On mornings when I wake up just before my alarm, I feel at peace. My eyes flicker slowly, adjusting to the light creeping in from the window. To maintain the stillness, I don’t check the time right away, instead I allow my body to take direction from the soft light peering in from the hallway. It must be just past 7 a.m. Olive, my near 5 month old, slept through the night. I smile from this victory. I am grateful for the extra sleep. I am blessed to have a healthy, wonderful baby.
No one could ever picture me being a mother. They all joked that I took after my late grandmother–a cold and stoic mother of 9 boys–someone who cringed at being shown affection. She proved her love through hours of sweating over a hot stove and little gifts from time to time from her outings–a testament to her selfless nature and dedication to her family. Wherever she was, everyone else was always on her mind and she wanted you to benefit and share in her experience through this small token–a bottle of Arizona iced tea or costume jewelry she got with her points from the casino. Every item, a treasure she bestowed onto her family, a myriad of tokens, each one carefully handpicked and dispersed. Her love, though at times unrecognizable, was spread wholeheartedly across generations. As the number of grandchildren began to multiply, it became harder for her to resist the hugs. Eventually, if you were lucky, when you reached into kiss her on the cheek, she’d turn, grab your face with both palms pressed firmly against your cheeks, and give you a sprightly kiss on the temple. Then you’d see her grinning ear to ear in her own amusement, the shock of her letting her guard down was disarming.
I, too, feared how I would be as a mother. My insecurities of loving another in a way they needed to be loved surfaced tenfold throughout my pregnancy. I filled my arsenal with books on parenting to ensure I was prepared to take care of this new human prior to her arrival. I didn’t want to fail, but most importantly, I wanted my child to thrive and know that she was loved. I predicted that knowing how to do this would not come naturally to me. As someone who subconsciously compartmentalizes and detaches from the world in order to maintain a sense of security and happiness, I wanted to relinquish these bad habits and give my love freely and openly to my child. Doing this made sense; not only would it make me a better mother, but a better wife, friend, relative, overall human being. If this meant opening my heart and letting it explode a thousand times in pain just so that I could experience overwhelming joy, then I was ready to take that leap. Even if that meant this version of myself was only available to a select few, I would be this version and hit the ground running.
I had this revelation last night while engaging in couch talk with the hubby. (Couch talk is the equivalent of pillow talk, only it happens on the couch and I’d say is just as intimate.) My whole life I endeavored to make everyone around me happy to the point where I surrendered my own happiness to achieve this dead end. When my parents were over the other day, I sort of felt like I was having an outer body experience. My mom was super happy to see Olive as usual and if I recall my dad’s mood was decent as well. I saw myself interacting with them from a distance and was completely detached. I go into this subdued neutral mode around them as a defense mechanism. I’m certain I’ve been this way for a long time, this trance like state, in order to protect myself. I realized that their presence is so volatile that I can’t bring myself to be normal around them.
Though I’m digressing, I think it’s important to elaborate. Over the course of time, if you put my relationship with my parents on a graph, there would be much more low points than high. Ultimately I became resistant to the high points because they would get so diluted by the low points. I eventually built up a tolerance for the low points and it became my default demeanor with them because I could not tolerate the sudden drop from positive to negative in an instant. It became too devastating for me to handle so I put up a protective barrier to shield myself from the pain that consumed me whenever their marriage was on the rocks or whenever their personalities became too demanding and overwhelming. I like to imagine a “normal” life as healthy heart on a graph. There are high and low points with steady intervals in between (I’m not in the health field so this description could be entirely inaccurate). When the heart beats at a syncopated rhythm for too long, then that means it has stopped beating aka death. Somewhere down the road, I started functioning in this syncopated rhythm with them and though I’m oversimplifying, it’s like being dead.
All of that to say, I don’t want to be so contrived. That’s not who I am or who I want to be and it’s never been more apparent to me than ever.
Sometimes their world is made of paper mache. The surface has been painted nicely with a range of colors and textures. If you lean in and look closely, you can see the surface is misshapen, there are cracks along the circumference. And if you’re me and walked along the roadways of this world, you question every step for the fear that the slightest misstep, will puncture its very foundation. One clumsy step and you’ve fallen through. Before you know it, you’ve been sucked in and you’re gasping for air. Its inhabitants are the most loving people you’ll ever meet and they’re happy you’ve joined them. They’ll offer you food and help you with whatever you need. But on the condition that you follow their way of life and understand them even when they’re hurtful or disrespectful towards you. Speaking out automatically means you’re undermining them rather than searching for the truth and finding harmony in spite of the chaos.
This was my life with them for so long and I cannot live this way anymore. While I’d love to have a more open and honest relationship with my parents and my brother for that matter, I cannot be part of their world in that way anymore. I must view it from a distance, only meeting at the periphery.
So how do I go about maintaining a relationship with them while in this dead state? I have made strides to escape their world and created my own world. I know now that my life is more peaceful with this distance. I have to compartmentalize them in order to be happy because the hardest lesson I’ve ever had to learn is that I don’t need their approval in order to live my life and be happy. What’s most important is that I’m doing what’s right for me and my family–whether or not that’s acceptable to other people is their problem, not mine. I must own this and know this with every step I take in my own direction. There’s this quote about being careful with what you say to your children because it becomes their inner voice. I’m living proof that no matter how hard you try to tear yourself away from wanting your parent’s approval, their voice will emerge from the dusty corner of your mind and try to influence your decision. There comes a point in your life when you just have to turn it off and stand firm and confident in what you want and what will make you happy.
All I can hope and pray is that my hubby and I create an environment in our growing family where everyone feels safe and empowered to speak the truth in their hearts. To love openly and to freely be themselves. This has all come up in a flurry as I move to conquer and expel that which makes me unsettled and imbalanced. As I move toward having more open and loving relationships with all people, I must thwart and be careful with those that are toxic and/or bring toxic energy into my life.
Going back to my morning, minutes after I had awoken, I could hear Olive beginning to fuss. I got out of bed, excited to greet her good morning. She flashed a gummy smile as I scooped her up. I cherish these few moments I have with her before I leave for work. Whether it’s through feeding or changing her, singing an off tune original or dancing with her, I have never felt more present or overwhelmed with joy than I do now. Becoming a mother hasn’t just opened up my life to new meaning, but it’s redirected the way I feel and think about the world, myself and relationships with others. I feel more open to the world than I have in a long time and allow pockets of light to shine through. When I feel the warmth from the light coming in, I feel whole and grateful for all of the blessings in my life–a thriving, beautiful baby, a supportive and ever loving hubby, family and friends who are there for me, my health, a job I’m becoming more passionate about and the list goes on. Counting my blessings has really made me feel more at peace with myself and less inclined to become paralyzed by the things I cannot change.
Yesterday at mass, we were standing in line waiting for Olive to be baptized. I was holding her and my hubby asked me if I wanted him to hold her. I asked him why and he explained that when the water gets poured over her head and she begins to squirm, he knew that she would look to me for comfort. As Father Gene scooped water and poured it across Olive’s head, her arms began to flail and as she was about to cry–she turned to me and I looked at her softly and told her it was okay. She calmed down. In that moment, standing next to to the love of my life, holding our daughter, surrounded by family and friends and the spirit of loved ones, my eyes teared up from the abundance of emotion flowing through me. I was so proud of her; I was so happy and full of grace.
I believe that this process of transforming has transcended into other parts of my life and slowly, I am becoming the best version of myself. My hope is that one day I won’t have to compartmentalize and everything can just be. I’m too much of a realist to know that isn’t possible in the near future, but perhaps, one day it will be.