Before Andrea was born, I was working 30 hours a week, going to school full-time, and anxiously busy at perfecting my homemaking skills. Four weeks before my due date I quit my job. Five days after her birth I wrapped up my finals, and when she was just a week old I discovered I had no energy for homemaking. I was a full-time, milk-making machine.
Because the birth of my daughter marked a dramatic time of change in my life, I struggled to redefine myself. I was a mom, I suppose, but the gift of taking care of Andrea didn't feel very natural to me. Hours of second guessing and worry sometimes overshadowed any instincts that could have sprouted through, and I wondered if I was normal. However, the more time I spent with that sweet little girl, the more comfortable I became, and I stopped caring about that quest to find the real me, and focused on the me Andrea required: I was a nurser.
When Andrea was a year old she stopped nursing, and I was flung into midlife-crisis mode all over again. That thing with which I'd come to identify myself with for 366 days was gone, and I could no longer hide behind it's title to define who I was. Once again, I found myself alone in the shower or walking the aisles of the grocery store wondering how to respond to the question: "Who are you?" After months of pontificating and soul-searching, the conclusion I came to was: It doesn't matter. Did I need a label to be happy? Couldn't being myself just be enough?
The problem with my conclusion was I so rarely felt like myself. When I wasn't being Paul's wife, I was being Andrea's mother. When I wasn't mothering, I was someone's daughter, or sister, or friend. And I loved being those things! But I didn't know how to be alone, and be myself.
A couple months ago I pulled out my old clarinet, the instrument that saved my adolescent years from too much heartache and stagnation, and I carefully polished and assembled it's plastic shafts. I slipped the mouthpiece between my lips, closed my eyes, and blew a long, vibrating note. My fingertips tingled with desire for more. I blew out a memorized hymn, full of crescendos and accents. The familiarity of the keys, my ambresure, and scales began to slowly manifest themselves in the muscles that controlled them for so long. I pulled out my old music bag and felt my heart break to find all of my books damaged and moldy from a hidden leak deep in the back of Andrea's closet. After shuffling through the deformed paper, my eyes caught hold of one book that was still useable. Christmas carols. I played through two or three before my lack of stamina got the better of me. With sore cheeks and a raw thumb, I swabbed the instrument and put it away. Feeling so fresh and full of joy, I slipped that old clarinet into my room to be played another day. And I have been playing.
You see, when that triangular mouthpiece is beneath my teeth and those silver keys tickle my fingers. . . . I feel the most like me.