“Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that. “
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi
When we become mothers, no matter at what age or in what socio-economic position, we tend to become only mothers. Nothing else. You can go to a club, look and feel good but you’ll still be wondering what your child is doing. You can stay home and pull crayons out of their noses and still feel like what you’re doing isn’t enough. The other day a journalist was interviewing my family. He had this picture in his head of how to artistically photograph each of us to portray our strengths. My brother writes songs, my sister poetry and I consider myself a short story writer. He photographed my sister in the corner of the yard under a big tree with a poetry anthology in hand, my brother in the park across our house guitar in hand, me he wanted to photograph pushing my son on the swing. I didn’t know what that had to do with writing short stories. I didn’t say anything, didn’t object, but I was pouty for the rest of the day.
I’m a working mother and that’s redundant. I’ve been living the past two years in an overworked haze, punctuated by the milestones: my son’s first steps, his first word (which by the way was nana referring to my sister and not Mama like I thought would be. Kids are ungrateful little brats, I tell you), getting my results. Every day routine of either waking up and drinking coffee or just drinking coffee because I’d been breastfeeding or watching Teletubbies and then studying and then having to pull myself together to face the outside world. Every day I consider giving up and falling apart. Sometimes it’s too hard to be a good mother, a good student and a good daughter. And climbing outside of those boxes is a task I’m trying to accomplish.
I think it’s important. It’s important for me to do the best I can. My son needs to see that women are strong. That we can work and study and be mothers. But it’s also important that we show our children that we don’t have to be last on our own lists. We have to establish our own sense of selves. And for me that’s Johannesburg.
I have a friend there who’s the only person I haven’t told about my son. He probably knows but never asks. When I go to Johannesburg to visit or work, I go back to him and in a way go back to myself. Not the covered in poop me or the I-just-grabbed-whatever-fell-out-my-closet-me or the breastfeeding while studying and setting goals me. But me, the person. Who still listens to music, who can still take a joke, who is still a human being. It’s so rare to think of myself in that way now.
I read a feminism quote one day that said “I have a brain and a uterus and I use both”. I think those words, I hardly remember who wrote them, were like a blow to the stomach. They became my mantra. This is doable. I can do this. I am a straight A student. I am a mother. Some nights I don’t sleep. Sometimes I get to school and discover dried faeces on my t-shirt. Some days I duck when I see people from my high school. But I have a brain and I have a uterus. And I can use both.