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Taken Out Of Context

Context is everything – ask any
politician. The most radical liberal on the slate can sound like an
uber-right-wing republican if his words are lifted out of context.
But context goes beyond simply words: lift your average supermodel
out of her frame- the lights, the clothes, the carefully chosen set
– and you’ll often end up with a bizarrely dressed,
awkward, hungry-looking girl. And when you take that girl out of
the world of high fashion, out of her setting, out of her comfort
zone, and set her someplace strange and unflattering –
someplace different – chances are she’ll go from wonder
woman to wallflower, simply from a fading of self-confidence. We
need context to know how to refer to ourselves, how to think about
ourselves. As a friend of mine in the ballet world once said,
“I have to step on the scale every morning, and what it tells
me determines whether or not it’s a good day or a bad
day.” Without that frame, she didn’t know how to think
about herself.

I’m blathering on about this because I’ve lost my
setting. I find I’ve been plucked from one scene and dropped
in another, and though the costume and actions are the same, I feel
like a totally different character.

When I first became pregnant with Maddie,
I was in my early thirties. As my OB said, I was practically a
spring chicken of a first-time mom; in Manhattan you see less young
moms and more and more first-time moms in their forties. Even after
Cora came along, I still considered myself relatively young. I
looked at all my hip, interesting friends with their small children
and thought, “Yeah, we’ve still got it. We’re
still cool.” I considered myself a pretty hip girl who
happened to have a couple kids. Everyone knew me Before Kids, and
had that picture of me still in their heads (or at least I imagined
they did). My friends all knew my theatrical past, all the quirky
jobs I’d held, my reputation as a Pilates trainer, and those
things fleshed out my image, provided the framework for knowing me.

And then I moved.

Now, in Texas, I don’t feel so young any more. I see moms
everywhere who are a good ten years younger than I, with kids the
same age as Maddie. I run into friends from high school who have
pre-teens! I feel myself on the older end of the “mom of
toddlers” spectrum. And no one here knows anything about me
except that I have two children, don’t work, and used to live
in New York. That makes me a stay-at-home mom, end of sentence. Or
I should say, a damn yankee of a stay-at-home mom.

I go to my subdivision’s playgroup and look around at the
moms and think, I know three things about each woman: she has a
toddler. She doesn’t work (at least not Monday mornings). And
she’s in roughly the same socio-economic stratus that I am,
or she wouldn’t be in my subdivision. I know there’s
got to be more to each of these women, and I long to see them as
women rather than mommies, but the conversations never seem to
revolve around to ourselves enough for me to do a little digging.
This is, I suspect, partly because I’m new to the group and
most other people know all the backstories, but it’s partly
that there’s not a lot of uninterrupted time for in-depth
conversations. Most playgroup discussions go like this: “So I
saw this interesting article in the paper yesterday – what?
Yes, you can go outside. The article was talking about how housing
debt is still on the rise – no! No! No! Get off the

And so on.

Hopefully we’ll be given the chance to go deeper over the
coming months, and as much as I want to know more about these
women, I shamefully confess that part of it is simply that I want
someone to know more about me. I want to build a frame, to
influence how people look at me. Do they see a yankee liberal who
stubbornly walks everywhere and doesn’t know she’s too
old to wear those hip slogan tees? Do they see a mature, confident
mom with great parenting skills and a really interesting decorating
eye? Or an exhausted, bleary-eyed mom who puts absolutely no time
whatsoever into her appearance but always has her girls well turned

When I look in the mirror, what do I see? How do I know what to
look for? What lenses can I look through that will be honest, but
kind? What am I supposed to think about myself?

I need a frame.


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