Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Decade of Motherhood

Mayan, for some reason, has recently taken to reading old Milk and Ink posts. The other day, while Blake and I were chatting in the bedroom and sorting laundry, she barged in and exclaimed, "You were going to put Zeke on Craigslist??" Our dog, who passed away just after George was born, was a slow, old lumbering thing whose presence was pushed way into the background once Blake and I started a family. I hadn't thought about it for so long, but conversations had passed thinking he may be happier spending his final years in another home, although we ended up sticking it out. Apparently, though, I had blogged about it.

I'd seen Mayan looking at the old blog photos, and reliving the life we just recently left behind. She was between the ages of 4 and 8 when these posts were written, and now at the wise old age of 10, she is hearing my interpretation of our lives during that period in written form for the first time.

Milk and Ink has always painted a fairly pretty picture of our lives on the half acre, raising chickens, gardening and homeschooling: the most exciting moments, the most productive days, the most flattering shots. What Milk and Ink didn't show was the crumbling marriage, the tears and anxiety, the fits of rage, the massive parenting failures. As I look through the blog, and watch our progression as a family through this rosy lens, I don't have to ask myself where things went wrong, I instead have to look for the point where we couldn't contain the dysfunction any longer, and it finally spilled over the edges and into the floor.

My gut-wrenching theories are that having a third a child tipped the scales, and that I was never ready (at 21) to become a mother in the first place.

It is a horrible and humbling thing to admit that you had too many kids, or even that you made the wrong choice having kids so soon. When I look at my kids as individuals, they blow my mind. Forget that they are all Gap-model gorgeous, they are really fucking cool, powerful, bright beings to their core. Together, as siblings and in our family dynamic, they are a train-wreck. We do not live in a peaceful home in anyway, and I am not overstating things. (Our neighbor who was once very friendly, has shied away, and I am so embarrassed to think its because she can hear how our family operates behind closed doors.) Comments like "Oh, every family has their moments" or "No family is perfect" do not bear any weight; I know what our family is like, I know what our "norm" is. Loud, dramatic, volatile, and stressful--everyday. Something is broken.

Our attitude has been broken for a long time. Once upon a time, I would openly discuss parenting issues within my mothering community, I'd be grounded in a particular philosophy, I'd seek online sources to inspire my parenting, share them with Blake and implement them with the betterment of my children in the forefront of my heart. I can't recall when it exactly it happened but in many ways, at some point, I've given up doing my best at being a parent. I find that I am only occasionally able to muster being the parent I want to be. 

For the last year, I've been putting my best efforts toward at being married, which has undeniably paid off--the results have been such a transformation, that it almost feels like magic happened. In an age where so many couples split, and so many couples are together but struggle with being utterly unfulfilled, we turned a bad marriage into a good marriage. But I have to remind myself that it wasn't luck, it was due to inexplicable effort on our part.

So while Blake and I are very happy, individually and as a couple, our children are clearly not. While at first this seems ironic, I am reminded that our children have always suffered at our unhappiness, but now that he and I have reset, they now feel safe enough to be able to show us their wounds openly.

Can our children be happy? Can I now shift that same effort that rescued our marriage to patching up the damage we've caused them? I have to say, after all that effort, I am really fucking tired. Its like the end of a wretchedly long day, and you drop a priceless antique vase that shatters, and you are just too tired to sweep up the pieces. You are so sad about, but you just want to go to bed and hope it can be glued together in the morning. Then in the morning, you cut your foot on a shard and say "Fuck you, vase!" and grumpily sweep it into the corner. The vase has nothing to do with it, you are mad at yourself for dropping it in the first place. Really, you just want it to be whole again.

Leaving our home and ditching our ideals, might seem counter-productive to lifting up our children. Moving is damn hard and transitioning to public school is damn hard, especially at the same time...then stir in the additional stress of having your parents only recently narrowly escaping a divorce. We are only 8 months into this desperate effort, and the children are as difficult as ever. More so. They, each in their own way, have thrown us challenges that are bring us to our parental knees, and Mayan, although I feel the need to double check her birth certificate from time-to-time, is not even 10 yet...we have a road ahead.

At a party last night, we met a handsome and talented couple, who while aside from looking fabulous and achieving in career goals I wish to be achieving in as well, mentioned that they home-school their two kids who are 11 and 13. "I love to be around them; they are just really cool kids." God, it hurt to hear. It sucker-punched my two biggest fears: that having a third pushed us over the edge, and that I am too immature to even enjoy my precious children. Even though I believe in home-schooling, I literally have had to send them away to protect them from my shitty attitude.

The majority of the time, I don't love to be around my kids: I am so ashamed of this. My buttons are always pushed: the screaming, name-calling, lying, stealing, destroying, pouting, belittling, and defying. In my head, I keep a roster of the women I know who speak about their children they way I wish I spoke about my children--the mothers who turn a cheek to the undesirable behavior, reinforce the goodness they see, and celebrate the simple moments. The ones who sounds grateful for the experience of motherhood. If I spoke that way, I would be faking it. Wretched me, I am so blinded by the constant pain they seem to be in and how they display that pain all over our family, that I am always on the defense, and always looking for respite. They take turns being the most "in crisis", so when we finally feel like we've identified and addressed appropriately one particular child's drama, another child fall into stress. The cycle repeats every damn day.

How can I pull back to see the larger picture in the moment, and offer calm, strength and compassion, when I am always triggered? How can I not take this personally, when its completely personal: this is not just who they are, it's a result of my parenting thus far. In my overwhelmedness of young motherhood, I've shamed, blamed, and punished them into insecurity. Like a bad dream, I watch what takes place as it unfolds but I feel paralyzed to make any significant advances. Albeit not thoughtlessly, I am wasting the years I will desperately pine for when they are grown and gone.
A friend recently posted that children each have unique frequencies and the job of a mother and father is to tune into these frequencies and parent from there. My biggest problem isn't that I don't have enough love to go around, it's that I can't seem to tune into more than one channel at once. 

The biggest relief that sending the girls to school has given me is the opportunity parent one-on-one. My best parenting moments come from focusing directly on one child at a time, without the influence of the others' presence. Again, its not my ideal. I had this vision of myself that I developed about the time I turned 18, as the youngest of four kids, none of which had gone on to marry and have children, that I would have 4 or 5 kids--all boys actually, and I would raise them to be sweet, funny, caring gentlemen. Buzzing about me, being protective, affectionate, and above all grateful. Like homeschooling, I still believe in, or at least admire, large families that remain strong.

In truth, I do miss our old life, of homesteading and unschooling on the half acre, but I do know there is no going back. I don't miss the isolation and the massive work it took to keep the home and grounds maintained. For fuck's sake, I don't miss my bad marriage. 

We've scraped that life, and started over--thankfully, together--in hopes of building a new one. It's not pretty yet, there are still great cracks. Will I ever be one of those moms who loves being with her kids? To get there I have to tie enough strings, tie them tight enough to not break whenever conflict arises. Basically, I have to grow the fuck up and get my shit together. They might be adults before that happens, but I am riding it out because I do believe the love I have for my children will rise to the top again. Eventually, I will learn to communicate with them in the same loving and respectful way my husband and I have finally learned to communicate. Even in our lowest moments, I know that we will never give up helping them along the great path, even if we gave them one hell of a bumpy start.



  1. You've always struck me as so remarkably grounded. Grounded in ways I could not have achieved in the same circumstances. I think your kids are lucky to have you around without a fucked-up "happy face" lens trying to paint a rosy picture instead of an honest one. Being a family is a process, not a program where the adults come prepped with all the answers all the time. Or so I hope...

  2. Thank you, R. Totally a process, just scares me to think they I don't have all the time in the world to "get there". I think its easier to stay grounded when other people are present which give the "it takes a village" thing a whole new level, and why the isolation had to go. I appreciate your thoughts, always:)

  3. you are a fabulous writer - this post is so poignant, and really speaks to me. you are also really hard on yourself - and i understand that, your experiences really resonate with mine, from when my kids were younger. while it's true you don't have all the time in the world, and that's scary (it was my biggest terror, that i was too late) kids are also remarkably resilient and responsive to change, but it can take time, and a damn hard load of work. <3 but seriously just your insight and self awareness alone sets you wayyyy ahead in terms of probably outcome :)

  4. Oh, Lyla, that means a lot, thank you!

  5. Wonderful post, Leah. I relate with so much of what you said. I love being with my kids, but not all the time. Sometimes I do not enjoy my time with them and it feels terrible to be that mom who feels that way. I find that I enjoy my time with them so much more when I am also doing things with my life that feed my soul, like exercising, cultivating my interests, and doing things alone and with friends. Looking at blogs and Facebook can be a way of connecting with others, but it often just makes you feel all the more disconnected because people are only putting their best face forward. It's like, how can I possibly connect with these people who have it all figured out? This post is one of those times where I feel like the internets haz made me feel more connected. :) I LOVE YOU!

  6. Thank you for putting into words some of the same thoughts I have had of late. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who struggles with these issues. I find myself comparing the ideal of what I want motherhood to be, and the reality of what it is, for me, and there is grief between those two.

  7. I'm so much newer to this game, but already I can see how life can go down this path and suddenly you are lost in a neighborhood you never thought you'd be living in. Marriage is fucking hard. Harder than I'd ever imagined. Motherhood has brought to the surface some of the qualities I loath most about myself--including a temper that rages out of control and a bitchy ass attitude that even I can't stand....and I was 33 when I had Adelle! Then there's the fact that having a kid completely changes your relationship to your husband and the child(ren) that you love most can be what comes between you. I already connect with a lot of what you say and I'm only one year in. I completely understand your analogy of the vase and feeling so worn down. That is very much how I feel right now. The past few years of changes have left me drained and depleted and I just don't want to freaking deal with the daily grind. I struggle withe depression. Paul isn't very compassionate at times. Adelle is at an age where she is changing so rapidly it's hard to keep up with the challenges she presents. I've fallen into some really bad coping strategies that I'm totally ashamed of. Life can sometimes feel like one wave after another is knocking me down and it's hard to catch my breath. So, I hear you sister. I feel you right down into all those shameful places. We are lucky though because as Lyla said that insight and self-awareness that we have really does set us apart....I see so many people who just can't see themselves clearly, can't reflect on their actions, and honestly don't even give a fuck. Keep up the good fight...and I will too.

  8. Leah. You honesty is beautiful. In this moment, I am unsure of how to even respond to you without repeating much of what has already been said. I can say that I am unsure what favor we would do our children if we sheltered them from the realities of life. Life is hard, lonely and painful most of the time. Hopefully though, you can show them how to see joy & bliss from time to time and how to hold onto hope that those moments will return. Sometimes I think that is all we can do as parents.

  9. What an honor it is to read what you've shared. So honest and so real. Your words sing with love even as you relay your struggles. <3