This morning in the shower I was thinking about healthcare and health insurance, the probable repeal of the ACA, and my fears for the future. (This isn't a post about health insurance.) I have a husband and a son who will need cardiology appointments for the rest of their lives—which leaves me terrified that the changes that are coming will include lifetime caps.
I thought about what life is teaching me right now, which is especially that what happens to one person in a family happens, to some extent, to everyone in the family.
What I really did was lean against the shower wall and cry for a while.
I thought about all of the people I know who have healthy family members. I mean…every single person in their family is just, you know, healthy. Colds and stomach flu, sure. But life-changing, terrifying illness or disease?
So many people live without that.
And I’m not sure you can even know until you suddenly don’t have that just how lucky you are to have it.
It influences everything in a family. And for such a long time. I don’t think, for example, that Kendell has ever gotten over his younger brother’s death from leukemia. And not just his brother’s death. Kendell’s frame of reference for childhood is having parents who were never home. They were always five or six hours away at a hospital, taking care of their ill son. So, now that he is a parent, he doesn’t have an image of what a healthy family looks like.
That happened almost forty years ago, but it’s still influencing not just him, but me and our kids, too.
But who had much time for crying in the shower, especially this morning when I realized that Kaleb’s science fair is in two days and we had literally not done one spec of work on it. I needed to hurry so I could buy a few things before work, so I was ready to get it done after work.
I thought about this all day, though, especially after I posted a self-deprecating Facebook status about feeling like the world’s best, most-fantastic mother ever. Am I a failure as a mom because I suck at completing science fair projects? (I had this problem last year, too.) Is the science fair just the world’s dumbest school assignment or does it only illuminate what I try to keep hidden, usually: my motherly incompetence?
One of my friends, who I adore and admire, said something that kept my thought process churning: she wrote about how, when she was a kid, her dad helped her with her science projects, and how those were some of her favorite memories, and how the project could just be about making good memories with my kid. (That is why I send Kaleb over to her house, so he can see what real moms function like.) I love that she has that memory with her dad. But I don’t, with mine. I don’t think my dad thought of helping me with my homework ever, that I remember.
Because it’s not just leukemia or bad hearts that happen to an entire family. It’s also unemployment, and a changing workforce my dad did not ever adjust to. It’s his undiagnosed, untreated depression. It’s his own father’s death when my dad was only 16, and his mom, who was fairly cold and distant and controlling. And their unhappy marriage. And it’s my mom’s issues that grew from her parents’ unhappy marriage, her attachment troubles and fear of gaining weight and disappointment over not being wealthy. And who knows what else?
All of the bad stuff in my parents’ lives influenced me. And in turn it is influencing my own kids, in ways I might not even realize.
Thinking about this all day made me want to go home and stand in the shower again and cry some more.
Because this is not the mom I thought I would be.
I thought, when I started having babies, that I would be the same kind of mom as I was a student (back before everything fell apart). The student I was in, say, fifth grade, whose history notes were a perfect chronological outline. The student who memorized every single Spanish vocabulary word in eighth grade, and who understood math with no problems, and who could rattle off all of the Greek gods and goddess’s names, with their corresponding Roman aliases. The one who got straight As and praise from teachers and awards from city councils.
I know some moms like that. Their houses are clean and they don’t teach their kids anything about procrastination besides how to avoid it. They are room moms and volunteer at PTA functions (I avoid PTA functions not really because of the time involved, but because I feel socially incompetent among so many other women) and never miss a parent-teacher conference. Their sons all earn their boy scout advancements and arrows of light and Eagles because their mothers help them. (My sons did all get their arrows of light, but only because their leaders helped them. My relationship with scouting is fairly complicated.) Their daughters admire them because they can do girl things so well—because they can show up at a PTA function and fit right in with the other moms.
When I first started this motherhood journey, I thought I would be an A mom. And A+ mom, even.
But I have failed in so many, many ways. Fs across the board, just like my junior year of high school.
Part of me wants to excuse myself. Part of me thinks of what might be reasons for my failures: my husband’s unhappiness and medical problems, my own issues with my parents. I guess I could tell myself that of course I spaced the science fair because I’m still trying to cope with the lingering fallout of yet another heart crisis, and add to it Jake’s current troubles and the holidays which are joyful but also stressful and my ankle not letting me run and , yeah, I have had a lot on my plate.
But how much does Kaleb have to suffer for what is happening to me?
An A+ mom would be able to keep all the shit together.
And I, dear friends, have none of my shit together.
Families without health problems: they’re everywhere. Families without all this lingering baggage: seems like they are too. I could name ten A+ moms right now.
But somehow, not in my family.
So my thoughts churned and churned all day long. So much churning, in fact, that I had to switch desks at work because I felt like one more effing Internet problem would send me right over the edge. No one wants a weeping librarian, or a raging one, especially when all they came in for was to print a boarding pass.
And I came home, and I helped Kaleb with his science fair project. We kept it simple: we did an experiment with vitamin supplements. I made him read a book about vitamins and then write what he learned. We watched to see which liquid the pills would dissolve in (turns out, water and ginger ale are the quickest), we took some photos. Tomorrow night, I have to work late so Kendell will have to help him put the poster together.
And I know: I’m not an A+ mom. I taught him to wait until the very last moment. I didn’t even have him watch me get the pictures ready to print, but just sent him off to the shower while I adjusted things in Photoshop. He made zero startling scientific discoveries (probably we could ask the doctor or a pharmacist “what liquid is best to take with a vitamin?” and he or she would tell us).
But, there was also this: we laughed together. We had a good time. He was happy to stay up late hanging out with me. He fulfilled all of the requirements of the assignment, even if the effort was fairly low. He squished a vitamin capsule all over his hand and it made him gag (who knew my lustrous lavender-colored vitamin capsules were full of brown goo?) and then laugh some more.
That’s all I can do. I can only bring my imperfect self to this responsibility of motherhood. I can apologize for my mistakes. I can (and do) anguish after they’ve all gone to bed, or all gone out into the world, when my mistakes gleam clear in my memory as I stare into the dark.
I know I have been an imperfect mother.
I know I haven’t managed to leave behind this terrible baggage, but lug it around with me everywhere.
I haven’t been enough to balance out Kendell’s baggage either.
But I will keep trying—at least. I might be late for everything and pass on my bad habits and mess up most things that I try.
But what else can I do, but be willing to cry in the shower and then dry off and go out for science fair supplies?