About a year ago, I found a company that would transfer my old videotapes to a digital format so I could watch them online. I didn’t record a lot, but was curious about what was on the tapes I had. I was excited when I got the link and could start watching. Wow. There they were; those moments of daily life with my kids. There they were! My little kids! In the flesh. In voice. In movement. My God, they were precious. Where did the time go? And where was I during that time? I watched the tapes and just cried. I cried for the mom in those tapes. That sad mom. That lost woman. I cried for the 15 years I was there with them, but not really there.
My first memory of being really alone as a mom was the night I brought my oldest daughter home from the hospital. They told us she’d turned blue that morning in the nursery; she’d stopped breathing from choking on mucus. I think that was the longest night I’d ever spent awake on her floor. Alone.
From there, years passed as I made big decisions, alone. Decisions about how to handle big problems and little problems. ADHD. Speech delays. Reading delays. Chores. Sleep overs. Jesus. Mary. Joseph. Sex. Drugs. Rock and Roll. I was a kid with kids. Really, what the fuck did I know?
I did not want to be a stay-at-home mom. All those years, I thought I was supposed to be doing something else. I was supposed to be somewhere else.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom. And she always told us we had to get a college degree. I guess that implied we had to do something other than what she did. So that’s what I set off to do. Different experiences when I was young set my mind toward doing “something important.” Growing up, people thought I should be a model. So I did that in New York and Germany. I had a theater scholarship at the community college, so maybe that was something? Then I went to another college and got a degree in Broadcasting. And I was smart. I had a free ride. I worked really hard too. When everyone else was getting wasted on Wednesday nights, I was at home reading my textbooks. During my last semester, I studied abroad in Sweden. And the professor who sent me to Sweden thought I was special – he thought I should get a Master’s. But, I didn’t think sociology was my thing. Looking back, I’m grateful he was my cheerleader.
I even did my college internship at MTV in New York. So, by the time I was 23 years old, I had done some pretty cool shit. Hell, I‘d even lived in San Francisco for one summer with a group of nuns and did volunteer work. That was the summer I worked backstage and met Mr. Mister! I even lived at the beach in Ocean City, MD a few summers. You could say I was not one to rest on my laurels. I grabbed the world by the balls, horns, or whatever.
Fast forward to the married me. Before kids, I worked a low-paying job in radio. After a few kids I worked jobs in promotions and advertising that, looking back, were okay. I even had a nanny for a while. I lived where I lived because of the husband’s job. I guess we decided his job was more important; he could make more money. My talents were never really considered. By him. Or by me. Or his parents. Or my parents.
It became obvious that it was my job to raise the kids – whether I had a full-time job or not. The husband worked. I was always so jealous of my friends who had husbands who would get home from work and play with the kids – or be the Scouts leader. I was so jealous of the couples who talked and knew each other. I was jealous of the idea of working and having kids and the myth of having it all.
By the time there were three kids, we had moved to another state. A job that ignited my talents, would have meant an hour commute – plus all the house and kid work. No. Fuck no. And there was no way I was going to put the kids in daycare from 7 AM until whenever. I know myself pretty well. When I work, I work. The kids would have lived at the daycare. And both parents would have been an hour away. No. Fuck no.
At the beginning of my time at home I felt very isolated. And lonely. Alone. There were many days I felt I was dying. The fun me. The creative me. The one who wanted to make something. The one wanted to experience the world and learn new shit. I created a freelance copywriting business so people would know I was still there and had something to say. Make no mistake, being a stay-at-home mom is exhausting. The hardest work ever. How many moms and dads do I know who go crazy just staying home with their kids over summer break? The husband used to say that he’d rather go to work than stay home and “babysit” the kids.
In the last few years, so much resentment had built up. Where’s the recognition for moms? Is there a Nobel prize for good momship? Is there really a “Mother of the Year” award? Do they do stories about moms on 60 Minutes? No, not unless you trap your kids in the basement. Where’s the big salary to show what a great fucking job you did? Where’s the trophy? Where’s the social support Hillary – fucking baking cookies comment? You get a bunch of patronizing “hardest job in the world” comments at dinner parties.
I created a group of girlfriends to help fill the void. But there was a void. I was supposed to be doing something. Something for a resume. But stay-at-home motherhood is just a void on a resume. It’s a nothing job on a resume, even though you’ve been doing so much. On a resume it is literally space you have to fill with something important.
And if you get divorced, you’re fucked. Split things evenly, my ass. After being home for decades, there is no way a woman’s career can catch up to a man’s. No way. He walks away the financial and career winner. His salary remains, and you start over. (Yes, I am still working through some anger. Some of it self-directed.)
And yet, I would do it all over again. It’s the regret I am trying to heal.
I was sobbing when I told my counselor “I would give anything if the 53-year-old me could go back to that time – the time in those videos – and just sit in bed with the kids when they were little – and just read to them again. If I could be with them for just one day! I would cherish them, I would read them a book, I would smell their hair, I would cuddle them, I would snuggle their little bodies, I would stare at them while they were sleeping. Just ONE day – I want to go back now to when they were little.”
And I cried when I told that story to a group of people the other day. And I cried when I told the story of the videos to my boyfriend this morning.
What a cliche! What a horrible cliche! The person who wants to go back in time to relive some moment. The person who didn’t listen to that other cliche “stop and smell the roses!” How lame!
Thinking of it feels like torture. I know I had joyful moments back then – but when I think back to that time, it feels dark. When I see the videos, I see that I was a good mom. I see the joy. I just don’t remember it.
I keep thinking that I want some fairy godmother to come knock that younger Dawn upside the head and say “Wake the fuck up! You are going to be here for 15 years or so. Relish it. Enjoy it. Live it. Breath it. Settle in. You will never get these moments back.” And the Dawn of today says “Yes, Yes, Yes! I would do it. I would settle in. If I only knew then what I know now!” Great! Another cliche!
So where was Dawn back then? She was stewing in resentment for what she thought she should be doing. What would I do differently? I would feel the joy of those kids.
Back then, I was a good mom. I was probably a great mom. But I wasn’t present. I was living in muck.
My counselor tells me I need to be nicer to myself. I need to go back to that Dawn and be nice to her. Comfort her. She was doing the best she could at the time. Give her a hug. She was working really hard. Alone. I have a hard time doing that for myself.
My kids are adult-ish now. Luckily, I get to see them often. Last night, my 25-year-old Face-Timed me and said we needed to do it more often cause “the Kardashians do it, so we should too.” Kardashians or not, I realized how lucky I was that on a Friday night when she was bored, she thought to call her mom. This kid was also at my house for a long school break recently, and we spent a lot of time talking. I feel close to her. I feel like I know her.
The same goes for the other two kids. My other daughter and I Face-Timed last night about a spring break trip we will take to New Orleans. I’m sure she’s happy that I will help pay for part of the trip, but deep down, I think she’s happy to be going with me. I feel close to her – and I feel like she lets me know her pretty well.
My son and I have lots of great talks – just like I do with his sisters. He’s almost 19 and I always feel great when he says “love you” when he hangs up the phone. I think he is a pretty sensitive guy and I always feel he’s listening even when other people think he’s not. I think he knows I love him unconditionally. The best thing I’ve heard lately is that to love that way means to love someone “for no reason.” I think my kids know I love them for no reason. I just love them.
I now understand the idea of being present. At least I am trying really hard to understand. I cherish the time I have with my kids now. In 20 years, I don’t want to watch a video I have of them on my phone and cry – then beg to go back to relive it. I want to feel the joy now. I do feel the joy now.
Thank God. And Jesus. And Mary. And Joseph. And all the other ones out there looking out for us.