I started to calmly start tracing my tree,
To find out, all the possible the makings of me.
And all that I had was my great granddad’s name
Not knowing his wife or from which way he came.
I chased him all over a long line of states
And came up with pages and pages of dates,
When all put together it made me forlorn,
I’d proved my great grandfather had not been born!
One day I was sure that the truth I had found,
Determined to turn this whole thing upside down,
I looked up the pages of one Uncle John
But found the old man to be younger than son.
Then when my hopes were fast growing dim
I came by a record that must have been him -
The facts I’d collected then made me quite sad
My dear old Grandfather was never a dad!
I think maybe someone is pulling my leg
I’m not at all sure I’m not hatched from an egg
After hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on my tree
I can’t help but wonder if I’m really ME.
Adapted from Mrs. Charles Dean, Stevens Point, Wisconson, ca ~1985, Tama County Museum News
I am tired of aspiring to a pinterest-perfect house. It doesn’t stay that way for more than five minutes.
I am tired of having my identity center on being the childcare provider. I love being a mother, and I’m very good at it; it’s not the relationship that bothers me, it’s the limits of the job description. Basically, I don’t want to be the family house elf. I don’t want my identity to focus on what I do for my children. I want to have an identity that is separate from “homemaker.” chief entropy manager.
Basically, I want my brain to matter.
This is probably a huge reason why I have really jumped into genealogy recently with all the force I can muster. It’s almost like a job description change: moving from baby producer to baby deducer: the relationship inventory specialist, the designated family historian.
Baby Cora at IGS
I took my little baby to the Iowa Genealogical Society yesterday when I went downtown to vote early. Of course, every person who works in genealogy seems to automatically be interested in children. They were all super friendly to her. They were all astonished at me when I told them she is my fourth.
I think that as I grow older, I will miss that astonished expression. It was and still is a huge part of my identity: being young and completely covered in children. I recently figured out that 30 wasn’t very old in the past, just as it isn’t that old now. But unless we start suddenly producing more and more children back to back (which isn’t going to happen) I will definitely lose that reaction of shock and awe: “You have four kids and you’re only 28?” “Wow, you have your hands full!” “You know how this happens, right?” I roll my eyes and pretend to be annoyed, but really those things have become a huge part of what defines my identity. So what happens when those things are gone, who will I be then?
My kids are not tokens in some kind of board game. They aren’t things to be collected and displayed. They are human beings to nurture and teach - humans with whom to connect and develop lasting relationships. And it’s really hard to do that well if my brain feels atrophied. I gave up my career willingly, but it was really sad for me. I like working hard and am in need of a challenging mental outlet, which thus far, homemaking "head of chaos control" has not been able to satisfy.
I had a long conversation with my dear friend Jennifer today. First, she assured me that she has never once thought of me as a “baby producer” - that on the contrary, when she looks at me, she thinks of all my many talents and abilities. This reminds me of Danny, who says, “Kate, you don’t need to wonder who you are. You’re a daughter of God, and you’re my wife, and a wonderful mother.” These things made me feel better.
Jennifer understands this identity situation perfectly well. She is a master gardener in every sense of the word. She has a degree in landscape design, and her deep abiding interest is in permaculture. She and her husband have worked hard to make it so that their backyard is beautiful, functional, and highly productive. One time, to repay her for something last summer when I knew she would never accept any money, I paid her in a blueberry bush, which turned into 7 more (because the one was lonely), and now they have a beautiful blueberry patch with blazing red foliage.
People come to visit Jennifer and they become immediately intimidated by her garden. They start to think, “Oh. I didn’t realize she was that into this.” They defer to her for all the advice but do not offer her into their own confidence for tips and secrets that they have learned. They either become overwhelmed and afraid of her knowledge and intense interest, or they laugh and think, “I will never be as good as her.”
Jennifer continues to constantly seek new knowledge. Plants are really important to her, and there are always at least 5 library books about them checked out under her account name at any time. She loves to discuss what she’s learned, and she is not averse to learning new things. She does not consider herself to know everything: she is extremely open to learning more. She gets understandably frustrated with people who think they know something, but are really just fools. She has invested the time, energy, and effort necessary to gain real knowledge on this subject.
It’s hard for her to find a friend who appreciates this part of her. While my garden is not as big or ambitious (it’s still very large for American standards), I genuinely love and respect my friend. I care about her interest, and love to listen to what she can share with me.
She told me that someone she knows once told her that there are three kinds of friendships: friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for life. (To this, Danny says, “no, no, the third one didn’t rhyme.” me: “friends for a...treason? Friends for a pleasin’? Friends for a cheese-on?” We were in the middle of helping our neighbors move in to their new house, and our friend Briant piped in, “Yeah! You would only share your best cheese with your true friends.”)
I suppose part of this identity crisis/melancholia comes from realizing this past week that most of my friends right now just don’t “get” it, or they are in the first two friendship categories. I crave long lasting, close friendships. I crave being able to show the embarrassingly obsessive and nerdy sides of my brain to people who will not laugh or become intimidated by my enthusiasm. But this is a two way street. I realized I need to be willing enough to actually share this part of myself, that I need to get over the irrational fear of being unlikable. I am likable.
Danny and I always joke that turning 30 makes you a “real” adult. Maybe it’s a sign of maturity that I am finally able to admit that I’m not very satisfied as a full time homemaker housekeeper and that I am a person “qui [a] besoin d’un ami”. On the other hand, maybe it’s immensely immature that I can’t find the innate joy in this; that I need something else. Whether mature or immature, I’m so grateful that I live in a time and a place where I have the technology and education I need to seek more learning. It would have been impossible to integrate a genealogy “career” (or whatever this is) into the life of a homemaker even just a decade ago, but with the internet, today it is very possible. I can write about my discoveries, I can learn more, and I can feel satisfied that I’m doing something outside of being slave to my house modern day robota. I have confidence that I can continue to find close and lasting friends who appreciate and even understand my intellectual pursuits.