My former self was a morning person. Having enjoyed a full night’s rest, snug between my adoring husband and two bad dogs, wearing matching pajamas and a coordinating hair wrap, I’d bound gleefully from bed, bright-eyed, perfectly highlighted, filled with joyful exuberance, ready to delight in whatever my day had in store for me. Lattes from Starbucks. Pastries or cookies from my favorite french bakery. Coach accessories. Strolling through farmer’s markets. Enjoying workouts and movies and happy hours with friends. Lazing about in hammocks, admiring the herb garden my hubby added to our handcrafted deck, just for me. Even getting dressed each morning was an absolute joy for me, as Mike had lovingly gifted me an entire room in our house for my personal use as a closet. My shoes lined the floor, all neat and tidy. Dresses hung below shelves of purses, scarves draped across rows of hooks. And I felt loved. I had created a perfectly perfect life for myself, full of friends and love and abundance and indulgence and happiness.
Even my pregnancy was a magical experience. I learned I was expecting just after an incredible weekend with my bestest friend in the whole wide world, eating, shopping, skating and theater-going in New York just before Christmas. We’d stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub to celebrate our last evening in the City, after channeling our inner Grace Kellys and savoring a pre-theater dinner at 21. My last hurrah couldn’t have been more appropriate- cocktail after cocktail purchased for me by new admirers, devilish confessions shared between my friend and me, photographs with the bartender to document our debauchery. And then I came home, celebrated the birth of baby Jesus, and learned my own precious child was on the way. I spent 9 months joyfully converting my closet to a picturesque Pottery Barn nursery, attending prenatal yoga classes and showing off my expanding girth with adorable maternity dresses. We took a romantic, relaxing Babymoon to the Florida Keys, where I received maternity massages and took baths overlooking the ocean and sampled all things yummy and floated, carefree, in turquoise water, dreaming of the miracle to come and the perfectest of perfect childhoods our girl would have. My bump gift was a ring with a stone that mimics the water and when I wear it, I can still hear seagulls serenading me on those last few lazy afternoons.
The day my Amelia Rose arrived, I changed into my own gown, a colorful halter Pretty Pushers dress with matching headband, dutifully filled my pink x’s and o’s patterned ice pack and allowed myself to be induced. I labored a bit, got my epidural, napped, woke up refreshed and had time to re-apply lip gloss before pushing my Milliebug out to the tune of Salt and Peppa’s push it. Or it might have been Pink’s Get This Party Started. I had lengthy “pushing playlist” after all. We posed for our first family photograph, and I am still the only mama I know who is happy with that I-just-had-a-baby-OMGOMGOMG photo. It took me a while to realize that life as I knew it was so over.
Mamahood was the great equalizer for me, the nittiest of grittiest things that could ever happen to me. The designer rose-colored glasses through which I viewed the confection that was my life were in actual fact, knock-offs- and in any event, they were shattered. No question, Millie was amazing. I cannot believe, to this day, that God has trusted one of his most precious creations to my care. But until she arrived, I believed that I would get all of the wonderful and none of the hard that comes with mamahood. There would be no financial burdens, no disagreements on child rearing, no difficulties beyond the occasional sleepless night from growth spurts and teething. My parents had relocated to the area to watch her when I returned to my awesome role as industry relations manager at the local visitors’ bureau, a position in which I flitted about the country talking up how awesome all things Gainesville were, intermittently entertaining travel writers and hospitality professionals, trying new restaurants and attending shows all within the scope of my job. I had all the support I ever thought I needed.
There was only the dimmest of warning signs, sometime during the summer preceding Millie’s arrival, that perhaps the life I imagined myself living wasn’t real- and in this admission, you’ll see how deep the depth of my denial really went. Because there are parts of my story that aren’t really mine to share at all, suffice it to say that in my family, there is addiction. Food, alcohol, tobacco, shopping- we each have one to call our own. And I had a glimpse of how I may have to actually address those addictions- that I would be unable to stop myself from addressing those addictions- that the primal Mama Bearness I was already feeling toward my girl would make it impossible for me not to fiercely protect her in ways I’d never protected myself, if I felt like she was in danger in any way. And yet, because I wanted so desperately to believe that the people in my life could be, and would be the people I wished they were, I wagged a stern finger at the tiny voice heeding warning, slipped those designer rose-colored glasses back on and traipsed about prepping for Baby Girl’s arrival joyfully.
Six weeks into mamahood, and life is (mostly) blissful, except I’m about to return to work. My parents have moved here, and we are all preparing for the first day they’ll watch her. I have been setting my alarm to wake up and pump so that Baby Girl has enough breast milk to sustain her through those first few days away from me. My mother and I have had several rounds of arguments regarding nursing. I forge on. The day comes and I dutifully deliver my precious girl to my mama’s house and report to work. Within hours, she has tossed 6 ounces of my liquid gold and mixed two bottles of formula for my child. It is a huge betrayal to me, one that I still share with my trusted mama-friends- an act that I felt represented any and everyone who would question my parenting decisions, not just my own mama. We argue some more. Somehow over the next two days, there is much anxiety, much indulging in the various and sundry vices among my family members, and a personal injury that culminates as the straw that breaks this mama’s back (figuratively- the literal part comes much later.) By the end of the week, I’ve found space in a daycare. The lead teacher in the baby room reminds me of Mammy in Gone With the Wind and I resist the urge to buy her a red petticoat, as I am about to be very poor from the cost of daycare, which is $819 a month. I break the news to my mother, who promptly sends me on an all-expenses-paid-for-by-me guilt trip to end all guilt trips about how they moved here to care for Millie and now I’m dashing their dreams.
We cannot afford both daycare and our mortgage, and we need my income too much for me to quit working. We quit paying the mortgage instead. Within a year, my hubby has declared bankruptcy, we’ve moved out of our house and into a friend’s rental property, and I’ve changed jobs, under the presumption that I’m going back to school for my Master’s degree, when in fact it’s because it’s hard to travel about talking up your destination when your infant is out once a month from daycare germies. We eventually must get tubes for the baby’s ears because her tolerance for antibiotics has built up so much that even potent antibiotic injections of Rocephin are powerless against her raging ear infections.
As I wean the baby from nursing at 11 months, my hormones shift and I develop back problems. 6 months of physical therapy later, I am diagnosed with a herniated disc and need surgery. I can’t lift my tiny child for 6 weeks, and while I was touched by the thoughtful meals that poured into my home during that time, I also haven’t quite forgiven our golden retriever for eating my helping of Chicken Ritz as I shakily escorted my caring friend to her car. 5 months later, I herniate another disc and have my second surgery, which I am delighted is covered 100% by my insurance since I’d already met my deductible. I find myself appreciating all things grown-up like proper insurance coverage and out-of-pocket maximums. .
I blame myself for all of these hardships and convince myself that my hubby resents me, hates me. I sell things, throw things away, deny myself small joys in which I used to delight, punishing myself further for the wear and tear I’ve brought upon my family. I absorb all the workload for our household, then allow my resentment to creep up and start arguments. I do all the things. I cry. I gain weight. I stop trying to talk about anything real. I am too exhausted to keep trying. I need a haircut.
And then- I dig deeper. I look back at how I’d gotten here, and realize that I’d begun denying the bad, only letting the good in, when I was first living by myself at 22. With every insecurity, every mistake I’d made, every time I felt abandoned in my life, every time I felt like I wasn’t safe being myself, I’d turn to one of any addictions around me- I smoked, I ate, I shopped, I drank. I drank and drank and drank. I imagined myself to have many friends, I imagined it was all part of being in my early 20’s in a college town. I embraced an unhealthy relationship and I absorbed all of his interests, taking careful notes to cultivate myself into his perfect mate. But, that never works out. At times, I found myself alone without knowing what to do with the oceans of time that stretched before me, and rather than dive in and learn the answers to the hard questions, I allowed only the positive to rise to the surface, and hush the negative. My beautiful, perfectly perfect life begins to emerge, only it is skin-deep. Everything about me from my shiny highlighted hair to my pedicured toes is a sham. A fun, lovely, delightful sham. I see how foolish I’ve been, only trying to let the good in, because denying the bad eventually brought it in droves, pummeling my doorstep until it finally broke through and engulfed my family. I realize I never took the time to really get to know myself, and here I have a hubby and a daughter and a net that I have cast wide, but shallow. No one really knows me, because I am afraid if I invite someone all the way in, and not just to the fun parts, they will reject the not-so-fun side, and I will see my own rejection of myself reflecting in their eyes. I laugh off any signs of weakness that accidentally show themselves. I am always on the go, moving rapidly from one activity to the next when I’m not at work, an over-scheduler because I don’t want to think the thoughts I have when I am still. Thoughts like:
I am unloved.
I spent my childhood all alone.
I am spending my adulthood all alone.
I am not equipped to raise this child.
I don’t want her to see me unhappy.
She deserves better.
I have nothing to offer anyone.
No one appreciates me or cares about me in any way.
They neither appreciate me nor care about me because I am not worthy.
They may be right.
Someday she may believe that too.
About me. And about herself.
Most of these feelings surface in the morning. When the alarm is going off and I try to consciously remind myself to follow Louise Hay’s advice and say thank you to the Universe for all that I am grateful for, which despite these admissions here, is plentiful- the job I have now, with my amazing, powerful, inspiring boss, whose heart overflows with gratitude for the work I do. My gorgeous, brilliant, funny, brave, defiant, curious, voice-like-a-songbird little girl. My creaky 1950’s home with its exposed brick walls and original hardwood floors and chipped tiles and failing pipes. I cling to the gratitude, but then my husband rolls over and puts a pillow over his head and proceeds to sleep until the last.possible.second before dragging out of bed, taking a shower, getting dressed, walking about asking where things are and making declarations about his lateness, then departing, while I run from room to room, trying to dress myself, dress the child, get her to go potty, feed her, feed me, feed the dogs, find shoes, find phones, pack lunch. My mornings are filled with bodily fluids that gross me out, and I consider, for a moment every day, the likelihood of them finding me should I ever run away. I long for my former wardrobe, hair products and clean countertops. I wish I could temporarily change my name from Mama. I resent my job for its mere existence, for all the tasks waiting for me there once I finally arrive, almost an hour late, and after a 10+minute walk from the top of the parking garage since all the spaces are usually filled by the time I drop Millie off at school. I glare at Hubby as he leaves, knowing he’s about to enjoy a few minutes of NPR during his commute before pouring himself a cuppa coffee and perusing the internet in the comfort of his office, whereas I will still be negotiating which tennis shoes his daughter will wear to school, before slipping on my own tired, overworn gray wedges.I close my eyes and silently scream, WHY IS EVERYONE SO NEEDY?! And then, miraculously, I stop. I open my eyes to look around. I see:
Hubby has made the peanut butter and jelly for Millie’s lunch already and it is emitting rays of sunshine inside the fridge as angels from heaven sing.
The jam inside said sammie is strawberry, delish, and home-made expressly for me by my mama.
Tiny child is going potty on her own, singing to herself.
The dogs are curled up together on the guest bed, all cozy, and haven’t been bad all morning.
There is wisteria hanging from the trees outside.
I have splenda for my coffee.
The fitbit on my wrist, a gift from the hubby celebrating my recent success in a 5k, saying I’ve already walked 2,000 steps.
Millie’s overnight bag, still packed from a sleepover at my parents’ house, where they cooked and played and made memories together.
I see all of these things as they are, without rose-colored glasses, designer or otherwise, and they are all lovely. And I can see me, too, with kind, forgiving eyes, and see that the scattered toys, my sticky floor, my day-old ponytail, my tired eyes from staying up too late to watch a rare episode of grown-up TV with my hubby, are all signs of my chaotic, disorganized, perfectly imperfect, messy beautiful life, and that I am not alone, but rather am one of many with a pile of laundry, crumpled from me and Tiny Child curling up on top of it for a movie, taking up space on the couch. And I remember, mornings aren't so bad.