Yesterday I had to excuse myself from an all-day on-site client meeting to sit in the client’s office with a “do not disturb” sign tacked to the door and pump breast milk. It was actually quite peaceful, as the office overlooks a bunch of trees and a vast green lawn, where deer apparently congregate every evening. Despite the fact that I was sitting in someone’s office in my fancy clothes with my boobs hanging out, hooked up to a machine disguised as a “stylish” “backpack”… it was peaceful.
And it made me feel connected to my daughter, like I was providing for her — which made me happy. And I looked around the office at photos of the client’s children, smiling and goofy and sweet, and I felt a kinship with her: We are Mothers.
Recently I was at a different meeting where I had a very different kind of Mother encounter. A woman walked into a conference room filled with a few people she knew, and several she didn’t, and within moments of sitting down, announced that she’d just had a baby, and proceeded to pass her iPhone around the room so we could all admire a photo. It was clear from people’s body language that only a few of us gave a shit about seeing the photo. (I admit it, as weird as I thought it was, I cooed. The girl was CUTE.)
It reminded me of a time in my early 20s, when I was working at PBS. I went to a lunch meeting to meet a producer for the first time. At that age, I was sure I’d never have children; I had no friends with children; and I was about as interested in children as I am in pocket lint — less so, in fact, since pocket lint never screamed at restaurants. And the first thing this woman did was pull out pictures (printed ones — this was 15 years ago, after all) of her baby. Like, a lot of them. I was dumbfounded. Why the fuck was she showing me her baby? I barely knew her name.
Why do some women do this? (Do dads do it, too?) Are they overcompensating for nervousness about integrating their identity as mothers with their professional selves? Are they just that exuberant, that they can’t separate the personal from the professional? Are they socially awkward people who behave in other socially awkward ways, and this is just one manifestation of that awkwardness?
I don’t know. But I find that this is yet another push-pull tension of motherhood: On the one hand, other mothers’ choices frequently baffle me, reminding me that “motherhood” comes in many shapes and sizes. We all wear it differently. I don’t know what it feels like to be anyone else’s mom — just Alison’s. On the other hand, I can’t deny the connection I feel to every other mom on earth. Standing in line at a coffee shop earlier today, I watched a mother interacting with her baby in his stroller, and I felt an instant kinship. INSTANT.
I guess “mother” is just like every other role in our lives — daughter, wife, friend, whathaveyou: universal and individual, all at once. Just like life.