An Advice Column I Write to Myself, Letter Five — Q: Dear Kelly, What if I’m Afraid of Being Called ‘A Mom’?

Dear Kelly,

I remember the first time the word ‘mom’ made my own head pop off. I was thirty-four years old. I was working at a restaurant downtown in Iowa City, and this breezy, smiley, beautiful girl walked in through the back door, greeted every one of the cooks personally, then every server, and then put her coat and bag down. She had bright lipstick, and a tomato-red coat, and when she looked over and flashed me her white teeth, I thought I had just witnessed one of the most spectacular displays of womanhood in my entire life. I was enamored. She dazzled. And I wanted the rainbow that made a halo around her head to consider coming my way.

One day, someone said something that indicated she might have procreated, and I remember feeling the blood in my face draining right out of me.

Wait. I looked up. I paused. She’s. A MOM?


The floor fell out from under me. My brain liquified. I heard the sound of one door close and another door open.

In that one moment, I realized I didn’t know exactly what being a mom meant. I realized that I didn’t know shit.


Fast forward. I have a three year old. He’s cute. He’s fun. It took me a long time, even after having him, to be okay, inside myself, with being a mom. But that definition I had stuck in my psyche is still stuck. And one of the most offensive things someone can do to me is call me “a mom.” I can feel the horse inside me rear up on his back two legs and prepare to charge when someone says it. A mom. A curse word. A curse. A mom.

How do I reconcile this? Do I have to? Can I just tell them, “I don’t really like that phrase. I prefer to be called ‘A person who has a child’, as opposed to ‘A mom.’?

Am I insane? Is this okay?

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Dear Kelly,

Oo! This is a fun one.

Also, you are WHACKED. But that’s okay. We all are.

Okay, let’s dig in.

You have a definition of the word ‘mom.’ Like everyone does. And there are a hell of a lot of variances. But the Hallmark cards and the flower commercials have convinced many of us that there is just one definition. Revered woman. Giver of all.

Just because you think of the word mom as ‘sad sack of shit’ doesn’t mean that’s what the person using the word mom in regards to you is thinking about it.

You think mom means slave and unhappy and giver of too much to have anything left for herself and no lipstick and brown coat and broken heart and tired hands. You think the word mom is equivalent to shit-eater and ‘one who suffers’.

There aren’t many words in — in any language — that have one, bold, and true definition, girl. Words are just placeholders for our emotional baggage. For our nightmares and our dreams and our hopes and our fears.


So I say this. Try to build your own picture, one that you aren’t scared of. Seek out mothers who look like the opposite of the definition stuck inside your head. Seek out mothers who remind you of that magic rainbow waitress. And craft your own image in her likeness. Wear lipstick. Say hi to everybody you work with, every single time you work with them.

And wear the red coat. Did you even remember that you had it? You asked the waitress where she got it, and then you told your own mother about it, and she — that woman that really was tired and sad a lot — she found it at a store and she bought it. So that you could be the type of mother who wore a red coat. You wore it before you got pregnant, and you haven’t worn it once since.

Dig it out of the closet. And put it on the next time the cold comes.