Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Born Identity

My favorite quotes this month:

From an interview in Bust Magazine:

“When I say (I am a) ‘feminist,’ I mean that in the most complex, interesting, exciting way!” –Miranda July, artist

From a conversation with my four year-old son:

Idris: “Here mom, let me burp the baby.”

Me: “Okay, kiddo! How do you know so much about taking care of babies?”

Idris: “From watching Dad take care of my brother.”

(This was said with one of those matter-of-fact, like “duh” expressions that four year-olds are so good at.)

From a class lecture regarding Hanuman:

“Our wounds are...opportunities to transform and create a deeper feature of our identity.”
--Professor Douglas Brooks, philosopher

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about identities, the creation of them, the meaning they carry. Becoming a mother, twice over, has shown me, for better and for worse, just who the world thinks a woman with children is supposed to be. So often tells we’re told a story in which we are to pick ourselves out in the reflection of a small pool of “mommy-types”, so that we can cling to one and revile others—you know, “working mom vs. stay-at-home mom” (as though ALL moms don’t work), “green mom vs. consumer mom” (though being a “green mom” often centers around the consumption of environmentally-friendly products); “young mom vs. old mom” (you’ve got about a seven-year window between 27 and 34 to be “age-appropriate mom”). And though there seem to be all kinds of mom-identities based on what kind of toys we buy, the sort of discipline we employ with our kids, what our families eat, our class status, etcetera and ad nauseum, in the end these “identities” are nothing that anyone I know feels realistically described by.
If I’ve learned anything from my beloved Yogin Professor (see above), it’s that identity formation is an organic process, and an interactive opportunity to engage the world. Our wounds, our mistakes, our shortcomings—they’re all included as pieces of that opportunity, and are especially useful in motivating us to look toward new possibilities. This is where we call upon our imagination—as Dr. Yoga has also said, “you will become only as much as you can imagine yourself to be. So imagine big!”
And it’s good to have examples to look toward in feeding our imaginations. Like my son pointed out, we start to know who we are, and who we can be, by seeing what others believe is possible—what others have MADE possible, through their actions, for themselves and for us.
So on the tough days, the exhausted, depleted, everything’s-gone-to-shit-and-I’m-not-cut-out-for-this days, I have to remind myself, Imagine Big! Taking on the tag of “mama” is an adventure—the opportunity to create a new outfit for our great Selves and, Tim Gunn-style, “make it work.” And the next time you hear someone described as being “a mom,” you can turn around and say, “and when you say ‘mom,’ you must mean that in the most complex, interesting, exciting way. Right?”