Being Invisible

“So, what do you ladies do?” The hairy, overly tanned middle-aged white man asked.

My friend, Laney, and I had been busy chatting in the hot tub on our last day together when Bob*, with the self-importance only a middle-aged white man can project, interjected and proceeded to monologue for the next 45 minutes wherein our sole purpose was to murmur sweet, appreciative assents while we seethed yet somehow were trapped in societal expectations and did not extricate ourselves. After all, we were there first! Why should we be forced to move? And yet, who was the big loser in this encounter? Us.

I am still pissed about this.

Anyhow, Bob had now moved on from what he thought about himself and was now, however briefly, willing to share the spotlight with one of us.

“What do you do?” he asked again as Laney and I hesitated. Do we engage more? Do we reply in a way to seem interesting? Or do we reply in such a way as to shut down conversation?

I knew what I would do.

“I’m a stay at home mom,” I said.

I watched as the interest in his eyes died before I even finished speaking the words. He turned immediately to Laney

I was uncertain whether I was relieved or furious that he did exactly as I had ensured. Hadn’t I answered in this way so that he would dismiss me and my life? So that I could deflect and not have to endure him any more than I had to?

And yet. And yet.

Every now and then when I think about my life, I think how it is the perfect NOC (non-official cover for those of you not in the know) for spies, cons, and surveillance personnel. After all, there is nothing more nondescript than a mother with her children. No one expects them to be anything but what they are – which is innocuous background noise (at least, until one of those kids has a very public meltdown).

We blend. We are scenery. We disappear.

Today, I walked into a cafe without my usual coterie of babies and for a brief second, I made eye contact with a man sitting at the counter. My mind wandered to where it normally wanders in a split second. I wondered, what would I be like now if I were single? Would I still be attractive? Desirable?

When I meet men now, do they even see me? Or do they only see my SAHM uniform of sweats, unwashed face and hair, long sleeve tee, thick ugly socks, and double-wrapped scarf?

And why does it matter?

Every time I ask Hapa Papa if he is ever worried I will have an affair, he always laughs. Not unkindly, mind you. But still. He laughs.

Nothing is as flattering as your husband laughing at the idea of you having an affair because who would want to have an illicit affair with someone encumbered with three small, young children?

Hapa Papa sure knows how to make a woman feel desirable. Sorry, ladies. He’s taken.

Incidentally, this is not a post to elicit reassurances from my lovely and dear friends.

Lately, I wonder if I ever felt as if I were visible or if it is solely a consequence of my current identity. Did I ever feel as if I owned a place? Secure with my place in the world? My role? My identity?

Or is this merely another manifestation of feeling as if amazing and I are mutually exclusive states of being?

Whatever the reason, I’m done. 2016, you’ve been warned. And you’ll see me coming.

 

*Not his real name. Or it could be. I have no idea. I’m still pissed off about it but I forgot his name in its entirety.

Synthesizing Disintegration

One of the first questions my therapist, Dr. T, ever asked me to consider revolved around my identity. Something about how my becoming a Stay At Home Mom after a decade of working and being an adult affected me. At the time, I dismissed it. The observation didn’t ring true. But more and more, I’m thinking Dr. T might be onto something. Not specifically about being a SAHM, but more in the general sense of identity and my own conflict at integrating disparate parts of who I think I am, who I want to be, who I think I should be, and who I really am underneath all these divergent selves.

It seems daunting, but really, I’ve done this before. Or at the very least, shed old aspects of me that no longer fit my new narrative.

For example, I used to speed and drive recklessly all the time. In high school, with my car full of friends, I was passing someone on a one lane road when a semi-truck was barreling down head-on at us. Instead of going back to my side of the road, I ignored the truck’s frantic flashing headlights and sped up, stubbornly determined to pass the car to my right. My friends were terrified but didn’t say anything. I felt exhilarated, as if I somehow proved my prowess as a driver.

I would avoid turning on my headlights or windshield wipers until absolutely necessary, as if giving into the forces of nature made me a lesser person. That my eyesight or skills as a driver were bolstered or that I was showing undue weakness by admitting I couldn’t see in the dark or through sheets of rain.

In college, I took extreme pride in once getting from LA to the Bay Area in four hours (that’s 350 miles in 4 hours) and knowing that my old 1996 Avalon didn’t start shuddering until I went past 125mph. Again, my car was full of friends (who were asleep and totally unaware).

When Hapa Papa and I first started dating, I recall feeling so badass and smug when flying down the 10 freeway in the middle of the night on the way to Laughlin, NV and zooming past Hapa Papa’s fraternity brothers, as if that somehow made me cool instead of heedlessly endangering lives.

But then, sometime about ten years ago, I got my second speeding ticket ever on the Grapevine (all my speeding tickets have been on that blasted stretch of road) and I had an epiphany. Was decreasing travel time by at most thirty minutes worth the monetary outlay (over $350 ticket), traffic school, and subsequent eighteen months of Grandma-like driving due to trying to avoid a point on my license worth it? Wouldn’t it just be easier to leave earlier? Or not care how long it takes?

Gradually, I realized that turning on headlights wouldn’t diminish my worth or abilities. That not only was it safer for me and easier to see, I was actually helping other people see me on the road. Or when I used the windshield wipers, I wasn’t wasting RainX or being Grandma-like. I was being responsible. And RainX is cheaper than an accident or death.

Then, once I had kids, I had precious cargo that was my responsibility and duty to keep safe. So I became the kind of driver I used to mock. I was far more careful and rarely ever sped. I try to avoid talking or texting on the phone (admittedly, a very difficult task that I’ve enlisted Cookie Monster’s help in keeping me accountable). I try to ask myself if speeding/texting/whatever is worth injuring/killing my children, myself, or someone else’s child or parent.

Sure, I still take a ridiculous amount of pride in my parallel parking abilities (old habits die hard), but many of my other silly notions of what being a more than competent driver have been stripped away by time, tickets, and reality. This identifying marker of being a “badass” driver morphed into being a cautious driver, a detail that fit my new narrative of a SAHM.

And ultimately, who cares? (I have to say, I absorbed way too many of my father’s stupid ideas about driving, always trying to impress him with my abilities. It’s funny how I only just now realized this.)

I have so many out-moded ideas of who I think I am. Whether shaped by pop-culture, my parents, my peers, or my own brokenness. I cling to these outer markers as if they make up who I am; these images make me valuable and worthy as a person.

I thought I had gotten over so many of my self-worth problems in college and right after. I guess I didn’t. (Or had to dig deeper.)

Dr. T suggested that I pommel my kids and myself with expectations that whether realistic or not, I use as an armor to protect myself from this horrible feeling that perhaps who I am underneath all the characteristics I find valuable (eg: driving competently, attending UCLA, being educated, being cultured, playing piano, etc.), I am ultimately unworthy or unlovable. (Another gem from Dr. T that I initially found jarring with my personal concept of who I was but now think is spot on. Dr. T seems to be worth every penny, folks!)

I still have to ponder over this concept some more because although the concept itself isn’t new to me (and I have dealt with this before), the idea of this being my current reality still is. Particularly since I seem to have a huge personal blind spot.

I feel embarrassed because logically, I know the things in which I judge myself wanting are silly and ridiculous and not the makings of a worthy human being. And yet, the possibility of my children not having these qualities alarms me.

I grieve the possibility of me passing these warped ideas of worth and value onto my children. They are still small, so perhaps I have yet to break them too much yet.

This whole long post is just to say this: I’ve changed and adjusted my identity before. I can do it again. And this time, perhaps I can be more compassionate on myself (and therefore, others), and maybe, just maybe, see myself as human.