I miss my mother today. She has been gone for nearly twenty six years and, though I think of her fairly regularly, I don’t often miss her anymore. The truth is I don’t have the faintest idea what our relationship might be like if she were still alive. Complicated I’m sure. I don’t even know why I miss her right now. What I do know is that I had the most visceral need to talk with her this morning.
The last few weeks have been emotionally and physically arduous. Between the cold germs riding rough shod through our home, a fall on the ice, an outbreak of the shingles, the winter weariness that always seems to set in around the ides of February, and a series of bizarre dreams rife with indignant rage, I feel sort of wrung out. Underlying all of these issues is my need for solitude, which, countered by the incessant chattering/screaming/whining/pleading/crying of the fruit of my womb, borders on a desperation. My mind feels battered. I can’t hold a sustained thought, or complete a sentence, or…what was I saying? I read a book when I was about thirteen about a woman who suffered a nervous breakdown and underwent treatment in a psychiatric ward. It was an odd choice of reading material, I know, but my mom was the office manager at the local Women’s Resource Center and in the lobby there were a several shelves stocked with a healthy dose of feminist literature. I remember neither the title nor the author. I don’t remember much from the book really, except one line in which the protagonist described the electric shock treatments she underwent. Icy winter elephants trumpet down drainpipes and shatter crystal thoughts. I’m not sure why this line stuck with me. The imagery jangles the nerves. That’s sometimes how I feel, especially round about 5:00 p.m. on any given day. It’s the witching hour at our house, when my kidlets are just tired enough and hungry enough to find fault with the entire universe and clamoring for attention or a sugar fix. Dear Hubby walks in the door at this time of day too, which causes Bear and Goose to reach new heights and volumes of neediness. Each whine or screech goes right through me like an ice pick in my eye socket. Like those jangling winter elephants in the plumbing. I recognize that I just compared my children to electric shock treatment, which I’ve never had, mind you, but can imagine based on how absolutely fractured my brain feels by the end of the day. My response to the germs and ice and shingles and winter and dream residue and cacophony is to go a little mad. I yell too much. I beg for silence. I resort to voluntary insomnia, paying for night time silence with my sleep. And that’s a vicious solution, because the resulting exhaustion picks me up by the scruff of the neck and kicks me square in the ass. I devolve. Gone is the educated, witty, introspective me. In steps Lady Cray Cray, the mad monster mommy I’ve mentioned before. I want you to know that I’m trying to make light of it, by mocking myself a bit, because if I talk about it too honestly, you may judge me as certifiable. And in those moments (or hours) all of the days upon days of engaged, loving, intentional parenting are erased by some very shitacular examples of how not to mother. It’s like having an out of body experience, watching as mother and child erupt – knowing I need to cap the volcano, but not having the wherewithal to do it. It seems like the more I need one quiet, sustained, beginning-middle-and-end thought to myself the more the kidlets need. The more they need the louder they get and the closer to my person they get and the more anxiety I feel. I know I’m not alone in this. I know other mothers feel this. But that knowledge makes me feel no less craptastic about my parenting. Sometimes I think my feelings are unspeakable. I want to bang my head against the wall. And I don’t mean the euphemistically. That’s when the only sane thing left to do is stand in the shower and weep. Parenting is monumentally hard. Monu-freaking-mentally.
I was a teacher before I became a mother. High school English. It was a good gig. The first day I stepped into a classroom I knew I’d found my calling. It was exhilarating and challenging and utterly compelling. Eventually I met my husband, married and we had our Bear Boy. My body shut down and I spent the first week after he was born in the hospital recovering from preeclampsia. When I came home to my husband and baby I felt emptied out. I sat on the couch with my son and wanted nothing to do with the world outside of us. My body healed slowly and I turned inward. I didn’t want to return to the job for which I’d had such passion. I became a stay at home mother, a housewife, a homemaker, a domestic engineer. It’s what I really wanted. And then we had our second child and I felt our family was complete. Yet, I also felt a nagging guilt, as if I’d turned my back on feminists everywhere, like I had taken up with Phyllis Schlafly and taken down the equal rights amendment in this one decision. I talked to Gram about this guilt I was feeling. She diplomatically reminded me that the women of her generation and my mother’s generation had fought not to abandon the home and the family, but for the choice to find meaning, purpose and employment outside of the home. Those weren’t her exact words, but that was the gist of it. It assuaged my guilt some. So, you’d think, having made the choice to stay home, that I wouldn’t feel trapped. But some days I do. I feel trapped by laundry, groceries, shuttling kids to and fro, vacuuming, cooking, the tedium of housewifery, the responsibility of mothering, and the lack of an independent income. I know it’s a trap of my own making. I chose this, I remind myself. So, I’m not allowed to feel trapped. I ought not to complain about a lifestyle which I chose. I ought to be more gracious and patient and thankful for all of it. I ought to revel in the remarkable bright beauty of my children and relish the love of the man who works to make this choice an option for our family. I don’t live in a shack in a third world ghetto. I am not immediately oppressed by violence or religion. I don’t want for education or health care or food or shelter. I am loved. So why, why in the name of June Cleaver, do I feel trapped? And why am I paralyzed by the alternative of going back to work to a career I experienced as meaningful and fulfilling? I mean, seriously, buck the fuck up little camper! What is your problem?
This is sort of where the missing my mom comes into the picture. I’m not pining for her advice on parenting or career. It’s not that at all. I totally believe in the whole it-takes-a-village philosophy and I have all sorts of strong dynamic women I can go to for parenting advice. No, it’s more to do with wanting to acknowledge to her that I get how hard it was for her. I’m not a single mother. I no longer live in poverty and haven’t for some time. I don’t suffer from undiagnosed and untreated depression (it’s diagnosed and I own it and treat it). I want to tell her that I get why her parenting was less than stellar some days. I get why she screamed and ranted and went a little (maybe a lot) scooters – probably a lot more often than she would have liked. I get the blank stare in her eyes. I get it. I get it. I get it. I wish I didn’t. I wish I didn’t bang my head against the wall. I wish those moments of crazed screaming didn’t imprint on my children’s memories and erase all the other glorious moments we’ve had together. I wish I could be present in the moment and breathe deeply and not feel like the dung stained ass end of a donkey.
In college I read Alice Walker’s essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.” Just as Ms. Walker did, I discovered myself in striving to understand my mother. In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own. Mom made some prodigiously poor decisions, but she was also remarkable in some ways. She encouraged snuggling. She tried. I have forgiven her. I have all of the resources and people my mother did not have. I will get through this. I am not alone. I need to forgive myself this week and move on. If she were here, I would hold her hand. I would just hold her hand and tell her I still love her. I miss her.