I sit the edge of my bed folding socks and memories. A middle-aged mother. I am in so many kinds of transition.
Some mornings, I hear her feet soft on carpeted stairs, see her long hair rolling down her back almost touching the hips which have started to form.
All the years I gathered her up each morning, carried her down the stairs. All the times I pulled, raised and braided her hair. Those moments rise up in the steam of morning evaporating. She arrives now, bringing herself breakfast and in with hair styles of her own making. Sometimes, I want to weave her hair into a French braid but that is no longer my duty or job.
She will not thank me for a decade of tending and untangling. She will never say “uppy” from knee height or crawl to me from the floor. She will not remember the years I was her ramp, ladder, and mattress or how I stretched to be the ground she could bounce from.
I was often an exhausted. Now, I wonder how much of the bags under my eyes and the droop in my shoulders she felt in the air we shared?
The times’ anxiety and despair were twin bees buzzing, threatening and distracting me. How I’d try to hide from stings, desperately search a non-existent magic epi pen or some cure to calm and still stay cuddling and changing diapers and getting food. I fought a war that was invisible, I thought, but now I know she got half a Mom too often. One of my arms reached towards her but the other ended off demons and dragons. My ACEs etched into her building blocks.
Now, her steps are steady, elegant even lyrical. Those feet which once needed early intervention sessions and stretches. I was told ice skating would be out for her. We both proved the so-called experts wrong.
I wish I had known that was possible earlier.
Now, I am home plate when she is sick or needs rides or money or maybe advice. Even then she will round first, steal bases and fill out ¾ of the diamonds before trotting or sliding home.
If I’m lucky I can catch her but I no longer the pitcher, coach, and umpire. Relief mixes with grief. The first five years were brutal. Shortstops can hit hard and the minutia of the outfield was mind-numbing. It was hard to pay attention so often.
There were years she woke me from sleep four to six times. Sometimes, while half awake I’d feel a hint of rage and it would terrify me. What if I am unable to break the cyle of violence on the physical or cellular level? What if I break, snap or lose it?
I’d binge on books about attachment, intimacy and how to shut up, sit still and give hugs and eye contact. Reading on child development, attunement and trying to calm down the way my heart always felt on fire. My fathered hovered like a ghost, the veteran who drank too much and threw radios at me as an infant. The man who got so drunk he left us at the bar and had to have supervised visits at fast food places. The guy with my last name who chased with knife or fist when the crying of his kin made him lose his mind.
Fearing anger I became permissive. Anger, boundary setting, limits, and discipline felt abusive. I didn’t know the difference between clear and cruel, deliberate and destructive and between emotions or symptoms. I was afraid of my body, skin, and sensations.
I was afraid a raging bear would scratch and claw and devour the cuddly, strong and fierce Mama Bear meat of my heart.
If my father could turn wild, primal and vicious why couldn’t I? Did I even have the right to gamble on parenthood I’d wonder? if the kindest thing I could do for those i love is keep them away because I bring out the bad in others.
I had no idea how much I would benefit from mothering, how satisfying it would be to soothe and rock and be able to attend to my daughter. Mothering has made me feel inhabited, capable, kind and almost confident. Human. Adult.
Spaces which were once filled with running baths and wiping noses open now to new doors, moments and invitations.There is no place to celebrate or share my secret pride. My greatest success is in not having my fears recognized.
My daughter does not think anger or oblivious, alcohol and overwhelm are a synonym for Mom and Dad.
I was not the glue that kept a marriage together. I am a person with a high ACE score and also an ACE providing parent.
The morning glory runs along the side of my house and has escaped from the trellis. The vines grab my attention and I can see they are not trying to strange but to spread and keep going and to stay alive. I too have overreached, stomped too hard and clung too hard.
Sometimes I see how I was aching to leap and grow. Sometimes I can only see the stumbling. Often I have compassion for the runner and the running.
“Tomorrow feels so far away” – I say to my lover on text.
“What to be done of it then?” he asks, with a winking emoticon.
“Sweet torture,” I say as I will not rearrange my day for lust or him no matter how glorious our time. It’s a school night. He is kindness, adventure, precision, and folly. He is a haiku master genius at using silence to punctuate himself and space. He is also patient and though I am a woman I must get work done after lunches are made and before carpool. I trust myself to be wise, adult and responsible and savor in that hard-earned ability.
This isn’t bragging but confession. I have bene love sick in middle age and almost put a man before myself and daughter coming treacherously close to repeating the past.
Humbled by my regrets and mistakes and missteps.
But there has been good parenting as well.
Even when I feared I would not have the strength to rise up again, I did.
My mothering is not done but it is less intense. I no longer feed my daughter sounds, letters, and language. She doesn’t repeat moo and oink sounds. She learns more by how I live and act and treat her.
In our home, there are shared aromas we breathe but it’s from different rooms under the same roof.
I can’t even pick out her clothes because lace or brand or style changes. She might ask my opinion or talk a choice out loud but she rarely listens to my fashion input. I’m glad not to be snarked or barked as I see happening with others.
I have embarrassed her. I left sanitary pads in candy dishes in the bathroom so none of her friends would have to ask for them if they got their periods before she got hers. I didn’t say when I was 12 I corked myself with a paper towel or toilet paper and squeezed my legs together. I was trying to be revolutionary, radical, sensitive and feminist.
“That’s weird,” she said and keeps them inside a drawer instead.
There’s so much feminism that saved my life and I don’t know how to tell her that the mantras were life jackets.
The personal is political. Silence is violence. Truth telling matters. Believe survivors.
I can’t say voice matters when she doesn’t know the silence tattooed in my soul, the scars on the underside of my skin. She does not know how and what I had to fight to get or all that was taken, stolen or never provided.
She has had a mother made of shattered glass, blood and glue. Some parts of me I had to put together and did so awkwardly.
Can I protect her without cloaking her in my dread?
Some day, we might sit on the see-saw with equal weight and power sharing facing each other. We may look like two adults women, peers, from a distance but we will always have a distinct bond. The type only children and parents have.
Or don’t and forever long for.
“You are such a good mother,” someone said to me in front of my daughter. Later, she corrected them but just to me.
“I’m the only one who can say if you’re a good mother. I’m the only one you’re the mother of.”
I loved her logic which was not all right or all wrong.
I watch her at times holding the hand of her younger cousin, patient and tender and warm. “There, there,” she says, and I hear so many of my words to her but in her tone. They are her words now.
She is not only loved but loving. She knows how to tend to and care.
She can even say, while growing older, “Can you come here? Can I show you something? Can you help me?”
It stuns and astounds me that she knows herself and will be vulnerable, direct and dependent.
Might she have the mystery magic of well-being in her? It always felt like I only had one day’s coping and sometimes just barely. At night I’d pray or beg or hope for a secret delivery. Whatever came had to be rationed. There was so little in storage and borrowing wasn’t an option.
I think it’s in her bones most days. I think she trusts humans, the world, her body, mind, and heart. Sometimes, I want to fall to the ground and weep with joy. But I won’t want to overwhelm her or act innappropriate. I know my job is not done but just to even get to here. Sometimes it feels like a miracle.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.