Today has been a hard day for me as a mother. The fact of the matter is, today started with last night, and last night was awful. I could rattle off all the various crazy behaviors that were flying at me at high speed over the last eighteen hours, but really what I want to talk about is this: I don't want today to be about all the different behavior that drove me crazy and made me feel like I was inadequate and scary and mean. I want to talk about how I want to be as a mother and how that affects me when I fail to be the mother that I want to be.
I often look at my children and see just how amazing and wonderful and completely unique they are, but I also feel tight, like there just isn't enough room for all the different emotions that having children brings up.
I had a son twelve years ago when I was a junior in high school. I was seventeen years old and my mom had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, we had never personally known anyone that had survived breast cancer, at least that we knew of. I learned that I was pregnant a month after my ex-boyfriend had moved to Southern California to go to college. Looking at that strange little stick, I was scared and in shock. None of it really sunk in and despite all logic, I felt like it would go away on its own. But it didn't and a few days after I found out, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Everyone was watching. Everyone was scared. No one seemed to know what was happening or when it would stop. I went home from school numb and silent. I walked into the house and saw my dad sitting on the couch, watching the news. We exchanged a few words; something along the lines of “Have you seen this? Do you know what's going on?” and then I went into my room and didn't come out until dinner. I don't remember any of the rest of that day. The next day I went to school and I made my usual stop, which was the classroom of my favorite teacher. Being an English teacher it seemed perfectly natural that he had always known quite a bit more about me than almost anyone else through our class journals and essays. In the end, I classically self-destructed and destroyed our friendship, but on that morning so many years ago, when I saw his face I burst into tears and told him my secret. At that point, I was only a couple months pregnant and I'm sure he didn't know what I was planning to do. I don't remember if he asked me. All I remember is him letting me sleep in his classroom during lunch and the way he made me feel safe and guarded, sometimes quite literally. Honestly that was something I had never and would never feel again in my teenage life.
Somehow I managed to keep my secret for another two months and then told my closest friends. At that point, I was beginning to show and I had decided not to have an abortion and up until I was seven months pregnant I really thought I was going to keep my baby. But in February of that year I woke up to a wail and my mom's footsteps pounding down the hallway to the kitchen. I could hear her sobbing and my dad trying to understand what she was saying to him. I came out of my room and saw them hugging each other, both of them crying. My dad looked up at me and said, "Your mom found a lump.”
Around that time, one of my friends told my parents that I was pregnant. Unable to take the opportunity to come clean and help myself and my baby, I vehemently denied it. I don't know why. I think my brain just shut down. When I was seven months pregnant, I was nauseous and feeling faint. My parents brought me home from church, I went to my room and a few minutes later my mom came in.
"Kristine, are you pregnant?”
I started to cry.
There was a flurry of activity after that. My mom and my oldest sister both helped me to get to the doctor and do tests and consider my options. I spoke with church leaders and eventually I spoke to my ex. I hated that part. In the end, I gave my son up for adoption. I've talked about this before. That experience left a pit in my chest. It made me desperate.
When I finally became a mother again, I knew I had made a mistake I could never reconcile with my first child. For me, it was a mistake. I'm not sure I'll ever know if it was a mistake for him or not. I suspect that it can't be either because it just is. He didn't have a choice. He was so small. Now that boy is twelve years old. There's no real point in trying to guess what life would have been like or what I would have been if I had kept my son. I do know that I am a good mother now even when I make heartbreaking mistakes with my children. I want to be the kind of mother that can see her children; really see them. I want to be the kind of mother that sustains them and makes them want Life. I want them to experience life and understand how beautiful it is and how horrible it is, too. I want them to know that they can make the world a brighter, more beautiful place or a more desperate and sad place, depending on their own outlook and actions. I hope they don't make the same mistakes that I did, but I know that they will make mistakes. I know that they'll regret parts of their lives and that some of their lives will be painful. I know that I will be a source of pain in their lives and that they'll go through their memories and pinpoint all those little moments with me that led to some of their insecurities about themselves. For that, I am so sorry. I hope that I can be a strong mother and provide both my children ample reasons to love themselves and be proud of who they are.
Today I feel like I failed. Hard. I could only see them as behavior, as things that needed to be corralled.
Today I am grateful for the man I married. He is so unlike any man I've have ever known before. Sometimes it almost feels like a fluke that we’re even married. I'm not really sure how it happened, it was so fast. It's strange to think that such an important decision can be made so quickly and have such positive results. The man I married came home from work today saw my face, saw how drained I was and without hesitation rallied the kids, redressed them and took them to the park. I married a man that is giving, kind, persevering, intelligent, calm, adventurous, and patient. On a day when I know I have not been a good mother I am so grateful to know that my children have a good father. I am so grateful to him for being there for me like no one else ever has been, for helping me to become a mother again, for helping me be the mother I want to be, and for being my most loyal friend and partner. There are so many moments in my life that did not end well and left me scarred and heartbroken, but I am grateful for him, my husband, and that little part of me that somehow knew to say "Yes."