Once upon a time, long before Sarah Jessica Parker wittily bantered with her hip clique of chicks about Sex and the City on the streets of Manhattan, she appeared as a gawky, shy, nerdy teenage girl who longed to get into the coolest clique in Weemawee High School in a sitcom, called Square Pegs. The show aired in 1982, and at the time, I was a gawky, shy, nerdy teenage girl, who didn’t quite fit in. Needless to say, I immediately identified with Sarah’s character. I too was a “Square Peg.”
Like Sarah Jessica Parker, I’ve blossomed over the past 22-odd years. I’m no longer a gawky, shy teen but a wiser, self-confident, self-possessed woman, wife, and mother. Unfortunately, my transformation has not been quite as glamorous as Ms. Parker’s. And yet, with age, money, and experience, I have achieved a certain amount of style. Still, at heart, and underneath it all . . . I remain a “Square Peg.”
And that didn’t change once I became a mother. Although, becoming a mother did oddly allow me immediate acceptance into the “Motherhood Club.” Acceptance into the club felt nice, as did it to have a connection with other women, and to almost never feel at a loss for words around others who had gone through pregnancy, labor, and beyond.
But as the years went by, I found, that while I seemed to have much in common with these other moms; I really didn’t have anything in common with them at all. They weren’t really my friends or confidantes. They didn’t really know me, my last name, where I went to college, or what I did before I had children. They knew that I was Olivia’s or Jared’s mom; but my true identity seemed to be completely erased as if I were a blank heroine in some creepy, futuristic, sci-fi novel.
That’s when I discovered the truth: I’m not like the other moms; at least not the moms I knew — or thought I knew. The suburban moms I hung around with during my daughter’s ballet class complained about their husbands and talked about their kids’ latest accomplishments or disasters.
But they rarely spoke about their identities before or even with kids. Many of them were counting the days until both of their little ones were in preschool so that they could “give the house a good scrubbing” or for a real treat “get a manicure.” They used their spare “non-custodial kid hours” to do laundry or watch soap operas. And I secretly went home (ignored my housework) and wrote in my journal, worked on screenplays, launched a webzine, produced a couple of short films, and dreamed about doing more, once the kids were in school more.
Like a true square peg, I couldn’t stay long in any one mommy clique. I couldn’t play the games, I couldn’t chose which team I wanted to be on. I didn’t truly fit in as a “stay-at-home mom” because I broke the rules by choosing to bring outside work into my home. I couldn’t really fit in with the working moms, because I took the easier route by opting for less stress, more flexibility, and a
less competitive work environment.
Just as before, I just didn’t quite fit in. And just like high school, I found that being different could undermine my self-esteem and confidence. I hadn’t doubted myself since leaving my teen years behind; yet now I found myself second-guessing my every mothering decision. I felt scrutinized and misinterpreted, and mostly I felt completely and utterly alone.
It didn’t help that everywhere I turned were models and ideas of motherhood that were strange and foreign to me. The image of mother in our pop culture seemed to suggest that the transition into motherhood was natural, easy, and immediate for women. If you read the national women’s magazines long enough, it becomes easy to believe that mothers really don’t have anything worthwhile to say. Most parenting magazines regurgitate basic baby information more often than a baby spits up her last meal. When I became a mother, I was starving for maternal knowledge and deep insight, yet these magazines kept telling and retelling the same things. Much of the magazine information is insulting and simplistic.
And so, once again, I felt completely misunderstood and alone. After all, I wasn’t like these moms in the magazines I read, any more than I resembled the moms in my neighborhood. Magazine moms lacked complexity, personality, or individuality. Those mothers were totally happy, glowing, fulfilled, and just needed a little encouragement every now and then. Magazine moms rarely spoke of themselves or their own individual needs. The closest they came to the personal was discussing their mate’s sexual dissatisfaction.
I eventually had a breakthrough moment: when I finally realized that as a mother, and a writer and artist, that I did have a voice and I did have stories worth telling. My stories and the honest stories from other mothers that I heard were not boring or inconsequential. I realized that we didn’t have to listen to the parenting magazines with their extremely generic, simplistic portrayals of moms. I realized that national magazines didn’t represent real mothers because they were too concerned with painting a homogenized, diluted, and purified view of motherhood meant to boost circulation. And most cruelly of all, the magazines aimed to undermine a new mother’s self-confidence so that they could sell her their must-have, expensive baby toys, clothes, and accessories. Magazines were selling motherhood as if it were a product — and I just wasn’t buying.
After seven years of searching, I’m still looking for a place to really belong. But I’ve also accepted that I may always be somewhat of a loner, a rebel, a “Square Peg” who doesn’t really want to fit into any round hole. I’ve also realized that I might have been wrong in judging the other suburban moms that I know. Their identities may not be as superficial as I once thought. And they may have taken their own internal self-journeys and have found peace with themselves and their decisions that have nothing to do with me and my feminist expectations or my own creative passions.
I was wrong, too, to think that anyone else should conform to my own narrow vision and experience of motherhood. After all, as individuals we must embark on our own life journeys. Why should the journey of motherhood be any different? What makes me or anyone else think that we can ever understand another woman’s journey?
The moral of my story is, then, in Carrie Bradshaw voiceover, that “Moms are like shoes. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, styles and price ranges. And no matter how hard you try, you just can’t make a $40 Converse canvas sneaker look and act like a pair of $500 manolo blahnik classic pink satin pumps. ”
Of course, had I been paying closer attention to Sarah Jessica’s other alter ego, Patty Greene, from Square Pegs oh so long ago, I would have pretty much learned this very same lesson. After all, in the theme song for that show, the Waitresses sang, “One size does not fit all.?