It is my second Mother’s Day, but it feels like my first. Last year, Quinn was only five months old, so the days were full with still round-the-clock breastfeeding, naps and diapers changes. We didn’t have much time or energy for much else.
Maybe it’s because it’s the first Mother’s Day I’ve had to actually reflect on it, or maybe it’s because of the special confluence of events that have happened in the last year with my own mother and my mother-in-law, but I find myself thinking a lot on this day about what it means to be a mother — reflecting on the roles that my mother and my husband’s mother played in our lives and on the role that I will play in Quinn’s.
I won’t talk about my husband’s childhood here because that’s for him to tell. I will say that I have MAJOR issues with the choices that his mother made that make it hard for me to have a relationship with her — and that’s not even taking into account the interactions I have had with her myself (many of which have not been positive).
However, I am very open about my own childhood.
I grew up with a mother who was (and still is) a drug addict. When I was about 6, she overdosed on our living room floor: convulsions, foaming at the mouth, frantic calls to 911 that “my mom is having a spaz attack.” I didn’t know it at the time, but she was using cocaine. Selling it, too. I don’t know how long it took for me to know that’s what was happening, but once I knew it, I seemed to have always known it. When I was about 11 or 12, she started using crack. And she still does.
There’s no Hallmark special in this story. She didn’t go to rehab and get cleaned up. There was no real desire to change that was crippled by the clutch of addiction. The only time she went to rehab is when a boyfriend threatened to leave her (after she disappeared for a week on a drug bender. I was about 16.) Later, she went to rehab again because she had been arrested one too many times and the court ordered her to go.
If her addiction was the only thing we had to deal with, my brother and I would have had a happier childhood. We also dealt with regular abuse: physical, mental, emotional, verbal. We were regularly hit — with anything handy and on any part of our body that was within reach. Screaming fights were common. Bloody violence was not rare. I cannot count the number of times I was told that I was a bitch or a whore or much, much worse.
And, I’m sorry to say, but those are just the things that are easy to tell.
When I was 18, I moved out of my house while I was still in high school and I worked full-time and got my own apartment. I finished high school and I moved out of the state. A few years later, I cut off all contact with my mother for good. I didn’t tell her when Quinn was born, and we’ve only recently begun tenuous talks — through Facebook.
I feel that hiding those experiences gives power to them. It also creates a stigma around the experiences, which are shared by a surprising number of people, and that just breeds a cycle of shame. I talk about the things I’ve experienced because, as Kurt Vonnegut said better than anyone:
Also, as blogger Penelooe Trunk has discussed, I talk openly about what I have experienced because it is important to me to live an honest life. I don’t want to hide anything about who I am.
Yet it has not been easy.
Every Mother’s Day, I see friends posting heart-felt messages about their mothers and how much they have done for them, some even calling them their “best friend.” I have absolutely no understanding of what this must be like.
For a long time, I didn’t want to have children. I worried so much about what I would be like as a mother that I just didn’t even think about the possibility of having kids. I don’t know why that changed, but it eventually did. Even after I realized that I did want to have kids, I still worried. I didn’t want to perpetuate that cycle.
Friends tell me “Well, you know what NOT to do, so you won’t do it,” but it’s not as easy as that. I know it’s not a good idea to yell or to say shitty things to my husband during an argument, but it doesn’t stop me from doing it. As young as Quinn is now, there are times when I find myself so frustrated because she doesn’t want to sleep or she keeps hitting me or she keeps throwing a tantrum that all I want to do is yell at her. Even as abhorrent as I think spanking is, I want to spank her.
Let me be clear: I don’t spank her. I don’t “swat” her. I don’t “pop” her. I don’t do anything that involves putting my hands on her at all. But I feel that urge to do it, and it really worries me. What will happen when she is older and she is challenging me in more serious ways and shouting at me and telling me hurtful things? Will I have the patience to overcome these urges, or will I fall back into that tired old cycle?
Maybe it’s all too much to take on at once: All of the past and all of the future in this present moment. But it’s what I do. I think deeply about the kind of mother I need to be to Quinn because it is the most important thing I will ever do. Everything I say to her and everything I do will determine the kind of life she has. It will determine whether she is a happy person, whether she can have successful relationships, whether she loves herself, and so much more.
Sure, you can make your own choices. Sure, you are responsible for your own happiness. But the things that happen to you in your childhood have a profound impact on the foundation that you have for the rest of your life. If you’re building on a shoddy foundation, it’s going to take you a lot longer to have a strong house — and you may be repairing the cracks for a very long time.
Quinn deserves a strong foundation.
Quinn deserves to have a mother who loves her deeply and is not reserved in showing it. She deserves a mother who will hug her and kiss her and tell her that she loves her about a thousand times a day — even when she’s crying and whining and throwing a fit and generally “acting up” — maybe even more so. She deserves a mother who will be her guide. She deserves a mother who will support her, no matter the choices she makes. She deserves a mother who will be there to listen to her when her friends disappoint her, or her crushes break her heart. She deserves a mother who will encourage her when she’s afraid to take a risk, and who will show her her own strengths. She deserves a mother who will not only allow but foster her creativity and self-expression. She deserves a mother who will think critically about the status quo and who will challenge it in every way it needs to be challenged — from suffocating her in gender expectations to spanking her because “it’s what my parents did and I’m OK” to sending her off to a school that doesn’t respect her individuality or meet her unique needs. She deserves a mother who will show her that it’s OK to be exactly who you are and that your honesty is one of your most valuable assets. She deserves a mother who will fight for her. She deserves a mother who will show her the fun and the joy in life. She deserves a mother who will give her a stable home base from which to foster her independence and to explore the big, wide world — which is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating.
It’s a tall order, but it’s what she deserves just by being her own unique, wonderful, amazing self.
It’s what I deserved.
It’s what we all deserve.
I just hope that I can give it to her.