In the beginning, I was a certifiable mess.
Case in point: March 2007, JFK airport, two months after my marriage ended. I’m the nut job sitting on the floor, sobbing in frustration after attempting for the first time to juggle my then three year-old daughter, two bags, her car seat, two coats, and two sets of removed shoes while navigating through the security gate. It wasn’t pretty.
There were plenty of episodes like that, from the dramatic to the ridiculous. Meet-the-teacher nights at school would send me into spasms of self-loathing because I felt so out of place sitting there with my Dixie cup of juice next to all the partnered parents…so not normal. Noticing that friends now only asked me and my daughter for plans when their husbands were out of town inspired “we’re all alone in the world” spirals of doom.
The problem was that I was having a serious identity crisis. The idea of being divorced wasn’t what was unhinging me; it was the whole “single mom” thing I couldn’t wrap my head around. I had no vision for how to do this. At the time, I didn’t know any cool, strong moms who were thriving on their own, and I had nothing to go on other than the two awful extremes that I’d seen in the movies: Marsha Mason in “The Goodbye Girl,” the poster girl for grasping desperation, and Cher in “Mermaids,” a flaky nut who drags her kids through her messy neuroses. I was set up with a few single moms who scared me even more: frazzled, unhappy women who screamed at their kids in frustration and trashed their ex-husbands for sport while at the same time scrambling to find a new one to fill the space. Oh, crap…was this my destiny?
For a while, it seemed like it might be. I wallowed for a good long time in the beleaguered state (three years, to be exact, for any of you out there who want to know how long it takes). Eventually, when the smoke and rubble started to clear, I started to think a little more proactively about the whole identity issue. Yes, I was a single mom, like it or not, but I had to believe there was a better way to approach this. I mean, ok, I didn’t have any role models to speak of…but couldn’t I create my own?
Turns out I could. Inspired by a conversation about one of the last remaining independent bookstores, I one day randomly described myself to someone as an “Indie Mom.” Hmm. That kind of worked. Indie…as in indie rock…indie films…indie culture. I dug a around a little about the word “indie” and found phrases like “independent from the mainstream,” “embracing authenticity,” “unapologetically DIY,” and “an appreciation of the world beyond American pop culture.”
An “Indie Mom.” Yeah, I could be that. I can DIY my life. I could give myself permission to live a life that’s beyond the picture of what’s “normal” in our culture. Not as an angry outsider (ugh, nothing worse than a self-proclaimed rebel), but as someone who relishes that she can build the multi-faceted, beautiful life she wants even as she colors outside the lines. To be someone who wants to find love but isn’t desperate to. Someone who knows that bitterness doesn’t do anything but pickle our souls, and who wants to teach her daughter that love, life, and families can take a lot of different forms, and they’re all good. Most importantly, I could imagine myself as someone who doesn’t apologize for her life, but instead gets that being an Indie Mom kicks ass. Yeah, I could do that.
And just like that, I stepped across some imaginary transom. Instead of waiting to feel like I belonged somewhere, I started building the community I wanted to have. I assembled “Team Indie Mom,” which included key players like Bobby the handyman (the Duane Schneider to my Anne Romano) and my cache of twenty-something actress/ballerina/college student babysitters who became our extended family. I asked for help (usually whenever electronic appliances were involved), because that didn’t mean I was needy; it meant I was brave. I stumbled out of my self-absorbed pity party and realized that other people will take their cue about where I rate on the groovy/pathetic scale according to what I’m conveying. I sought out other Indie Moms who inspire me, and let me tell you something: they rock. And, of course, I started looking for better cultural references than whiney Marsha Mason or loopy Cher (currently I’m halfway through season one of “Gilmore Girls” and I think I’m on to something).
Here’s the thing, Indie Moms: there’s a rising culture of the new single motherhood, and we’re it. Yes, we need to mourn, flail, and struggle for as long as it takes in order to heal, but once we do, there’s a seriously cool sense of self waiting for us on the other side. We can stop thinking that there’s anything wrong with our status or the lives we’re living, and stop worrying about anyone around us who wants us to believe otherwise. We can be ok – and even happy – building families that look different than the usual 2.5/suburbs/crossover vehicle variety. We can look our children in the eyes and know that we’re becoming the women we want them to model themselves after – flexible, actualized, fearless. And that is an identity I can wrap my head around.
Do I attain it all the time? Oh, please…of course not. Just last week I had a meltdown that involved a retching guinea pig, an overdue deadline, dating drama, and #2 pencil shavings dumped all over the floor. But a decent percentage of the time, I have this feeling of, “I’ve got this. I can do this.” It’s something to work toward, a vision to hold. Believe me, if I did it, and a lot of the courageous, divorced moms I know can do it, you can, too. It’s really just a tiny perspective shift, but it changes everything.
What do you say… you in?