Carla: A dear old friend of mine is coming over for dinner tonight and I’m actually a little nervous. Melissa and I worked at Bible camp together when we were in college 20 years ago. We kept in touch after than, but I haven’t seen Melissa since I was pregnant with my first child 12 years ago and I hope she still likes me.
I don’t know if you have this particular insecurity, but I find that when I get together with people I knew before I was a mom, I wonder what kind of changes they notice in me. I had the same feeling a few years ago when a guy I knew from camp (as you know, I made 90% of my friends at camp) started attending my church. I thought, Here’s a guy who knew me as confident, fun, creative Carla who was in charge of everything and knew how to work a megaphone. And now I’m tentative, tired, boring Carla who is home with her kids and doesn’t have a whole lot to add to a conversation. I wondered if he would feel sorry for me, or feel like I had somehow lost all that potential I had when I was 21. I didn’t want to be a story he told to his friends (or, God forbid, friends we both knew!) about someone whose best days were clearly behind her.
That reconnection happened when I was at my lowest point as a mom and as a person, so I don’t feel quite so pathetic this time around. But still, as I prepare for Melissa’s visit, I’m thinking about the ways I’ve changed in the last 12 years. What has motherhood done to me?
Caryn: I can’t answer that question for you—because I’ve only ever known you as a mom—but I can tell you that motherhood FOR SURE has changed me. I could write a book on all the ways I did in fact change. [SPOILER ALERT: shameless self-promo on its way!] Well, at least one chapter of Mama’s Got a Fake I.D. is devoted to how motherhood changes us.
All this to say, over the past couple years I’ve spent a lot of time noodling this. I know that motherhood has made me softer and yet nuttier; it’s made me sharper and more driven, and yet looser and less focused. It’s made me slough off a lot of the unimportant crap I spent way too much time focused on, and made me value what “really matters,” as they say (and for the record, this doesn’t ONLY mean the kids…) It’s made me understand the depth of God’s love better, and why so many moms I knew growing up seemed so mean and crabby. (Remember those moms? I totally think I am one now.)
But honestly, in most ways, I think motherhood changes us a lot less than people think. Even though we may have less time to SHOW other people our true, full selves, they’re still there. So I actually take back what I said earlier (this is so much easier than deleting it and rewriting the whole thing): Motherhood has done a lot of things to you, but taking away who you really are? Not one of them! Camper Carla is still there, even if the megaphone is not. (And why is it not? You need one. I need one.)
So I think as long as Melissa can get her own assumptions out of the way, she’ll see you’re just as much a blast as you ever were—except that now you might randomly yell for someone to “stop it!” mid-sentence or wander off mid-conversation to see where that kid ran off to. And what’s not to like about someone who does that?
Carla: I knew there was a reason I liked you. Motherhood has changed me, too. In some ways, it’s like a refining process. It melts away the extraneous stuff–the need to look good, the need to be all things to all people–because I only have the time and energy and interest for so much. I find that in some ways motherhood has revealed the best in me along with the worst. You said this so well, so I won’t try to say it myself, but it’s totally that laser focus on what matters mixed with so much fuzzy concentration that it’s amazing when I can articulate what that might be.
This struggle probably has less to do with motherhood and more to do with aging in general. None of us are who we were at 20–at least I hope not–whether we’ve got children or not. We grow up. Hopefully we grow smarter and stronger and more authentically ourselves. Motherhood has definitely helped me in that process. It’s not the only thing that has helped of course, but it has certainly played an enormous role in reshaping me as a person. So the Carla who hangs out with Melissa tonight won’t be the same Carla from camp, but hopefully a wiser, more thoughtful version.
And I totally need my own megaphone.