“I know it’s a short season, but I feel invisible.
Lost. Like no one sees or knows who I really am.”
(Variations of this entry can be found periodically in journals
I’ve kept through the years after I became a mother.)
Bedtime was imminent and Chris was on bath duty. Hallelujah. I had my earbuds in, the water turned to hot, and the volume up to Loud. I hate doing dishes; techno at max volume helps. My hips started to move with the music and I shot a look to the window, just to check that the blinds were closed. Then, disturbing my soapy trance, my daughter, Nadia, tapped me on the shoulder. I dried my hands on my yoga pants and pulled the bud out of my ear with a smile. “Yeah, honey?”
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“The dishes,” I laughed, with a glance at the sink. What does it look like?
“It looks like you’re dancing,” my son said, who stood behind her.
“Well, yeah. I guess I’m dancing too.”
I looked at his face, then to hers. They started giggling, as if I were a kid they caught drawing on the walls or sneaking candy.
“What? What’s wrong with that? I like to dance!” I scooped them into a bear hug and swayed back and forth until they started to squirm. “I love you,” I said, placing kisses on their smooth cheeks and that fuzzy line where their hair meets their forehead. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Mom,” they replied in unison.
Two days later, after a particularly hard day, I retreated to the back room of our basement while Chris finished up the bedtime routine. I pulled out a canvas and paints I purchased — almost two years ago — during a rush of inspiration and impulse: I’m going to start painting again! I opened each color with reverence: red (my favorite), blue, black, white, green and took a deep restoring breath.
There is peace in doing something you once loved.
After a story and prayers, my two oldest kids, again, came looking for me to say goodnight. Peeking into the room, my daughter gave a delighted little gasp, “You’re painting?”
I looked up to two smiling, blue-eyed faces.
“I didn’t know you knew how to paint,” my son said as he walked into the room.
“I don’t,” I laughed. “But, I used to paint a lot when I was younger.”
“Really?” my son asked.
“Yeah.” I thought back to when I graduated from detailed color-by-numbers and started to receive blank canvases and tubes of oils for my birthdays and at Christmas. I never took art classes, but being creative was just something I enjoyed. My dad still has pictures of me, as young as two or three, coloring on a stool next to my mom’s desk, while she finished the technical drawings for her job. I guess it runs in the family.
My kids looked at the small canvas covered with random blotches of color; an abstract of my emotions set in acrylic.
“It’s beautiful,” my daughter said.
“Thanks. I kinda like it.”
“I do, too,” my son added.
“Come here,” I said, putting my brush down. Maybe it was just me, but their hugs felt extra tight.
I held the phone in my right hand and put away laundry at half speed with my left. My sister lives three states away and we don’t talk a lot, but we try to share life amidst sweetly oblivious Mama!Mama!’s from both ends of our lines as often as we can. Our mom was on my mind and after a bit of catching up, I asked, “Do you remember what Mom liked to do?”
“What do you mean? Like, for fun?” she replied.
“Yeah. Like, as a hobby. Something that was hers.”
My sister paused for a second then said, “Well, there are those pillows and those framed things on the wall. What’s that sewing stuff called?”
We were both silent, searching for the word. My sister is seven years younger than I, and we have different memories from growing up. Now that we’re older, if we fit our puzzle pieces together, we see the picture of our mom much better than we could on our own.
“Needlepoint,” she said at the same time I said, “Cross stitch.”
“But do you remember her actually doing it? Do you remember seeing her do it?”
“No,” she said quietly. “I don’t remember.”
I sighed. “Neither do I.”
My daughter is turning 11 in a few months, the same age my sister was when our mom died, and I keep coming back to the question I asked her on the phone. I know we can get the answers from our dad or our aunts — but I wish I had my own memories. I wish I knew my mom as a woman and not only as a mother. And what I don’t have for myself, I want to give to my children.
It would make my heart so full if my children had crystalline memories of me reading my Bible, reading to learn, and reading good fiction on the couch in the middle of the afternoon--because words can be just that powerful and captivating. I want them to see me writing through fear, chasing a dream, feeding my soul through art, and dancing to the beat of music turned up way too loud. I want them to see me investing in friendships, protecting time with their father, and wearing red lipstick and fun earrings for no other reason than I want to.
I want them to see the whole of me — the woman who is their mother.
When our kids are little, there’s no way around it: we’re all just surviving. Until these small people can shampoo their own hair and pour their own cereal, it’s on us. Almost everything we do and everything we are, revolves around meeting their needs and keeping them safe. We hardly find the time to breath, let alone pursue a hobby.
But they get older. And we might find that we have a bit more space to think about ourselves, to focus on what we like to do. It was after my kids seemed so surprised to see me painting and dancing, I realized how I tend to keep myself to myself. I wake up early, save for naptime, bedtime, or a night out, these me-things.
What about you? Yes, you who maybe feels a little tired and weary, a little bit invisible right now? What do you want your kids to know about you? What do you want your kids to see?
I start to feel lost, unseen, when I am overwhelmed with never-ending care for others. Yes, it’s a season. But maybe, as our kids get older, those invisible feelings that crop up unexpected, should be a signal: now is the time to find even the smallest opportunity to show them who we are. To show them not only what we have to do, but the things we want to do.
So, let them see you. Let them see you dance. Paint. Bake. Take pictures. Sew. Let them see you horseback ride, practice yoga, run, teach. Whatever it is, show them what brings you joy; teach them who you are and what you like. Give them memories of your whole self.
Let them see … you.
Photo by Emily Gnetz.