Friday, May 18, 2012

What If Bad Mommy Gets Better?

Last week, for three days, I attained enlightenment. Laugh if you will, I am telling you, I was liberated from suffering. For three days. If you want to know what it was like, I'll tell you: I was without fear. I was at one with the belief that my true nature is happiness. I wasn't ungrounded. I didn't fall down and stop moving or forget to pick up Elva at school. I just knew that all I needed to do was experience my own innate joy and that all the mundane tasks I had to perform would naturally flow from that happy place, and when they did, they would just be part of the fun. I laughed with my daughter in a way I barely recognized. We sat on the floor throwing popcorn into each other's mouths, which we both found hilarious. I thought, "Holy shit. This might be the first time I've ever actually played with my child."It was truly Heaven.

 Interestingly, during those three days that felt like I had blessedly fallen into a pool of light, I actually had a flicker of concern about Bad Mommy. What would happen to my snarkiness and my 17.5 devoted followers if Bad Mommy attained enlightenment? Who would be bad for the moms who need a bad mom's confessions to make them feel better about themselves, and less alone? What kind of example would I be setting, being all happy and peaceful? Who would be irritable, exhausted, and short-tempered? Who would let the world know, "Hey! This motherhood shit is seriously hard!"

 And then, as mysteriously as the enlightenment had arrived, it left, and I was back to business as usual--tons of fear and anxiety about the future, multiple story lines that end with Elva in a straight jacket or dead, me alone and homeless, fighting to protect my shopping cart full of trash, naked, with a stick as my only weapon. In a dark alley. And everyone hates me.

So, I'm back. But I am, I think, a little lighter. Bad Mommy is not, essentially, contrary to enlightenment. In fact, just as Jung would predict, she is, as a shadowy figure, one of the keys to it. Bad Mommy exposes the truly dark goddess of perfectionism (Good Mommy) for what she is--an unhappy, uptight, self-harming killjoy who needs a big hug, a long cry, and a shot of bourbon, followed by a good night's sleep. Bad Mommy, God love her, can give her those things, until enlightenment arrives in a more permanent way.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Bad Mommy Don't Play That

One of the things I love about my friend Claire is her complete comfort with being brutally honest. I was eking out a confession recently that (shh! don't tell anyone) "I don't really like to play with children, even my own." As I waited to be struck by lightning from the hand of a displeased God, Claire said loudly, "Ugh. I HATE playing with Veronica. I used to feel so bad about it. But then I talked to my mother-in-law and she said, 'Please. Do you really think I played with my children? I had no interest in it. And besides, I was too busy cooking and cleaning and running the house.'" Ah, the old days, when the line between the world of adults and the world of children was intact.

My husband and I used to call each other from the park we took our daughter to each and every day for years (each and every living day. for years) and say, "If I never see this God forsaken place again it will be too goddamned soon. Okay?"


"Okay. I gotta go. She wants me to push her on the swings."

I remember one Saturday afternoon, digging a hole in the sand with my daughter and thinking, I can't take this any more. The only thing that could possibly counterbalance this experience for me is a three hour discussion with a deeply intelligent adult about Kierkegard or the implications of the French Revolution on American Foreign Policy in the 1800s... Help me. Somebody. Help me, please.

Meanwhile, I judged myself for not enjoying digging a hole in the sand as much as she enjoyed it. Why am I not more patient, more relaxed, more playful? But then, I had this aha moment: I am not supposed to enjoy this. She is. This is fun for a three year old. She's learning. I learned all I needed to learn from this experience of digging a hole in the sand about 35 years ago. It's not a parenting issue; it's a developmental issue. I need to talk to a grownup! Help!!! Get me out of here!

The other thing my daughter loves to do that I want almost no part of is wrestling. Meanwhile, her father can wrestle with her for close to an hour before he's over it. So that's his job. I don't want to play Barbies or pretty ponies or pet shops. I don't want to "make guys talk" which is what my friend Caren's daughter Olive calls giving voices to small plastic figures. Don't make me make guys talk! I'll go crazy.

Basically, what I realized is that when it comes to playing, I have to pick my poisons and pick them well. I can't afford to do things that significantly deplete my energy and my will to live, like getting on the play structure at the park. I drew the line in the sand on that one: That's for children. Mommy doesn't play that. You play that while Mommy drinks her latte and talks grownup talk with any adult who will engage. Mommy glares at the other adults who get on the play structure. Don't they know that's for children?

And just in case you think you're going to make me feel guilty that I'm not connecting with my child enough by giving me "the look", think again. I read out loud for hours. I braid hair. I pack a mean lunch and sometimes I get creative and put love notes in her lunchbox. I make art and draw. I facilitate the making of books. I talk about feelings and snuggle in bed. I connect in a million ways. Digging a hole in the sand at the park just isn't gonna be one of them. And if you do dig holes in the sand, and that works for you, you go for it. But I hope you're cutting yourself slack somewhere else, then. Not joining the PTA, for example, or saying, "Sorry, kid. I don't make Halloween costumes from scratch. And guess what? I don't even feel bad about it."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Slap or Run

I recently slapped my mother across the face. In my therapist's office.

She wasn't actually there, of course. I mean, I'm not crazy, for God's sake. But the thing is, I had never slapped my mother before--in my mind, or in a dream, or in my journal. I didn't even know I wanted to. I had always thought of her as a very nice woman. But once I slapped her, I realized I was long overdue. I needed that!

Here's how it happened. I have been doing a lot of inner work these days and have come upon some key moments in my childhood that define how I relate to life. I would like to understand them better so that I can stop being unconsciously enslaved by them. In this vein, I was describing to my therapist an incident from when I was around six years old and my mother really flipped her lid after a fight with my dad. She was not even remotely adult in her behavior on the night in question, and I became, for the first time I remember, but probably not the first time, the grownup in the room. At six years old, I took on the responsibility of managing the whole situation, trying to calm her down, trying to get my father to do something other than stare blankly at the television as if nothing were happening, running up and down the stairs between them for hours trying to secure my life as I knew it. Trying to get my mother to stop throwing her clothes into a suitcase. Trying to get my mother to act like my mother.

And this is one reason I slapped her, in my mind, in my therapist's office: it was that old-fashioned approach to putting a stop to hysterical behavior, like Cher slapping Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck. "Snap out of it!" But I won't deny that the primary reason was pure rage at how overwhelmed I felt at being put in the position she was putting me in. She was terrifying me.

This is significant because I still feel sudden upsurges of rage and overwhelm and terror when people--like, for example, my daughter--go to pieces emotionally around me. I just want it to stop. I can do a little cajoling, a little comforting, but at a certain point, I start to unravel. I want to run away, screaming, and never come back, because I definitely don't want to slap anybody, and in those moments of total internal panic, those seem to be the only two options. Slap or Run, my version of Fight or Flight. I am pleased to report that so far, I have done neither.

My hope is that, in processing this early childhood experience, I will become conscious enough to stop confusing my mother with my daughter, or any other hysterical person. I won't panic. I'll be calm enough to actually be of use. I'll realize it's okay, because I'm not six years old, and that's not my mother, and I can handle this. And I think it's a valid hope. I'll keep you posted.