There is one saying in life that couldn’t be any more profoundly true: Life changes after Parenthood.
A thousand people will tell you this leading up to the birth of your first, but there is no way to prepare yourself for just HOW much better life is as a parent. It’s as if there is a magical switch that is forever flipped the instant you hold that new life in your arms. Nothing else remotely compares…. something 20-something racing me- who lived life just a quarter-mile at a time could never have fathomed.
I always knew I wanted my own family. It was something I had figured would happen after I had accomplished what I set out to do in the racing world, pausing my career long enough to put a play-pen in a toterhome someday and live out the racing family lifestyle. But life never goes as planned, and I nearly lost all of that with some health issues during the onset of the recession, around the time that the racing project also came to a screeching halt.
By grace of God, I was able to overcome all of that, and was blessed with a beautiful son in January 2013. The past two and a half years have been some of the most amazing and rewarding of my life, watching him grow and prosper. The most intrinsic of virtues, the maternal instinct, is a powerful force that completely changes your entire life, your thought process, and your entire being. My son is the center of my universe, and the most important thing on the planet to me.
But somewhere buried deep, beyond the dirty diapers, the first words (it was Dah-Dah, darn it) the first steps and all of the memories I will cherish forever, a part of my heart was in there wondering where the rest of me disappeared to, and longed to row through some gears and pull that chute lever again. I felt conflicted, guilty and ashamed. Because suddenly MOM-Erica had completely replaced cool Racing/Driven/Adventurous Erica without a trace, and despite the joy my son brings me, I felt the void where that a part of me was lost.
Then, I read an article on CNN written by another mother that suddenly made me aware of what I was going through inside. The piece was titled “I am more than a Mom”, and it was an honest and candid confession of some of the very feelings that I was experiencing, only for me they were about racing.
Racing after Motherhood: Racing Mom
Before my son arrived, racing after motherhood wasn’t a question of IF, it was a matter of WHEN. I naively believed that life could carry on much as it was; only there would be an awesome future crew chief around to train and share my racing love with. I envisioned my son being the future generation of my own racing dynasty, and I was eager for him to be proud of his way-fast racing Mama. I never really understood why racing mom’s would disappear suddenly- and sometimes completely- from the driver’s seat after childbirth. Of course, until that fateful day.
Once he arrived, I realized that my racing family dream was much easier in theory than my no-sleep having, 8-weeks recovery to walk, clueless new-motherhood self would have imagined. During those first few months, I had a hard time thinking about what day of the week it was, much less the depth of the dish on the pistons I needed to order for the racecar. Really, the first year and half were: ‘What Racecar?’
But, eventually that part of my heart that stayed lost in the shadows would begin to rev its little engine again. At first, it was just a short blip of the throttle. But by the time my son was getting old enough to start really taking an interest in cars (he could point out a Mustang on any road before he was two- and often by just the exhaust sound) that revving had become more of a sustained redline BRAP- sitting on the limiter waiting to launch.
But You’re a MOM Now
I will never forget the first time I mentioned to family that I wanted to start putting the Horsepower & Heels Racecar back together. They looked at me with shock and a bit of disgust, telling me “But Erica, you are a MOM now. What about Beni?” I instantly felt very ashamed. I love my son more than anything, but I felt like I shouldn’t have to abandon everything about who I was in order to be his Mom. I know a lot of people will think it’s selfish, but after reading that article and really thinking about it, I want my son to know his fearless, strong and capable Racing Mom.
I know that racing is dangerous. Believe me, before my son, I would have driven ANYTHING- on fire, sideways, and at 300+mph if you’d let me. The very difficult realization you have when another life depends on you for their survival, is that the danger becomes very real. Suddenly, the thought of jumping into a 230+mph Pro Mod has some difficult depth to it- if something were to happen, it’s not just me I’m hurting.
And just like that I understood… I finally saw the reasoning, whether spoken or not, why some women disappeared from the racing world after motherhood. In all that I do to advocate Women in Racing, one subject I never could predict would be how differently parenthood affects women. It’s a subject that I’ve just started to scratch the surface on recently (ladies, send me your comments!). I’ve watched with interest how it affects women in our sport, and the impact to their careers. Ashley Force, at the height of her career, announced her pregnancy and has remained semi-retired since. Other ladies seem to balance their motherly duties and racing with no issues. NHRA Funny Car driver, Alexis DeJoria, summed it up well:
There are a lot of female racers out there that are moms. Shirley was a mom when she started; Shelly Payne has kids, and she raced for a long time. I think it really depends on the team you’re with and the lifestyle you live. The Kalitta organization is very welcoming. They all have kids and I felt really comfortable bringing my daughter over. As long as you can find the balance, it’s not an issue. When you’re home, you’re with your children, and when you’re at the track it’s all about racing and focusing on getting down the track safely and successfully. It’s not easy, but as long as you can find that balance, it’s definitely doable.”
More than Just a Mom
All of this led me to question the core of the issue mentioned in the article. For women, parenthood changes their priorities, their presence in the workforce, their identity. A book I read discussed in depth about how women’s paths in the corporate world are often dictated by their choices in procreation, and how much futher behind in the corporate ladder a mother lags behind her non-child bearing coworkers or more simply- her male counterparts.
This led me to think about my racing counterparts. Many of my racing competitors are fathers as well. But when their children are born, does the same guilt and shame get assigned for wanting to continue in their passions? I am sure they too view racing a little differently once they first hold their offspring in their arms, but where is the judgement for their decisions?
I weighed heavily on the pros and cons of returning to racing. Tears would come to my eyes thinking of my son’s life if anything were to happen to me. But then, this EXACT feeling would surface when crossing the Sunshine Skyway bridge in the rain, or in a close-call while riding my bike, and I realized, I can’t predict or protect him from LIFE happening.
Post-Partum Racing Mom
If anything, racing for me post-partum has been a more mature, more deliberate approach. My reckless youth aside, I am much more mindful of the balance of life now more than ever. Where I would cast aside so much of life to pursue racing before- at all costs, I understand now the value and importance of family first, and feel more grounded and steady than ever before. It’s a slower process, but it is also one that is safer, more humbled, and definitely more appreciated than before.
Although the days of me taking that one-way ticket, on-fire, sideways and at over 300+mph are over, there is much to be said for the new me: a Multi-tasking, patient, deliberate, able to go through 26 hours of labor, compassionate, protective, FIERCE RACING MOM.
My son asked just a few weeks after his second birthday if he could have a racecar of his own. When I announced my return, he can spot his Mama’s racecar rendering online. He races die-cast Mustangs all across the living room. He rides a strider Harley Davidson just like his Mama and Daddy. The apple doesn’t ever fall far from the tree. Proof positive, you can leave the racing, but the racing never really leaves YOU. It’s in your blood, and in your heart, (and apparently in the genes now). I’m just picking up where I left off, and preparing for the day when it’s HIS turn to show Mom what he’s learned.
To all my racing parents, past and present competitors…. how has parenthood changed YOU? Let’s hear it below in the comments!