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Posts Tagged ‘motherhood’

“You.”

20 Nov

This afternoon, as my middle child was having her violin lesson, my youngest and I hung out in the backyard with the dog, enjoying the weather that has finally begun to succumb to the truth that it is now Fall. She was playing on our playset, the dog was laying on his back chewing a huge stick, and I was seated on the patio engrossed in the final chapters of a novel. I just wanted to sit and read, enjoy the cool breeze and dying light. Escape. But my daughter, as always, had other plans. She wanted to talk, tell stories, engage me in childish inanity that I find difficult to properly process when I am not feeling my sharpest. And I am not, definitely not, feeling my sharpest these days.

Call it a midlife crisis – though I hope to live past the age of 84. Call it depression, or regret, or just a general malaise. I have always been one to do a lot of thinking, as my brain is this ever-churning machine, that howls when I wish for quiet. But these days, what I mostly do is doubt. How did I come to this life? Not just this particular point in life, but *this* life? I realize that this path has been cut mostly by my own decisions, some of them good, some of them bad. Mostly they were mine, but not all. Sometimes people make decisions for you by default, their actions taking away the options you wished or meant to pursue. You can’t control that. But sometimes even my own decisions feel foreign to me. And I wonder who the hell this is living my life. This isn’t who I meant to be. Who I wanted to be. Things are not turning out as I planned. And I am lost. So I doubt. What was the point of all that education when you don’t apply it? What is the point of loving people who don’t love you back? What is the point of exercising when you’d rather eat? What is the point of cleaning the house when no one except you ever sees it? What is the point of being kind to people who don’t appreciate your efforts? What is the point of taking care of everyone else when no one takes care of you?

How did I get here? Can I escape? And where would I rather be?

Back to the backyard…

She is stinking’ cute, this baby of mine. So sweet. And I realize this is fleeting, her desire to know my every thought, to even have my input. So, as much as I wish to disengage, to disappear in this moment, I force myself to close my book, and attempt to open my mind to her. To not just catch hold of this ephemeral moment, but honor it with my mental presence. She is skipping along the paving stones at the end of the patio, a few feet away from where I’m sitting. I’m a bit ashamed to say that I don’t even recall what it was that she was saying that caused me to present this query, but it was some fanciful story, twisting and turning, into an imagined future. I found myself asking her, “And what do you want to be?” I don’t know what I was expecting her to say, but it wasn’t this. She hesitated for only the briefest second, her hand coming up to her chin in a thinker’s pose, before turning to look me right in the eye, and respond, “You.”

I had to grab her quickly, and pull her into an embrace, bury my head against her hair, so she didn’t see the tears that instantaneously flooded my eyes. Because this wild, magical creature, this innocent child who still truly believes in Santa Claus, this baby so sweet her nickname is “Smoochie”, thinks I’m special. And it broke me to realize that. She doesn’t see me as I see myself. She doesn’t know my regrets, my disappointments, my fear, my sadness. She doesn’t know my loneliness. She sees me as strong, and capable. As kind and loving and thoughtful. She appreciates me. Flawed, broken, doubt-filled me. She knows my love, my protection. She knows my silliness. And she loves what she sees so much she wants to be me. Hell, most days I don’t even want to be me. But she doesn’t wonder why her mother who has a law degree is staying home, and working part-time as a substitute teacher, she just wants to be a substitute teacher when she grows up. She doesn’t know that I’m always tired because I hardly ever sleep well, she just knows that she is safe in her bed at night, and that her lunch box gets packed, her permission slips get signed, and her karate uniform is always clean. She doesn’t know that I worry about money, because I want her to have everything she wants, as well as needs, she just knows that her adventure-loving mom will take her to Maine in the summer, and there will be plenty of food to eat and appropriate clothes to wear.

She doesn’t need to see me any differently. But I do. I need to try more often to see myself from her point of view. Because to her I am enough. Because for all my doubts, for all my mistakes, for the missteps, the bad decisions, the moments and people that have turned into regrets, there are three things I did perfectly and wonderfully right. And while I might not have turned out to be the person I wanted to be, they still might. And they need a mother with passion, who fights for them, and teaches them the fine art of sarcasm. One who throws them My Little Pony birthday parties, and who takes away their electronics when they make bad decisions. They need a mother who reads, to them and around them. One who makes mistakes, and shows them how hard, but also how necessary it is, to genuinely apologize. They need a mother who shares their interests, and celebrates their triumphs, but doesn’t let them believe they are the center of the universe.

They need me. Flawed, broken, doubt-filled me.

And in *this* life, I have three amazing children, who look to me for everything. And it took the baby of the group to remind me that for all the myriad things I get wrong, I sometimes get this part exactly right. And in that moment, I found that I really do want to be me.

 

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Who am I?

14 Nov

Here’s the honest truth: I hate being a grown-up. Hate it. I mean, sure, it’s cool eating cake whenever you want, and staying up past your bedtime watching inappropriate television shows and movies. And sometimes it’s fun to be in charge. “Because I said so” is a powerful phrase. But overall? Being a grown-up is overrated. And I hate it. Nay, loathe it. With the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. Being in charge means being responsible. For everything. Suffering consequences when you get it wrong. Paying bills. Being judged for things outside of your control. Saying no when you want to say yes. Saying yes when you want to say no.

Lately it feels like my life is going a bit off the rails. I won’t go into specifics, but I’m a big control freak. I willingly admit it. A huge control freak. And control is something that is completely absent from my life right now. I’m flailing. And failing. And because I’m an adult, those failures matter. There is no final exam to raise my grade point average. There is no second, third, or fourth up to bat to raise my average. This is it. Life. Real life. Not childhood, where you were taken care of. Not even college, where mistakes were mostly made in a safe environment. But real life. Being a grown-up. Decisions have to be made. Consequences have to be weathered. Children have to be raised lovingly and mindfully. Houses have to be maintained and repaired skillfully. Mortgages have to be re-financed shrewedly. Dogs have to be trained effectively. Yet, somehow, along the way, you aren’t supposed to lose yourself. You aren’t supposed to forget who you are, even in the face of walking the dog, packing lunches, signing field trip permission slips, paying the handyman, making sure everyone is wearing the right outfit for school Spirit Week, making sure the right outfit for Spirit Week is clean and available even though the only t-shirt that will possibly do was worn just two days ago and/or was left at Dad’s house, keeping full toilet paper rolls in the bathrooms, remembering shoe sizes, changing the bedding in the hamster habitat, RSVPing to parties, buying and wrapping birthday presents, soliciting and accounting for Boosterthon pledges, making waffles, helping with long division, reading aloud at bedtime, making nutritious dinners that will only be picked at, picking up dog poop in the yard,  trimming fingernails, having the proper school supplies on hand, sorting Legos, loading and unloading the dishwasher x10, cleaning and folding laundry x20, soothing skinned knees, soothing hurt feelings, mediating sibling disputes, standing firm on discipline even when the consequence ends up shooting you in the foot, grocery shopping so there is always microwave popcorn, cereal, and milk on hand, making sure the classroom stock of allergen-free snacks is kept up so your child is never left out of a birthday celebration at school, buying teacher gifts, reading teachers’ e-mails, attending school events, chaperoning field trips, vacuuming, dealing with the stress of being a tactile person who is affection-starved, cleaning up after a kid wets the bed, telling the children to stop shouting I’m only inches away from you, and approximately 800 million other things that must be done on a daily basis. In the face of all that. Who am I? Who the hell knows. A mom, I guess. That’s what I am. And some days that feels like all I am.

But I know that’s not true. And I chafe against it. But please don’t misconstrue. I’m not whining. I hate sounding, or being perceived as whiny. Almost as much as I hate being a grown-up. After all, on the balance, I have a really good life. I have wonderful kids who are, other than a few allergy issues, really healthy and active. They are bright and funny, and when they remember their manners, respectful. They shine. Their dad is wonderful, fully involved, and a really good friend to me. So my complaints may sound trivial. But they’re not. Because “Who am I?” is a pretty fundamental question. Am I just a mom? If that’s my only marker for identity, then I feel like I am failing miserably. Sure, I have my good days. And some times, like when I am rocking out in the minivan with my 8 year old, singing Taylor Swift songs at the top of my voice, and dancing in my seat without giving a single thought to how crazy I look to the other drivers, that’s a time when I’m getting it exactly right. But I raise my voice. A lot. I lose my patience. Often. I am sarcastic. I am strict. I am hard on my children because I know they are exceptional, and I expect them to live up to that potential. Sometimes I forget that they are just kids. Kids who need to make mistakes and learn things the hard way. Kids who need to be treated not as the young adults I would like them to become, but the awesome kids they are now. Am I a writer? Hardly. This is it. Right here, right now, the sum total of everything I’ve written in the past four months or so. Do I still hear the voices of characters in my head? Yes. Absolutely. Am I doing anything at all to give them their freedom? I’d say that’s a resounding yes, but that sounds like effort, and clearly I’m too lazy for that. I no longer run because my knee pain is too pervasive. I don’t see my family as often as I should considering we all live in the same city. My house is an absolute wreck, and there is really no excuse for that considering I only substitute teach 1-3 days a week. I feel like I am constantly spinning my wheels, but getting absolutely nowhere at all. It’s hard for someone like me. Someone who likes to check things off the list. Someone who likes to see tangible forward progress. Someone who is desperate to be in control.

Phew! I actually feel a little better. Just for having said the words. For naming my disappointment. My challenge. Besides, I don’t have any more time to complain. I have to gather my kids’ things for the weekend, transfer the clothes from the washer to the dryer, and give the hypoallergenic dog that absurdly has allergies his Benadryl.

I may not be any closer to figuring out who I am, but I’d like it noted for the record that I still hate being a grown-up…

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Unemployed

18 Sep

Approximately a month ago my sense of self got on a bus, and without so much as even a single glance over her shoulder, rode away from me. She was wearing a hand-me-down kindergarten t-shirt (courtesy of her older sister) and sparkly purple Tom’s on her feet (courtesy of her father who is far more style conscious than me). She was happy, proud, and confident. And when those school bus doors opened, she untethered gracefully, and floated away. No tears, no hesitation, no complications. And then she was gone. For 7 blessed hours. Gone. And I was alone. For 7 blessed hours. No tears, no hesitation, no complications. In fact, I was rather pleased…

 

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But that was a month ago, and since then my feelings have become a bit complicated. Something for which I was wholly unprepared. For the past 9 years I have been a stay-at-home mom. A ridiculous appellation since I am almost never at home. Especially for the past two years when that littlest one, the one who didn’t even say goodbye, much less cling fearfully to my leg, as she trotted off to kindergarten last month, was in preschool approximately 25 miles away from our home. For nine years I have had a full-time job that required being on call 24 hours, including hands-on duties for all the waking ones. And while the job hasn’t ended, the parameters have changed significantly. Now, all three of my children are in school together. I have a 3rd grader, a 2nd grader, and a kindergartener. And I am super blessed that they all attend the same K-8 school, therefore riding the same school bus. I was overjoyed to watch that school bus pull away for many reasons. Full days with no kids? Now I can go grocery-shopping alone! (It’s intoxicating to take time to consider choices in the dairy aisle, or better yet, the beer aisle.) Now I can nap in the middle of the day! Now I can spend hours reading! Now I can go to a matinee movie! Now I can watch hours of inappropriate-for-children television in the middle of the day! (Whoever it was that recommended Sherlock is my new best friend.) Now I can deep clean my house! (Well, that one hasn’t happened yet, but it could.) Now I can spend as much or as little time at the gym as I want! (Because I’m not just killing time between preschool drop-off and pick-up.) Now I can do whatever the heck I want!! Seemed an intoxicating prospect. And it was. For approximately a day, or maybe two. Until the guilt and doubt began to filter in past my defenses. Shouldn’t I be doing something? Volunteering? Cooking a weeks worth of meals in one go? Writing the next great American novel? Working part-time at Target? Shouldn’t I be doing something? I tried to stave it off, reasoning with the encroaching guilt and ennui by saying, “Hey! I spent 9 years in the trenches, I deserve a little leave time. I deserve to lay on my couch eating bon-bons if I so desire.” Which I don’t, but isn’t that what women of leisure in novels do? And from time to time it works. I hold the guilt at bay. I enjoy back-to-back episodes of tv shows I missed on Amazon Instant Video. I catch a matinee movie. I enjoy a leisurely lunch with a friend. Though always with my phone turned on, ringer volume up, because like I said, the job isn’t over, and I’m still on call 24/7. But sometimes, it gets the better of me. The guilt. The doubt. The confusion. The hollowness that used to be a very full sense of self.

Anyone who knows me, and I dare say anyone who reads this blog, could probably tell that I am *not* one of those moms who lives exclusively for and through her children. I love them, yes. I would lay down in front of a train for them, yes. We have amazing adventures together, yes. They are the best thing I’ve ever done, and will ever do, yes. But I’ve never been the kind of mom who derives her self-worth from her children. I don’t helicopter. I frequently tell them to leave me alone. And occasionally I even secretly rejoice, or internally whisper “I told you so”, when they fail at something because they didn’t listen to me, and the hardest lessons learned are sometimes the best. And that’s why this malaise that has settled so heavily over me in the past month is so damn confusing. I am ecstatic that they are all in school! I have a freedom that is almost a decade in the making! And yet… and yet. I’ve heard it said that after a long incarceration former prisoners have difficulty integrating into society. And while I am not having thoughts a la Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption, I do kind of understand the shock of not knowing your role. I feel like I’ve gone off script here, and my day time hours are now one long ad lib, a kind of improv in which I am seeking suggestions from the audience. I still do not derive my self-worth from my children, but it’s amazing to me how much of my sense of self I was deriving from my role as their mother. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be now. At least not from the hours of 8am-3pm.

The truth is, I need a job. Or, rather, to be more accurate, I need income. Not like I need a job to give me something to do to fill my hours, and exercise my once fully-functioning and decently impressive brain (though I suppose I kind of do, and would probably really, really enjoy it). I mean I need someone to pay me. I need money coming in, not just pouring out. But I don’t want a job; I want a unicorn. An employment opportunity that pays decently, uses at least a reasonable percentage of my brain power, and gives me the flexibility to chaperone my kids’ field trips, stay home with sick ones when necessary, or pick up at a moment’s notice whichever one of my puke-prone kids landed themselves in the nurses’s office this time. And from time to time I want to watch Sherlock, damn it! I want to read a whole book in a day! But that’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Again the guilt comes crashing down, because there are plenty of full-time working parents out there, parents I respect greatly, and they make it work. They take their own vacation time or sick days, they shuffle logistics, they make it happen. It just hasn’t been my reality. I’ve been able to drop everything, and tend to my children without having to concern myself with others’ schedules or expectations of me. And I’ve loved that job. But the pay stinks; sadly, love and appreciation doesn’t pay the mortgage. And while I suppose I could activate the currently inactive Florida Bar membership (of the legal, not drinking variety), I can’t afford to grind 50+ hours a week for pay that would barely cover the supplemental childcare costs. Nor do I want to. I want to be there for my kids. I need to earn some money. I want to enjoy a little time off. And in this stew of conflicting needs and desires I’m having difficulty integrating into society.

Who am I now? I’m still me. The same person I was the day before my youngest child joined her older brother and sister on the school bus. Neurotic, emotional, funny, passionate me. But to be honest, now I feel lazy. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I revel in that. Laziness can be an art form. But sometimes it disgusts me. And I’m torn. I need a job. I don’t want a job. I want a job. I don’t know how to get a job. I want to occasionally volunteer at my kids’ school. I want to occasionally chaperone field trips. But let’s get back to that part about me needing income. Sigh. Who am I now? I guess I’m unemployed. I’m an unemployed stay-at-home mom.

And the irony of expressing these feelings today? I’m writing this while I’m sitting in the waiting room of an orthodontist’s office while my oldest child gets braces. During a 2 hour appointment. Good thing I’m still unemployed.

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© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim