Sunday, May 8, 2011

From the Ashes

I was working full time at a professional services firm when I got pregnant with Greta.  

I didn't think too much about what becoming a mother would mean for me.  It just felt, well, next.  I had been married for a few years, was edging towards my mid-thirties, and having a baby seemed like the next right thing.  Looking back through the lens of today, I'm embarrassed at my arrogance and presumptuousness.

My boss at the time chided me as my stomach grew rounder.  "Ahhh, diapers.  Sleepless nights. Crying," he'd joke.  "I'm not worried that you won't want to come back."

"Oh, I'll be back alright," I would answer with a sly grin. "Something tells me I'm not cut out for full time mommying."  

I would rub my ever-expanding waist line, though, and wonder:  will I be back?  While I couldn't imagine my life without The Job, without zipping off to major cities to meet with Important People, I made the wry comments about not being cut out for motherhood without much enthusiasm.   I'll be a great Mom, I would think.

When Greta was three months old, I decided to stay home full time.  By this time I knew that motherhood was tough:  long, sleepless nights, a colicky baby, my marriage reduced to a series of negotiations about diaper changing and naps.

In retrospect, I think I made the decision to stay home full time simply because I never backed down from a challenge.  I had something to prove.  A twelve pound ball of chubby cuteness wasn't going to kick my ass. 

I was all about control, struggling mightily for a structured day.  My life revolved around nap times, feeding schedules and constructive play.  When she wouldn't sleep when I wanted her to, eat on schedule or preferred crinkling paper to an expensive educational toy, I was reduced to tears.  The days were long and boring, but I told myself I loved being a mom, loved being able to be home with my baby.

I hated it, because it was so far from my vision of how motherhood was supposed to be.

I buried this nasty little truth deep inside, tucked it so far down into my subconscious that even I didn't have access to it.  It wasn't part of my plan, all this boredom, frustration and ineptitude, so I ignored the reality of my situation and faked it as hard as I could.

It didn't work.

By now the story is familiar.  Becoming a mother accelerated my burgeoning drinking problem into full blown alcoholism.  It didn't happen right away, but by the time Greta was two I had figured out that wine made it all better.

This is a second nasty truth I chose to ignore: motherhood propelled me into addiction.

Today is Mother's Day, and I have attempted to write a flowery post about motherhood at least five times, to no avail.  

I'm simply not a flowery type of Mom.

I adore my kids; I love them beyond measure.  But today I have to live in the reality that there is a lot about being a mom that drives me nuts.  I can't afford to live in a carefully constructed world of denial anymore, because I know where that path leads, and for me it isn't anywhere good.

When Finn was about one I had the opportunity to go back to work 30 hours a week from home at the same professional services firm I left when I had Greta.

This is it, I thought.  This will be the answer to all my problems.  I can be here for my kids when they need me and still feel like a productive member of society.   The best of both worlds.

It was a disaster.

Instead of the best of both worlds, I had the worst parts of each situation: clients who needed me when they needed me and kids who needed me when they needed me.  Neither side cared much about the other, and I wasn't measuring up to my own high standards with anything.  It was the beginning of the end of my self-induced fairy tale.   I slid quickly into the dark pit of addiction, and when I emerged months later absolutely nothing about my life felt familiar anymore.  I had burned it all to the ground, metaphorically speaking.

Today I know this unmitigated failure saved my life.  It forced me to start over, re-evaluate everything, and rebuild something meaningful, something real.    The family I nearly lost now felt like a priceless treasure, an immeasurable gift.

From the ashes of my former life I was able to sift through the lies I told myself, face some hard truths and embrace my own humanity.   My biggest mistake ended up being the most valuable thing that has ever happened to me.

So what does motherhood mean to me now?  Boundaries. Truth.  Love on love's terms. 

But most of all, for me motherhood is about surrender.

I no longer seek to wrench my children into a picture-perfect postcard of my own creation. I wallow in their individuality; I adore watching them develop into who they are meant to be, instead of who I think they should be.  

I go easy on myself. I know today that I learn far more from my mistakes than I ever learn from the things I get right the first time, and there are plenty of mistakes to choose from. 

At the end of each day, as I look at their sleeping faces, I think about the things I could have done or said better, but I do it with forgiveness and love in my heart.


  1. I seriously feel like you're in my head sometimes. Except I haven't come to grips with things yet and am still battling through. I desperately need to learn surrender and acceptance and love myself for who I am and what I'm doing, and stop comparing myself to the elusive (and fictional) perfect mom. All easier said than done though. Thank you for being honest about your struggle and giving me hope.

  2. This is awesome! Thank you so much for not trying to be something you're not and writing a flowery post :) I'm coming to learn that nothing comes from hiding from it. You seem a woman who knows (or at least isn't afraid anymore) of who she really is. I applaud you for that. I strive for that. Thank you again. And Happy Mother's Day!

  3. Thank you for your honesty and Happy Mother's Day! I always enjoy reading your posts!

  4. Beautiful...I'm not a "flowery" mother either..but somehow there is so much more meaning in the real rawness of motherhood. Thank you for sharing your story, how often as mothers we feel the need to "prove" something. I'm walking this journey of surrender as well....

  5. "A twelve pound ball of chubby cuteness wasn't going to kick my ass."

    LOVE. This. :)

    Glad you got through to the other side.

  6. I can relate to everything within this post, until I read the 20 questions from AA I didn't know I was an alcoholic, I thought I was enjoying my "free" time and if anyone threatened that time I'd want to kill them.
    It's so hard to find balance, impossible for me until I got "real" with myself.

  7. I remember being looked at like I had 3 heads when I commented to some co-workers once, "I've learned the hard way that before you have kids you should really decide whether or not you LIKE them..." It's encouraging to know that there are those who, although they love their kids, really struggle with this whole "sweetness, light, lollipops and roses" clap-trap that is so much a part of Mothers Day. I knew by the time my kids were out of diapers that I was not cut out for this, not like the lady up the road who made all her kids' clothes, encouraged them to write plays, and helped them put on yard sales of their own. (shudder).

    So I looked for something to make me feel better. It didn't work. My own addictions were to trying to control every last thought, belief, song, TV program, activity, and preference my kids had. To looking after them and protecting them so nothing would ever happen to them. To feeling like I was in control of SOMEthing. All that got me was frustrated and alone from them pushing me away.

    Things are so much better since I learned to let go and let them be who they were. Thanks for posting this!