As a child I moved around every few years; as an adult I have followed a similar pattern. And every time I transition, every time I begin a new adventure, I think, Who will I be this time?
Transition can be stressful, and one of my most steadfast coping mechanisms has been to hang back, observe, and quietly wait until I learn the rules of a new environment. Once I’m comfortable, once I know what I’m up against, I adapt to whatever version of myself feels most likable (or, at the very least, inoffensive) to those around me. I don’t want to make waves. I want to ease in and be accepted.
I do this because I have always been so afraid I will be rejected. Because I long to connect with others but I am afraid I will be seen as too different, too strange, too much.
It takes a lot of energy to do this kind of re-con.
It is exhausting to try to always remain in control.
It is nearly impossible to do any of this with two small children.
I was tired of this game even before the kids came along, but our recent move with a 7 week old and a 22 month old offered me a crash-course in ultimate honesty.
Sleep-deprived, postpartum, camping out in a house with no furniture (or central air) in the heat of the Hawaiian summer, I met all my new acquaintances with a manic wild-eyed gaze. I didn’t have the energy nor the presence of mind to sit back and wait, to quietly craft a palatable version of my personality. It was as though the stress and lack of sleep had completely fried my filter.
How do you like living in Hawaii? They’d ask. It’s certainly not a vacation! I’d reply. No one told me about the cockroaches or the centipedes.
What does your husband do? He’s a doctor in the Army but he is probably getting DEPLOYED. And SOON. And WE HAVE TWO CHILDREN!!
Did you have your second son so quickly because your first son was easy? Hahahahahaha NO.
Your son was a little rambunctious today. ARE YOU SAYING HE’S NOT INVITED BACK? WHO ARE YOU ANYWAY? DO YOU EVEN LIKE CHILDREN?!
I never said I did it well. (Did I mention I’ve been stressed and sleep-deprived?)
I’ve been so tired of working hard to present a false (quiet, polite, pleasing) self that people may not like anyway. I’m done with that game. But here in this new environment, with new responsibilities as a wife and and mom, I’ve also been frustrated by my inability to hold it together. I’ve had trouble mustering up compassion for this wild-eyed, overwhelmed, anxious version of myself who’s always been there, but whom I’ve never wanted anyone to see. Especially not as a first impression.
But in truth, this IS the real me: fearful, moody, melancholy, passionate, and temperamental. Just as much as I am hopeful, peaceful, and brave.
Not always likable. Not always accommodating. Often intense. Often raw.
Some might say too much.
But here I am.
I’m messy, disorganized, and cannot control my hair in this humidity. I’m eating too much and working out too little. I do weird little dances and despite many years of training I often sing off-key. I do not care whether I am wearing the right style of jeans (I just had two babies in two years; maternity jeans are still justfinethankyou). And yes, random worker at the Navy Exchange, this dress is a Carly (and yes I have two more) and yes these leggings feel like buttah and I do not have the time or the energy to care whether you think I look cute or believe I am awesome (I am, by the way. My husband says so).
I want to take off the many masks, to shed the skin of the chameleon.
But I’d like to do this gently. Not only because I need gentleness for myself in this season, but also because if given the choice, I’d rather be winsome than the manic girl who can’t read social cues. There’s beauty in honesty, but also in kindness. And if I can’t give myself the encouragement and love I need to be real, how can I expect to provide that safety to others?
So I remind myself of the friendships that hold space for authenticity, the ones that are developed over time through an unfolding of stories and the building of trust. I remind myself of deep belly laughter with kindred spirits and the safety of sitting in the presence of someone who has known me longer than the many masks I carry.
And I also remember that this bleary-eyed, crazy-dancing, emotional roller coaster of a woman is also the very woman chosen to nurture the hearts of one amazing husband and two beautiful little boys. You’d better believe they know Mama doesn’t have it all together. But they will also know how much I love them, exactly as they are.
Erin Curlett is a new(ish) mama, writer, and editor of the Good Mother Project. A recovering perfectionist, she is passionately committed to speaking the truth about life and motherhood in all its messy, beautiful glory in the hope her stories will help other women feel a little less alone. Her writing has appeared on Mamalode, Scary Mommy, the Good Mother Project, and her personal blog, Truthfully Told.
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