Sunday, May 30, 2010

Embracing My (Inner) Child

I know I wouldn't be the first mommy to rediscover all of my own insecurities about my childhood upon the birth of my son.  We all want what's best for our children, but I have found that what I want most for my son are the things I often felt I was lacking.  Big things that are so basic: love, acceptance and security.

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
And company doesn't mean security,
And you begin to understand that kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises.
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head held high and your eyes open,
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
You learn to build your roads
On today because tomorrow's ground
Is too uncertain for plans, and futures have
A way of falling down in midflight.
After a while you learn that even sunshine
Burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate
Your own soul, instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you can really endure,
That you really are strong
And you really do have worth
And you learn and learn ... and you learn
With every goodbye you learn.

I discovered this poem by Veronica Shorffstall when I was in high school, when I had "real" problems.  I bought a plaque from Hallmark with a paraphrased version and hung it in my bedroom next to my Steve Perry and Sting posters.  It was my first clue that I was incredibly naive.  

Back then I believed that when my high school boyfriend said he loved me that meant that we would be together forever.  I had no problem with the fact that I would never be with another person, but apparently he did.  Twenty-some-odd years later I still remember the day that I caught him with...wait for it...MY BEST FRIEND, and it feels like yesterday.  One year ago I found him on Facebook, and, yes, friended him.  We have reminisced about the 80's and all of the great concerts we went to together.  He told me he really regrets what happened between us, and, as time always has a way of putting things in perspective, I have to chuckle a little but, honestly, could care less.  He taught me a valuable lesson in a really shitty way.

I doubt that Ted ever realized the impact he had on my life, and I certainly never would admit it to him.  I was the oddball in high school who took my relationship very seriously.  Sure there were kids who get married right after graduation, and some even got pregnant and had babies right away.  My previously mentioned "best friend" (also a FB friend) married a guy a year after high school, and now has a daughter in college, while I sit and wonder if my four month old will ever even get in to college.  While I am sure that anyone would agree that a cheating douche bag is the antithesis to true love, I freely admit that I hold love to a very high standard.

It is a standard that came long before my birth:  my parent's marriage.  It was idyllic, according to anyone who witnessed it.  It was that perfect meeting-at-a-church-function, going-to-prom, proposing-in-college, and supporting-each-other-through-master's-degrees kind of love.  Their relationship was sweet and tender, yet sad and tragic in a Romeo and Juliet way minus the family feud and double suicide ending.  At the ripe old age of 29, my mom was left with a bassett hound and a 3 1/2 year old when my father was called on by God to fill some bigger purpose in Heaven.  I was forever changed before my fourth birthday.  I had lost my first love.  

A couple of years later, in an act of sheer desperation I have to believe, my mom married a jackass.  She was lonely and felt that her child needed a father figure.  I will spare you the details of the sleepless nights and hospital visits my mother endured, but suffice it to say, he did not fit the bill.  However, my mother, true to her faith, did not see divorce as an option, so we suffered through that absurd union for 12 years.  When he left her for another woman, I could not help but dance around the house to George Michael's "Freedom".  When my mom called me seven years ago to tell me that she had seen his obituary in the local paper, I remember telling her that I was a bit freaked out but definitely wasn't sad.  She said, "Yeah, I know what you mean".

I thought about having kids with Ted.  He wanted them.  In fact, he has two teenagers now.  Although he claims to not be married to his (ex)wife, the girl he hooked up with right after me, he does seem to love his kids and that makes me smile.  It does make me feel good that there may still be some good in the person that I mistakenly gave my heart to.  Do I wish I had had his baby? Umm, NO.  Because when a girl loses her "perfect" father and is raised by her abused mother and stepmonster, she is really forced to evaluate what constitutes good parenting.  And somehow that image and finding someone to play that role becomes infinitely more important than simply finding love for one's self.

After Ted I went on to have my heart broken several more times, and I suspect I broke a few myself.  After college and being on my own for awhile, I met my future ex-husband.  I married Mike out of my own selfish need to love and be loved, knowing that he would never be parent material.  He told me upfront that he never wanted kids, and I guess I thought that either A. his love for me would be enough or B. he would change.  Yes, I cringe as I write option B because I know how ridiculous it sounds.  Needless to say, he never changed.  He tried to.  When we moved to Texas seven years ago, he told me that he had bought me a copy of "What to Expect..." and thought maybe we could try.  Of course he only told me this when my desire to have a child had reached a peak, and I had announced my intent to leave in search of my Baby Daddy.  Yes, it was tempting to stay.  We had been married for 8 1/2 years, and there wasn't the fear of the unknown.  But when I could picture my child in mind, I never saw him there.  I didn't know who I saw, but it definitely wasn't him.  I feared that if I gave him that chance, he would prove as unworthy as my stepmonster.   And I would not give him the satisfaction of damaging a little life, damage that I understood far too well.

When Pierce and I started dating, I knew I had found the real deal.  He adored me from the beginning and didn't run for the hills when I told him that I had no interest in wasting my time dating him if he didn't want kids...two, preferably one of each.  I met Pierce when I was still married to Mike, scandalous you say, but no, he lived a thousand miles away, and our friendship was innocent, although I will admit, mildly flirtatious.  When I met him at a work conference, I didn't know he would some day be my husband and the father of my son.  I thought that maybe God had brought us together to simply show me that there are still good guys out there, and maybe just maybe, I could do better.  I met another guy, who later proved himself completely unworthy, before I began dating Pierce and still, to this day, swear that he came into my life for the very same purpose.

Pierce accepted me from the very beginning, despite my divorce and heavy steamer chests full of baggage.  He accepts my mother and is even more tolerant of her than I am when faced with her mind-crippling dementia.  He is patient and kind with my family, qualities Mike never possessed, and sometimes I fear that my own grandmother loves him more than me.  I truly never knew the depth of his ability to love and accept until we were faced with the trials of infertility.  I have heard stories of couples divorcing over the senseless blaming and the stress of not being able to conceive.  If you can make it through this process, it really does make you stronger as a couple, and we have found our way to the other side.  When our high risk doctor informed us that it was likely that Miller had Down syndrome, Pierce was the first one to respond, "We are having this child", as I laid on the table like a deer in headlights.  My son has the father he was meant to have, and I have the love and acceptance that I have craved since my father's death.  Happy ending?  Well, not yet.

Security.  The love of a good man and the security that comes with that love, check!  But the security blanket that I have been holding on to long before that is being yanked out from underneath me.  Security blanket=my career.  My ex husband, in every attempt to talk me out of wanting children, always told me that I couldn't have it all.  His belief, and rightfully so, was that my job was my baby.  It was something that I lived for, nurtured, watched grow, and was damn proud of.  He told me that if I had a child that I would fail at work, and I am beginning to wonder if he wasn't right.  

Long ago when my mother was married to the monster, we had very little income.  The jackass was self-employed, which I am convinced was because no one would hire a drunk, belligerent asshole.  Regardless, I had four grandparents who were hip to the nonsense going on in our household and often gave my mom money to help take care of me.  This is pissed off the jackass who also often cashed my social security checks, that I received after my father's death, and spent them on alcohol and smokes.  I learned early on that if I was going to keep my mom out of hot water that it was best that I find myself gainful employment.  After countless babysitting jobs and a great paper route, I was finally old enough to earn minimum wage in the glamorous fast food industry.  And guess what followed?  Yes, of course money, but also, as I was and still am a ridiculously dedicated employee, love and acceptance.  

Every boss I have ever had has sung my praises, thought I was the best thing since sliced bread.  That was until recently, or more accurately, until I became pregnant.  I had enjoyed ten years of blissful employment  with my current company when my current boss was hired.  We were not quick to hit it off, but I felt that we had found a common ground when I confessed to her my fertility troubles.  I had not intended to share this information with anyone at work as I am in a high profile position, and I feared anyone finding weakness in me.  However, the doctor appointments and time off for treatments became too many and too difficult to work around my schedule.  When I told her I was having my first IUI, she seemed very supportive and confessed that she had gone through the same.  Second IUI, still supportive.  Moving on to IVF, still supportive.  Pregnant, so happy for me.  The next thing I know I am sitting in her office, receiving a bad review.  I am told I will receive another review in 90 days.  Fast forward to 90 days, and I am on bedrest and told I will deliver in the next two to three weeks.

I went on maternity leave, relieved that I had not lost my job and that I would have my insurance to cover delivery and my pay while I was out.  But, the undelivered review was still looming, and while I struggled with sleepless nights and breastfeeding a newborn I worried about what the future would hold.  Eleven weeks after I left, I found myself back on the job, sad to leave my son but exhilarated to be back to the baby I had known for so long.  Sadly it seems, they didn't miss me.  While I am still employed, I face the daily challenge of proving that I am still worthy and wondering why it all has to be so hard.  Pierce works part time and cares for our son all day, and when I leave in the morning I find myself jealous that he can't do the full time thing and let me stay home.  He is wonderful with Miller, and I often think he is a better parent than me.

Security from a financial standpoint is in a really scary place right now. I remember driving to work last fall and seeing a haunting billboard for the North Texas Food Bank.  It said something to the effect of "March: Working Full Time, June: Working Part Time, July: Hungry" and pictured the face of the man in a suit.  I am so scared of our little family winding up on that billboard.  I lose a lot of sleep when I think of losing my first baby, but then when I get up in the morning, Baby Sunshine is cooing and smiling at me, just happy to see his mommy.  He doesn't think I am a failure.  He doesn't know the fear I face every day as I head out the door.  He is blissfully unaware and naive, and with every little cuddle I hope he feels as much love and acceptance as I see in his eyes.  Only then can I face the day with my head held high and my eyes wide open.

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