That pesky 'just' doesn't bother me

As I'm sure was the case for many, this summer marked my family's maiden voyage from Hinsdale in 18 months. It was our first plane ride, first meal in a restaurant and first time seeing relatives in person. I was ready to travel - but completely unprepared to question my own identity.

The trip was equal parts frustrating and enjoyable: We experienced the rainiest July in Massachusetts in 80ish years (yay, lots of unexpected time indoors) but also tons of face time minus Facetime with those dearest to us. Memories were made over heated Candy Land games, Crayola masterpieces, Jeopardy! high scores and eating our weight in fresh seafood sans utensils. Pretty sweet stuff ... until it happened.

Amidst the fun, I turned to one of my nieces - whom I hadn't seen since she was 1 yet quickly became a willing accomplice in my shenanigans - and said, "I'm glad we're friends."

"But Auntie Lex," she replied earnestly. "We're not friends. You're, like, just a mom."

Leave it to a 6-year-old to take you down a peg.

She wasn't wrong in her labeling: I am a mom. It's been the sole line on my resume for five years and a definite adjustment - my life B.C. (before children) was full-time work, spontaneous travel and zero "Cocomelon: - but the "just" threw me. Am I as one-note as she suggested?

I know I'm not alone here: According to a MagnifyMoney report based on U.S. Census data, the percentage of parents staying home with their kids has risen 60 percent across the country since 2019. (It also highlights that as of early 2021, 2.4 percent of parents were staying at home; pre-COVID, it was 1.5 percent.) And we kind of do it all: A 2020 Oxfam analysis figured unpaid work by stay-at-home U.S. parents - think: housekeeper, chef, nanny, chauffeur, etc. - would be worth $1.5 trillion in 2019, calculated using hourly minimum wage.

Not sure if they factored in the skills of snack-getter, Magnatile architect or DVR savant, but the math works for me.

My sons are 5 and 3 and 20 months apart. They're hilarious but opinionated. Loving but loud. Well-meaning but a handful. "Me time" exists (props to a wonderful preschool and a work-from-home husband) but with no family close by and, frankly, nowhere to go this past year, it's limited.

My attempts to shed that pesky "just" range from serviceable paddle player to amateur yogi to Photoshop dabbler to (hopefully) relatable columnist but I'm FINALLY realizing that I don't - and shouldn't - have to fit neatly into one category.

Being "just" a mom - whatever that means - is just fine with me.

- Lex Silberberg of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].