For the past twenty plus years I have been a mother, but mothering was never a natural desire for me. When I was a child, I was never one of those kids that mothered all her dolls and counted down the days until I could grow up and have my own children. I was more worried about important things like when was my waist going to thin out like Barbie’s, or how were my tiny, floppy boobs going to turn into the majestic, perky, plastic mountains that Barbie sported?
When I was a teenager, I cooed over the adorable little tykes running around at church, but more because I wanted the religious boys to see what a good mother I would be. I figured that if they saw me playing with the kids, they would immediately see past my seventy extra pounds and the thick mustache that no wax could tame, and see their glorious future wife that would push their offspring from her loins (I tended to use those words because of too many journeys into my mother’s romance novels where everything was heaving bosoms and throbbing members).
So in my twenties I marry a phenomenal man who really has no interest in children or pets, but because I have sex with him, he tends to go along with my ideas. Even then I didn’t really feel the strong urge to have kids, but I needed an excuse to get out of all the socializing that comes from being an introvert married to an extrovert. I figured a baby was the perfect excuse…probably not the best reasoning now that I think about it.
Two daughters and many years later, it turns out that sometimes I was great at the mothering thing: I made my kids laugh, I kept them entertained, I taught them to potty on a toilet and not in their pants, and before preschool both my kids knew their ABC’s and could count, and I kept a decent amount of structure and discipline in their lives. But sometimes I sucked as a mom too: doing everything in my power to avoid chaperoning field trips (though I did get sucked into that vortex many times and have the permanent ache in my back from sleeping on the ground at the zoo to prove it), never volunteering in class unless the teacher trapped me, feeding my kids sugar and soda, yelling at my kids when my patience finally couldn’t take their back-talk anymore….trust me the list goes on and on. If you take the bad and the good, I’m fairly sure it evens out to an adequately decent parent.
My biggest challenge by far was my oldest daughter, Meghan. She was a mouth and an attitude from the very beginning, but what was cute at three-years-old was worrying at seven. By the later years, her defiance of everything we asked her to do was more than a red flag that something was going on, but cancer popped into her body at ten-years-old and the focus became all about getting rid of the mutating mass in the bone of her leg.
A year of direct treatment stopped the cancer. Most of that year was spent in a hospital room that would have been cramped with just the two of us, but was even more claustrophobic with another patient and their caretaker squeezed in also. It was a year of vomit, pain, fear, excruciating boredom and loneliness, and a constant worrying eye on test results that came out daily. In that year she lost twenty pounds, a femur, part of her tibia, her hearing, a normal functioning bladder, her short term memory and the potential for children when she was older. I lost my sense of security, my kindness, and my belief that most people were good and honest and physically clean.
Meghan enjoyed the year of cancer treatment because it meant all attention was on her. She told me later that she would willingly put up with all the negatives that came with treatment to be the center of attention again. I however, aged a decade in that year. I lost a year with my youngest child. I no longer laughed easily, though tears could spring at the slightest provocation. I didn’t believe in people anymore, which is ironic because people stepped forward in droves to help us, but somehow in my journey I lost my link to humankind. With all the community support and support from my husband and my friends, who were there at the slightest need, I still checked out of the circle of unity that binds people. Somehow with all the people around us, there was really only my handful of a daughter and me, in our own tiny half of a room in a hospital.
Once cancer was over, I discovered it never ends. The following two years were continual doctor’s appointments dealing with the after effects of the rigorous chemotherapy, and a few hospital stays for infections. In my exhaustion, I still noticed that my always difficult child was becoming more moody, and depressed. The fights became louder and had an edge of threatened violence to them. Fear began to seep into our lives. Fear that this developing teen could potentially harm herself, her sister or one of us.
We began therapy for our children about a year after treatment. We wanted the older one to see a therapist for her explosive behavior and to deal with the trauma of having had a life-threatening illness. We wanted our youngest to have treatment to deal with half of her family being gone for a year of her life, and for learning how to live with a sister that was always on the brink of an outburst.
A few years passed and Meghan became more unstable, ping-ponging from spittingly angry to morose, camping out in her darkened room surrounded by piles of filth. I would take an entire day and clean her room out while she was at school, but within a week it would be back to the unsanitary conditions that kept us from ever walking barefoot into her room. Finally, after a particularly long time spent isolated in her cave, my oldest child confided in me that she was contemplating suicide. We were on our way to the emergency room in ten minutes.
The mental health services in our small town are lacking, as evidenced by the director that visited with my daughter for ten minutes and declared her not suicidal, but was certain she had borderline personality disorder–the top of the charts in worst mental illnesses.
I took my child home and read up on borderline personality disorder and was dismayed to find that her future possibly held jail, drugs, homelessness, or death…there would be no happy ending. I sadly made an appointment with a psychiatrist in the nearest city to have my child officially diagnosed.
When we arrived at the psychiatrist’s office, we were at first greeted with an offensive office smell that was a mixture of mold and something undescribable. The psychiatrist himself appeared to be in need of therapy. His pastel polo shirt was so wrinkled that I had a suspicion that he had pulled it out of the dirty clothes basket. His pants had the same less than fresh appearance. I chose to ignore the weirdness of this office and doctor, and waited with bated breath as he determined my child’s mental illness by reading a checklist off his computer. This man went to school for ten years to diagnose a person by using a computer checklist.
As he read through the questions, my daughter answered truthfully yes or no and he would click the appropriate box. After maybe 40 questions were done, he clicked the diagnosis button and voila….she was Bipolar II, the less severe form of bipolar. So not only was my child not the worst form of mental illness, but she was quite far down the list in severity. I was furious at our local mental health director for putting me through so much anxiety!
We regularly saw psychiatrists for Meghan, but very quickly discovered they are eccentric creatures themselves. We had one that would make us wait an average of two hours for every appointment, and then would spend the hour we were allotted seemingly lost in speeches he was giving for himself, as his eyes would be closed the entire time and he would not check in with us to see if we were even paying attention. He loved his medicines though. He would prescribe her ones to make her stable, and then more meds to counter the side effects of the previous ones, and then meds to counter the side effects of the meds she took for side effects. I pulled the plug on this doctor after four or five visits. Eventually we found a very kind woman that connected with my daughter, and they still see each other currently.
I spent the next years shuffling kids back and forth, trying to keep my youngest daughter safe, while fighting agonizing battles with my oldest daughter. I was always tired, having completely lost sight of who I was. My whole life was cleaning up after kids, and feeding them, and I counted the moments until they were gone and I could have a life again.
I never really wanted to be a mom, and when I would give birth to these babies, I didn’t feel the immediate connection that I had heard of. I was winging it every day, and sometimes those kids were so funny, and some days they were such a pain in the ass. As my older daughter reached her late teen years I began to worry that because of her mental illness and the after-effects of the chemo, she would never leave our home and live a normal life. I despaired that we would be together forever, and that was a hell I didn’t know if I would survive. But then a funny thing happened…my daughter grew up.
Meghan was just turned nineteen and living with us in her hovel of a room. She put her resumes in all over town because she had quit her job at a fast food joint where she had worked for a year. Every day I ranted to my husband about what a ridiculous move that had been, but then miracle of all miracles…my daughter got a new job. Not just a job, a job in a medical office with full benefits and decent pay. Hallelujah! At least now she was out of the house for forty hours a week. But then another miracle happened…she found an apartment.
The town we live in is very expensive to live in, there are almost no rentals, and the few that there are are outrageously expensive, but somehow my daughter found a very nice apartment that she could afford as long as she was careful with her money. The day we got the news that she had been approved–with almost no credit–for the apartment, I danced like I hadn’t danced in years. I shouted with joy and laughed an almost insane laugh of delicious abandonment…my child was leaving the nest!
I helpfully supplied that child with boxes and marked the days off on the calendar until her ass was out of my house. Our fights got fewer and less intense because we knew our time together was coming to a close. When moving day arrived, I moved most of her belongings myself because I felt my husband was taking too long. I couldn’t wait for this kid to be on her own.
Another miracle occurred when my child that never left her room except to work, met a nice boy, and he really liked her. They were new and they were tentative, but they were excited to be together on this momentous occasion as she moved away from home. I was just thrilled that life was coming together for my kid…and it wouldn’t be at my house.
I bundled my child and her belongings together and deposited them at her new house. I spent a solid hour lecturing her on living alone and safety, surprised at worry that was beginning to creep into my consciousness. I would not be able to guarantee her safety anymore. I would not know if she got home safely from work. How would I know if she woke up on time to get to work? The worries came flooding in. How could I sleep at night if I didn’t know if this bratty child was okay?
I forced myself to go home, but instead of celebrating when I walked into that quiet, peaceful house, I noticed how empty it felt. Our home was missing someone, and it didn’t feel right.
I walked into her now empty room, in need of new carpeting and fresh paint, and a solid cleaning, and I felt empty too. This force of nature I had battled for nineteen years was gone, and had taken a piece of me that I didn’t know she possessed with her.
After dropping off my youngest child at school the next day, I found myself cruising past her work to assure myself that she was safe. Sure enough, her car was parked and she had made it to work on time. For the following week I drove by her work every day, and sometimes I would drive by her home, just to make sure that everything looked peaceful.
I made my peace with her departure, and those of us left at home reveled in the quiet that had become our life. I found that the previously harsh memories of my oldest daughter softened around the edges. Her and I had been bound together by her physical and emotional issues so closely and for so long, that there was a struggle to find my own self again.
I discovered my youngest daughter in the year that followed. I had always been her mother, but now my focus could be on her alone, and not only on trying to protect her from her older sister. To my delight, I found my youngest child to be funny, and incredibly intelligent, extraordinarily gifted artistically, and beautiful. I enjoyed the easy relationship we slipped into. But as she heads toward the end of her junior year at her early college high school, I begin to understand that my time with her is limited. She has goals and she is driven, and living at home is not on her list of things she plans on doing.
My oldest daughter is moving an hour away to a city with her boyfriend. She is transferring her job to a town mid-way between her new home and our town. She will be out of my stalking zone and I won’t be able to check on her regularly. She has become a solid adult, living a solid life and that is what I will hold onto.
So somehow, without trying or wanting to, I became a mother…a damn good mother. It is all I know; how to take care of these two young people, how to fight for them and with them, how to love them so much that I lay awake at night worrying about them. These two young women have consumed my soul and become a part of who I am, I am their mother. I have done my job well because each of these beautiful young women is working towards a successful life…so now what do I do?
I was asked what my favorite color was the other day, and you know what? I didn’t know the answer. Who am I? I was this young woman who had a baby so that she didn’t have to go to parties and somehow turned into a natural mother, but who will I be now? The possibilities seem endless and yet limited at the same time. I certainly never saw the direction the first half of my life went, so I guess I just have to hang on and see what the Universe has planned for my second half…