Confession: I am undergoing an identity crisis of sorts. Back in the summer of 2003 when I started this column, I knew exactly who I was: a former TV reporter turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. Rich Rein, then editor and publisher of US 1 and West Windsor & Plainsboro News, coined the headline “Suburban Mom,” and my new public identity was born.
It was easy to come up with biweekly column topics. Much like a comedienne, my material sprang from my own life, and there was endless fodder—from the moms’ groups that I joined, from my friends who were all in the heavy lifting parenting phase of their lives and then mostly from my children, who were 12, 9 and 4 when I started writing in these pages.
I will always be “Mom,” though I may have to replace “Suburban” with “Urban,” “Rural,” or even “Expatriate” depending on where the next chapter of our lives eventually takes us. We’re not quite ready to cross that bridge yet—but many of our friends already have or are standing at that fork in the road where they are ready to choose.
Recently, I’ve thought “Suburban Daughter” a more appropriate moniker as I help my parents navigate the challenges of living as octogenarians in a world that has changed in a dizzying way. My father is having a much tougher time than my mom with the adjustment.
As a Ph.D. who was at one time literally the smartest person in the room, he is bewildered by the wave after wave of new technologies that have turned his logical world upside down.
I try to help as much as I can, but I am his daughter and still his child and it is hard for him to accept my help, so he tries to push me away with gruffness and I have to be patient in a way very similar to the patience I had to summon forth with my kids when they were small.
It’s funny to think about identity and the way it changes over the course of a lifetime. I have lived long enough that I have had multiple primary identities. It is something that is always unfolding and evolving—usually so slowly and subtly that you are not aware that it’s changing, but one day you wake up and you are something brand new.
It can happen in ways like my dear friend Carmen has experienced: exactly my age, she is now a second-time grandmother, and she’s got two more little lives to love and to hold. Yes, love does expand infinitely; it is not meted out by quota. In a society where we are measured and defined by our work, losing a job or even leaving one voluntarily can cause vertigo, causing a different kind of identity crisis.
I was aware of identity in high school, a place where it is commonplace to be pigeonholed by club or clique, and I loved to confuse. I was the bespectacled AP Calculus student who could do a mean toe-jump as a varsity cheerleader—but I was never invited to sit at the jock table. I was the yearbook editor who kicked a high can-can in the high school musical, but I was not included in the after-rehearsal get-togethers.
I was the harpsichordist in the chamber music group, second violinist in the orchestra, and the accompanist for the concert choir, but I bombed the audition for the sight-reading scholarship and sour-noted myself right out of any music awards. I was a walking contradiction and in my teenage contrarian way, reveled in my strange and mercurial identity.
In college, I fancied myself a dancer above all. I dressed in leotards and long flowery skirts with white Capezio jazz shoes, and I floated, I imagined, ethereally to my classes in Chaucer and international relations.
I was pretentious in the way many college students tend to be when they are actually insecure but want to present a cool persona to the world. At my Ivy League college we had all been deemed smarter than the average bear, but that wasn’t enough. We wanted to be THE intellectual, THE performer, THE athlete; it was a competition for identity bragging rights and we were all in it to win it, whether consciously or not.
I’ve thought about my future identity and what that might look like. I will always be a writer, and over the last three years, I’ve been working in corporate communications. I call myself the company reporter, and when I’m being funny, the company propagandist. In an ironic coincidence, my role has come full circle from my days at Morristown High School: as corporate editor-in-chief, I am writing stories again and I am head cheerleader.
As I look forward to my next decade and beyond, I have decided that I am going to be the best grandmother I can be—the kind that gives endless horsey rides and chain reads books. I have also determined that some who don’t know me will call me a curmudgeon. Never one to hold back truth, I will be that old woman who feels she has earned the right to speak her mind and will—at all times and with glee.
I’ll have to figure out what my hobbies will be. To this point, I’ve been too busy in the role of working mom to have any, but it will be time to explore whether or not I will play golf or do yoga—two activities Bill loves—but that have not yet called out to me with a siren song.
I will be a traveler, and scouring museums, presidential libraries and castles will be at the top of my bucket list. I am changing, evolving, one minute at a time but always through the course of my life, I will above all try to be my truest self—kind, curious, opinionated and assertive. Octogenarian Euna Kwon will be the coolest of them all.