I remember the jolting feeling of shame I felt as she contemptuously snorted at me.
It was a short- but very distinctive- exhale through her nose. Her eyes closed down and her lips curled into what seemed to be an abrupt amused sneer of disdain. Blink-and-you'd-miss-it. But miss it, I did not.
I was held in place by my feelings of shame. She held my passport, and the power to keep me rooted on the spot. So, there I stood with my bags, my baby, and my red-hot cheeks.
My partner and I, along with our only child at the time, had been away on a trip to Las Vegas. We were returning home when Customs forced us through separate lines because we weren't (aren't) legally married. (I'm still baffled by this one, so don't ask me to explain it).
Steering a stroller with one hand, and my bag with another, I approached the Canadian Customs officer for what I assumed would be a quick nod-and-welcome-home.
Except, when she asked me what I did for a living, she seemed to take issue with my choice at the time to be a stay-at-home mom.
"Justa mom?" (And no, I still don't know why she asked me what I did for a living to begin with. Conversation? Curiosity?)
(I suppose I could give her the benefit of the doubt and say it's possible I read her wrong. But that would kill this entire blog post, so run with me, 'kay?)
For a very long time as a stay-at-home-mom, I wrestled with my own feelings of inadequacy. That I "should" be doing more. Contributing, somehow.
A lot of it had to do with stories around money and worth, lack and abundance.
I also felt guilty and ashamed of being "dependant" on a man. I'd spent a lot of my life feeling unable to make a move without male attention, approval, or input, and as an adult with a child, it seemed to me that maybe I should be making progress in that area.
I shuddered to think I'd be looking for my son's approval next.
My partner never ever contributed to my feeling this way. When ever the subject arose, he would remind me patiently that I was contributing to our family: I was teaching and guiding our son nearly every single hour of the day. Tyrone worked especially long hours at the time, so more often than not, it was me on near-single-parenting duty.
I also loved being able to be with my son. As much as I wrestled with guilt, I couldn't imagine handing him off to anyone else. I knew I needed to be home with him, it was just a question of continuing to grow the other parts of my identity, beyond "justa mom."
The thing is, is we're never "justa" anything. Ever.
Those labels we cover ourselves in, the boxes we crawl into? We crawled into them. And we never crawled back out when our legs got cramped, or we wanted to play something else.
As kids, we learn who we are mostly by listening to the people and the world around us. We let ourselves be defined by the stories and labels familiar to the adults in our life. But even then, we're never "justa."
Justa stupid idiot.
Justa high-needs kid.
Justa arrogant prick.
Justa lazy ass.
It's been years since that Customs Officer made me feel like a speck on her computer screen. And still, with each day, I'm trying to unlearn who I think I am. Drop the "justas," because I'm not defined by anyone's stories. Including my own.
At the end of the day, my maker is the Infinite. I find it hard to believe that the Infinite would have me be "justa."
Laura Biddle is obsessed with her harmonium, kombucha, vegan comfort food, and the smell of frankincense. She doesn't understand why her family still lives in Southern Ontario when she is allergic to winter! Find more from Laura at www.rootsforwingshealing.com