Every working mom learns how to juggle different identities, going from business meetings to bedtime negotiations, from high heels to sweat pants. Actress and mom Mayim Bialik writes about getting "glammed up" for her job, and discovering who she really is as a mom. Can you relate?
Denise Herrick Borchert
My current job involves being a professional person in show business who pretends to be Amy Farrah Fowler on "The Big Bang Theory." My job also includes social events, publicity gatherings and parties where my photograph will be taken and I have to look a certain way to be considered "appropriate" in my industry. This is a tall order by itself, but my added blessing and challenge is that I have two sons who act like a string; no matter where I go, I am connected to them and find them pulling me back to them all of the time, sometimes just in mind if not body.
I have three principle identities I assume.
Identity #1 is mom.It is the "me" I feel I am no matter what. So no matter what I am wearing or doing, underneath the make-up and the clothes is just Mayim the mom. Mayim who, in her spare moments at the Golden Globes party or in the bathroom at the Perez Hilton party, is remembering what she needs at the market and how she forgot to use that last avocado which is going to be rotten when her son Fred asks for it tomorrow. That's baseline Mayim.
Identity #2 is working Mayim.That's the me who goes to work dressed in a big-girl bra and make-up and high heels and has social time with adults after years of barely talking to adults except about nursing, pottying and nutrition. Working Mayim pumps every 2-3 hours and texts the husband to check in and make sure no one had a meltdown, and if they did, working Mayim wants all of the details, unless the meltdown is currently going on, in which case the husband texts "can't talk." Then that Mayim will sit and bite her nails wondering if this is going to be the meltdown that ends all meltdowns (it never is), while she sits in a tiny dressing room unable to do anything or hold anyone or nurse away tears. This Mayim has a picture of her boys in her wallet that she looks to when she pumps, and she keeps the notes that say in a 5-year-old's writing, "i know it [sic] boring when you work. i love you. i miss you mama."
Identity #3 is glamour Mayim.This is the Mayim that has to (gets to!?) wear foundation, lip liner, and cover up, not just the mascara, liner, and lip gloss that working Mayim can get away with. Glamour Mayim sometimes pays skilled professionals hundreds of dollars to create her "look." This Mayim chooses outfits for events based on whether she will be able to nurse in them. This Mayim chooses a purse based on whether she needs to bring the breast pump. This Mayim is the one who misses her boys most, because this Mayim feels farthest from her children. They know it, too: Fred will cry when he sees glamour mama's hair (usually, significantly different from the hairdos of baseline mama or working mama). Her other son Miles will remark that glamour mama smells different. Glamour Mayim looks pretty good; she is told "no one would think you have had two kids!" (as if "looking like you have had two kids" is a bad thing...). Glamour Mayim can't get down on her hands and knees to wipe up a missed pee from the floor, or use her sleeve to tend to a runny nose, or sweep a crying dirt-covered child into her arms if that is what is called for. Because it would mess up the dress, the hair, the make-up, and the nail polish just applied. Glamour Mayim is high maintenance, and that's just plain unusual to the children involved.
I think all mothers shift identities, especially if we work. The climate of your workplace will, to a large extent, determine how integrated you can be. At "The Big Bang Theory," I am the only cast member with children, so I feel very different. People are interested in my life, but I also know that Jim Parsons (who plays "Sheldon") may not be terribly interested in the details of Elimination Communication, the recent politics of our homeschooling group, or the protein concentration of Trader Joe's versus Whole Foods' whole wheat penne pasta noodles. I have found I need to gauge my audience when I share my mom identity. Sometimes it feels disappointing not to be able to talk about my kids all day, but this is where the challenge of re-integrating comes in. I no longer have an infant strapped to me who announces my identity. I am now Mayim again.
Mayim, with the children who are at home with their loving father. Mayim, who is working to make money to buy the things we need and the things we want. Mayim, who doesn't need to talk about her kids all day because it's not the time or the place; and they are a part of her heart forever whether she talks about them or not.
I try to transition gently when I leave the house on the mornings I work. I try to take a moment every day to tell my sons how much I truly love them. I look them in the eye. I let them break my gaze. I let them feel just a little bit uneasy about how much mama is in their face getting all emotional about loving them. They still are sad that I leave them, but they also get to feel connected with me, and that recharges everyone's battery.
"When will you be done working, not just for the summer, mama, but forever?" Miles asked me last week. I hesitated, because I had to consciously choose the "right" identity to answer. Working Mayim might have said how important it is to have money, and how this is simply my job and we should be grateful I have it. But baseline Mayim got to acknowledge that I am missed when I am gone. They miss the Mama who is notscrubbed clean and made up pretty. They miss the Mama who wears her grandmother's housedress and is not afraid to wipe up any spill, ever. They miss the Mama who wakes up Dada to help escort a cricket outside. They miss frustrated, overwhelmed, funny, silly, Lego-building, piano-playing, granola-making, sloppy, clumsy Mama.
The moments of being all of those things are what carry me through the other identities I take on. The connection to my sons is the most precious one I have been given on this planet, and the love I feel for them gets me to publicity events all dolled up, and it gets me to remember we are out of kale, and it gets me to smile confidently on the red carpet, and it gets me home as quick as I can, grateful for moments shared with adults at fancy events sipping cocktails and eating hors d'oeuvres, but missing the warm kisses and hot breath on my neck of the boys I have been given to raise into men.
This connection is the string that connects me to them and will forever. It is the string that tethers me to them, the reminder of who I really am: the baseline Mayim that is the only person I ever have to be -- fully, completely, faithfully, and lovingly.
Mayim Bialik starred in the early-1990s television show “Blossom” and currently appears on the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” She earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007, and wrote her thesis on Prader-Willi syndrome. The spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network and a certified lactation educator, Bialik is writing a book about attachment parenting, and she has two sons, Miles, 5, and Frederick, 2. She blogs regularly at TODAYMoms.com.
Want more Mayim? Read her blog at Kveller.com.