As I leave for work each morning, I grab my mask along with the other essentials for the day. It’s my “professional colleague” mask, one I’ve worn for many years now. It sits comfortably on me, is a manageable fit. After all, it just needs to be big enough to cover my irritation when something stands in the way of me getting my work done. It does the job day in and day out, allowing me to maintain that calm, professional exterior necessary for my role.
It’s always such a relief though to take that mask off and finally breathe freely for the car ride home, to enjoy just being me. As I sit in the driveway upon returning home, I always take a deep breath of that fresh air before putting on the “responsible mother” mask needed for the next segment of my day. It’s a problem on the days when I don’t put that mask on securely enough and it slips down a little too far, allowing my impatience or frustration to slip through. I love my kids with all my heart, and I enjoy taking care of them. But sometimes my mask isn’t quite strong enough to hide that part of me that gets tired of cleaning never-ending messes, of being constantly needed when I just want one moment of silence, and of running around making everyone else’s lunches for the next day when I haven’t even had my own dinner yet. Does it say something about me that my mother mask is the one that seems to require the most adjusting?
While those are the two masks that get the most wear, I have a stash of others that I keep handy for when the need arises. There’s the “supportive friend” mask that I sometimes whip out to stop me from spreading well-meaning but (let’s be honest) somewhat judgmental advice that no one wants to catch. Or the “watchful but aloof mother” mask that I need to hastily don as I watch my son struggling through tricky social situations, knowing that he needs to learn to navigate these times on his own. No one looking at me would know that, under my mask, I’m snarling and straining to snatch my baby away from the conflict and protect him in my mama bear embrace. Even alone, I sometimes put on a mask to protect myself from dark thoughts or from truths that I’m not yet ready to acknowledge. While this is the mask that is most ineffective, it’s also, strangely, the one that I find hardest to take off.
“I can’t wait to ditch the masks,” I keep hearing people say. “Yeah, me neither,” I automatically agree. But don’t they see? We’ll never really be free.
Society can’t handle the unmasked me.