I have two boys; Skas, almost 8 and JJ, almost 4. I’m not good at being their mom and that’s okay. I love them so deeply that it makes my eyes fill with water when I try to measure that love. There’s no way to measure it, there’s nothing to compare it to, there’s certainly no way to describe it.
When I was a kid I didn’t dream about weddings or a future husband or anything like that. I wanted to move to a really big city and live in a really big studio apartment with really big windows and brick walls. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to walk around naked. And I’m like…8 when I’m developing this idea of me as an adult. I wouldn’t even discover my small bit of artistic talent until eighth grade. I wouldn’t write my first poem for 6 more years. It would be 10 years before I write my first short story (about a girl whose bastard brother lived in the walls and played in the garden shed). I tried to envision myself with an actual career a few times throughout my childhood. First it was veterinarian until I found out you had to stick your finger up a turtle’s butt to get his head to pop out. I thought about culinary arts until I found out you actually had to go to college for that and by this point I was in the ninth grade and knew my chances at college were less than slim to none. In the tenth grade I found out PSATs and ACTs and whatever other acronym they terrorized us with cost money and right away my mom deterred me from taking the tests. She always had this annoying, high-pitched whine thing to her voice when I wanted to do something she didn’t think was worth my time or her money. I can still hear her patronizing me when I tried to consider it openly, in front of her.
It didn’t matter what I did in life, I knew my “other” goals. Things like driving across country with a close friend, it didn’t have to be a lover. Or maybe learn to drive and make the trip alone. As long as I could take pictures along the way. Maybe make a calendar out of the pictures or something small like that. No matter what I thought up, fantasized about or path I seriously considered finding, I was not holding the hand of a child. I was actually relieved when at 19 a doctor told me it wasn’t likely I could have kids after looking at my menstrual and sexual history. I had my first herpes outbreak shortly after that which blew any further unsafe, random promiscuity out of the water. My sister already had two kids by then and I was fine being their aunt. I could be selfish with my time and money and still get to hold babies, watch them grow and hang out with them when I wanted. What’s better than that?
I had a few relationships where a kid was involved and that is ugly. Much props to step-parents because that shit is hard. These experiences quickly solidified my intention to stay the unmarried aunt. So Imagine my surprise when I saw that pink line darken on a cheap plastic stick at age 23 and got excited. Weirdest damn thing. I couldn’t even control my smile long enough to tell Kasper. I couldn’t even make it out of the bathroom! I imagine now that I must have looked like some creeper just creeping out of a shadow with a Babadook grin sans top-hat.
And I loved that baby from the moment I found out he was swimming in my belly. He made me emotional, took my sex drive down to zero for 9 months, poor Kasper (I did improve my blowjob skills quite a bit at least); and he totally destroyed anything tight about my body but that really didn’t matter to me. I remember a time I doubted that I wanted him though. I didn’t consider abortion or anything like that. I was just thinking maybe I shouldn’t be his mom. I remember standing in the shower rubbing my grotesquely huge belly and shaking my head crying because I didn’t feel like I wanted him.
When I had him, he grossed me out. He was slimy. Kasper kind of took over from there. I mean, I did everything a mom is supposed to do. I followed my instincts so closely I saved his life with a mother’s persistence even Kasper thought I was going crazy. I made sure he was being cared for the way I wanted him to be cared for. But it was Kasper who did all the loving, kissing and extra caring stuff. He gave him better baths than I did. I just washed him, put him in clothes then put him to bed. I gave him kisses, whatever, but I’m just not very affectionate like that. You get hurt, you get up and move on. If you can’t get up, I’m here to help you but dammit try on your own first. If you’re bleeding I will patch you up, hug you and give your boo-boos extra kisses but I’m not going to cradle you for twenty minutes while you cry it out.
I used to worry that this was not the “proper” way to raise your kids and I guess it was fear of this creating a horrible adult out of my spawn that made me think I’m not meant to be a mom but I disagree with this thought now. I’m not a helicopter mom. I’m not a PBS mom. I’m not even a Nick Jr. mom unless you count turning on one of JJ’s favorite shows from Nick Jr. on Amazon and leaving the room to go do whatever I have to do. I don’t do projects, I don’t have baby books to mark their every little goal met and I don’t have photos of my kids all over my house. I don’t worship my kids any more than I expect them to worship me.
I understand my temper and I understand how my personality pushes others away through intimidation, confusion, disgust or whatever. That is all I can do for my kids: teach them how to not be like me. If you want to be a good person in life, don’t become me. I will not discourage you from failure, I will not turn you away for being different and I will not let you stand in your own way. I will be hard on you, I will push you and dammit I will spank your little white ass if it needs to be done and my boys know I DON’T SPANK…unless you really did wrong. I yell a lot and I rarely sit on the floor to play with my kids. I did with Skas before my stroke but he was severely limited on entertainment, unlike now. I made a lot of attempts to be that parent. You know the one. The one whose kid is potty trained by two, can spell their name with letters facing the right way by four and gets read to every single night. That’s not me. I tried teaching Skas his abc’s when he was 2 but I yelled so much at him for not remembering that I gave up. I didn’t want him to associate learning with anger and frustration or to think anger and frustration always go hand-in-hand when it doesn’t have to if you can learn to control your emotions, something I am very bad at.
Like every parent, I want my kids to be respectful and respected. There’s only one way to do that: be respectful when handling your kids in any and every capacity. In the last 8 years, I’ve learned that I am insanely disrespectful, selfish and temperamental. I have to learn to be a better person so I can be a better parent and raise these turds to be decent people. It’s hard. My goodness is it hard! They are teaching me respect through my love for them. I want to be their role model and I think I have the materials to do so. Between Kasper and me there is so much learned from bad decision-making we could write a book on what not to do to become successful. The problem is this sense of guilt that trails along behind me like a ribbon tied to my throat. I still worry if I say “I love you” enough, spend enough time or if I give enough hugs but I can’t help but think that affection and sacrificing your time isn’t what really makes you a good or bad parent. My mom, she was a good mom growing up but she was not very good at being a mother. She sacrificed a lot for us, or so I am trying to continue believing, but when it comes down to how she actually raised us I think she gave me too much room to think everything difficult is not worth the struggle without warning me that life is one long string of struggles.
I love my kids and they know that. How do I know? Because I tell them. I don’t sugar coat anything. When I’m mad, there’s no doubting it. When I’m disappointed in them, they know it and they know why. When I’m happy for them or because of them, they know it and they know why. When they are in trouble, I yell my head off because for some reason I can’t speak my anger until I yell it first. And then I apologize, explain to them that my behavior is not respectful, how I should have reacted and what they could have done to help prevent this situation from occurring (you know, like NOT riding your scooter through the house after I told you repeatedly it wasn’t allowed; or admitting what you did instead of lying and dealing with the consequences before it got this bad).
My poor behavior is so ingrained into my personality that I’m not entirely sure I can change though I try every day and I think that is part of what makes a good parent. I don’t hide my faults from my kids; instead, I point them out to not only them, but to myself as well. Do you even know how heartbreaking it is to look your kid in the eyes and apologize for disrespecting them? To ask them how you made them feel and to hear them tell you with full honesty that you hurt them? It sucks and I absorb it in hopes of it altering me for the better. It could be easier to yell, send them to their rooms and keep them there until I calmed down but that’s not helping anyone and it’s not teaching them anything. It’s difficult but it’s better to show them how to calm down through talking even if you explode first. Walking away or “hiding” issues instead of dealing with them is more harmful to the development of a child than it is helpful. It hurts, it’s hard and sometimes the fight doesn’t seem worth it because I can’t see immediate results but considering my inability to be constantly affectionate towards my kids, or anyone for that matter, I have no choice but to teach through actions that don’t involve hugs, kisses, rainbows and a perfect world under a blue sky I painted just for them.
They will see me struggle and fight and lose my cool but they will also see me recover, rebound and rebuild (hopefully with improvements). My goal is to teach them not to take the easy way just because it’s convenient. Sometimes those extra experiences learned only on the longer or more difficult path makes all the difference in your world. Discovering strengths through failures and learning life skills by forced resourcefulness can only be done with struggle. You learn respect reaches more than just other people, you earn the right to hold your head up and your dignity will remain strong in your heart. That’s what I want to teach the children I never wanted yet love with every ounce of my being. I’m not a bad mom.