I always played the mom when we played house in Kindergarten. And I was a stickler for the rules. I bossed my five-year-old friends around as you might imagine I would; I ruled with a plastic spoon. I picked favorites. Those kids got to work in the play kitchen. If someone I didn’t like wanted to play house with us, she would inevitably end up grounded and be sent to her “room” for most of recess. Sometimes I pretend spanked her, never really touching her.
Thinking of that now makes me want to vomit.
A friend of mine had a baby the summer before eighth grade. I still didn’t know how sex worked exactly, so for her to be pregnant felt other-worldly. Very Mary, mother of Jesus, because how else would a 13-year-old girl-child come down with child. In the locker room, as we discussed yet another tantalizing article in YM, I was the genius who decided oral sex must be french kissing because your tongues were in each others’ mouths. I don’t know what happened to that girl or her child. That makes me sad.
In rural Western Pennsylvania in the 90s, girls regularly got pregnant in high school. I suppose they still do, but to me, raised to think sex before marriage was the worst thing, the unforgivable sin, the number of swelling bellies passing me in the halls felt like an epidemic. And oh, how I judged.
My mom had me at 19. Her mom had her at 19. Her mom had her at 19.
So when I turned 20 with no baby on my hip, I got downright smug. Look at me. Look at all the things I’m accomplishing with my life. Nevermind the fact my anxiety at attempting to achieve all these things caused me to cut myself in the dark of night. The fact that I wasn’t one of them was a point of pride. They say pride always comes before the fall. They’re right.
I decided maybe I didn’t want children at all. Having recognized maybe I wouldn’t win that Grammy, I decided I’d be a field reporter. I’d travel the globe. I’d see things, do things, report on the people and places around the world. I’d win awards. I’d make something of myself. I’d be somebody.
My daughter changed my life plan.
I was going to be the best mother. We’d have one of those relationships they make cheese movies about; we’d be Lorelai and Rory but without the guy drama on my part. No, I’d focus on my daughter. I’d do this one thing right. I’d do it perfectly. Perfectly.
And then I got sick. And scared.
I thought about the struggling relationship I experienced with my own mother. I thought about the struggling relationship she experienced with her mom, and she with hers. I looked at my situation, sick and on bed rest and unable to work, and I thought of all those teenage moms I judged. As the Karma Train ran me over, I felt so alone.
Then she was gone. I wasn’t one of those moms. Instead I was completely other. They, instead, judged me.
I judged me.
Sometimes I still judge me. I’m working on it.
There are moments when I see myself as the mother I dreamed I could be in between all those different phases of growing up. Moments when we’re sitting on the couch reading books after a trip to the library. When they feel comfortable telling me anything, asking me anything. When my daughter visits and their voices echo off the walls of the house we’ve made a home. When we’re all in sync and everything feels like this was how it was meant to be.
But it’s always there. Hanging on for dear life. Poking me in my heart. This could have been different. This should have been different. You should have done better.
My motherhood hangs heavy with the nuances of loss and love. Some days I can rectify decisions, and some days I’m left questioning where exactly I went wrong. All I know to do now is to love all three children with all of my being.
It’s all I have to give.