Philosophy: “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone…” – Bob Dylan
Motherhood – especially single-motherhood – is a brave art, indeed. If raising a child takes a village, I’d like to know why I feel like I need a metropolis.
Then again, I do know why I feel that way. Enter: my impossible expectations. Yes, perfectionism. When I became a mom, I was going to be the perfect balance of imperfect. I sat in college, pre-motherhood and logically, I knew perfect was impossible, but man oh man, I was going to nail being a mom.
Elise was born in June 2011. Jack followed in February 2013. My marriage destructed piece by piece the way a rocket ship disassembles when it heads for the moon. After a 2016 dissolution, I lost equal parts of my mind and inhibitions, got remarried for 68 days and had Tyler in May. That marriage also destructed, but it was one big explosion…more like the Challenger than Apollo 11.
So, here I am. Eight years later. Three kids. Two failed marriages. Not what I had in mind when I set out to be perfectly imperfect, yet here we are, living despite it all.
Elise mastered pitting one parent against the other very early on, so most everything that leaves her pretty little lips has to be cross-checked between her dad and me. She’s too smart for her own good and at times, her eight-year-old logic trumps my well-thought reasoning, without question.
All 36 pounds of Jack is spitfire, comedian and aspiring policeman. He’s hyper and spirited and knows how to drop a swear word in the proper context just when I least expect it. He’s almost always in some form of uniform, complete with duty belt and toy gun. When I’m too tired to argue, he even wears this to bed. Choose your battles and all that.
And sweet Tyler, my lunchbox baby, just wants to nurse and take it all in. While I share Elise and Jack 50/50 with their dad, I get Tyler all to myself, courtesy of an ugly mistress whose name is Addiction.
Sure, I had resentment. At first. I was on my own trying to figure it all out. Then I learned how to cut-in with a paint brush and use power tools and mow grass (even though Jack had to show me where the gas cap was) and maintain an in-ground pool and juggle bills and schedules and doctor’s appointments.
I also learned what an overwhelming responsibility it is to care for three kids and a house. Oh, and a dog…and we can’t forget the guinea pig. I spent a lot of guilty time worrying if I was keeping the kids happy enough. I already felt at least half responsible for landing them in a broken home. They didn’t ask for that. Was there enough of me left after working full-time and doing all these things to keep us going?
That worry was misplaced, though. It’s not about happiness. It’s about wholeness. If I do the work of motherhood correctly, my kids won’t always be happy. Happiness is a side effect of wholeness. So is anger and disappointment. So, the question becomes: is what I’m doing making them whole? And, I think it is.
I forget what it’s like to be little. I forgot what it’s like to see every little thing for the first time and what it’s like to get excited for Christmas and winning a goldfish at the fair. So, I remind myself to get down to their level, to acknowledge their fears without dismissing them. It’s up to me to try to teach them the right time and way to clean messes, disagree, apologize, make chocolate milk, paint fingernails, tie shoes.
My parents deserve to be canonized as saints. They help whenever and wherever they can. So do my friends and co-workers. They’re my village. There aren’t enough jewels in the world for their crowns.
It took a lot for me to start writing again. Then I thought about who I would be if I didn’t show Elise, Jack and Tyler that it’s ok to chase after the things they enjoy, that it’s ok to try things that seem too big and see where they take them and that in order to grow and change, they have to dive in and start because the time will never be just right.
I hope you keep reading. I hope my words hit you somewhere and stick. We’ve only just begun.