Can you see me standing here?
You probably heard my brood coming before you saw us. You saw my son's energy and told him you wished you could bottle it up, commented on the blonde curls my daughters share, said they look like their mommy. Maybe you even told them that their mommy has her hands full. You talked to them and only them.
I'm still standing here.
But you are talking to them.
"What's your name, sweetie? How old are you? Can I have some of your curls?"
(Which, by the way, is sort of a creepy thing to ask a small child who is now envisioning you coming after her to steal her hair. We've seen Tangled.)
I still exist.
Sometimes, as a mom of small kids, it is hard to tell. I can very easily go a day or two (or three) walking around in public without ever once having another adult acknowledge my presence. Invisibility, thy name is motherhood.
It happens even when the children are not there. When I am standing next to my husband and you say, "Hi Eddie!" and wave and walk away without noticing me.
Do you see the look I share with him as you walk away? The one that says, "See? I told you. It happens every day!" as I roll my eyes to Heaven and smile in disbelief.
It happens at dinner parties and reunions. You just don't know what to say to a woman who is no longer a woman, but a mom. Surely, a full-time mom must not have opinions about current events or the state of education. Certainly, she cannot be engaged in conversation while she is breastfeeding (or bottle-feeding). What is there to talk about if she can no longer talk about work? So she ceases to exist. She sits quietly at the table and pretends to be engaged and listening. But if you take the time to look at her you will notice that her slumped shoulders have very little to do with the posture required to feed a baby.
In five years as a full-time mom, I have learned to assert myself. To be the one who starts the conversation, even if I have a breastfeeding infant under a blanket. To look into eyes and not look away, but to hold that gaze until they acknowledge me. To stop having conversations through my children, and give adults clues that it is, in fact, OK to talk to me as they would any other peer.
Stranger (to my daughter): "I see Dora on your shirt. Do you like to watch Dora on TV?"
My daughter will hide behind me, shy, and expect me to speak on her behalf, which I will, so as not to be rude to the stranger and also not to force my daughter to participate in a situation that makes her uncomfortable.
Former me would have looked at my daughter and said, "Yes. Dora's our favorite," maybe smiled politely, and walked away.
But that is a lie, because Dora is not "our" favorite. It is her favorite, because she is the 4-year-old and I am not. Now I can look into the eyes of an adult and say, "Our girls do like Dora, but when we get some grown-up time I've been watching Band of Brothers with my husband on DVD. My grandfather was in Normandy and it's been really interesting getting some perspective on what his experiences in the army might have been like. Plus, it's a Tom Hanks project, so you know it's really good. Do you like Tom Hanks?"
Who doesn't like Tom Hanks?
I can also pipe up and say "Hi Dave/Bill/Rob/Whoever!" and look into their eyes and smile after they address my husband and not me.
These are not hard things to do, but they take some getting used to. Because now it falls on me to make sure that I am seen. My simple presence is no longer enough. I will not be seen until I am heard.
It is very strange to transition from being a conventionally attractive woman with a promising career to a full-time mom with a body that is nothing but average in every statistical sense of the word.
I used to be noticed for how I looked, for what people could see on the outside.
Maybe it's not a bad thing. After all, when I was a cheerleader and a skinny blonde I always said I wished people would notice me for my mind and not my boobs.
Now people painstakingly attempt to ignore my (even larger) boobs, along with the babies that are occasionally attached to them. Now I have to use my brain and my mouth to get attention.
But please do me a favor. If you run into a mom of young children who hasn't come to this place yet, the place where she is comfortable asserting her existence, just look at her. Ask her what her name is, where she is from, and what she likes to do. Acknowledge that she is there and that her presence alone makes her good enough to engage in conversation. She might need the reminder.