My Mother’s Garden

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.

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24 Responses to My Mother’s Garden

  1. Dianne O'Hern says:

    Awww Jess…you are not alone. Every mom has these self doubts, these regrets, these guilty feelings. Every mom feels she is hitting the wall some days. What your kids will remember is the love and security you gave them. I wish I could share a bottle of wine with you and a few hugs and tears and tell you, “I hear you…I get it, I get you!” ❤

    • Oh Dianne, a bottle of wine and some kvetching would be lovely. Sometimes these thoughts and fears and doubts swirl inside me until I write them down. The act of writing is usually pretty cathartic for me and that seems to be the case this week too. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for your very real “virtual” support.

  2. Jae Sprague says:

    I cry. If I was in the room with you I would say something totally off the wall, totally bizarre or extremely funny to alleviate the stark truth of your words. Because laughing always makes the truth more bearable somehow. To me anyway. So…. Did you know that the opossum has a biforcated penis?

  3. Mag says:

    Thank you for your post. It did what all good writing should do – it made me feel way more than I was prepared for in the first sentence. I will go reapply my mascara now. I am a struggling mom too and unfortunately, a newly single one. For a moment, I didn’t feel so alone in it.

    • Single parenthood is a tremendous task, but I’m pretty sure that your two kidlets are lucky to have you. Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m glad we can be in this together (if only virtually).

  4. Tricia says:

    Beautiful as always!

  5. Cris Alello says:

    Thank you. Brought a tear to my eye as I think about my mom, wishing I could acknowlege her. I have been in your space and revisit it from time to time. Thank you again for sharing. You are not alone.

  6. Bobbie says:

    Motherhood is one of the most fulfilling jobs we can have. It can also be one of the most difficult, overwhelming and frustrating jobs. We all have those moments where we turn into a monster mommy. All we can to do is strive to do better and admit to our children that we were wrong and seek their forgiveness. And remember that when it all gets to be too much, we are just a short walk up the hill!

  7. Renee says:

    I ‘get’ why this was hard and I’m damn grateful that you went up to and through the hard stuff to bring this to the rest of us. You put into words feelings and frustrations that are opposites yet seem to occur all at once. WOW.
    I especially appreciate what you shared about your mom. I remember many times thinking about my own struggles and connecting the dots to see that my mom struggled as a single parent in ways I cannot imagine. Made those burning and angry memories less infected and moved them to a healing place.
    I’ve come to view parenting as my yoga (if you see me do yoga you’d know why) it stretches me into profoundly awkward positions and calls on me to find peace there. Good heavens its challenging, terrifying and other worldish. Deep breath.
    You my friend are a beautiful and deeply loved woman, thank you for finding the strength to inspire the rest of us to dig deeper.

    • I absolutely love that analogy – parenting as yoga – because I love yoga, but also because it is true, it does require “profoundly awkward positions.” I once had a yoga instructor who reminded me that yoga wasn’t just an exercise, but a “practice.” That probably applies to parenting too – we must practice and practice and practice. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Renee.

  8. Christa says:

    This is my favorite post of yours so far. Beautifully written, honest and speaks to what so very many women feel at times but maybe don’t want to admit it. Thinking of you…spring and sunshine and bare feet are right around the corner and for some reason the thought of just that alone sometimes helps just a teeny tiny bit.

    • These really difficult moments are so hard to admit, aren’t they? There was something cathartic in writing it down. So that’s something. And the thought of bare feet and sunshine are like a little dose of hope. 😀 Thank you Christa.

  9. Colleen says:

    Thank you Jesse for all you bring to those who read.

  10. Sue says:

    Wow, Jess! You brought tears to my eyes – so powerful. You have an amazing gift with words. I feel lucky to still have my mother with me, because I remember those days when my girlies were smallish and I just wanted to talk to her and tell her how much I got it. And, to marvel to her about how she could have done that for 7 of us! I love your use of ‘shitastic’ and all its dimensional meanings as a parent! 🙂 Thank you for expressing the unexpressable and sharing your struggles. Our society is still rampant in its denial of depressive illnesses that radiate throughout everyone’s lives – we all know people (diagnosed and undiagnosed) who struggle every day. You are a brave and strong woman! Someday, you’ll be on the best seller list. Are you writing a book yet? 🙂

    • Thank you so much Sue. Just today I was talking to my Gram about the stigma that is still attached to depression. We’re more aware of it now and treatment options are better now, but there is still a stigma attached to it. Not to mention that so many insurance plans just do not cover treatment.

      Yes, I have begun a novel, but it has sort of taken a back burner to life recently. I’m exploring other writing projects right now. I will say, it makes it easier to write the hard stuff knowing that my Wells sisters are reading and providing positive feedback. Thank you again. 😀

  11. I love your writing!! and despite the difficult topic I still love it!!! Now having said that…I have to say that despite loving been a mom I too sometimes feel overwhelmed and just mentally exhausted. So obviously you are not alone!!! but what I found to be the most beautiful part of your piece is that been a mom does make us understand ours more. I think that we sometimes give so much of ourselves to our children, to our partners and to the decisions we make to make them happy that a part of us become a little insane/crazy/hair pulling/screaming monsters and yet they are happy and enjoy the life we create for them. So it stands to reason that we must be doing something right!!! It is good to know we are not alone and not just because we are here (even if just virtually) for one another but because we can now connect even more with whom our mom’s are or were!!! Thank you Jess…love you lots!
    PS pls hurry and write your book!!!

  12. Syndal says:

    oh I am scared of motherhood!

    by the way- the class of 2003 (oh my GOD it’s been 10 years) still talks about just how fabulous a teacher you are!

    • Syndal, I think fear of parenthood is perfectly reasonable…proabably even healthy. It’s quite the undertaking, that’s for sure. I had a wonderful mentor/mother figure in my life when I was younger. She had no children of her own. When I asked if she ever wanted children, she said she’d told her self that if ever she woke up one morning with a longing to have a child, she would do so. She never woke up with that longing, but she has always been a wonderfully nuturing, empowering sort of person. If you do decide to have children someday, you’ll be a fine mother (somedays less than perfect, somedays great).

      It’s easy to think of you and all of your classmates as kids still, looking back at all the silliness of school. Though so many of you have grown into really dynamic, thoughful human beings. I just love to see all of your updates on FB.

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