Snap. Grumble. Bark. Glare.
It’s moments full of these things I remember as I try to fall asleep each night.
I drift to sleep certain that these moments reveal everything about who I am as a parent.
“Grandma just cannot speak highly enough of you!” she told me. “How you show him what’s real and important in this world. Not toys, not that he doesn’t have those, but what really counts.”
I never know quite what to say to compliments, so I murmured something unintelligible and waited for her to continue.
“And those pictures of you guys with your faces painted last week? What a hoot! Anthony tells me folks were giving you mean looks, but I know you and you didn’t care a bit.”
I laughed. “True. But you know what was funny? For all the people at Disneyland who gave me ‘come on, now’ stares, the ladies in the Whole Foods bathroom were in love with my pirate face. Who’d have thought?”
A couple hours earlier, I’d watched my son’s head disappear just beneath the water at a friend’s home swimming pool. I leaped in when he failed to surface, his hands waving slowly instead of in the melodramatic, thrashing way of film. Read more…
I watch my twelve-week-old son sleep in the middle of my bed. His belly rises and falls ever so slightly it sometimes looks like he’s a doll.
For the last twelve weeks, I have been with him most his waking moments. I’ve watched him learn to smile, laugh, and roll over. I’ve kissed his forehead as he’s done his baby push-ups against my chest. I’ve had countless conversations with him.
And now, it’s time to relinquish these moments to someone else. My heart breaks, but holds together at some seams knowing it’s still my arms that will rock him to sleep each night.
The last couple of years, I’ve seen the same lovely lady for waxing. I’ve enjoyed our amicable, easy conversation.
I was surprised when today’s conversation took a more melancholy turn. I mentioned how I’d reached to stroke my older son’s face earlier in the week and been startled to see my hands are aging. I started crying, not because of new wrinkles and spots, but because
I wrote my first blog on June 23, 1995. It was a text file I began with the earth-shattering words:
My, doesn’t she aspire to a lot! She aspires to be Bobby’s girl, and that’s all that’s important to her!
I was sixteen years old at the time. My only objectives were killing time and making my super-stellar website into more than a collection of links, which was what 99% of the web felt like at the time.
I didn’t write very often at first. I used a single short text file for all of 1995. My 1996 text file was even shorter, and included an entry written almost exactly eighteen years ago, on March 19, 1996:
[B] and I – the ‘giant teddy bear’ – moved into a rather groovy (if I do say so myself) house on eighteenth and Jefferson […]. It’s a wonder – I would never have thought that we would get it.
I’m trying to get into the Youth Corps. Hope I make it – I’m so sick of washing dishes you wouldn’t believe. I do love my coworkers, yes, but that’s not enough to combat the loneliness and feelings of incompetence I deal with through every moment of every shift. “Am I such a loser that this is the best job I can get?” It’s not, actually, but I’ve not had the energy to look for a job again until recently.
In early 1997, I was writing enough to warrant a text file for each month. I wrote only one very long entry that March, detailing how I’d emailed my boyfriend’s parents about some unkind words they’d spoken about my mom:
I wrote a letter to [B]’s parents, a letter wholly honest, nothing hidden or omitted. [B]’s father called last night and said that he wanted to talk things over with [B] – one of those things being the letter that I wrote. He said that it had them very upset. It was then that I realised that no words will ever enlighten them; no understanding will ever touch their hearts. They lost me when they left that message – and when they lost me, they lost something good. They lost an intelligent, sensitive, creative and caring human being.
I wrote about anything and everything at the time, though I surely wrote it more dispassionately than I felt it. Shortly after I wrote this particular entry, I walked to a nearby park and swung in the darkness for a long time. I ached to realize my time with B was almost over. I knew there was no way we’d be able to overcome familial differences, and that our relationship was gasping its last (prolonged) breath.
For a seventeen-year-old, even a seventeen-year-old college student versed in poverty and abuse and long since moved out of her family home, that is huge stuff. And still I had time to write about life lessons, the kind I have to keep learning every few months even now:
I talked with an old friend of mine yesterday evening, and something I said remains with me still. Our conversation had fallen to the parts of our pasts that have hurt, and I remarked that this is why I look to the future rather than at the past. We can only relive something so many times before it becomes only an exercise in agony, a reminder of pain that we have already learned from. Though today may bite, tomorrow always has the potential of being a beautiful, wonderful day.
Almost three years ago, I wrote about losing my mom to mental illness. I did so with shaking hands in hopes my words would be healing to those struggling with mental illness and illuminating to others.
The post was one of my most popular. It was also one of my most deleted. I thought of reposting it again someday so it would again be accessible here, but wasn’t sure when or why.
Yesterday I read “Dear Ms. Miller,” a thoughtful, articulate response to a blame-assigning statement by Washington Times editor Emily Miller. Whereas my response to the statement–indicative of lack of experience trying to obtain help for a mentally ill loved one–was to glower at my screen, blogger MJ channeled her experiences into a thoughtful, detailed assessment of the many difficulties actually obtaining treatment.
I hope you’ll read “Dear Ms. Miller,” and read my post below if you haven’t already.
I continue to wish peace for all who suffer, and compassion from those who do not.
SIX HANDS FOR LIFTING: ON MY MOM, MENTAL ILLNESS, FEAR AND HOPE
Originally posted June 8, 2011
Eight years ago, I had a conversation so excruciating, mere memory of it causes me to tremble as I perch at rusty floodgates barely holding back a billion more tears.
Eight years ago, my sister, brother-and-law and I sat on my mom’s front porch and urged her to consider voluntary psychiatric commitment.
When I envisioned the summer of 2003, I thought about the joy of being free from law school for three whole months. I imagined all the adventures I’d have with my siblings. Best of all, I pictured the lovely bride my just-younger sister would make on her wedding day.
What I absolutely did not picture as I boarded the Greyhound bus to Oregon was spending a summer watching my mom’s long-time “colorfulness” devolve into full-blown mental illness. I didn’t expect I’d spend many awkward hours listening to her talk about how her neighbors were poisoning her, Conan O’Brien was doing experiments on her, or how her children were “in on it” with the University of Oregon and the Cheshire Cat. Read more…
“You haven’t thought of harming yourself?” the nurse asked with furrowed brow as she reviewed my questionnaire.
“No,” I said, smiling. “I’m depressed now, but I’m not at risk. I understand what this is and why it is, so I don’t put much stock in it.”
“I wish it were like that with me,” she replied.
“It took me lots of time.”
There have been many days during this pregnancy that I have wanted to hide in darkness and emerge only for birth. Read more…
“I wish I could show you all the places I lived and visited in Japan,” I told my fiancee last night. “I wish that we could hop in the car and be there in an hour. But of course, for you to see these places, we’ll have to plan and save for years.”
It’s worth it. We will save, and I will someday show him the places I called home, even if I’m unable to locate most of the people who made the places feel like home. I’ll take him to the schoolyard where I once danced goofy in the rain on a school’s webcam to make him smile. I’ll show him the little market to which I used to bike on my rusty, thirty-year-old bicycle, and–if it still exists–the tiny school up in the mountains that continues to make appearances in my dreams.
Last night’s conversation still in mind, I read this morning an article on the lessons of Gettysburg. One particular paragraph talked about the strange sensation of piling off a tour bus and wondering what you’re supposed to do for amusement in such a place. The words evoked my own memory of such a visit: to Hiroshima. Read more…