Here’s some hard truth that I’m gulping down with this mornings third cup of coffee…I haven’t been a great Mom, lately or maybe ever. It’s hard for me, maybe it is for all of us but for me… man it just doesn’t feel natural. I get frustrated easily. I snap so much more than I care to admit. I struggle with being present. My response to “Mommy can you play with me?” is more often a reason or excuse as to why I can in “just a few minutes” with the hopes that they’ll find something to play on their own rather than “Yes, whatcha wanna play?” I know it’s not okay. I catch it everytime yet still find myself unable to correct in the moment. The other day I was sitting on the couch zoning out and Riley asked if I would play a card game with her…my response? “Sure, let me clean up a little and then we’ll play.” Seriously. In that moment I chose to CLEAN rather than PLAY. As I washed the dishes that prior to her inquiry I had zero intention of doing I could hear the “good mom” I have inside my head asking me “what the actual f*&# I was doing” yet I kept washing…and then I started a load of laundry. I thought of the families I work with who would give anything to play a card game with their kids again and felt guilt, I thought of the comments I get from this community of what an “amazing mother” I am and felt shame, I thought of my girls sitting in their rooms coloring and staring at screens and felt regret. And then I swept the floors.
On Saturday we did solo nights with the girls…we try to do this regularly to give one on one time to them. Riley was with Chris and I had Pres. When we went to pick Riley up yesterday her and Chris were running wild in the front yard playing some super hero game they’d made up together. She was joyful in a way I rarely see because I don’t cultivate that with her the way Chris does. He nails it. He is so damn good at playing with them that if I wasn’t so grateful for him being the other half of our parenting equation it would piss me off. I get jealous, envious even of how easy he makes it look. And while I wish those emotions would be enough to make me realize that I too could do those things with them they only make me tense up more. The four of us went up to Presleys room to play…we sat on the carpet with American Girl dolls strewn all around but instead of being in the moment I sat there thinking about how I would give anything for this to feel “easy” for me. What is wrong with me that I have to convince myself to play? I watched the three of them…Riley curled in Chris’ lap unable to get close enough to him and could see the connection he’d strengthened during their sleepover by just being present. By being silly. By meeting her where she’s at. I wanted to be that so bad. And then I totally snapped at the girls as they got into a tiff about who was going to fetch drinks for us. The way the moment unraveled, the string pulled by me…I hated it. Their argument wasn’t the problem…I was. Chris stood snuggling Riley and I stood in a puddle of shame. Within minutes the girls were fine, happily singing along to the Glee soundtrack on the way to the grocery store while my “good mom” voice urged me to try again. To reset. Later that evening we met Jake and his daughter for a picnic dinner at a beautiful park…it was fun, the girls had a blast but what I’ll be remembered for from that evening was the snack plate I made…not how I played with them. Because I didn’t. I didn’t attempt to skip rocks, I didn’t run down the hill or push them on the swings. I missed it. I didn’t snap on anybody this time but I opted out of the presence of parenting…again.
Last night as I laid in bed I was overcome with all of this…spiraling down a rabbit hole replaying all of my Mom based shortcomings. I stared at Riley sleeping wishing I could be half the mother I was to her when she was sick now that’s she’s healthy. Wondering why all the things I begged to be able to do with her again as she lay intubated like color and laugh and play now felt so hard. How could I be so strong when she was facing death and now so weak that she’s living life?
I get a lot of emails from people asking for advice or just sharing their stories. I got one last week from someone talking about their trauma and the ways in which they felt a struggle to bond, their wording indicated a feeling that their circumstances weren’t worthy in comparison to mine or those of which I document. That’s simply not the case. I responded with this:
“Truth response…trauma is trauma. There is no comparing any of it. Finding my way into being just a mom continues to be harder and more traumatizing than any of the medical stuff ever was. It makes no sense but that’s the way trauma works. The thought of volunteering to chaperone a field trip for the girls paralyzes me while the idea of ending up in the hospital again with Riley doesn’t put a single hitch in my step. Zero. Sense. I’ve always wanted nothing more than her to be home and healthy…us all together living carefree but you know what?…living “care-free” with them is hard. Getting down on the ground and playing barbies gives me obscene amounts of anxiety, reading with them, telling them jokes, any sort of “mommy let’s pretend…”…it doesn’t come natural…it is constant work. I thought when you became a mom you’d just know how…9 and 6 years later I still don’t know what I’m doing. I see other moms…the patient ones…the put together ones…the arts and crafty ones and wonder if that would have been me if it wasn’t for everything and then I remind myself that narrative doesn’t matter. Because it’s not mine…and you know what? It’s probably not there’s either. Everyone is struggling…with something…most in silence.”
I don’t want to struggle with this in silence. I don’t want you to either. I want to shatter the illusion that not being “okay” once you’re on the other side of your version of trauma is…well okay. I really wanted to crawl back into bed this morning after drop off, to not do this day, to not confront the fears I have that I will never be any better than this. I didn’t and I hope you didn’t either. My goal this week…to play. To not capture the moment of them playing but to be in it with them.