I had been looking forward to downloading my Top Nine for months. You know, the thing that pulls out your most liked Instagram pics and arranges them in a neat little cube for you? I love that thing. It’s like a personalized Christmas present and tidy year-end reflection all wrapped into one.
My 2016 Top Nine was killer. It showcased a wide swath of my life because SO MUCH HAPPENED THAT YEAR. I got married. I got some kids. There was that crazy presidential election.
Those nine little frames hold pictures of me.
Pictures of Deke.
Pictures of all my very best friends.
Pictures of the kids.
Pictures of Hillary Clinton.
A picture of my brother and me at our parents house, side by side, tucked into plush animal-shaped sleeping bags meant for the children as though we are actively denying our adulthood.
My whole world is represented in my 2016 Top Nine.
2017 Top Nine rolls in and I joke: “Why are there so many kids in my top 9?”
But it’s not so bad. There are boys and now a baby and that seems weird.
But still, there’s a picture of me.
There’s pictures Deke and of all of us.
There’s a picture of one of my good friends.
And, again, a picture of my brother and me, this time wearing matching shirts and crazy patterned fleece leggings which Luke, for reasons unknown, had picked up at a truck stop.
I pat myself on the back for leading a fun life and documenting it well.
First, I punch my information into a Top Nine scam site. I am still waiting to see what unfortunate surprise I will receive in lieu of my Top Nine.
I find the correct site and anxiously await the results. What do I expect? I don’t post that much so I could easily review my entire year in a single thumb swipe. But no, I’m waiting for this program to reflect my life back to me like some kind of oracle.
The results are finally in and…
And one random photo I took of 6 lesbians in a field.
Deke is no where to be seen.
My brother, having moved to Vietnam early in the year, is not represented.
Technically, I am in 3 or the 9 photos but the subject of all 3 is clearly the baby.
With little enthusiasm I post my Top Nine:
“So many dang kids whose life is this.”
It’s a rhetorical question. I don’t put a question mark on the end. Yet, friends point out cheerily that is my own beautiful life, duh.
I’m not convinced.
One friend, a childless bachelor I’ve known for a long time, replied with an astute observation: “Ummm….it’s their lives.”
I started to respond and then stopped. Started again. Laid in bed and stared at the ceiling, my face a replica of the wide-eyed, blushing emoji.
I wanted to say: “OMG, you’re right. IT IS THEIR LIVES. What does that mean?! Where is my life? Where am I? Do I view all my experiences through the lens of childhood now? Is this what moms talk about when they talk about losing their sense of self? Have I lost myself in parenthood? Is it even right to post so many photos of our non-consenting children? WHO EVEN AM I? AAAAHHH!!!”
It haunted me for days, this Top Nine. This comment.
‘It’s their lives’.
For some context, my own mother has always bristled at having her identity whittled down to ‘MOM’. She makes it clear that ‘MOM’ is who she is to her children alone, the remaining population is to refer to her by her legal name.
Not ‘Jessica’s Mom’.
This distancing of oneself from the all encompassing role of MOM was passed down to me. Though my heart swells ever so slightly when one of my kids calls me ‘mom’ (which they don’t all do because they were all adopted and half of them have fresh memories of another mom), I hesitate to identify myself as an all-caps MOM. In conversation I might say, “I’m a parent,” or “I have a bunch of kids,” but I don’t think I’ve ever uttered the words, ‘I’m a MOM.”
Maybe I have a complex about it. Or maybe it’s just because my path to parenthood was a bureaucratic process that unfolded over many years. The crown of motherhood was not neatly bestowed upon me in a delivery room. My children were not cut from my womb. It was a judge who designated me a parent to children who very much identified someone else as their MOM.
Still, there’s another layer which is wrapped in feminism and high-mindedness. I admit to judging harshly other women who identify themselves as a MOM above all else.
Instagram bios that start: ‘Mom, wife, whatever else … “
License plates that read: ‘SAMS MOM’.
T-shirts, such as the one my mom bought me and Deke in jest: ‘MOM OF BOYS’ …. Whaaaat. What even is that? Mom of boys? Ugh, I cringe imagining the banter that must ensue when one dons such attire: “Oh, you must have your hands full,” knowing, well meaning strangers must point out. “Does your house ever get clean?” Ick.
It’s the hinging an identity on another person that I take issue with. ‘Cayden’s mom’. ‘Wife of Tristan’. Were these women not fully developed adults before other people came along? Were they just a husk of a human waiting to be fortified by the bonds of marriage and motherhood?
Anyway, that’s divisive rhetoric that women don’t really need to hear but this is my blog so I’m filing it under “Pet peeves/Things that make sound like an asshole.”
It has now been one month since I posted my 2018 Top Nine. I think about my Instagram differently now. I’ve tried to figure out why almost all my pictures were of the kids. Maybe because they’re cute. Maybe because I know I have friends and family who like to see how they are doing. Maybe it’s because they dominate so much of my life. Maybe it seems interesting to show an experience from their point of view. Maybe it’s because I know I can be spoiled and bratty and I fear that drawing too much attention to myself will push me over the edge into full blown narcissism.
I looked back at all the pictures I posted in 2018. It wasn’t all kids. There were pictures of Deke, and me, and my dad, and my friends, and clouds (I’m really into clouds). The pictures of the kids were just the most liked. And despite my judgmental feminist qualms about being consumed by MOM-hood, I genuinely enjoy seeing pictures of my friends’ kids (ok, with some exceptions: I never need to see your baby with food all over his face. It’s gross, you are the only one who thinks it’s cute). Parenthood can be all-consuming and isolating. You lose touch with friends who were once close and social media helps bridge that gap until you can go to happy hour again in 20 years.
‘IT’S THEIR LIVES’ still comes back to me.
Though our lives are deeply intertwined, their story is not mine. What a strange world we live in, I often think, where our children will grow up and see all the things we posted about them on social media. Some of it may be touching but much of it’s a brutally honest portrait of parenthood. What will they make of it all? One of my 8 year olds has already expressed to me that he does not want me to post pictures of him. One of my most popular Instagram stories was a video of him flipping over a chess table and screaming, through tears, “IT’S NOT CHECKMATE!!!!!”
I LOVE that video. I think it’s hilarious.
He HATES that video.
He doesn’t want me to post pictures of him but he does want to start his own YouTube channel. I guess he wants to be in control of his own image.
It is my Instagram page, not theirs. And I’ve been thinking maybe it’s time to turn the camera on myself every now and then because … I’m still here, behind all those kids.