Category Archives: identity

Check your identity at the door

            “Why did I never know you have a Masters in architecture?”  Why, indeed.  The woman asking had a degree in urban planning.  She had known her acquaintance for years.  Their children played together and went to school together.  They had spoken to each other every single day for years.  But she had no idea that they had this common interest.

            Six years prior, they would probably have learned this about each other the first time they met.  They would have talked about urban theorists, perhaps tossing about opinions on Jane Jacobs.  They would have compared their career paths and what the hell one can do with that background in this market.

            But, now, they stand, waiting for pickup time, and chat about their children.  They chat about their husbands’ jobs.  They talk about politics and weather and celebrity sightings.  But, they never talk about themselves.  Not really.

            We can tell each other about night wakings and compare picky eaters.   But we cannot ask about our pasts.  To ask is sensitive.  “What did you do?” implies you are no longer who you were.  “What do you do?” puts the respondent in the awkward position of saying “I’m just home with the kids.”  We avoid the topic altogether. Even those who are still working in paying jobs are clandestine, quiet about their careers. 

            We check our identities at the door.  Someday we will find them again, but not right now. So careful to avoid shaming other mothers, we lose who we are.  But, I am holding that claim check tight, baby, and I intend to pick that identity up again one of these days.

Because you asked

            I am moorless.  I am floating without any place to tie me down.  I go on, day to day, and the kids are fed and bathed, but I am empty of definition.

            When I first married, I changed my name, on the principle that if I was going to have the same last name as a man, it may as well be one I actually liked.  After a few months, my maiden name no longer felt like it belonged to me, but my married name still felt like clothes with the tags on. 

            That is sort of how I feel right now.  I think Zachary feels the same way, because he is acting out and playing food games, trying to claim control in at least one corner of his life.  But, for once, this will be a post about me, not my kids, and about how I am adjusting. 

            And the answer is: not well.  It has nothing to do with Los Angeles or California.  It has to do with too much uprooting and not enough time in one spot.  When we were in London, we were still tied to Philadelphia.  That was where we had left and, although London was temporary, Philly was a home base.

            But now, I am not from Philadelphia.  I did not grow up there, I have no family there, and my friendships there have weakened with time and distance.  I am not from London, which was always a temporary home.  I am not from Los Angeles, that is certain.

            Nor is there anything here that is mine.  People tell me that my kids define me or I am meeting people through them.  Great.  But that is theirs.  It is not me and it is not mine.  My husband has his work, and he is trying to get his sea legs, which means late hours and a lot of stress.  I need to support him as he integrates himself into this office.  I need to support the kids as they find their lives here.

            “Support,” however, is not my strong suit.

            So, I sit here in a temporary apartment with a temporary phone and no permanent friends and temporary childcare.  And I try to solidify Jello.  

On the road again

            The movers came for the first shipment of children’s books, wooden trains, and t-shirts, the items we deemed essential for our stay in temporary housing when we get to Los Angeles in just a couple of weeks.  It did not take them long, as we necessarily tried to limit what we set aside for this shipment.  We will be in a small, furnished two-bedroom apartment until we find a house, and there will not be room for tents with tunnels or oversized dolls’ houses.  This shipment went air, so I kept fuel economy in mind with each item I set aside.

            The next shipment will be packed up in just two weeks, our last day in London, as we scurry about attending Zachary’s Easter Hat parade and fitting in nap time.  And then, the children will wake to an empty house, and we will head to an airport hotel for the night before our departure.

            I have seen my life disassembled like this time and time again.  When I was younger, I packed and moved everything myself, hoodwinking friends into lending me vans and taking one end of the box spring down three flights of stairs.  Now, with the relative luxury of a corporate move, others come in and pack for me.  It is a nice perk, having someone else do the packing, although I cannot imagine they could get people to move this often any other way.

            In the past, moves have been towards school or towards jobs – Philadelphia, Washington, Chapel Hill.  When we moved back to Philadelphia, I was following J’s career, for the first time moving to a city for no reason other than someone else.  I had no job waiting, although I found one as I finished graduate school.  But, I was returning to a city I had lived in for six years before, and Philadelphia had a stronger pull on me than any other place.

            Then we moved to London, a great adventure, a two-year foray into another land.  And now, we move to Los Angeles, returning not to Philadelphia, but to yet another new city.  Again, we will broaden, we will grow.

            Yet, I wonder to myself.  If something (heaven forbid) happened to my husband, where would I go?  Not to Massachusetts, a place that lost its hold on me the day I no longer needed someone else’s roof or food.  Not Los Angeles, which pulls us only through the force of J’s work.  Not Philadelphia, where we have sold our house.  My friends are scattered about the country, a few in each place I have lived but even more in places I have never been as they themselves have moved.

            The truth is, I have no career right now.  I could build one up again rather quickly, but I could build it anywhere.  This has been a great asset with all the moving about.  I have no family to speak of, or at least none that speaks to me.  Moving to London has loosened many of my friendships, too many time zones and too few visits.  And, the children are so young that they have no real ties anywhere.  The only thing that anchors us is my husband’s work.

            I am a woman defined by my husband’s work.

            I am from nowhere and I have nowhere to go.  I have no family beckoning.  I have no career.  My children are not in schools.  We are, all four of us, easily transferable.

            And I am, I fear, easily erasable.  For, beyond the walls of wherever we are currently calling home, there is no place for me in the world.

            I usually end on a hopeful note, because I am, for reasons no one has ever quite been able to figure out, an optimist.  Today, however, my optimism is tired.  I have grown out and up many, many times.  I want to spread roots down.