Yesterday in yoga, I got a gift. I didn’t ask for it; it came to me. The preceding evening, I posted on my facebook walls (GrassOil and my personal wall) that day’s events:
“So it has been a long day. Thing 3 bumped his head hard enough today in P.E. to warrant an ambulance ride to Inova Peds Unit, which I will happily leave all my money when I die, for multiple tests, including CT scan, xray and EKG. He was released around 1pm with a favorable & cautious prognosis: no sign of concussion, but no stunts either. An hour ago, I was hugging him, gratefully, and he said, in his dry way, “Mom, it’s late. You need to go now. Turn out my light and close my door.” I guess he’s better already.
The gift in yoga came from my teacher, who is also a fb friend and a physical, touchable friend offline, on the actual planet we share (I can’t go there: “IRL / in real life” – to me, this is all real life). She openly asked me how I was doing because she had read my status about Thing 3. Her knowing eyes bore through my façade of panache and I said, “OK, now.” She explained to the other yoginis (this class is awesome, populated with all manner of women in all walks of life) my status and then paused, with a knowing and loving glance at me to close with, “Molly is the mother of three boys. It’s a busy job.”
The women collectively, “ohhhh’d” at my experience, lovingly and without the fruitlessly competitive and dismissive, “been there done that” patronizing tone. They all visually hugged me and graced me with gentle smiles. With a small smile, I hugged them back and said, “Yes, I am a mom of three boys. I’m a lucky girl,” and I meant every syllable of it.
RANT: Being a word freak, I hate that “been there done that” and “it’s all good” response that people make automatically toward other peoples’ circumstances. It’s so dismissive and isolating. I want to say and believe that people mean no harm, but I have also say, that most people mean absolutely nothing when they say it. In fact, they’re saying, “I don’t care. Don’t tell me your problems because they’re not my problem.” In my personally invested mind I say, “No, actually, you haven’t ‘been there or done that’ because you’re not me. Your child is not my child. You are not in my shoes and it’s not ‘all good.’ The fear or sadness I felt then, even though things are OK now, have stripped a layer from my confidence; have stolen minutes from the restful sleep I will have in years to come. That my son had to experience a CT-scan which apparently can create conditions where 1:1,200 children can develop some form of cancer is not really… ‘been there done that’ for you unless you’re me and he’s yours. Granted the sun and TV can do the same thing, but that’s part of a regular existence. And that ‘it’s all good’ because he didn’t have a concussion is really not ‘all good.’ The kid was terrified of this gigantic machine, so don’t go dismissing me with your been there done that it’s all good garbage. It’s not that simple for me. I’m clearly still too close to this incident to be totally rational about “it’s all good.” May I never be too far from it. RANT OVER.
The gift was that my yoga teacher Saw Me. She gets me. She Knows What It’s Like.
That same day, I met with my therapist and she heard me recount this yoga experience and what happened with Thing 3. She wrote down something. I hate it when she does that. This post is the closest I’m likely going to come to a public indictment of my mother for her parenting style (which was very unique): she was a mix of Augusten Burrough’s mother in Running with Scissors; “All in the Family’s” Edith Bunker and “Roseanne”‘s Roseanne. My mother (who is still with us) suffered from some pretty heavy mental disorders (which were unknown about in the 1960s and 1970s) and her own mother’s parenting style. While those disorders and her history do not absolve her of her special brand of caregiving because many of her flaws were avoidable, they help me recognize that her particular style of childrearing was not because of anything I did (this is something that I’ve only recently begun to accept). As a result, my style of mothering has been to sorta ‘wing it’ in reverse from what she did. While I made it and am here, there are parts of my person that are woefully undernurtured and as such, I am attuned to feel exquisitely inadequate, perfectionistic, insecure, snarky and defensive about any error, real or imaginary, I manifest. To fight those urges requires vigilance. What’s even more ironic is that I am both at times gullible and distrustful, go figure.
So, when someone Gets Me or Gets You, regardless of your maternal status, it’s no small gift. They Get Us because they Too Have Lived. They know how hard we’ve worked to Just. Get. By.
I asked my therapist what she wrote down. She gladly told me: “She fears turning into her mother.” And that’s why she earns the big bucks. That concept is nothing new: I’m sure many women reading this very word right now are guilty of desperately hoping they are not like their mothers. I feel I’ve cornered the market on that sentiment, but I know in some ways I am very very similar to my mother. It’s the anger; anger from neglect as a child.
Then, what my therapist said to me was this: “You Are Not Your Mother.” I’ve suspected that but it doesn’t mean I’ve quit trying. Running a “how not to turn into your mother” crusade has an ugly underbelly: it’s all-out war against myself and my femininity. I am the only daughter in my family, and thus I am the most similar to my mother in my family. For me to win this war, I became my anti-mother: tough, hard, self-neglectful, realistic, honest and true, stable, openly self-critical and vigilant. Y’know what? It has been exhausting! My mother embraces her softness, almost exploits it at times and I’ve wrestled with it: I’ve considered softness, femininity to be a waste of time. This is wrong. So I had to reframe it.
We’re all overcompensating for something…
My war meant that I’m totally interested in health, exercise, laundry, cooking, playing with my kids and sorta neglecting mySelf. I don’t do the aforementioned with the intention that it pleases me, I do so in the spirit of service to my family because it was so lacking in the world where I grew up. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the efforts; my motivations are skewed. When I exercise, it’s to stay fit for my family because my mother never did. When I run myself ragged running errands it’s because my mother didn’t. When I show up somewhere 15 minutes early to pick-up my kids, it’s because my mother didn’t and sometimes she didn’t even show. Or when she did, she was altered. When I am self-reliant it’s because my mother wasn’t. The good news is that I’m finally am OK with what I’ve become despite it all. And since beginning therapy, I’ve learned to loosen up a bit on myself and allow myself to be OK with just being OK. I’m reading a book, The Emotionally Absent Mother: A Guide to Self-Healing and Getting the Love You Missed by Jasmin Lee Cori, which has been very helpful.
In keeping with the inadequacy theme, I posted someone else’s blog on my fb wall last night, “9 Quick Tips for Keeping Your Home Feeling Serene and Organized.” It wasn’t fiction. A friend from high school, a great gal whose two younger children are close in age to mine commented, “I need to work on #9” (making your bed). She and I went back and forth for a couple rounds because I sense we both share the same space of trying to figure this stuff out: that a mess in the house means the kids are having fun (really? that’s ok?); that dishes on the table mean the family has been fed (doesn’t it also mean lazy?); that an unmade bed means someone had somewhere safe to sleep (not that they’re getting back in it real soon?); that a dining room table covered with homework means minds are being challenged (not irresponsible from not cleaning up?)… OK whatever you say. (My inner anti-my-mother mother is cringing.) I’ve got to prepare for the cleaning ladies …
I grew up with a fair amount of chaos — our house was forever disheveled but for entirely different reasons than those cited above. My mother seldom cleaned the house, our cleaning lady, Betty Sortino, did. She was awesome. She had tobaccoffee breath, jiggled her leg to rock me to sleep on my bed, shared her Hershey’s bars with me, read me bedtime stories and taught me lyrics to “I Shot the Sheriff.” So, the optimistic proposal of a messy home being a happy home leaves me twisting my neck like a confused labrador retriever unless Hershey bar wrappers and Clapton are part of the picture.
Like me, my friend is a Stay At Home Mother (SAHM), which is a misnomer if I ever heard one. I am not a stay at home mother. We are a collective runerrands keeptheenginerunning dashinforasecond todropsomething offgoingtothemarket thekidsforgottheirhomework canicallyouback inanhour gottatakethekidstochess tennissoccerbasketballguitar orthodontistfillthetank dogneedsshots sodothecats gethimtotutoringgottagotothedoctor –oh yeah, what about lunch and a potty break for me?– mother.
On the FB thread, my friend said someone she knows suggested that we SAHMs treat our SAHM-ness as a job: that we shower, dress as though for work, do our hair and apply make-up and all the rest, so that we will see our domestic experiences as … Oh God, what is this the frigging 1950s?! Someone finish this sentence! I am stumped! Can this be true – a female recommended this?! I guess we’re supposed to do even more to somehow bring more vapid value in what we’re doing to look good when we’re doing it even though we may be miserable or lost or battling the feeling that what we’re doing is not good enough. Hey, ladies, if you’re gonna go to war with yourself, don’tcha wanna look great?! So the take-away is to lie: to look like we’ve been at the office all day even though we’re not bringing in any extra money because clearly staying in our yoga pants with crazy hair in a ponytail is unacceptable. People can get fired for that. My friend, like me, also tries to get her exercise in so any attempt at that means the hair and make-up has to wait and exercise for me happens when I make it because I’m not totally organized (in that way, I’m a carbon copy of my mom).
I said to my friend, “I don’t garden, clean, fold laundry, drive all over and workout in pleated khakis and pearls and a double-breasted jacket or workout in Anne Taylor” so, um, her friend’s well-intentioned (and completely unrealistic) advice made me feel even more inadequate. I can’t imagine a bigger waste of emotional energy, time and effort than to dress for success when you’re just gonna go to the grocery store (although living in Fairfax County, I must admit I’ve seen it). Maybe I’m wrong.
I added that there are those of us who like to be with kids and are super domestic and eagerly play “tea party” or “army men” under the dining room table with the kiddos. As much as I love those -moments- I’ll be honest: I never aspired to engage in them. Does that make me a bad mother? I don’t know. I’m a big believer in a child’s need to develop “independent play” as well as group play and by golly, if I’m gonna be playing, it better involve dice, cards and tokens and cash not tea cups, teddy bears or army men and sandboxes.
A couple years ago I clipped a Daily OM meditation for the day called “Tending the Hearth.” It quells my nerves and helps me remember that what I’m doing –even if the house is a mess and the clothes are clean but not always put away– is of value. It puts the brakes on my inner argument that I’m inadequate for the five minutes after I read it until something breaks or crashes and snaps me back to first-responder reality.
A joke my friend once told me: “I was a great parent before I had children.”
Motherhood, parenthood, whateverhood is tough, regardless of your circumstances. Granted, I’m not a mother in Africa suffering from famine or disease, but stress is stress is stress. I’m not diminishing my stress if I honor the stress of my sisters in Africa. Even though I like my first-world existence, I’m not so sure an African mother would want my problems. Wayne Dyer once said, “you can never make anyone richer by making yourself poorer.” I dig that; that’s why I haven’t given everything away.
When you are a parent, your unrivaled unbridled love for your brood can only be equalled by the same degree of protection of your sanity and your precious wisftul recollections of the life you had Before Children. Nothing makes a mother or father crave the life they had Before Children than the screaming fights and unrelenting repetitive verbal waterboarding of an insistent 11-year-old child feigning illness and fever who wants to stay home from school because a test is on that day’s docket.Nothing will make you second guess your decision to not put whiskey in your morning coffee sooner.
So am I a perfect mother? Hell no. But I’m trying to be less-than perfect. I’m figuring out that I’m doing OK and that book I mentioned above is telling me where I’m screwing up because I see where I’m repeating patterns I learned and observed. I’ve also learned to appreciate the parts of my mom that are good because if I don’t figure out some good things about her, I’m sorta screwing myself because I am 50% her…. I’ve become better about liking pink but I’m not a girly-girl and that’s totally OK.
No one’s asking for advice, so I’ll tell you what works for me: tend the sadness and sorrow from your childhood, allow it because it can’t get better unless you honor it; don’t dwell, but don’t bury it. But if you’re a parent, stay aware. Read books, blogs (here’s a blog, sorta sad, but it’s clinical about unattentive parents) and learn. Your kids will forgive you if you ask and honor on your commitment to them to make it up to them. They won’t however, ever trust you if you lie to them about it. Remember: their big brains have a ton of bandwidth and they’ve got memories like little elephants. Do the best you can and be the best you can be. Put aside your fears of your inadequacies and remember you can learn a lot from your kids if you let yourself hear them.
Kids didn’t ask to be born into our baggage, our inner wrestlings and inner battles. They didn’t say to God (or whatever you believe in), “Hey, gimme that really awesome person down there. Yeah, the one in the Porsche. She looks like she’s had no troubles or sadness. Oh, a person without disappointment, sadness or troubles doesn’t exist? Oh. Well, how about that one? She looks soft.” So by virtue of that, we must do our utter best by our children. We must put down the phone, step away from the computer, be patient, be clear, be honest, express our needs, put down the drink, slow down the car, get out of bed, smile when we speak to them and be that person they know we can be. Be that person they need us to be.
If your person wasn’t there for you to begin with, become the person You’ve Been Waiting For.