A mother’s guilt..It is Halloween 2020.
My ex-husband has the kids today, so I’m childless on one of the most child-centric days of the year. While that can sometimes be a very good thing, today I’m feeling the loss and pain of what could have been. So I really should not have been surprised by the onslaught of emotion that a seemingly simple phrase brought on.
After I got out of the shower, my beagle Dolly decided that she was bored and antagonized me to play with her for a little bit. She swiped at my feet with her paws and lowered her head and the front of her body to the ground, sticking her butt and tail up into the air, while looking up at me with those big brown eyes. I knew she was spoiling for a fight. She and I usually wrestle and play fight with each other a couple of times a week, so I’m very familiar with the signs of her wanting to “get into it” with me. Even though I had just gotten out of the shower and was wearing nothing but a towel, I decided to get on the floor and indulge her for a bit. We did what we typically do; I tapped her paw and she snapped her jaws in my direction (don’t worry, she doesn’t bite me when we do this). Then I tapped her other paw and her head snapped in that direction. This went on for a few minutes until she and I were grappling with each other as much as a human and a dog possibly can. At one point, I grabbed her and held her tight, feeling her warm, soft fur against my cheek, and said to her, “What if I don’t want to fight?” Without warning, the floodgates opened and I started full-on ugly crying (to my complete and utter shock). My entire body heaved, pressing into my shocked dog and the hardwood floor. Dolly slinked out from underneath me, completely scared out of her wits and unsure of what the heck just happened. She flattened herself and belly-crawled under the bed while my entire body racked with powerful sobs that I just could not control. I yelled in a sort of primal frenzy, “What if I don’t want to fight anymore?!”
I was completely taken aback by the force of the anger, pain, and fear that were coursing through me. The enormity of those words hit me like a ton of bricks. The weight of the truth behind them was just too much to bear in that moment, and I felt lost, hopeless, and frightened. I was completely taken aback by the force of the anger, pain, and fear that were coursing through me. The enormity of those words hit me like a ton of bricks. The weight of the truth behind them was just too much to bear in that moment, and I felt lost, hopeless, and frightened. For the past six years, I have known one disappointment after another. First, my father was taken from us way too soon. He had a wretched bout with cancer and there was nothing that could be done to help him by the time we found out. I’ll always regret some things about this time in my life, and the fact that I did not spend more time with him weighs on me more heavily than anything else. Four months after his passing, my husband and father to my three children told me that he wasn’t happy and wanted a new life. Without delving into the history too much, he and I still do not see eye-to-eye to this day, and practice a dynamic that I like to characterize as counter-parenting. Literally every decision is a fight, and it’s very difficult to draw on reserves of energy that are running dry. Just yesterday, we got into a disagreement about something involving the kids; it was more proof that we will just never get along (not that I don’t want to).
As a result of the divorce, I had to leave the home I loved (my dream home, a beautiful house that this Jersey City girl could have never envisioned herself having for her own) and start all over in a much smaller space. Add to that the pressures of a new position at my job as a teacher, disputes involving bills, the typical “joys” of parenting teens and tweens; the result is that I always feel like I am engaged in some sort of back and forth with someone.
And obviously, it’s taking a toll.
In general, I don’t put a lot of faith in spirituality, or messages from beyond. But somehow, a thought was planted in my head just moments after I questioned what if I don’t want to fight anymore. In response, I heard the words, “But you have to.”
It was that simple. I knew that the voice (or whatever it was) was talking about my kids. I’m the one in their corner, the one person consistently in their lives on a daily basis. I’ll always be one of the primary people who are willing to fight for them, whether they want me to or not. We work so hard to keep our lives as normal as possible, and there is just no way that I can give up. I can’t let them down any more than they have already been, even though they assure me that they’re fine and are worried about me. And that makes me feel even more guilty. Whether it should or shouldn’t, I can’t say. But for whatever reason, I stopped crying as soon as I heard, “But you have to” in my head.
I wiped my tears, picked my sorry self up off the floor, grabbed a tissue, and coaxed the dog back out from under the bed. Walking over to the coffee maker, I said, “It’s okay. I got this.” Maybe it was the thought of a warm, rich cup of coffee that began to soothe my soul; regardless, I started to feel more in control. It really is going to be okay.
While it is daunting to know that you have a huge responsibility to your kids, there is a certain power that comes with that. Even though there are very few moments when I feel like I have everything under control, my purpose in life is clear. And that gives me a strength that propels me forward and influences everything I do.
There is nothing greater than a mother’s love except for a mother’s guilt. But if that sense of guilt drives me forward and gives me strength, then it will all be worth it. And for the days that strength is in short supply, there’s coffee.