We had an emergency trip to the opticians last week, necessitated by The Cowgirl’s glasses ending up, entirely inexplicably, in two very separate pieces. (Apparently, someone may have trodden on them, and maybe that someone was her, but actually maybe, no, they didn’t. Well covered, darling, well covered.) Other families of glasses-wearing geeks will be all too familiar with the entertainment that ensued. The check-up itself took about 10 minutes, but the combination of taking pictures of eyes, squirming in the middle so having to retake pictures of eyes, choosing frames, checking frames, spelling names wrong and having to start the whole process again, meant that we were actually in the opticians for over an hour, and my masterly plan of treating us all to indulgently warming refreshments between wrapping up the appointment and arriving in a calm, relaxed manner at our weekly swimming lesson were quickly demonstrated to be utterly foolish: we actually screamed into the swimming pool a mere 5 minutes late.
Somewhere in the midst of this, as is normal at such things, I was asked to sign for the NHS voucher that entitles all children under 16 to free eye tests and mostly-free glasses (#ThankYouNHS). And exactly there in the midst of this, I had the same reaction I always do when an adult calls me “mum”. I looked over my shoulder for the person they were really talking to; I hesitated, to give them enough time to call me out; I signed the iPad with a shaking hand and a rote comment about modern technology they must hear 50 times a day, but were still sweet enough to smile at.
I have spent most of my mothering years looking over my shoulder and expecting someone to out me as just pretending to be able, or willing, or responsible enough for this role. I thought that feeling would pass; it didn’t. At first I thought they might say that I wasn’t old enough to be a mother (ironic really when you consider that I had my first child in the UK’s Teenage Pregnancy capital, and that I probably had 10 years on the next oldest person in the ward where I spent my first night with The Palaeontologist). I don’t think that now – a decade of building up grey hairs and sleepless nights has put paid to that – but I still look over my shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop and for anyone – for everyone – to realise that I have no idea what I’m doing here.
Despite having had so long to think about this, it took me until this week and an opticians appointment to put the name Imposters Syndrome to my parenting experience. But through that lens (in a totally undiagnosed fashion) it all makes much more sense. Do I feel like a fraud? Like I have to work 3 times as hard to justify the title I have been given? Like any moment someone will see through the mask and spot I don’t belong there? Like I do not deserve this relationship? All of the above. All of the time. I know it isn’t rational; that I have been there from the beginning and in every moment since, there in the decision-making and the praying and the worrying even when it is not me there in the day to day. I know that there is no-one else my children would want to be there even when they tell me that I’m spoiling their lives and I’m the worst mum ever, as much as when they run to me when I walk in from work and hug me till my ribs hurt after an argument. I know that this is the place I am meant to be and the place I am called to be and the place I want to be. But that still doesn’t stop me feeling like an imposter, like I’m outside looking in and like sometime soon, when I’m least expecting it, everyone else will feel that too.
When The Cowgirl plays Among Us, she always wants to be The Imposter. I once asked her why she would want to be the baddy, the one who everyone else wants to kick into the outer reaches of space and never be contaminated by again? Because, she explained, The Imposter is the one who has the most fun. They can do what they want, and go where they want, and if they manage to kill everyone, they get to win the game. Being on the outside is the thing that gives you control, because it means that you’re not governed by the rules that everyone else has to play by.
I will probably never feel entirely comfortable in my own skin or in the rules that are set down, in my head or others’ expectations, for people who are Mothers, or who are Vicar’s Wives, or who are struggling to live simply and sustainably in the 21st Century western world, for that matter. But however I feel about those titles, all of those aspects of my life and personality are ones that I have made a conscious choice to add in to the jigsaw that makes me the problematic, overstretched and overworked person that I am. And all of those roles help me see, from the inside out, how life could be better if fewer of us followed all the rules; if we were the rebels, who went through secret passages and found our own ways to success (but who maybe didn’t have the goal of killing everyone else around us. Any metaphor can be stretched too far). They show me what fun can be had by not focussing so much on how others may or may not think about me but accepting my view of myself instead; the good and the bad of it. They remind me that this is my choice and I have earned the right to make that choice, and have the responsibility to live by it. They whisper that I have been doing this for some time now and haven’t killed anyone yet, despite a fair bit of provocation. They demonstrate that, Imposter-ish feeling or not, I’m actually doing all right. And it turns out, that’s a pretty darn good thing to realise.