The Tragic Optimist

Who am I? And for that matter, who are you?

As I’ve mentioned before, I just don’t quite feel like a mom yet. It’s been more than 18 months since I knew that there was something more than just the possibility of motherhood, and over 10 months since I became, undeniably, a mother. But I don’t quite feel like a mother. Or even a mom. Those words just don’t quite fit me yet. It’s not that I don’t love Zoe. Not even close. I don’t even have trouble with the idea that I have a daughter – and a terribly sweet and cute one at that – it’s just that I every once in a while get hit with the realization that I’m a parent. How truly odd!

Part of what’s odd about it is that I don’t have the same problem with other labels for myself. I spent as much time working to become a librarian as I did trying to get pregnant, but I have not had any trouble adjusting to the label “librarian.” You know how sometimes you try on a shirt and it just fits right, and looks right, and you just want to wear it all the time? And then other times you try something on, and even if it fits, and even if other people tell you it looks great, you’re just not comfortable in it? It’s like that, but with words. I do remember feeling a little strange with the term “wife” when Chris and I first got married, but I did get over that, so I’m assuming the mom label will eventually fit me.

So on to you, oh readers-of-this-blog. Who are you? Any labels that fit you oh so perfectly? Any that you aren’t quite comfortable with yet? Or any that didn’t fit at first that you’re starting to feel more comfortable with? (Yes, this is a none-too-subtle ploy to get people to comment because I’m curious to know who is reading this.)



  1. Anya

    Labels huh? I’m about to be hit with “unemployed,” which is going to be a new experience because this time it’s voluntary, and I’ve always been profoundly uncomfortable with the word…”bureaucrat” is another label I’ve never accepted, despite the fact that I currently am one.

    I don’t think I would ever get used to the idea of “mom” myself, but maybe that’s cause of my experience with moms…

  2. Kristin

    Whoo boy, don’t get me started. Labels that didn’t feel right at first: woman, feminist, wife, aunt, grad student, teenager (I didn’t feel cool enough to be one yet but I sure did want to), young adult (always hated that one), adult (still don’t quite feel like one), (blessedly, the concept of “tween” emerged long after I was one), librarian, liberal, Mrs. (never use it), American…

    For some reason, I don’t seem to have an issue with ‘professional’ or ‘progressive’. My husband (yep, there’s another one) is super uncomfortable with ‘artist’. ‘Printmaker’ is more palatable, but probably because it’s more specific and less familiar. Maybe it’s a ‘p’ thing.

    Labels are loaded, which is why we cling to them and resent them and fight over them. And why I generally squirm under them.

    Label I’ve never had a problem with and wish would apply more often: friend.

  3. Eve

    the “parent” label becomes much more obvious once a small person starts calling you Mama (Eleanor is 14 months old, it’s her only word so far, and was one of Amethyst’s first words too)

    who am I, really? A mother (yes) a musician and dancer (even though I am not terribly good at those things and have almost never earned any money doing them, they are near and dear to my heart and are ME in ways that “computer programmer” or “DBA” just are not)
    “oceanographer” or “scientist” are harder–they are sort-of me, still, maybe.

  4. Ann

    Whoa Anya – bureaucrat – I can’t even spell the word correctly much less think of using it to describe you. Crazy. I think you should consider “free from crap-job” instead of “unemployed.”

    Kristin – are you saying you want me to consider you a friend? ‘Cause that’s what it sounds like you’re saying.

    Hi Eve! It’s good to hear from you. I think you’re right that once Zoe starts saying “mom” it’ll feel more comfortable. I also struggle with still wanting the label “scientist” even if it doesn’t really describe what I do any more.

  5. Hi Ann, et al,
    As if my previous comments weren’t a clue that I keep reading 😉

    Anyway, I’ve been thinking about your question of labels and I find there are several that bother me, though I wouldn’t apply many of them to myself, but others might: snob, elitist, academic, intellectual (okay, this one I’m okay with), WASP (the P of which doesn’t apply, though WASA, where A = agnostic just doesn’t have the same ring to it), corn-fed midwesterner, idealist (okay with this too), grammar-nazi (yeah, I correct people, but only when it matters, like in a business memo, and I can choose to break the rules because I know them, like in this super-extended run on sentence/listy thing). And that’s just the beginning. I second the feminist label being somewhat uncomfortable, but it really depends on the context, though that could be said of a lot of the above as well as words like bit** and other not-as-reclaimed-as-people-like-to-think swear words. (In German there would be a nice long compound word for the hyphenated phrase above.) That’s a good start to answering the question, I suppose . . .

  6. Ann

    I’d take “corn-fed midwesterner” on a nice summer evening when we just gorged ourselves on fresh sweet corn. Mmm, now I’m hungry.

  7. Kristin

    Uh, Ann: as to the friend business, yeah, you wish!

  8. Even though I’m going to be a published author, I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that I’m a “writer.” I would never describe myself as such despite the fact that I’ve been writing on my own, just for fun, since I was about six. I think a lot of writers feel that way, actually.

    I’m OK with “teacher,” though, and have been ever since I started teaching seven years ago. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been paid (OK, not much) to do it, whereas getting paid to write is a relatively new concept for me.

    But does being paid legitimize a label? Of course not, as I’m also comfortable with “wife,” “daughter,” “sister,” “friend,” and “fiber arts ho.” Let me get back to you on how I feel about “mother” in about six months…

  9. lizzy

    I’m really into the “auntie” label even thought it does seem a little surreal…and I am sure that is nothing compared to parenthood. The “grown-up” one always seems like a comical mistake, mostly because of my checking account, but at twenty-eight I guess it’s time to get over it. Another thing I’ve always had trouble with (okay, act surprised that Liz doesn’t like labels) is anything realtionshippy. “This is my girlfriend…” or “this is my partner” or “this is the person I keep making out with despite my best efforts to the contrary…” always get me down. I’d much rather someone say “This is Liz” than anything else. Guess that’s the one label I am ok with.

  10. I’ve never gotten used to the label “señora” even though I am a woman and I am married. It should fit me, but it doesn’t feel right.

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