This past week I had to be at the kid’s school three times in one day for three different events. This annoyed me a great deal, selfish thoughts surfaced to justify my feelings. I didn’t want to give up my workout, my quiet time, I wanted to feel filled up by the things I wanted to do, not drained by a day with noisy kids and their joyful parents. I didn’t want to get it up for even just one day, to fake it this once, yet I was able to call bullshit on myself.
I didn’t want to sit in the classroom crowded in with other parents, knee-high desks and the smells of assorted papers, spoiled apple juice, chalk and playground dirt. The idea of kid boogers, wall crawling germs, the sounds of ear-piercing squeals, and idle chit-chat with cheerful parents all made me feel like I’d had too much caffeine-a heart racing, heat producing electric current vibrating through my body feeling -just plain uncomfortable.
The thought of being at the kids’ school fills me with dread, leaves me feeling put upon, like I’m being robbed of something precious, and I was, I just didn’t know what. And this bothered me. Why couldn’t I just be happy about it? I couldn’t figure it out, other than my usual sensory overload excuse.
But it was the “Moms and Muffins” Mother’s Day event at school; I had to go, right? So I decided to show up, do what I usually do which in most cases is the bare minimum. I do it so that I can say I’ve done it, that I’d been there for my kids, like the rest of the moms, to be able to say, “I was there for you.” But what kind of state of my just physically being there is actually showing up for my kids? How is that saying, “I was there for you.” It’s not. It’s bullshit.
In keeping with my desire to be a good mom, I went, bad attitude and all. My son was excited, on the way to school he told me, “Mom, I’m going to serve you breakfast.” I said, “Ok, but I can’t stay long.” I didn’t want the calories of a muffin, was he crazy? And besides, my workout was waiting on me, (and one more workout was definitely going to decipher the code to my happiness.) Plus I had clients that day, and groceries to buy; and a band concert of his to attend, and a gymnastics performance of my daughter’s to watch at the end of the day. The thought of breakfast was killing me softly.
By the time we reach the classroom I was sweating and grinding my jaw (drug free, just courtesy of my normal-school- anxiety).
Miles said, “Mom, sit down. I’ll get you breakfast.” “I don’t want breakfast. I’m not really going to stay much longer.” “Please mom.” Ok, I’ll take some cantaloupe.”
I was sitting in the corner, refusing to make eye contact with the other parents as a way to stave off their conversations. I was a mess, but why?
My little buddy brought me back a plate and the Mother’s Day card he’d made for me, he was so proud, smiling, shining, loving every minute of being there with me, and this made me squirm.
He asked me, “Mom, will you stay for the video?” Avoiding his eyes I told him, “No babe, I’ve got to go. I’ve got clients, and other work.” He begged, touching my leg “But please mom, please. You have to stay. You have to see the gnome hats.”
I didn’t want to stay, honestly I didn’t. And this felt awful to me but I couldn’t explain why. “Buddy, I can’t stay. I’m sorry, I’ll be back in a few hours for your band concert.”
“But mom, please, please, please don’t leave.” I caved, “Ok, I’ll stay for a few minutes.” Feeling like someone had taken something from me I said, “But that means I’m going to be late for your band concert.” This hurt me to say it, but I said it anyway.
I felt so confused and emotional. I wanted to want it, but I didn’t. I decided to try something different, to take an action that went against what I was feeling. I got up and went to his teacher and hugged her. I told her, “Thank you so much. This is lovely.”
And then it happened, everything changed. Another teacher came up to me and said, “I just want you to know how much I’m going to miss Miles next year. You’ve done such a good job raising him. He’s a great kid, a jewel really. Keep up the good work Mom.” I beamed, but almost felt like I couldn’t take credit. “Thank you so much, most of the time I feel like an animal.” (Why I said that I have no idea-weirdness.)
A moment later I caught the eye of another mom I know, a mom I respect, admire for her parenting style, and sense of grace.
She came over, we hugged and then she gave me my second gift of the day. She told me, “Your writing is so honest and refreshing.” I thanked her and listened to her talk, while in the back of my mind thinking, “Why is this freaking you out? Look at all these wonderful things happening.” She wasn’t upsetting me, my emotions were. They were creeping to the surface like an oil spill, dark, and destructive; but nevertheless still rising to the top before the cleaning process begins.
I stayed for the film and said my goodbye, I of course was the first parent to leave, but I had put in my time, and that was all I could do. I told my son, “Bye buddy, I have to go, I’ll see you at noon.” We hugged briefly and I left.
I got to my car feeling heavy, but knew better than to sit and stew in a pot of victim’s brew. I called a friend. I started in, voice already cracking saying, “I just feel so put upon, like I have no time for my self.” She listened as I got to the bottom-for the first time-to what was really going on with my disturbing feelings about being at school with the kids.
I told her, “I think it all just feels too much for me because I never had anyone do these things for me. My mother didn’t show up for me. I never learned how to do it. She couldn’t, her disease wouldn’t let her. She missed out on me, she didn’t get the chance to see me at my little desk, or watch me interact at school, see my sweet blue eyes sparkle when she walked in the door. She didn’t get to enjoy me, she missed out on knowing me, and I missed out on her too. I missed out on knowing what it’s like to have my mom be there for me on every level. And that makes it hard for me to do things like be at school with my kids because it reminds of my pain, it forces me to see it, to face my feelings, the feelings of loneliness and abandonment.
She said, “ Yeah, it makes you realize how profoundly disappointed you are with your childhood.” Her words literally tumbled over me and knocked me down like a gust of knowledge. She said, “You’ve spent your entire life-a full time job really-trying to repress and ignore these feelings. They’re surfacing for you now because you’re opening yourself up to them.” All I could do was cry. She was right. I’ve been using up so much of my energy- a job’s worth-trying to ignore the pain.
And at the price of something that means the most to me, my children. I fight so hard to give them something other than the childhood I had, but I end up giving them something close to the same by just showing up, rather than actually being there for them, and there’s a difference.
But with this new-found knowledge, this insight I allowed myself to see, by being curious about my feelings and behavior, and by working hard on getting to know myself through a program, I’m able to view something I’ve never seen before. I can stretch beyond my bullshit, and into the blind spot.
This was just a side of me I always pushed away, I never got the chance to know, a place I put out of mind, out of site, and out of harms way. Now that I know it’s there- and preventing me from being close with my children- I can do something about it. This doesn’t mean my fear- valves won’t open, that the awful feelings won’t come rushing in during times, and events that remind me of my childhood, but what it does mean is that now I’m aware of it and can act accordingly. I can remind myself of that the discomfort is an opportunity for growth, a chance for me to heal, to raise myself, and my children in a way that feels good to me.
Having the courage to pick through my bullshit, and stare into my blind spots is the only way I’m ever going to find forgiveness, and freedom from the pain.
It makes me sad knowing that she never got to know me, and that I didn’t get what I needed, but I know she suffered too. I can’t imagine not ever really being able to be there for my kids. I’m sure it’s hard for her.
It was for me, but I’m glad I’m learning how.