On a good day I consider myself a mediocre parent. My idea of winning at motherhood is convincing my kids to clean each other’s rooms up as a “surprise” so that I don’t have to do it.
Our lockdown homeschooling consisted of going to skateboard ramps and riding around and climbing on them. I called them Physics Lessons: Mama weighs x kilos and the ramp is y meters high. Question: With what force will she hit the ground when she inevitably overestimates her strength?
Correct answer: Not hard to enough to break a bone but hard enough to scold little boys for laughing. It’s not so complicated that a four and five year old can’t understand.
A stupid old baby
I never wanted to be a parent. I never liked babies.
And yet. Becoming a parent was one of the hardest fought battles of my life and one of my greatest accomplishments.
I have a distinct memory of being seven years old, swinging on the swing set on the school playground with my childhood friend Ellen. She was so excited that her aunt just had a baby and would be bringing the baby to school to show off. I had a very distinct thought:
Who cares about some stupid old baby, anyway?
Perfectly normal thought for a seven year-old, you may say. Except that I never grew out of it.
The Inheritance Problem
It is written into my genetic code that I be this way. My grandmother Gigi, who on the very day she died, thought that the pastor who visited her in the hospital had a crush on her and that was why he came to see her. Gigi doted each one of her seven granddaughters a small piece of this inheritance.
This inheritance has been paralyzing for each of us in varying degrees. Some have managed to overcome it and make the planet a better place for it (I’m looking at you, Courtney!) Some of us are still working on it.
My inheritance caused me to go to extreme lengths to avoid ever getting pregnant. It’s called vaginismus and it’s a real thing. Someday I will tell you about it, because there are precious few people willing to talk about this unpleasant condition, even fewer doctors willing to consider a treatment of anything more than “You just need to relax,” or “Have a nice bottle of wine and have fun.”
But that’s how these inheritances work. They just show themselves in and make themselves at home, making use of all your treasures and trampling them underfoot, gaslighting you into believing lies about your worth as a human being.
Stumbling upwards into being a boy-mom
I have written about how shocked I was to learn that my first child would be a boy. What I didn’t tell you was how relieved I was to learn that my second child would be a boy, too.
Something clicked as I held my firstborn son in my arms and counted his fingers and toes: he and I would never be in competition. My genetic, inherited need to be the smartest, funniest woman in the room would never be tested in our relationship (until he would be old enough to have a ladyfriend. But that was the last thing on my mind at that moment.)
When I learned that my second child would be a boy, my relief was palpable. I dodged the bullet again. As a matter of fact, I have quite come to enjoy being the only woman in the room.
Being a boy-mom is the only possible mildly satisfying fate for a woman like me. I would have been incapable of nurturing a healthy relationship with a daughter. Like Gigi, my need to be beautiful and admired would have been a rotting, festering wound that would have weakened to the point of destroying any hope of cultivating a tender mother-daughter pair. I would have been jealous and in my jealousy I would have ruined everything.
I am thankful every. single. day. that I was given boys to raise.
I remain, however, an ambivalent parent.
I love my boys, but…
I love my boys. But boy, oh, boy. I am so glad they are bigger now and are no longer in diapers. I hated diapers. Not like anyone loves changing diapers, but I hated it. It was a heroic act of self-sacrifice every single time, even after I managed a significant attitude adjustment. I have written about how I made diaper changing in “rounds” the status quo, because without intellectualizing the activity I would have lost my mind.
I love my boys. But boy, oh, boy. The fact that now there are other people besides me in my apartment who have irrational mood swings really cramps my style. An indulgent husband and father cannot have the bandwidth for three people whose reactions make no earthly sense most of the time. He barely had room for mine. Now the poor man must use humor as a shield against three times the fiery darts.
I love my boys. But boy, oh, boy. Most of the time I don’t want to go through the circus of bedtime. Sometimes I just want to scream “Put yourselves to bed, you ungrateful scalawags!” (I don’t. But I’d like to.)
The list goes on and on.
Changed and unchanged
For a long time there, I wondered what was wrong with me. After having the conviction that I would have children and doing the hard work of getting passed my psychological hurdles to have them; then faced with infertility and then miscarriage, how could I be so ungrateful?
But you know what? Having babies changes us, yes. But it doesn’t change us, either. We don’t, overnight, go from being like the 94 year-old woman who wore heels to church on Easter Sunday and who thought the male nurse was hitting on her (that would be my grandmother) to being Mother Theresa (definitely not me or my grandmother).
Being honest and authentic does change us. Confessing our failures as parents and as human beings makes us less likely to repeat the same errors over an over again.
Ambivalence does not mean something is wrong with you. Let me say that again: having mixed feelings does not make you a bad person. It makes you human. It makes you interesting. It means you have some work to do, too.
Being isolated is the worst possible condition for people like us. It makes us hyper aware of our shortcomings.
There is hope
Darkness cannot survive in the light.
As my cousins and aunts and I began to share our funny stories and to unpack some of the ways our Gigi (who I adore, keep in mind!) has impacted us as adults and as parents, we have all found some healing. Knowing we are not alone in bearing this resemblance to that fabulously broken woman feels like we have broken a spell cast on us generations ago without our knowledge.
My cousin Courtney said this: “She was broken and shards of her brokenness broke us a little bit, too. But I think we’re seeing that she loved us all. And now here we are, growing closer to each other because of her. It’s a beautiful, messed-up circle that is somehow healing.”
There is power in sharing. There is healing and restoration in sharing.
Who can you share with? Who can be your go-to person to help you unpack your ambivalence? I want to encourage you to bring those shortcomings into the light. Bring them to someone you can trust to hold your secrets for you. You are never alone. Never. Ever. Alone.
Do you hear me? You are not alone in this.
I am praying that you will find that person, those people, who can bring your darkness into the light.