Monday, May 13, 2013

Reflections on my mother's day

Should you require some light and entertaining reading, this is not it. Happiness sits somewhere else at the moment, not on this chair. This is not a complain rant - do not misunderstand what I am trying to say. It rather is what it says in the title, the thoughts I had this Mother's Day and connecting all the dots. It also does not mean that I am not grateful for the great things I have in life and the love and generosity I experience. I am good at seeing the beauty of being even when it is dark in my soul. But sometimes we need to say how it is and how we feel, express truth and honesty instead of superficial niceties.

Mother's Day started like any day in the past weeks, waking up from horrible dreams that leave me in a state of anxiety, dread and depression. They always center around the same things, just the scenery changes. I am usually in some urban place with just a bag of things. I am new to the place, I have no money and no place to stay. I am essentially poor and homeless because of choices I made in life and I don't know where to go. Usually I end up in a cafe somewhere - I guess I have enough money for a latte - and I share a table with a really nice mom and her adorable children. They are spirited and interesting and artsy and I have a nice conversation with the mom, while in the back of my head, I envy her. The whole back of my head must be green, because she is pretty and her kids are 'normal' and she has darn great hair. This is were the dream changes to me moving around the streets, looking for some clue what to do next. And then the finale is always some ex-family gathering where people pretend to be nice and then betray me, which seems all fine and dandy to everybody around me and only I am in deep emotional turmoil. At this point I wake up in a panic and try to tell myself that it was just a dream and that everything will be fine - but will it?

That is a very great shitty start into Mother's Day and only a strong cup of tea helps me find my inner calm again. Then I worked for 15 hours and and had the uebercrappy day crowned with my wide format printer breaking before I was done with my current project. A project that has been going wrong every step of the way and was already overdue. Lately everything has been breaking around me or goes really wrong, making me wonder if there is a curse on me. How is that related to Mother's Day? Actually in many ways.

We all had ideas what our life would look like and what we will do with it. And we had definite ideas what our family life would look like. I knew I was going to be a writer for public radio and have four children and a really fun husband who likes my quirky humor, knitted sweaters, sex and great cooking. Like everybody else, I experienced reality kicking in, which for me centers around being a mother. When you spend 15 hours rendering, transcoding and burning videos, you actually are quite free to ponder. Fueled by the bad dreams and people's lovely Mother's Day posts on Facebook, I could not stop pondering and being depressed - not that it depressed me that friends had a nice day, it did not - being depressed about how things turned out in my life, because it all centers around being a mother. Never in my mind had I thought I would become a stay at home mom. I always saw myself as a working mother, easily juggling my adorable, artsy children and my fantastic work life. I have worked since I was thirteen, I sometimes skipped school to work as that was the only way I could save up money for a walkman (remember those) or going to England on vacation. Growing up in a beautiful and affluent part of town as one of the few working class kids, jobs were essential because the Walmart type jeans just did not cut it at school. Even when I had the right jeans, I was still bullied, because no amount of jobs could change my hair. So I spent all my money on vinyl and my time on being a political activist. But that is a different story. I had worked for 20 years by the time I had my first child.

Motherhood came after being sick as a dog from day 10 after conception to delivery and being big as a beached whale due to preeclempsia. The blissful dream of motherhood was shattered loudly by screaming. A beautiful baby with a perfect apgar score and amazing lungs. The day she was born I said she will be a singer (Hear that Handel & Haydn?). When you walk around the dining room table (actually a door on shop stands) for 9 hours, because that is the only thing that keeps her somehow content, you do it. Once I did it for 14 hours. Having her in the baby car seat and moving her swiftly up and down worked as well, but my arms gave out after less than an hour. Yesterday I found a picture I made of her when she was a year old. I had made angel wings and a halo and sat her on blankets and then photo-shopped it into an angel. In all seriousness, I worked a whole day on her complexion, because she had been crying the whole time. I found the picture in a folded piece of cardboard with a rubber band around it and a post-it that said "angels do exist and they wake up screaming." The screaming stopped after 18 month, because her reflux was under control. It stopped for about a day, because she stayed as high strung and spirited when the terrible twos started and lasted a few years. Don't get me wrong, I loved and love her to pieces, but the first 10 years were hard, hard work. And now, in our fifteenth year, there still is screaming at times. When I got very ill with endometriosis a year into motherhood, the most logical thing was to have another child as fast as possible and boom, there we had number two (technically number three, but that is also a different story). The pediatrician was shocked that I was going to have another one, no actually, she and all the nurses were mortified. They loved my baby, but who would in all seriousness risk having another pretty screamer. But number two did not cry much at all, did not need to be held, actually preferred to be left alone to stare into the distance. Her dealing with reflux was not screaming, but rather refusal to eat since she constantly had a sore throat from that stupid reflux and an oral aversion - let's just say not a perfect apgar score and lots of suction. No extreme being right, I kept on wondering if she was autistic, but she did not quite fit into what I knew as autism? I loved and love her to pieces as well.

So there I had two beautiful and intelligent children. I got good at two things: ebay shopping and researching about reflux, ADD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Spirited Children, Asperger's Syndrome, Duane's Syndrome, anxious children, croup, pneumonia, Lyme disease, mood disorders, brushing techniques, chart making, creative parenting and so forth. I saw their amazing talents blossoming early - one singing and talking, the other drawing and writing. I became their daily coach, their driver to therapies and psychologists, their personal OT, specialist in behavior modification, doctor, advocate, nurse, homeschool teacher in the afternoon and so forth. It is a long list. As a mother I am very accomplished, I think I did well. I am proud of my children, because despite their many issues, they turned out great (I know, I know, we are not done yet) and most people have no clue about the trials and tribulations we have been through. I am proud of what I gave them. I could have been better for sure, but I also could have been worse. I did not plant a garden with them and knit them sweaters for every Christmas, we did not have long story hours by the fire place (too fidgety), but maybe I can do that with grandchildren (stop laughing!). Instead of a career I became good at nesting: building furniture, sewing Halloween clothing, muffin expert, remodeling the house, painting and building them the best friggin' playground between here and Pennsylvania. Because I hate going to the park where I get the same looks as in high school. I know I don't have fabulous hair and yes, I am quite aware that I am not skinny.

How is that related to my dreams and my fears of being homeless and destitute? There is a direct causality actually, because I traded my independence and career for motherhood of special children. They are special in two different ways: neurologically and also talented. Things seemed to be on the track of finding a groove once we hit the tween years - instead the train derailed and in quite the betrayal - there we have that dream motive - my husband left me, telling me he had known for quite a while that he wants a divorce. If you look at statistics of divorce and special children, there is an unbelievable high percentage. I don't blame it on my children as that would be irrational, if anything, I know we should not have gotten married so soon and with the notion the other will change and I should not have left my dream career path for what I thought was love. (Let's ignore for a minute here that he is also of that specialness like the kids, had a great coach and nobody would suspect that he is not what he appears to be). We had been roommates for more than a decade, it was emotionally the right step to separate. Except, there I was - an accomplished mother. Great resume line, don't you think? Oh, and I can fix a dryer - whoohoo!  I thought how my family back home had always been complaining that I wasted my life and questioned why I had gotten my master's degree. I did not worry about that then, because I knew I would write my PHD thesis as soon as I would be at home with kids. Later it changed to when life was getting on track - after all the thesis was already half done anyway; except I never never found that track. Stellar student with amazing grades and favorite of professors, talented in so many ways turns down all opportunities in life and winds up walking around a makeshift table in Los Angeles for hours on end. Hm. By now my mentors have probably mostly died off...

I would not do it differently though - a conundrum of sorts - because I am at a miserable spot and clueless what to do next. I could take a job at a super market or Starbucks, but then I would waste my talents even further. I shelved the writing (pun intended) for another time and just hope that I am not taken before I can write my book about death or my young adult saga about the Ring  & Niebelungen saga (think Wagner opera story lines). I have learned one thing from turning down opportunities because they were not on my intended track: take them and go with the flow. The flow has brought me back to art, photography and video and so I am trying to go there. Do the Tao thing, go with the curves. Now the curves feel like the serpentine roads of the San Bernadino pass in the Alps and I really feel like puking. I feel so overwhelmed - everything is breaking, appliances, printers, cars and my spirit. Things just keep going wrong and meanwhile I am anxious and exhausted. The children are going on their own paths in 4, respectively 5, years and for one thing, I want to give them the best formative years I can and secondly, I cannot really plan much, because it all depends on what they want to do. With us having no savings, who knows what second education is possible. School in Germany is free, but who knows if they would want to go and I am sure their father would not exactly encourage that.

I told you in the beginning, if you want to read happy things, this is not it. At times I want to throw in the towel, but I cannot do that, because the kids need me and I would not do that to my mother. But the notion exemplifies how cornered I feel and I got myself into the corner by doing the right thing. Lately I have worked myself into a frenzy with pro bono work, I have forsaken friendship maintenance and I am so damn tired. Here we go, I have connected the dots. Mother's Day is tying it all up, not in a neat bushel of wild flowers with a love note, not with breakfast in bed or an ill-fated cake experiment that tastes of love, no, it is tying it all up into one picture. A picture of what is now - 20 years ago I won an award in an art competition, sold my first piece and had successful art shows - now I am a mess of derailments. And every night before I go to bed, I lay out clothing to jump into, just in case I have to rush number two to the ER because croup never goes away for some special children. While doing the rendering and transcoding yesterday, I did some reading on bad dreams that cannot be shaken. And it said everywhere to analyze them. Don't try to forget them, but understand them. So now I have a complete picture where I am now and how I got to this lonely Mother's Day filled with work, frustration, tears and desperation.

I never did the Mother's Day thing for my mother. I told my mother that she could pick between me being nice one day or me being nice the rest of the year. I was a good kid, compliant through fear. Of course, now that I am a mother and an adult, I see that Mother's Day is not about being nice for a day, it is a celebration of motherhood and maybe to honor all the sacrifices mothers make. It is too late to make my mother breakfast in bed, she is far away and she only eats a piece of dry rye bread and some radishes anyway. And my girls somehow never learned it, just like their father, they don't know what to do or what is right and so they choose not to do anything. Some people are good at those things, some are not. It is a bit disappointing if you are really good at it and live with people who are not - they are better at other things. The good thing though? I have the best anti dote to feeling like this - and it is not looking at all the people who have it worse, because that only works sometimes, not all the times and I use it already so very much. No, the very best antidote is hanging out with my girls. They are the best company - unless they bicker and fight, which they do, a lot, a tremendous lot - they are funny and quirky and smart and interesting. So every day I spend with them is Mother's Day. Days without them - meh. I love them to bits and pieces and maybe that is what Mother's Day is about as well, acknowledging how much you love them and that it is okay that you gave a big part of your life for them.

Who knows what comes next. Maybe a visit to the hairdresser. And going to the movies with the girls - yes, definitely!

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