaneous and go out swing dancing. I used to hang out with my friends on weekends and NOT talk about kids. I used to be the interesting girl across the room that you wanted to get to know better. I used to have a name.
My mom recently handed me a folder full of all these papers, mementos of things I created as I grew up: report cards, pictures, essays. I came across one essay I had written as an introductory paper for a creative writing class. It was titled “Mirror of my Life.” As I read it,I was reminded of the girl who wrote it. She talked about her dreams and ambitions, her frivolous activities. She talked about making up skits when she was all alone, talking in different accents and dreaming of a life on stage, perhaps. She talked about her fears and hopes and the world that was wide open before her. At seventeen, anything seemed possible. As I read those words, I missed that girl. I missed the girl who was carefree and laid back, who spent her free time writing poetry and daydreaming and reading books. Then as I read further, I caught a truer glimpse of her, reading between the lines: a girl who dreamed of being married and having kids. She was a girl who prayed for and laid awake at night dreaming of and writing letters to the husband she couldn’t wait to meet. She was a girl who was at times lonely with the ambition to have her own family someday, lonely in the waiting. Then I was reminded of the girl who just a few years later married a man beyond her dreams when she was so young, but who cried herself to sleep so many nights and sat in lonely corners during the day aching to hold a baby of her own. For years, she sat and prayed and waited, empty in heart and womb. Then I am reminded of the person I am now, living out those very dreams written down on the paper in my hands. After that, I come to pity the girl on the paper because though she may have had much less responsibility, she had much less to be thankful for.
So here it is: my secret to sanity when I feel like I’m fading into absolute oblivion, because, as with all things in life, it usually comes down to perspective. I will take a few thoughtless comments from people who can’t see what I do, though I know I do them. I will take not being introduced properly to so-and-so’s second cousin twice removed who I will never see or remember again in my life. I will take the forgetfulness, being taken for granted, and yes-being walked on at times, because even on the most exhausting of days I wouldn’t trade this life or what this girl has for anything in the world.