Friday, December 12, 2008

On Soft Sand and Mud

While facing my family in the context of this blog usually entails looking forward today my head is in a different place. Instead of closing my eyes last night to go to sleep and seeing my future with my children and Dan as I always do - I was looking back, reviewing my past.

Watching some of my closest friends go through the initiation into parenthood as they await their first born I see them taking the exact same steps I had when I was awaiting Cohen. The process is so common that when I visualize it I imagine parents-to-be waiting in line for a turn to waltz on this grand Harlequin dance floor where the foot prints are laid down in a pattern to guide them through the motions.

After the dance, parents glide off of the dance floor onto the opposite side of the room, a spot from which - from here on out - everything looks different.

With my first pregnancy I glorified my parents. I humanized mistakes that I had been holding against them thru my twenties and then praised myself for how big I was for being capable of forgiveness. Parenthood was obviously going to bring out the best in me. Pregnancy and the preparation for becoming a first time parent allowed me to see that while they may have sometimes failed, my parents had tried their best. And when entering an endeavor such as parenthood a young couple needs to believe nothing more than that our best will simply be good enough.

Not long after my daughter was born Dan and I were at my parents house and my mother was holding Cohen at less than one month old. My mother's lips and teeth were stained like those of a child who had taken great pleasure in drawing out his consumption of a purple sucker. Only she had consumed two bottles of red wine. I remember sitting across the room watching the way Cohen teetered in her lap. I sat torn in two - one half the maternal instinct that wanted to snatch Cohen from my mother's arms in a protective swoop - the other half of me paralyzed as the child who grew up watching her parents drink and was never able to find a single word that could combat their addiction.

This feeling of conflict turned out to be a much more accurate indication of how parenthood was about to play out for me.

I looked back onto the metaphorical dance floor, traced my steps, and stood frozen and confused as to how a path I thought I saw myself walk so clearly had taken me somewhere I never wanted to go. Parenthood forced me to confront a lot of things in my own childhood that before having a child of my own I would have just as soon never revisited. It turns out that my parents' best hadn't been good enough. This was a two fold problem.

First, throughout my pregnancy I had convinced myself that despite their flaws I could still emulate my parents and raise a child that would turn out at least as good as I have, and I felt pretty good about who I was at that time.

As a mother I realized that I turned out the way I have because of many factors in my life beyond the way I was parented and that who I am is fundamentally opposed to much of how I was brought up. This left me with no one to emulate, and the thought of flying solo as parent terrified me.

Secondly, my parents had not changed. They are the same people now as grandparents that they were when they were my parents. The only difference is that my children have a filter - me. I never had that. I saw everything. Still, it has taken me a few years to master the balance between being a protective mother and a scared kid simultaneously facing her parent's addictions and seeking their approval.

Could it be that we never truly see our parents as people until we are parents? Or do we realize upon our own entry into parenthood how little room for certain types of error there is - and it becomes clear that some of us had parents that did not share our awareness of the size of that margin for error?

Cohen adores her grandparents. She sees them on a weekly basis. Life goes on despite addiction. Life smooths over rocky pasts, despite the initial impact of strikes and blows scars form the bridges between before and after so that families can continue to move forward - which I have always felt is a family's only hope.

My mother drinks on and off, and denies being an alcoholic. My father is a shadow of the man I used to know and I spend a fair amount of time trying to figure how much of that is due to his illness and how much is do to his pain pill addiction. But my mother mostly hides her drinking and will refrain when Cohen is with her. My father is too far gone to take anyone else into consideration when seeking out his pain medication. While I have not seen the real him in almost a year at the least, Cohen will have never known the real him. She knows him now, knows what little I let her see. they have a petri dish relationship that I monitor closely.

Weeks away from having our second child I fly solo with confidence these days. I have Dan, and I am lucky to have found a partner so equally involved with his love for our children. For me family redefines itself with each addition. That is the gift of looking forward instead of back. It gets better with time. As a mother I can build on the foundation of my choosing, rather than the girl I used to be who spent her time trying to construct a castle on soft sand and mud. Recognize the power in that and flying solo will be a breeze.


Pacing the Panic Room said...

I don't have anything to say other than I loved this post. that's it. Loved it.

Anonymous said...

You are truly healed. I know it took alot of courage and an enormous amount of strength. I am proud of you A.C. Keep up the writing.