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Nurturing an Identity Beyond 'Mom'

Since becoming a mother, I'd gone from watching the news 24 hours a day, knowing what was happening around the world and engaging in deep comparative conversations about global elections to snatching headlines about what's happening in the US via my Facebook, conversations, links and texts sent to me by friends who still work in a newsroom. Read an article? Ha! That's a luxury. Give me the video summary, please.

As for Ghanaian current affairs, I felt like I knew even less. My family, friends and a few stolen minutes with my cell phone keeps me "kinda sorta" updated on news from the motherland. It's my mum who updates me on Ghana's current electricity crisis, called Dum Sɔ (pronounced Dumsor) by residents. I've been feeling increasingly disconnected from Ghana since living in LA, because there are far less Ghanaians in my day-to-day life in LA than there were growing up in London.

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But someway, somehow, on Saturday May 2, I'll be representing Ghana at the People's UN (pUN) event and exhibition by artist Pedro Reyes at the Hammer museum. It's an "experimental gathering of volunteer delegates connected by family ties or by birth to the 195 members and observer states of the United Nations."

Reyes' expectation isn't that we know all of the issues, but that we represent ourselves and our nation.

I felt stupid and selfish for putting my feelings, passions and desires ahead of everyone else's needs.

I saw that they were looking for delegates and got really excited, partly because just a few weeks after giving birth to my second child, I was already looking for something to do for myself; I wanted a change of scene. And the acronym, "pUN"—yes, PUN, made me laugh. I wasn't sure what Reyes was trying to do, but clearly this "People's UN" was supposed to be multi-layered. I didn't give that too much thought at the time. I just wanted to do something different.

I had forgotten how relentless those first few months after giving birth are. And my reaction was not to sit with it—it was to dive into doing something completely different. I decided within seconds that I also really wanted to represent Ghana, not the UK, the place of my birth.

So I applied for the "post." And within days I received my acceptance email. I read it with a mixture of glee and fear. After all, what did I really know about Ghana? Or about the world?

But I started to feel like I hadn't thought things through and that I'd done something incredibly selfish. I'd applied for this thinking only about how exciting this would be for me. What about my children though? I'm still breastfeeding; would I be able to pump during the event? Then there was the guilt I felt about not being around to feed my son while I was participating. And what about my husband? I was literally leaving him with the babies. Plus, none of my "traditional" dresses fit me anymore because … well ... baby!

I felt like this was a big mistake. I was overwhelmed. I felt stupid and selfish for putting my feelings, passions and desires ahead of everyone else's needs.

But my girlfriends reassured me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with what I was doing; in fact, they were proud that I went for it. My big sister told me to stop worrying about not being any good and to just (and I quote) "ENJOY IT PLEASE!'

I just missed working. I missed doing something that didn't involve me calculating when my breasts needed to be ready for action.

Once I stopped my panic, I really thought about what made me go for it. And here it is: I missed working. Not work as it was before I had kids—being tethered to my phone for 24 hours and waiting for a news story doesn't do it for me anymore. I'll take the relentlessness of having kids over the relentlessness of reacting to every breaking news story any day. No, I just missed working. I missed doing something that didn't involve me calculating when my breasts, a.k.a. "the girls," needed to be ready for action or diapers or any of that important stuff. I missed connecting with people to discuss news, world politics and figuring out what we can do.

And then I started to think about what Reyes was trying to do. I couldn't get past that the acronym: "pUN." I read up on his work, and it became clear that what he's doing with the event I'm participating in is a pun of sorts in that he's exploring the pun behind the concept of the UN.

So this event really was something that appealed to my sense of humor and problem-solving ideals. It was a perfect fit for me after all!

It's true: In applying I was taking the opportunity to nurture that other part of my identity, the one that goes out and asks adults questions, observes and writes about the world. I also knew that this is probably as close as I'll ever get to fulfilling my childhood dream of working at the UN (ha!). But I see that I've stumbled into an amazing opportunity.

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And yes, I absolutely know I can change the world by raising strong, brave individuals in my kids; I'm doing that anyway. That said, I suspect I'll apply what I learn this weekend to my problem-solving challenges with my kids.

So, if you come to the Hammer this weekend, come by and say hello!

Image via Hammer Museum

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