I was going to do things differently when Scarlett was born. I was going to make her a little more independent, a little sooner. I was going to start pumping right away and get her on a bottle, imagining the relative freedom I would have if she easily went back and forth between breast and bottle. I was going to let her sleep with me only during the immediate postpartum period, while I recovered from giving birth. After a week or two of sleeping with me, I imagined, I would then have her sleep in her bassinet, and from there, she would easily transition to a crib after a few months (I imagined).
But things didn’t go as I planned. She turned out to be a temperamental baby, and I had a much rougher time after she was born – physically and emotionally – than I had planned for. I never did start pumping; it just ended up being a task that I didn’t feel able to add to my already overflowing plate. Consequently, she’s never taken a bottle and I can’t be away from her for more than two or three hours at a stretch. Although for a short time as an infant she did nap in her bassinet, I never did try to make her sleep there at night; six+ months later, she’s still sleeping with me every night. She’ll only nap in her swing now, and her bassinet sits in our bedroom, a convenient place to toss her blankets.
I don’t regret it, though. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes get frustrated – it would be nice to get up and go (like Michael can) without having to carefully plan my outings to coincide with when Scarlett will most likely sleep for a couple of hours (or, alternatively, taking her with me, which can put a damper on dinner out with my girlfriends, for instance). But I find myself so attached to her – this beautiful gift that I never expected.
There is something about curling up with her in bed, her warm little body snuggled up against mine. She nuzzles me and latches on and grunts and hums in delirious contentment, and I stroke her head and murmur silly sweet nothings to her. I want her to feel how much she is loved in every fiber of her being. I want her to know how cherished she is.
Sometimes I wonder what a difference that would have made for me.
They say that when we are infants and babies, the quality of our attachments will impact us for the rest of our lives. Babies who do not experience love and tender nurturing will suffer because of that all their lives with trouble forming and maintaining loving relationships, difficulty with trust and letting their guard down, and poor self-esteem. My mother didn’t want me. I don’t have any memories of a deprived infancy, but I grew up being told by my mother that she didn’t want me when I was born, and it wasn’t until an incident when I was two years old and when she stopped herself from putting her hands around my throat to strangle me that she accepted me and realized that she loved me. I know it was difficult for her – I came a mere ten and a half months after my brother, I was apparently a very temperamental baby, and she was only 21 when I was born, already in an abusive, difficult marriage. I get it, although what I’ve never understood is her need to tell me things I would have been better off not knowing about. I suppose in her way, she was conveying to me that somehow she managed to rise above some really difficult circumstances and actually love her child.
And so I am mindful. Which is not to say that I don’t screw up with my own kids, or even that they won’t one day find themselves in a therapist’s office pouring out anger, disappointment and hurt over my motherly failings. But I often think that my own longing for children for all those years was rooted in a wish to rewrite my own story. To give the unadulterated love I didn’t receive, to show what that could do, the difference it could make.
And so I coddle Scarlett, I love her unabashedly and purposefully, as I have all my babies, wholly and completely.
I swear it seems like we were just saying goodbye to 2011, and here we are, another year behind us. Time certainly marches on, doesn’t it?
2012 was a somewhat bumpy, somewhat eventful year for us. The highlights:
We got a new baby . . .
. . . who, over the course of the year, grew into this:
Scout’s a good dog. So much energy, though! And at 80+ pounds, she’s under the impression that she’s still a little lap puppy.
Michael went to Washington DC and appeared before the United States Supreme Court. Very exciting; most attorneys never get to do this.
Back in January, Michael had another brief hospital stay, which, looking back, I did not handle too well. Granted I was pregnant, moody, tired, and overwhelmed, but I still feel a little ashamed and wish I were more the stoic type. In any event, since then, Michael has enjoyed good health, and his annual scan a few weeks ago revealed that he’s still cancer-free. He now has three and half years of remission behind him, and the memories of his cancer, treatment, and the onslaught of resultant medical issues are beginning to take on a hazy quality.
Joey played another season of Little League, and his passion for baseball lives on. Watching him play is one of the highlights of my life as a mom. He also shocked all of us recently by scoring one of the lead roles in his school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie; he has been cast as Albert Peterson and will give five performances at the end of February! He turned 10 over the summer, and we took him to San Francisco to celebrate.
Kevin turned 15 (and is now about to turn 16!), got his braces off after nearly five years, started shaving, got a girlfriend, and dyed his hair. Adolescence has been bumpy, but so far not the nightmare I’ve feared. He’s a good kid, and I feel fortunate to have a close relationship with him.
Finn turned 4 in July and started preschool in September. He attends a typical preschool
with typical peers and is absolutely thriving there. We are so grateful that the opportunity for him to attend this program fell into our laps, that they have been so welcoming of him and see him as a whole, valuable child.
As for me, I got published in Literary Mama and Mamalode this year, both prestigious publications. One of them I will actually be getting paid for – peanuts, but still, it’s my first paid writing gig. Writing remains my passion, and I still dream of making it big, or at least bigger. I’m still trying to find a balance between the demands of mothering a slew of kids, maintaining a house, and carving out time for writing. Every year I begin the year hoping that this will be the year that I write something important and meaningful and that it finds an audience; I know it’s really up to me.
After the shock of finding myself pregnant again at the ripe old age of 44 wore off, I enjoyed a smooth, mostly uneventful pregnancy. I savored it, feeling that, although very unexpected, it was a gift. In June, Scarlett Rose entered the world, a beautiful home birth after a labor of approximately 45 minutes! It was probably my easiest birth, and a beautiful note on which to end my childbearing career. I had a rough go of things for a while after she was born, but eventually found my feet back on steady ground.
Scarlett has stolen all of our hearts, and six months after she was born, it’s hard to remember our family without her in it.
I capped of the year with some new ink representing me and Michael (the vines) and our brood.
I’m not big on making New Year’s resolutions, but I have hopes for 2013: that I live purposefully and in gratitude, that my kids feel safe and loved, that my marriage is peaceful, and my friendships flourishing.
So long, 2012.
When I was somewhere in my mid-twenties, my dad invited me up to his place for a weekend. We had managed to forge a positive relationship in my adulthood after many tumultuous years while I was growing up. At this point, he lived with his second wife in a house up in the mountains near the coast of Central California. I had been up to visit before, but this time it would be different: his wife would be gone for the weekend, and I would be going up alone, without my husband. It would be the very first time in all my life that I would spend an extended period of time alone with my dad, with nobody else acting as
buffers. I was thrilled and anxious; all my life I had craved a close relationship with my dad, and for most of my life that was made impossible by my parents’ divorce and ongoing melodrama, and his alcoholism and penchant for violence towards my mother and me and my brothers. What would we talk about? What would we do for two whole days? Would it be weird and awkward?
As it turned out, we had a grand time, the two of us. I flew up, and he picked me up at the airport and drove me back to his house in the woods. We spent the weekend eating food home-cooked by him (he loved to cook and was wonderful at it), watching old Laurel and Hardy movies, smoking in the house (not allowed by his wife), even drinking together. My clearest memory of that weekend, though, is of my dad teaching me how to shoot a gun. He always had guns – for as long as I could remember. That weekend he decided he was going to show me how to shoot. So he took a paper grocery bag and drew a target on it with black Sharpie, and hung it on the fence in the paddock. At the other end of the paddock – several dozen yards away – we stood, fortified by alcohol. He put a pistol into my hands and explained the mechanics of it to me, and then showed me how to shoot it. It was thrilling and terrifying. I can still remember the force of the recoil, and my ears rang for days afterward. We stood out there shooting for quite a while, and
somewhere, I still have that hand-drawn target on a paper bag, riddled with bullet holes, each of which he initialed with his or my initials, depending on whose bullet hole it was.
A couple years ago, my mother attempted to reestablish contact with me. When I rejected her advances, she sent me a scathing letter – 6 pages of single-spaced typed vitriol, recounting every perceived crime I’ve ever committed from birth on. In the letter, she also told me that any belief on my part that my dad and I had had any semblance of a positive relationship in my adulthood was a mistaken belief because, she said, it is impossible to have a healthy relationship with an alcoholic. I don’t know why a mother would feel the need to try to rob her child of positive, loving feelings.
It’s true that he remained a drinking alcoholic until his death, and it’s probably true that over the years since his death, my memories of him have attained a certain sheen that might not be completely reflective of reality; we do tend to glorify those whom we love and lose. All I know is that at some point, my dad changed. He continued to wrestle with his demons until he died, he continued to drink, but he seemed to reach a state of reflection. He looked back on his transgressions as a father to me and my brothers as we were growing up, and he realized that he fucked up, and he was full of remorse over it. And he was sorry without ever demanding that I also be sorry (which is what my mother has done). In my adulthood, he was kind to me, he encouraged me, he was supportive. He seemed to be able to see me as a person in my own right, a person with value, a person deserving of respect.
My dad’s been gone fourteen years today. I miss him more than ever. I can hardly imagine what he would think of my life as it is now – all these kids! I wish they all could have known him.
One thing I can tell you about living in a situation of ongoing abuse is that most women on the receiving end won’t admit it or reach out for help – or even emotional support – until they’re ready to do something drastic about it. Like leave. Women will cop to all sorts of other unsavory aspects of their relationships – drinking problems, porn addictions, financial ruin, in-law issues, you name it – but abuse? No. Because the thing is, everyone knows that nobody is going to support staying with a man who’s smacking you around, and once you start talking about it, you better be ready to extricate yourself from the situation.
Here’s something else I can tell you: you don’t really know how you’d deal with a situation until you’re face to face with it. Oh sure, you can sit there and say, “I’d NEVER put up with a man hitting me. The first time he laid a hand on me, I’d be outta there!” It’s very easy to say that – to believe it – when that situation is only hypothetical. When it actually happens, though, it’s a whole different story. You tell yourself all kinds of things to try to rationalize the situation.
I know these things from experience.
I lived with an abusive man for many years. I honestly can’t even remember the first time he laid a hand on me in violence, but there are many, many episodes that I remember, starting before he and I even ever got married. The night of my dad’s funeral may have left the most livid scar on my psyche, but it certainly wasn’t an isolated incident. I look back now and wonder: who was that girl who put up with that?
At this point in my life, all these years later, she’s someone both strange and intimately familiar to me. She’s like someone I knew in a dream.
I know she learned about how relationships work, like most kids do, from watching her own parents, and because of that, violence was nothing new to her. Some of her earliest memories are from toddlerhood: the sounds of shattering glass, flesh impacted by flesh, bodies being shoved into walls, shouting, screaming. I know her mother spent the first half of her life tearing her down, telling her how bad she was, so that when this guy came along and paid her some sweet attention, she ate it up. I know that he represented a way out for her, and she had no idea that she would only be trading one hell for another. I know that he wanted someone to rescue, someone weak and needy so that he could feel big and powerful. I know that for a long time when she grew up, she believed that this was just her lot in life. She wished for something better but didn’t believe it was her due to have something better, and had no idea how to attain something better, anyway. I know she was scared. I know she felt trapped and very, very alone. I know she told herself over and over, “If I could just be a better wife, a better person, he would stop hurting me.”
Part of the method the abusive man uses is emotional warfare. He tears her down to the point where she believes it’s her fault, that she’s brought this all on herself. He used to tell me, “I’m not like this. You bring this out in me. You make me do this to you.” He leads her to believe (because she’s susceptible) that there’s no possibility for a better existence outside of the relationship. The message is, “I hate you because you’re unlovable, but I still love you more than anyone else ever would.” The message is, “Nobody else would put up with you. You’re lucky I do.” The message is, “I hate you because you’re a miserable piece of shit, but you better not ever leave or you’ll be sorry.”
Yes, I was trapped like that for years.
So how did I finally get out?
It’s complicated. But in simple terms, Kevin and Michael were both the impetus for my finally extricating myself. It’s bitter irony that Kevin was one of the reasons I stayed as long as I did; once we had him, I thought about leaving all the time, but I couldn’t bear – absolutely couldn’t bear – the thought of having to share him, to give him up to this horrible man on alternate weekends or whatever the court might come up with. In the end, though, it came down to realizing that it’s one thing to put up with a hellish situation yourself, but to subject your kid to it is a whole other story. There came a night when he was coked up, and he took Kevin and disappeared for an entire night. I was frantic. To this day, I have no idea where he took him or what Kevin was exposed to. He came back the following morning, and I met with a divorce attorney that day, and took Kevin and left the following day.
And Michael came along. And he saw me as a person with value, someone worthy of goodness. It was the first time I began to believe that something else, something better, was possible. It’s probably sad that it took something, someone outside myself to see that, but there you have it.
There are many reasons women stay in abusive relationships: financial dependence, lack of a safety net of available friends and/or family, fear, and not the least, self-esteem. It really all boils down to that, I think. And I think that for anyone who has a daughter, instilling in her a strong sense of self – of self-value, self-esteem – needs to be an absolute priority. By the same token, raising sons into healthy men requires instilling the same positive sense of self, as it is the broken man who will lash out and victimize someone.
I know now that it wasn’t about me, it was about him. I’m as flawed as the next person, but I’m not a worthless piece of shit. He would have abused anyone he ended up with.
It was a hard road to travel, but I got out. And I am thankful.
Isn’t it funny how we mothers have probably never been more in love with our children than before they were born, and during their early infancies?
Think about it:
Before they’re born, they’re mysterious and magical, full of possibility. As mine grew inside me and my belly swelled accordingly, I was filled with awe. And the kicks and rolls and squirms, they rendered me spellbound. Who was this child? What would he or she be like? What would they look like? They were a part of me, floating along in sync with me, real but surreal.
And then they are born. Tiny and soft and unspoiled, with their blinking, doe eyes, taking everything in, considering it all. And even though they cry and are utterly needy and demanding, it’s pure and uncomplicated. Scarlett is difficult, but all she wants is loving arms to hold her, a cozy place to sleep, and some warm milk in her belly.
It will be awhile before things begin to get complicated, before we start clashing, before the battles start – battles over what they can wear to school, what I made for dinner, whether I served their cereal to them in the wrong bowl in the morning, and how mean I am for making them clean up their room. It will be awhile yet before they start favoring Daddy because he’s more fun. It will be awhile before they let me down, and I let them down.
But that will come in time; it always does. And then I wonder how it is that my kids – despite my best efforts – behave the way they do sometimes; I wonder where I went wrong. I feel like a failure. And I wonder sometimes if these battles that feel constant and endless are causing permanent damage to my relationship with them – will we be close when they’re all grown up? Or will they despise me? Or will they just tolerate me?
And would I have had kids if I had known – no, if I had believed – it was going to be so damn hard? An impossible question to answer. That’s the thing: none of us believes it’s going to be so hard. We all picture the soft, sweet baby, and maybe even the mischievous toddler, but not the kids who pretend they don’t hear you, or the screaming little girl, or the defiant boy, or the smart-mouthed teenager. Oh no – that’s not going to be our kids. That only happens to parents who don’t know how to parent.
So maybe I don’t know how to parent.
For now, I’ll savor the uncomplicated dance Scarlett and I share. While it lasts.
First, a word of thanks for all the lovely comments on Scarlett’s birth story. I’m more touched than I can say by all the kind words and well wishes. Thank you!
In a comment, Stacey asked –
How is Kevin doing? I noticed his body posture was rather aloof, so I hope that was either his standard teenaged boy pose, or that he’s coming around.
The truth is, Kevin has been pretty standoffish about the baby ever since he found out I was pregnant. It has been disheartening, because this is the first of my pregnancies that he’s reacted that way. I think there are a lot of factors coming into play with him, though. First of all, his age – he’s 15. ‘Nuff said. But seriously, I think this time around he was just old enough to have a full realization of exactly how Mom got into that condition, and to be completely horrified by it.
Secondly, I know he was worried throughout my pregnancy. He remembers – probably more clearly than any of the other kids, although they all remember, too – very clearly what happened after Finn was born. It’s not the Down syndrome – it’s not Down syndrome that has caused any of us a bunch of worry over this baby – it’s just the knowledge of all the things that can go wrong with any baby. It’s the possibility of health issues, of surgery and hospitalization. And I know that Kevin has spent a fair amount of time thinking back on Finn’s hospitalization immediately after birth, and worrying about what could happen with this new baby.
Lastly, there’s the vast age difference between him and this newest sibling. I finally dragged this out of him just in the last couple of weeks, that he’s been feeling ambivalent because it seems to him unlikely that he’ll ever know her well since he’s so much older and very well might fly the coop when she’s still pretty young. I told him that it’s up to him to make the effort to have a relationship with her, and that it can be anything he wants it to be. Honestly, it touches me that he even thinks about stuff like this.
All that said, he is coming around. Despite his posture in the post-birth pics (which I have to chalk up to the fact that he’s 15 and there’s his mom sitting in a pool half naked, for god’s sake – probably gave the poor boy nightmares), he kind of digs Scarlett. And last night, I was in the bathroom and I could hear her crying on my bed, and when I came out, this is what I found:
He dotes on all his younger siblings – no doubt he’ll dote on this one, too.
As for Joey, he’s quite smitten with her:
Ever since he was a two-year old tyke and became a big brother for the first time to the twins, he’s been enamored with the new babies that come into our family. I remember way back then, forever telling him, “Joey, get off the baby,” because he just wants to love on them so much. It’s no different with Scarlett; even though Joey will be 10 soon, I often find him on our bed snuggled up to her.
The girls, too, are completely taken with her:
They’re completely fascinated with everything about her, and I suspect they’re just biding their time till she gets just a little bigger so they can claim her as one of their tribe.
Ahhh, Finn. Finn was pretty standoffish for the first day or so (for anyone wondering, by the way, he was there with all the other kids pre- and post-birth; he was just way more interested in all of Sue’s equipment than he was in the baby, so he didn’t make it into any of the pics). “What the heck is that thing that squirms and makes so much noise?” he seemed to be thinking. “Is it safe?” When he finally decided to venture near her, he, of course, patted her on the head just a wee bit too enthusiastically and made her cry, which didn’t seal the bond between them right off. Now, a couple of days later, he loves to come and kiss her on the head when I’m nursing her, and he already says an approximation of her name (sounds something like “Garlic”). He can often be found gazing at her –
He is, however, feeling displaced, I think. Although he’s not taking it out on the baby (so far), he is suddenly having EPIC tantrums where he will lie on the floor and yell and cry and wail, “MAAAAAMAAAAAA! MAAAAAMAAAAA!” over and over. I’m making every effort to make sure he knows he hasn’t lost his place with me, but I think it’s just going to take time for him (and all of us) to adjust.
This is quite a juggling act!
As for Miss Scarlett, she’s a peach.
I can’t get over how pretty she is! Okay, I know I’m biased.
When she was first born, we couldn’t figure out who the heck she looked like. Now that she’s not all swollen and waterlogged, though, I think she favors both Annabelle and Lilah. And her hair! It’s the most beautiful golden color – none of the other kids were born with hair quite this color.
She has quite a temper and is happy mostly when she’s nursing and/or swaddled tight.
So that’s how all the kids are doing four days into this adventure. I’ll write about how this old postpartum mom is doing sometime in the near future.
Today marks 13 years since my first husband died from a cocaine overdose. It’s strange to think that he’s now been dead longer than he and I were married (12 years).
I contemplated whether to write anything about this today. I have no desire to commemorate him or my time with him in any way; looking back on that period of my life, I mostly feel anger at what he put me through, shame at what I let him put me through, and a vague sadness at how many years I wasted being victimized and utterly unhappy and hopeless.
But time and distance have a way of altering – not so much the memories themselves, but the texture and quality of those memories. It all seems like it must have been someone else’s life now – not mine. Or a movie I watched. How could I have experienced all those things, living in this very skin that I live in now, looking through these very eyes that I look through now? It seems unfathomable. And yet, not. The bruises on the surface healed long, long ago, but there are scars on the inside that will probably never heal.
This isn’t a “poor me” piece, though. More a reflection, an observation of how far life takes us in directions we never imagined. All those years ago, I never dreamed my life would look so different just a few years into the future. I couldn’t imagine a life of contentedness, a life of bounty, a life of strength built on facing adversity, a life of gratitude. But here I am, living just such a life. Things aren’t perfect, but I wouldn’t trade this full life for anything.
The wife is always the last to know – isn’t it the truth? I found out in quite a roundabout way, as these things tend to reveal themselves. Yes, my husband has been living a secret life. On the internet.
We’re talking mommy blogs, the likes of KH and Mrs. Odie. (Are there others? How long has this been going on? Who knows?!) And apparently he’s been spreading his comment seeds willy-nilly, spawning bastard comments. He’s even made reference to “my wife” in some of his comments. Shudder. It feels as if I’ve been made a party, unbeknownst to me, to some far-flung group grope. I’m now half expecting him to blurt out “Oh, yeah, Mrs. Odie!” next time we’re . . . uh . . . well, you know, if there is a next time.
And when has he been diving between the sheets of digital paper with these other
whores writers bloggers sluts bitches? When he’s at work, supposedly earning a living to support the offspring he keeps spawning at home? Or at night, perhaps, when I’m innocently asleep, dreaming of my next blog post all the ways to keep my man happy and satisfied?
It’s true (or so he says) that he’s only scanned KH’s blog recently, curious to see if she addresses the fact that her recently published book has generated some negative (gasp!) reviews; and it’s also true (or so he says) that he only found Mrs. Odie by Googling KH, and found her to be entertaining. How’s a wife to feel, though? Isn’t my blog enough for him? What have they got that I don’t have? I bend over backwards (ahem) to make him happy, and this is what I get? He’s looking for blog lovin’ elsewhere? He doesn’t even like the whole concept of blogging! He disdains it! At least that’s what he’s told me. I don’t know what to believe anymore.
Geez, what’s next? Am I going to find out he’s secretly writing a blog, too?
Today my dad would be 65. It’s been 13 years now since one stormy day, four months after he died, when my brother, my dad’s wife, and I let my dad’s ashes loose on the ocean, the crashing waves melding with my sobs of grief, the wind and rain whipping wildly about, mixing with my tears, blowing remnants of my dad’s remains into my hair and onto my wet skin and clothes, and in that way I carried a part of him with me for the rest of the day.
I still miss him terribly – more keenly at some times than others. When I find myself feeling low and in some way alone and, yes, like a little girl, unloved, I miss him the most. He was so flawed and dysfunctional for all the years I was growing up, but in my adulthood, although he never overcame the demons that would eventually cause his demise, he became my greatest champion, always seeing the best in me, always there with a word of encouragement and understanding, always expressing his pride in having me – me – for a daughter. So, it’s a selfish longing, a longing for that acceptance that he gave me.
I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I believe the only afterlife there is is how we live on in other people’s memories. And so I try to keep my dad alive in my memory, by honoring him every year on his birthday, and every year on the anniversary of his death, and in between by often thinking of him, remembering him, wondering what he might think of me and my life and my family now were he still here, and looking for pieces of him in my children.
Happy birthday, Dad. I miss you.