… the musings of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian turned Stay-At-Home-Mom with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
My mother has been dead for two years, today. I woke up at 4:30 remembering all the awful things I ever did or said to her. I prayed for forgiveness for not being a better daughter. I thought about the trendiness of going no contact. I considered how if I could change it, I’d have put up with her drama, her antics, and her awful husband for a few more years if I’d only known she’d be gone so soon. I could have just made her happy. I also admitted that I didn’t have much of a choice without that knowledge.
I’ve been scanning the photos my mother left behind, so I can make an album for each decade. She always wanted to do that, but never had the organization skills. Every picture I see of her young, beautiful, happy, and hopeful breaks my heart. I hate that her life went the way it did. I hate myself for the part I had in it, no matter my lack of options. I frequently imagine how different things could have been, had she been well. I fantasize about what we should have had together. I think about how much she’d have loved her grandkids. I picture her going to the zoo with us, taking them shopping, having sleepovers… making all the wonderful memories I have with my Gramma.
I found a photo of my mother with my brother, when he was almost exactly Thomas’s age. I imagined where she’d have seen herself 38 years later, where I’ll be 38 years from now. I’m not sure I’ve gone a week since her death without envisioning myself alone in my final days, my children not having spoken to me for years. I can’t fathom the pain I would feel if Violet, Scarlett, or Thomas one day wanted nothing to do with me. I quit my career to do things differently. I’m there for every hug, every tantrum, every giggle. I clean obsessively, so my children will grow up in a tidy, healthy home, while simultaneously trying to balance my need for order with their need for fun and freedom. I take them to every doctor’s appointment, soothe every fever, kiss every owie. Sometimes, I cry when I lose my patience or snap at my babies, thinking that this will be the moment they stop loving me. I spend every day of my life with something to prove, praying it’s enough, that I have children who will adore their mother the way they’re supposed to, who will be by her side when she goes. I workout and eat right, with it in the back of my mind how much I desperately hope to live long enough to see my grandkids, while praying my children allow me to do so.
I’m not stupid. I know my mother wasn’t innocent in how her life unfolded. I know that she was abusive, manipulative, and deeply mentally ill. I know I couldn’t heal her. I also know she wanted something so very different. So, for one day, two years from the moment I forever ran out of time to fix things, I just want to hate myself. I want to wallow and weep as the good memories flow through my mind alongside the bad. I’m just so fucking sorry. I don’t want calls from the family who never treated her properly. I certainly don’t want to hear their historical rewrites. I just want to keep scanning my photos while I cry. I just want to watch Twilight and be sad.
It’s been a good year, y’all… easier than 2021 so far, which means leagues easier than 2020. I spent the first several months of 2022 in emotional turmoil, though. As we rang in the new year, I was just beginning to feel like myself again, after the physical trauma I’d experienced during childbirth. I could officially lift the stroller into the back of our SUV without feeling short of breath. I could run errands without feeling utterly depleted. I had energy to take care of my girls, the house, and exercise. Emotionally, I no longer felt quite so fragile either. I rarely burst into tears, convinced I’d die. For the first time since July of 2020, when we began IVF treatments, I felt human. Still… Jake and I both wanted another child.
After receiving my perinatal cardiomyopathy diagnosis in the ICU two days after my girls were born, I was informed that while my heart would likely fully recover, another pregnancy would come with risk. Officially speaking, medical wisdom advised no more children, but my cardiologist eventually added that, realistically speaking, plenty of women go on to have additional pregnancies with no complications. So, Jake and I had a tough decision to make: should we count our blessings in the healthy children we were so fortunate to have or take the low, yet not non-existent, risk of another pregnancy? Considering the cost of an embryo transfer and the experience of actually going through additional pandemic fertility treatments, I was a bit of a mess. Sure, we could wait another year, but I’m turning 35 this fall, a dreaded age in the world of infertility. We didn’t want additional troubles or risks and we didn’t want to be old parents.
I’ve previously described my infertility approach as “duck, cover, and run through the fire.” As hesitant as I was to proceed with a transfer, I knew that it was a months long process. So it began in March, when I called the fertility clinic, reasoning that I could start the consultations and spend the next few months finalizing my decision. If I decided to wait, I could always cancel the arrangements, but if we chose to proceed, there’d be no delay. Requesting a possible June or July transfer, I was told to call with my period at the end of April/beginning of May.
I spent the next two months weighing my options. Some days, I was confident that another child or two would be worth the risk and all would be well. Others, I was adamant that we were done and I just didn’t have it in me to do it all again. Most of the time, my internal battle ended with the determination that this was a problem for Future Belle. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so indecisive as to repeatedly end a mental conflict with the decision to make a decision another day.
With my period due in mid-late April, the clinic called toward the end of the month to verify that I still wanted to proceed. When I informed them that I hadn’t been tracking my cycle until the previous month and didn’t know exactly when to expect it, they asked if I could be pregnant. I told them that I’d already taken a negative test, that I didn’t want to discuss the subject, and that Jake and I had been assured multiple times that a natural pregnancy was not possible. I also relayed that, when asked what birth control I planned to use, I’d told my OBGYN with confusion “Nothing? My husband can’t get me pregnant,” to which she responded “Oh, yes. I forgot. I have no problem with that.” This was from a woman who had been quite clear that she did not think I should risk more children. In response, I was simply instructed to come in for an ultrasound if I didn’t get Day One in the next couple of weeks, because I could possibly have additional complications.
The week of our five year anniversary and Mother’s Day, I decided to wait until after our celebration to schedule additional tests. The last thing I wanted to think about were more fertility problems. The entire concept was already making me nauseous. In fact, the day before our anniversary, a Thursday, I was feeling pretty unwell and resolved to make an appointment first thing Monday. I knew they’d start with another pregnancy test, something I’d desperately avoided for two weeks, not wanting to get my hopes up that the literal impossible could happen. If we were about to embark on more treatments, though, I couldn’t allow myself to be triggered by a simple pregnancy test before we even started. Annoyed, I bought a second one dollar test, thinking once again about how I’d never get the chance to be surprised by a second line and trying not to dwell on all that I’d missed out on in this process.
All that infertility takes from a couple is a frequent theme in the community. For Jake and I, it ruined our sex life for well over a year, as I’d often burst into tears, knowing we would never make a baby. It cost us over $30,000 and unquantifiable heartache. It ruined the chance of ever being surprised by a pregnancy. It caused endless stress until the moment I held my girls in my arms, which undoubtedly contributed to my complications in delivery. Those marred the first several months of my girls’ lives, as I constantly worried that I wouldn’t be around to see them grow up and, like me, they’d have to face life without a mama.
After all these losses, it seemed trivial to be disappointed that I’d never get thatmoment, when I could share my pregnancy with Jake. We had been watching Friday Night Lights, though, and over the previous months, I’d watched the scene where Tami tells Eric she’s pregnant at least a half dozen times, certain that that is exactly how Jake would react. That’s not something we would ever get, instead bonding over the far less romantic administration of subcutaneous shots and appointments to monitor my uterine lining.
That was why I’d put off taking a pregnancy test in the first place, even knowing unquestionably that it would be negative. Despite the fact that I’d gotten my family, whether it grows or not, it hurt knowing I’d never have that moment. I worried it would crush me to see a single line and remember what lie before me to get a second one. While I didn’t experience the emotional breakdown I feared, it felt idiotic to take another one after two more weeks without a period. Obviously my cycle was still regulating. My girls aren’t even a year old. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to waste another dollar on a visual representation of our inability to get pregnant the fun and free way.
When I got home, I hurriedly took the test, needing to put the girls down for their nap. I sat looking at my phone while I waited a minute for the results and worried that I was somehow starting early menopause or worse, would require a complete hysterectomy. Perhaps the whole thing was out of my hands, after all. I knew a negative after a minute was likely a negative after three minutes, so I didn’t bother to prolong the wait but… it was positive.
Another staple of the infertility community is videos of women taking pregnancy tests, hoping to capture that moment when they get a positive, so they can share it with their children one day. I wish I could say that I’d have such a heartfelt moment about which to reminisce, but I don’t think that would be appropriate.
An Influencer, I am not.
“What the fuck?!?! That is not possible.”
I called Jake at work, breathing so hard I thought I’d pass out.
Me: “Do you have to stay at work?” Jake: “Um… I don’t know. Why? Are you okay? What’s wrong” Me: “I don’t want to tell you over the phone. Can you just come by for a minute?” Jake: “Okay. I’m leaving now.”
I immediately rushed back to Dollar General, a million thoughts racing through my mind, because this couldn’t be true and yet, false positives aren’t actually a thing. They’re plot devices in teen movies and TV shows. I bought the last two $1 tests, refusing to spend real money on what was surely nothing and raced home to immediately take both. As I hyperventilated, it came to me. Perhaps I’d bought a drug test! I’d been taking mild doses of medical marijuana, via gummy, nearly every night for some time, just to sleep. I rushed to the trash can to check the box, but no. It was indeed a pregnancy test… and then it was three. They were all positive.
I was just coming out of the bathroom when Jake got home.
Jake: “Belle, the door’s locked.” I unlocked the door and sat on the bed. Jake: “Babe, what’s wrong?” Me: – clumsily shoved three tests at him – Jake: “What are these? What? You’re pregnant?” Me: “I guess so?” Jake: “That’s… cool.” Me: “This isn’t possible. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I haven’t had my echocardiogram yet. I don’t want to die! I don’t want to leave my girls!”
Jake: “Shhh… it’s okay. You’re not going to die.” Me: “They told me I couldn’t get pregnant! We have frozen embryos to use!”
This doesn’t actually happen, y’all. It’s just a story your well-meaning aunt tells, about how her best friend’s niece tried for years, took medications, did IVF, all for naught, and then, without warning, found out she was pregnant. It’s a tale told with all the other well-intentioned platitudes about how you’ll definitely get your baby, if you stop trying and just have faith… you know, because infertile people didn’t pray hard enough. It’s an anecdote that comes from people with no knowledge of infertility as a whole, let alone your individual situation. It doesn’t happen. Even the urologist used the word “miracle” when asked if Jake could get me pregnant. If my cursory viewing of House is anything to go by, medical doctors don’t throw that word around a lot.
I suppose that’s the only way to explain it: a miracle. Despite my initial reaction and attempts not to get my hopes up… I want this baby. The only thing I’ve ever wanted more was my sweet Violet and Scarlett. I was so afraid that the pregnancy wouldn’t be viable, that something would be wrong. I worried about the medical marijuana and the heart medication I had only stopped taking a month ago. I worried about Jake’s wonky sperm. I worried about my heart, not having yet gotten the okay from my cardiologist… or as much of an okay as she’d ever give. I worried about all the one in a million odds that had kicked us in our asses so far. I’m still petrified of getting sick again, of leaving my girls and a new baby, of being chronically ill for the rest of my life, despite getting the all clear from the cardiologist just a few days after I got my positive test and the reclassification from cardiomyopathy to severe preeclampsia from my high risk OB. I am, however, 19 weeks pregnant today, after a successful anatomy scan of our baby boy.
The infertility community didn’t need another obnoxious anecdote, but apparently, here I am. I apologize for my aunts in advance and refuse to share such details with strangers and further contribute to such an unhelpful narrative. I got a baby the fun and free way, though. I got the surprise pregnancy and the chance to tell my husband… and infertility still ruined it. Despite my aspirations, I am apparently no Tami Taylor and if this baby and I can stay healthy, I don’t even care.
I went days without thinking about my mother when she was alive. It was easier that way. If I thought about her, I had to think about the time that was passing. If I considered trying to rebuild a relationship with her, while I still could, I had to think realistically about how that would look. At first, she’d be thrilled. Then she’d be clingy. Then she’d be pushy. Then she’d be hostile. I had to consider how that would impact my life. If she started showing up at my work again, how would that effect my career? If she showed up at my home, how would that influence my marriage and eventually my children? If she could have a relationship with me, what would she demand of my relationship with my grandmother, my father, my step-mother? It was easier not to think about her… about who she once was… about who she’d become… and most of all, who she could have been. If I didn’t think about her, I could hold onto the idea that there would always be time to fix things… somehow.
My mother died a year ago on May 10th. After six years of not thinking about her, I don’t think there’s been a day that’s passed that I haven’t grieved her loss. I try to focus on the good memories, but after all this time, they’re just so tangled up with the far more plentiful bad ones that I can’t separate them. I know my mother loved me. She just wasn’t very good at it. I wish I could remember more about the former than the latter.
The other night, I dreamt that I traveled through time and got the chance to speak to my mom at some vague point in my life when she was mentally well. I told her that I missed her, that I missed what we were supposed to have together. When she asked me why, I told her she had died at 60 and that we hadn’t spoken in four years when she passed. It broke her heart, just as it breaks mine every day. I told her that I loved her and that I knew she loved me, but that she wasn’t mentally well, that she hurt me, so we couldn’t be together. I apologized for being so mean to her as a teenager and told her that it was okay that she wasn’t perfect, that I knew she tried. I cried and hugged her and she cried with me. I tried to hold on as the dream faded, begged her to get the help she needed, to fix things. I’ve never been so heartbroken to wake up.
My mother broke my heart a hundred times when she was alive. She broke my heart when my dad left and she pulled me out of bed in the middle of the night to bury a statue of Saint Thomas Moore in the flowerbed and pray for him to come back, while I stood there freezing in my nightgown every night for a week. She broke my heart the time she chased my brother and I through the house beating us with a belt buckle… when she stood slapping me in the face over and over again until I took on what she considered a respectful tone…when she dragged me across the house by my hair and nearly broke all of my toes. She broke my heart when she kept me from my dad with lies about child molestation… when she hit me in the face with a stepladder… when she found out I was cutting myself and used it as leverage to threaten me with institutionalization… when she dosed me with 250 daily milligrams of Wellbutrin to make me more manageable. She broke my heart the countless times she chose my dad over me, my brother over me, and most of all, when she left me my senior year, to go live with a man she met online.
My mother wasn’t a good mother. I know that. I also know that, at one time, that’s what she wanted to be more than anything in the world. She wanted a daughter so badly and I am just so fucking sorry that I couldn’t give that to her. She abused me, mentally and physically, from the time I was eight years old. What would another few years have really meant in the grand scheme of things? Why couldn’t I have just accepted her relentless drama, paranoia, hypochondria, and hostility just to make her happy? No one ever made me her happy. I don’t know if she was ever truly happy in her life. It would have made her happy though, if I’d responded to her last text message, six months before she died, asking to get lunch. I considered it, but we were in the worst of the pandemic and I was just wrapping up a round of IVF. I couldn’t risk exposure. I also knew she’d only bring stress and chaos into my life. It would have made her so happy to know that I was having twins, though. I wish I’d told her.
I don’t find motherhood difficult, despite what all the mommy blogs warned me to expect. It’s heartbreaking, however, not to have my own mother here. My Gramma is a wonderful figure in my life, in many ways the woman my mother never could be for me, but she’ll also be 88 soon. I know that the time I have to call her and share stories of Scarlett trying to climb the dog and Violet chewing on Jake’s Crocs is limited. I know that one day soon, she’ll be gone too and I’ll have no one, in that sense. My mother should be here. We should be having the standard mother/daughter fights she had with my Gramma when I was little, about buying my kids too much stuff or giving them too much candy. She should be accompanying us on zoo trips, watching the girls ooh and ahh over the fish. She should have 20 years of shopping trips with us to look forward to… but it’s just me, doing all these things alone, because my Gramma has grown too old.
I’ve always wanted a healthy mother/daughter relationship, even if that meant being on the other side. It’s okay that I’ll only ever have that with my girls. I am so grateful to have even that much after all it took to get them. Every single day, though, I look at the picture of my mother and me on my first birthday. I look like the perfect combination of Violet and Scarlett. I think about what they would say to me now, if they could travel back in time, what kind of mother I’ll be to them and how it compares to my own aspirations. I think about the relationship my mother wanted to have with me and how sour it turned. Every day, it breaks my heart all over again… for me and for her. I am so sorry this is how it all turned out and I will never forgive myself for not trying harder.
Ten years ago, I’d have given anything to be a librarian. I was in graduate school, working as a half-time circulation clerk and substitute teaching and I dreamt of the day that I could call myself by that title. I wanted to work full time at one job, helping people choose a new book, file for disability, fill out job applications and build resumes, find a safe place to live after their divorce. I would have been on cloud nine to be a teen librarian, giving kids a welcoming place to learn a new skill, make friends, feel respected and valued by an adult. I prayed for this job, every night, and when I got it, it was, in many ways, exactly as I’d hoped.
Over the last eight and a half years, I’ve done all of the above and more. I’ve rushed after an escaped toddler, to keep him from getting hit by a car in the parking lot. I’ve steered a developmentally disabled woman away from online dating, so she wouldn’t get stabbed in an IHOP parking lot. I’ve convinced someone to report her stalker to the police and watched her tear up, finally having her fears validated. I’ve built a resume from scratch for an ex-offender and celebrated when he got a job. I’ve called 911 after a drug overdose and confronted people for looking at porn on the public computers. I’ve comforted teens whose parents aren’t willing or able to do so. I’ve mourned the suicide of a 16-year-old boy. I’ve even gotten one of my teen volunteers hired as a library aide. I’ve been a manager and given references and helped people grow. I’ve moved one library and helped build another from the ground up. Being a librarian has been nearly as magical as I’d always dreamed… and today is my last day.
In December of 2018, Jake and I decided to stop preventing pregnancy. By June of 2019, we were trying in earnest. By September, I was tearfully asking him to get a semen analysis. In February of 2020, we discovered IVF was our only hope for children and I’d have given anything to be a mom. I dreamt of the day that I could call myself by that title. As you might know, despite the pandemic, we were pregnant by the end of 2020 and I gave birth to two healthy girls this past June. It almost killed me, literally, but I’m not sure it made me stronger.
I always planned to work full time when I had children, following in the footsteps of my mother, her mother, and my dad’s mother. Jake knew this from the beginning and we planned our life around this model. We thrived on two incomes and bought our home just 10 minutes from our workplaces, with City Hall just up the street from the library. We took out credit cards and cashed in investments to pay for our $30,000 worth of babies, knowing that we’d make six figures and could afford to pay it off. Throughout my pregnancy, this was our plan. Even after my terrifying birth story, we never discussed an alternative. I would stay home during my recovery and then I would go back, putting our girls in a church daycare just 12 minutes away. I’d get to be the career woman and the mom. Now, I’m here and it’s exactly as I’ve always planned… and itsucks.
For eight weeks, Jake and I have been waking at 6:00 to feed our girls, before getting them ready for daycare and ourselves ready for work. We leave the house by 7:30 and drop them off at 7:45, together. We each go home for lunch, where we do chores that we don’t want to do later, then finish the day at 5:00 exactly and head to pick them up. We get home around 5:30 and try to balance daily tasks with enjoying our babies while they’re awake. By 6:00, they’re asleep and we make dinner and eat before they have their final bottle at 8:00 and we put them down. Then, we do household chores and watch a show before bed or Jake plays videogames while I read. This is every night, until the weekend, when we run ourselves ragged catching up on the errands we couldn’t do during the week, because we didn’t want to miss out on time with our children. Instead of enjoying them at home, we drag them around while we shop for groceries, get the oil changed, and return packages and store purchases. Then, we usually share them with family or friends at some get-together, before returning home to put them to bed.
As a child, I had a handful of careers I wanted when I grew up, ranging from veterinarian to lawyer to nurse to teacher. Stay at Home Mom never made the list. All my life, I’ve pictured having an impactful career, where I work full time, and then come home to my family. I went to college and then grad school and worked two jobs while carving my professional path. Finally, I got a position I love with understanding managers, where I make good money and have a predictable schedule. I have as close to zero commute as possible and a clean, safe, nearby daycare minutes away. It’s the American dream… and it’s a lie. Why didn’t anyone tell me this? For all the complaining parents do, and it is endless, why has no one simplified it to not having enough time, in a dual income family? I have never really considered myself a modern feminist, but I still thought I could do this. This is the model most people follow. Of course we would, too.
Six weeks, y’all. I made it six weeks before handing in my notice to leave my dream job, the job I can’t seem to build any enthusiasm for anymore, while simultaneously remembering how good it once made me feel. Everyone keeps telling me that it gets better, but when I ask how much time they get with their children at night, they almost always answer less than an hour. This isn’t just parents of babies, but those with school-aged children, too. After two back-to-back rounds of Pandemic IVF, an emergency C-section due to extensive pneumonia and pregnancy-induced heart complications that impact .00001% of women, three blood transfusions, four days in the ICU and three more in labor and delivery… I get an hour with my girls each night. I have a cardiologist now and $9,000 in hospital bills, but I have an hour with my babies.
In a perfect world, I could just go half-time again, doing the same job for fewer hours, but my system doesn’t hire half-time librarians anymore. The only half-time positions don’t require an MLIS and pay $5 less an hour. While I’d be thrilled to take one of these and it’s a possibility that one might open in the next few months, if I do so as an internal candidate, I’ve been informed that my retirement will be frozen. If I’m no longer full time, but I haven’t terminated employment, I won’t be able to touch my retirement, not to add to it or roll it over or continue investing in it. Since Jake and I wouldn’t plan for me to return to full time or quit, for at least 15 years, $75,000 would sit in an account and be eaten by inflation. I was told, verbatim, that I do have a choice, though: I can terminate employment… and so I did.
Leaving my job has been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. I worked so hard for this. I spent years praying for this exact position, a teen librarian job on the outskirts of the county, where I could make big city money and lead a small town life. I feel like I’m losing a part of myself. Unlike other people’s dream jobs, it was more or less exactly as wonderful as I’d dreamt. Sure, there were frustrations with other departments and budgeting decisions and weird niche emphases in my specialization, but my day to day? It was awesome. I made a difference. I made good money. I made friends. I had fun…
… then Covid-19 hit.
Maybe things would have been different, if it weren’t for the pandemic, the way we had to get pregnant, losing my mom the day after Mother’s Day, or almost dying when my girls were born. Maybe if my job had actually been enjoyable for the last two years, instead of a terrifying effort not to get sick during IVF, while trying to simultaneously appease the conflicting feelings of staff and the public… maybe I’d have been able to make the adjustment, like all other women seem to do. I remember loving my job. I looked forward to work… but I can’t do it anymore. I keep thinking that women do this all the time, but then I talk to them and realize that it doesn’t get better. They just get used to it and those aren’t the same thing. I don’t want to get used to feeling like I don’t know my daughters, to being exhausted and irritable, to constantly rushing and never having enoughhours in the day. Maybe I’m weak or the last two years have broken something inside of me, because I don’t have it in me and I never thought I would feel this way. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It doesn’t feel right, though, far more than leaving my job doesn’t feel right.
Iwish I could split myself in two, like Sabrina Spellman à la The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I could send one Belle to the library, where she’d comfort a teenage boy who just came out to his mom, recommend some fitting YA books, and invite him to the next teen program. Then, I could stay home and care for my girls and my house, freeing up time to spend as a family later, never missing a milestone. That’s just it, though. Just as Sabrina sent her other self to rule Hell, I’d send my other self to work full time. Even in this fantasy, I stay home.
I’ve cried myself sick over the last few days, but it’s nothing compared to the tears I’ve cried over the last eight weeks. I want to be a librarian, but I want to be with my girls more. Maybe things would be different if it hadn’t all been sohard, but I’m not strong enough for this… literally. Jake and I would like to have another baby, transferring another embryo (singular) this summer, but it would be the kind of pregnancy that involves a team with a cardiologist on it. I can’t do that and have twins and work full time. I can’t even do this. For all I went through to get my dream job, I went through a lot more to get my girls. There’s still hope that a half-time position will open in the next six months or so, so perhaps I’ll be able to return to my role in a more manageable capacity… at least that’s what I tell myself, so I can keep it together as Grady, the teen volunteer I got hired on, thanks me for all I’ve done for him.
My heart is breaking for the career I’m giving up, but there’s a chance I can have it again later and there’s absolutely zero chance that my girls will ever be this small again. I keep thinking about my mother, what she’d have done differently. If she weren’t my age during the 90s, when it was just assumed that a woman would work, she’d have chosen to stay home or work part-time. I’m certain. I doubt that would have saved her relationship with my dad, but it might have literally saved her sanity and her relationship with her children. I don’t want to have regrets, but I seem to have no choice. As much as my heart is breaking to leave my library, it breaks more to think of missing these years. So for now, this chapter of my life has closed and I’ll just have to see what the future holds.
One year ago today was a big day for me. On November 3, 2020 the country was watching our presidential election with bated breath… but not me.
I started the day alone, mask-clad, in an operating room, with Jake in the car, after an ice storm had ravaged the state. I’d spent the last week praying we’d keep power, because we had over a thousand dollars worth of medication in the refrigerator. My ovaries were the size of clementines and I was, once again, irritated that no one told me how physically painful IVF could be. Although it was my second time to go through an egg retrieval alone, I felt it even more so, since we’d kept the entire cycle a secret. After six months of fertility treatments, it was the first time I broke down in a doctor’s office, crying uncontrollably after the procedure, because I wanted my husband and would never be a mom.
After my retrieval, I took every single hydrocodone pill over the next two days, not because of the puncture wounds in the wall of my vagina, but because it took the edge off of the stress of Pandemic Election Year Back-to-Back IVF. My Gramma called to rant about Russia, having no idea that I couldn’t possibly care less about the fate of the country that day. I didn’t care if we fell into anarchy, as long as I got to be a mom. It was one of my hardest days of 2020. Now…
I can’t even believe they’re real, y’all. They’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, the best thing I’ve ever done. A year ago, today, I thought I’d never be a mom and now I have not one, but two, beautiful baby girls. It was all worth it.
I’m writing this on November 17, 2020, at 5:00 in the morning, the first day that I can take a pregnancy test with doctor approval. I’ll post it the day I have a baby.
I couldn’t sleep at all the night before last, getting around three to four hours, total. Progesterone gives me weird dreams and I was anxious over whether or not the last 10 days of shots and headaches and nausea and a swollen belly were worth it. I spent all of yesterday trying to prepare for the crushing disappointment of a failed transfer and the inevitable two to three days in bed that would surely follow. I attended the staff meeting, since the other option was Wednesday, when I planned to be staring at the ceiling in a catatonic state. I also completed all of my weeding, since the end of November really sneaks up on us in libraries, after we close for Thanksgiving and Black Friday and have a weekend.
Weeding is the process of pulling and processing old books, to make room in the collection for new books. It’s not an incredibly taxing job, if you’re not on hormones that make you uniquely ill. By the end of the day, my swollen belly felt even worse and my head hurt. Since I couldn’t stem the tide of my emotions, going from hopeful to tears, I took two flexiril at about 8:00 and went to bed around 9:30, setting the pregnancy test out for easy access, at around 6:00, before Jake went to work, but late enough that we wouldn’t lose much sleep.
I woke around 4:30, my belly aching, and anxious. I wanted to take the test right away. Then I never wanted to take the test and either get a period or a baby. Then I wanted to go back to sleep and take it later in the morning, as planned. Finally, as bladder pinged at me, I admitted that waiting was pointless and would have zero impact on the outcome. I made my way into the bathroom, half asleep, grabbed the test and peed in the cup… only to promptly drop it, spilling urine all over the bathroom. I tried to tear open the test with my teeth, realizing that it definitely had pee on it and only barely managed to cut it open with nail clippers. I was able to tilt the cup and use the remaining sample to actually take the test and was distracted during the wait time with cleaning the bathroom. Finally, I pulled on my big girl panties, to review the test… and it was positive.
I immediately ran into the bedroom, turned on the light, and jumped on the bed to wake a startled husband.
Jake: “What?” Me: “It’s positive.“ Jake: ::hugs me and pulls me to him:: Me: “The perk of spilling pee all over the bathroom, when you take a pregnancy test, is that you have something to do while you wait for the results.” Jake: ::laughs and tries to pull me further into the bed, when he realizes I’m breathing hard:: Jake: “Are you okay?” Me: “Yeah, I’m just…” ::I search for the right words:: “…covered in pee.”
So, I took a shower, while Jake threw the bathmats in the wash and came to bed, where Jake was already mostly asleep again, just a like a man. I lie there for a bit, realized I was never going to get back to sleep and got up to write a blog, until Wal-Mart opens at 7:00, cuz Covid-19, so I can buy ten $1 pregnancy tests to get me through tomorrow, when I’ll hear confirmation from the doctor’s office, after bloodwork.
When your mother dies, people will be heartbroken. They’ll cry and grieve and mourn at her bedside and again at her funeral. There will be moments when they think of her and remember she’s dead and it will tear them up all over again. They’ll comfort themselves with the knowledge that she had a good life. My mother died on Monday and no one cares.
I hadn’t spoken to my mother in four and a half years. She was not a well woman. A variety of untreated mental illnesses and a man who enabled them manifested in a range of problematic behavior, from paranoia and intense hypochondria to manipulation and cruelty. She was overbearing to the point that any allowance for a relationship resulted in her constant calls, texts, and showing up at my apartment or work, which always derailed into the above behavior. I once declined a lunch invitation, because I had to work, only to receive the response “What happened to the daughter I loved?” More than once, she told of an illness or surgery and deliberately lead me to believe the situation was life-threatening, only to later admit that it was mild or elective. If I suggested she get help, it was always part of a larger plot against her.
These interactions were not limited to me. My brother would respond to this behavior with as much vitriol as he could muster, something that was not in short supply when it came to our mother. She had few friends, if any. She’d long since distanced herself from her extended family, when she married my dad. She’d “quit” her job years earlier, citing ambiguous health problems that didn’t really add up; though I suspect she was fired for chronic tardiness, among other things. Even my grandmother, a woman capable of more grace and forgiveness than anyone I’ve ever known, eventually reached her limit, when my mother self-published a book vilifying her and distributed copies to her whole family. Although I truly don’t think my mother was capable of understanding this betrayal and actually expected praise, my grandma couldn’t get past it and our Christmases became separate that year.
On my 26th birthday, my mother took me out for the day. We had a nice time at first, as we usually did. We went shopping, ate sushi, and she gave me the complete boxed set of the Harry Potter movies on Blu-Ray. Afterward, she needed to make a “quick stop” at Best Buy, which turned into a two hour errand. I worked two jobs at the time and desperately wanted to get home to get some things done and spend time with my dog. I became increasingly frustrated, but tried to keep calm. I eventually offered to have my dad take me home, since he lived nearby. This sent my mother into a rage that resulted in a heated fight on the drive home. I remember telling her she needed mental help, as she began to deliberately drive recklessly, and her cruelly mocking me for self-harming in high school. After she dropped me off at my apartment, I heard a thump. She had hurled the leftover birthday cookie at my door and sped off. I was done. Happy birthday, Belle.
Though I never received an apology, less than a year later, I tried to reconnect for a few months, only to have similar results and once again cease contact. A year or two after that, she showed up at my work one day and, instead of turning her away, I had a nice conversation with her, about my job, Jake, my pets, the life I had planned. She told me of some ailments that the doctors “couldn’t explain” and described symptoms that seemed either fabricated or psychological, knowing her history, but I left it alone. I’d missed her. I’d missed having a mother, even one who wasn’t mentally stable and I couldn’t speak on her health with certainty. I was still hesitant to take the relationship much further, however, as the above events were just the latest of my efforts at a mother/daughter bond throughout my twenties.
Four months later, my mother showed up at my new job site, which was still under construction, bypassed all signs and laborers and entered “just to say hi,” though she lived an hour and a half away. I couldn’t get her to leave, even after insisting that I could get in real trouble for having my mother visit an ongoing construction site. She was baffled at why it was a problem and I had to rudely insist she go. This time she was using a walker, for symptoms that may or may not have been legitimate. I’ll never know. The system director arrived thirty minutes later and I still think I could have, at the very least, seriously damaged my reputation with the director and other members of upper management. It finally set in that it was all or none with her. After 10 years of similar behavior, I no longer had the energy for all, so I chose none. That’s the last time I spoke to her, December of 2016.
This was my adult relationship with my mother. It doesn’t even touch on the abuse of my teen years. I’d grown up with the “wait until your father gets home” threat and my mother had no idea how to discipline a teenager on her own. More often than not, she tried to be my best friend and we had some great times eating cookie dough and watching bad horror movies, talking about our favorite shows and books, gossiping over the cute boys at school. Then, she’d inevitably want me to do something I didn’t want to do and the argument would escalate to physical abuse. After a particularly brutal night, in which she dragged me across the house by my hair, I began discussing moving in with my dad, who was simply the lesser evil at the time, and she told me a story about how he had molested me, insisting I’d blocked it out. Not only did I no longer consider moving in with him, I didn’t talk to him for five years, from the ages of 13-18.
Not long after, my mother somehow managed to have me prescribed a 250mg daily dose of Wellbutrin, without in-person therapy. During our arguments, she’d frequently threaten to have me committed to a psych ward. The physical abuse worsened and each time, she felt horrible, once even insisting that I beat her back with the same dog leash. It was a volatile relationship, in which she had all the power… until she left me, during my senior year, to live with the boyfriend she’d met online, the man she eventually married and seemingly decided was her whole world. Only then did I put the pieces together and accept that my dad might not have been perfect, but he wasn’t a child molester and my mother was, at best, mentally ill and terrified of being alone.
She wasn’t always like this. Before the separation and eventual divorce, before the brain tumor, she showed signs of mental instability, but they were far less frequent, usually just rages far exceeding what the situation warranted or manic episodes where she’d focus on a single cleaning task for days, creating diagrams we couldn’t read yet, with strict instructions to follow them. In between, she made birthday pancakes and planned elaborate parties, took us on vacations, alone or with my grandmother, volunteered for every school activity, using her leave for field trips and our end of the year bashes. She stayed home with us when we were sick and took us to lunch when she had to take off to drive us to a dentist appointment. She painted green footprints in the bathtub on St. Patrick’s Day and put food dye in the milk. She drove us to every after school activity and helped us with gymnastics and softball, despite how absolutely awful I was at both. She let us keep every stray dog and doted on her poodle. She always loved us, I’d dare say more than my father did, and simply grew increasingly worse at it as her mental state degraded. Over the years, she just became an impossible person to have a relationship with, creating for herself a lonely and sad life since she remarried, with no bonds outside her husband; who encouraged and enabled her every delusion, solidifying her hatred for and distance from my grandmother and her family, my brother’s absolute disdain for her, and my own lack of contact.
Last Monday, my mother had a heart attack. She died on the table twice and was completely brain dead when they brought her back. On Saturday, the day before Mother’s day, they unplugged her and I was able to visit, completely alone, due to Covid-19 restrictions, while Jake waited in the lobby. I expected her to be frail and peaceful, but she was morbidly obese, appeared to be bloated with broken blood vessels in her arms and hands, and her breathing was labored through the effort of working her collapsed lung. I gave her husband the latest ultrasound picture of the babies and asked that she be buried with it, somewhat grateful that she didn’t live to know that she wouldn’t be allowed to see them unless she received the help she denied she needed. I spent the next day ignoring “Happy Mother’s Day” texts, while waiting for that fated one from my brother. I’d always hoped that my mom would get treatment, therapy or medication or both, that we could eventually have something, that I’d once again see a shadow of the woman she used to be… and now it’s over. There’s no more time. As that succinct text message said “mom’s gone”… really and truly this time.
When I was little, my grandma used to take my brother and I out and give us whatever we wanted, usually sugar of some kind. She’d bring us home and I’d be hyped up on M&M’s or ice cream and my mom would be exasperated with her and tell me that one day, when I had children, she would do the same. She would have been my age at the time. When she was my age, my mom pictured a future where she was allowed and alive to see my children. She should have had that. She should have had a better life. She should have been surrounded by her kids and grandchildren and a hodge podge of friends. Instead, she had a lonely and pitiful existence with only the companionship of a miserable little man who exacerbated the many mental issues that ultimately ruined her.
The day after Mother’s Day, my mom died at sixty years old… and no one cares. Besides a lack of friends or coworkers, she had no siblings and wasn’t close with her own family. My father’s family was horrible to her, even before she deserved it, and I’ve spent my entire life hearing the nasty things they have to say about her. While I know my dad would love to offer his comfort and possibly even feels he can relate, from the death of my grandfather, I don’t recall anyone ever telling him they’d like to dance on his dad’s grave and I’m not really interested in discussing his choreography, no matter how justified his anger. Worried that I’d keep it to myself long enough to make it really awkward, though, I had Jake call him and deliver the news with instructions to tell everyone that I don’t want to talk… because beyond my husband and grandma, anyone who says they’re sorry is lying. They’re sorry for me, sorry for my grandma, sorry for my brother and his kids… but no one is sorry for my mother’s lost life, in any sense of the phrase. No one but my grandma and I will cry for her and even those are conflicted tears, because deep down, we’re both happy it’s over for her. She didn’t have a good life and it wasn’t going to get any better. She was losing her grip on reality faster and faster and her health was inarguably failing, as well. There won’t even be a funeral, as her husband insists that she didn’t want a service of any kind, which has always been completely out of character. He’ll be having her cremated to bury her alone, without anyone present, like a stray dog. The woman who made those birthday pancakes and binged on raw cookie dough was gone long ago, but now so is any hope that I’ll ever see her again… and no one cares.
Y’all, I’m ashamed to say that, after years of struggle, I’ve managed to take the small things for granted. I still smile when I’m able to buy the name brand Spaghetti O’s, when I only have to work 40 hours a week, when I get to spend an evening reading next to my husband, instead of rushing to an awkward first date. Yet, somehow, I’ve taken one of life’s many blessings as a given. Y’all, for 31 years, I have been living under the assumption that my girl parts were not up for public discussion… and I was mistaken.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is, of course, a clear distinction between “public” and “family.” The ink had barely dried on my divorce papers, before my brother informed 23-year-old Belle that all the good ones were taken, so if she wanted to get married and have kids, she’d better get on it. The entirety of my twenties, in fact, were peppered with not-so-subtle suggestions that I procreate, even before Jake and I were engaged. Just last Christmas, my Aunt Dee sat down next to me, as I was holding my baby niece, and demanded “What about you? What’s your timeline? When are you having babies?” in lieu of silly pleasantries like “Hello” or “Merry Christmas.” Belle’s Girl Parts have been a favorite family discussion topic for years. Truth be told, save for my dad, the lot of them have had a stopwatch on my uterus for the better part of the last decade.
As for Jake’s family, who are far more old school than mine, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised that they’ve only just begun to hint that we should get on the baby train, after two years of marriage. Though they don’t quite have the gall of my family, the comments are getting increasingly less subtle, and honestly… that’s okay. While it bothered me to hear these things from my own family, when I was working on my career and figuring out what I wanted from life, I never held any true ire or resentment. As blunt and nosy and opinionated as both sides can be, it’s forgivable… because they’re family. A foundation of nearly every familial portrayal in media is that they suck at boundaries, because they love you… and I can handle that. What I cannot handle, however, is the same lack of boundaries from the cashier at Dollar Tree.
Folks, I’ve worked retail, and still very much work in customer service, so I try to be courteous. When I get to the register, I put my phone down, greet the cashier, engage in any small talk, say thank you and just generally try not to act like an entitled ass. Usually, I receive the same respectful treatment, from someone who will likely never see me again, but still makes an effort to create a pleasant interaction by smiling, making chit chat and ignoring my purchases. So, last week, when I stopped in to grab a card for a coworker’s last day, I thought nothing of it when I piled a few ovulation tests on the conveyor belt, cuz why not? They’re a dollar and I’ve long since passed the time in my life where I’m embarrassed to buy tampons or condoms. Just as I couldn’t care less when a customer asks me for books on demonology and antique dolls (or I at least keep quiet about it), I know cashiers aren’t interested in my budget fertility experiments… or are they?!?!
Cashier # 1: “Oooooh! Are you trying to have a baby?!?!” Me: “I… um… I guess so?” Cashier # 1: “That’s so exciting! I always said that if I were going to have any more, I’d do it that way, so I could know exactly when they were coming. I’ve got an IUD now, though, so I’m good for five years.” Me: ::I literally do not even know your name:: “Oh, um, yeah I actually had one of those for a little while.” ::Why the hell am I telling this woman about my birth control?:: Cashier # 2: “What’s going on?”
Cashier # 1: “She’s trying to have a baby!”Cashier # 2: “Oh, that’s exciting!”
Cashier # 1: “Yeah, I had to use over-the-counter options before this, because I couldn’t use anything else.”
Me: “Yeah, that happens sometimes, I know everything else made me sick.” ::Are we really talking about your condom usage?::
… and then I thanked her, wished her a good day and left with my bag o’ pee sticks. That’s right, y’all. It is so ingrained in me to be a good customer, that I thanked the cashier who asked me “How ’bout that vagina?” My When my Aunt Dee asked about my timeline, I had the presence of mind to clap back that Jake keeps putting it in the wrong hole (Merry Christmas!), but a woman I’ve never met blasts my sex life over the loud speaker of a local discount store and I wish her a good day.
When did this happen?!?! When did my fertility become something that not only my family asks about in a pesky, yet somewhat endearing way, but strangers think makes for appropriate small talk?!? I’m all for lifting the taboo on pregnancy, liberating “expecting” 50s housewives from their mumus, and encouraging breastfeeding moms to make themselves comfortable in public, but there is a difference between oppressive taboos and basic privacy! For instance:
Telling a woman she should hide her pregnancy shames her for something she should be celebrating.
While humiliating a woman for feeding her baby in a public courthouse makes a healthy and natural activity taboo, asking a woman if she’s planning to breastfeed is prying into a private personal decision.
Congratulating someone on their pregnancy announcement shares in the joy of a growing family, but asking her about her girl parts is invasive and uncomfortable and I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that!
Naturally, I went home and shared this story with Jake. Me: “Next month, you get to buy the ovulation tests.”
Jake: “If it happens again, just tell them you’re breeding your dog.”
I’ve been pretty hesitant to revisit this Dollar Tree, though, even with it being so close to work. While a part of me wants to perform some kind of expansive social experiment and buy increasingly awkward items from various cashiers, another part shudders to think what will happen when I actually do get pregnant.
Update: Two weeks later, when Jake stopped by Dollar Tree to pick up more ovulation tests, the same cashier not only commented “Someone’s tryyyying,” but asked if I was his wife. I called her manager and explained that while I know she’s trying to be friendly, someone has got to explain to this woman that things people pee on aren’t up for discussion at checkout.
Three and a half years ago, Jake took me on a weekend trip, to meet his friends. We’d only been dating for seven months, but we were already beginning to see a future together. It was only a few weeks later that we went skiing and began to talk about marriage in hypotheticals. So it was, that we fit right in with his dating/engaged/married without children friends. The women made Pinterest recipes together and shared first date and wedding day stories. The men played beer pong and told appalling college tales. There were drinking games and card games and movies. It was a great time and I was surprised to feel so included with these people I’d just met. A year and a half later, I felt the same way, on our wedding day, when the women told me I completed the pack. So, this past weekend, when Jake told me his friends had planned another crawfish boil, I was excited.
When we met, only one set of Jake’s married friends had children and it was some time before I met them, as that couple’s weekend wasn’t really a family event. Over the next few years, however, more and more birth announcements, gender reveals, and baby showers came. Some of the new parents were just at that point in life, others perhaps just wanted to be. Regardless of intent, though, the babies came and the first thing I saw when we arrived at last weekend’s party was a swarm of small children.
It’s no secret that I don’t really like kids. I’ve never been drawn to them. Unless they’re family, and therefore require some level of affection and investment, I just don’t find them particularly interesting… and I’ve tried. I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library, so it’s not for lack of exposure that children just aren’t my thing. Yet, I want my own. The word “trying” seems like a lot of information about my sex life, but Jake and I are… seeing what happens. So, while I can’t necessarily empathize with their day to day lives, I can sympathize with parents. I love watching my husband with our young nieces. I genuinely enjoy them, myself, so I know I have that in me, under the right circumstances. Working with older kids and teens is my life’s work and it makes me want to give my own children a good home life. I’m not there yet and children aren’t my specialty, but I do want them soon, so I can enjoy the company of parents and their families. Too bad the feeling wasn’t mutual last weekend.
I won’t go so far as to say that anyone was unkind to me, at this party. Jake and I walked in and did the introductions and reintroductions. People I’d never met hugged me and joked about erecting statues in my honor for marrying this wild cowboy of mine. Together, we gave updates on our careers and location, before Jake traded some back slaps and insults, on his way to play cornhole and horseshoes with his old college buddies… and I was left alone, in a crowd of moms.
Y’all, I tried. I was excited about this party and didn’t hesitate to sit down at a table of women my age and attempt to strike up a conversation. We traded pleasantries. I asked about their kids, told them we didn’t have any yet, and then… I simply vanished. I’d try the same routine with another group and another, but always, got the same result.
Feeling rejected, I sat down with Jake to eat crawfish, while he and his friends gabbed like tweens. Occasionally, they’d include me and I’d find myself laughing comfortably with my husband and his boys. Not wanting to detract from Jake’s good time by being clingy, however, I mostly watched as he and his buddies played washers and drank beer. Periodically, I’d attempt to start a conversation with one of the women, happy to listen to them talk about their families or careers or literally anything, but these chats never lasted more than a few minutes, before they sat down with other moms; ones they knew and ones they didn’t. Whereas once, when Jake and I were in the same stage of life, I felt welcomed and included among his friends, I now found myself on the sidelines, not out of maliciousness, but with a similar result, because I don’t yet have something I do want.
Jake: “Are you not having fun?”
Me: “I’m okay. Go have fun with your friends. You don’t need to babysit me.”
Jake: “You’re really bad at lying.”
Me: “It’s just… kind of like a middle school dance. I’m either sitting quietly alone or wandering around aimlessly, so I look like I have somewhere to be. No one wants to talk to me, cuz I’m not a mom.”
As the night wore on, it became clear that the only friend I’d made was the dog, who saw my weakness as an opportunity to get nummies… and that he did. Finally, I made one last attempt to socialize, walking over to a group of women who’d seemed friendly earlier. Immediately, I was asked if I had children. When I answered “not yet”, I was literally embraced by a woman named Molly, who launched into an inebriated tirade against the “breeders” who wouldn’t invite her to dinner, because she didn’t have a screaming brat to bring with her. Simply happy to have someone to talk to, I let her drag me away from the group, her husband and another couple in tow, and they all proceeded to long for the days of random hookups and a drunken concert they referred to as “Redneck Woodstock.” I remember hearing about that concert from Jake, on our third date. He told me that so many people just peed right next to the stage, it was like a latrine. When I mentioned this, I was informed that the beauty was in the freedom to pee right next to the stage. Never having been a gal who would enjoy such festivities, I did not mince words.
Me: “That sounds awful. That literally sounds like Hell.”
It didn’t matter, though, because Molly had decided that I was simply her sounding board and she’d had too much to drink to take in much of what I had to say. She told me she knew she liked me, that she just had to look past the pigtails and the cookies I brought. She told me how happy she was that Jake, who’d never liked her, had married a stoner liberal just like her.
Me: “I’m not a liberal or a stoner. I’ve smoked pot twice and I didn’t like it.”
She didn’t seem to hear me.
Jake found me and Molly launched into her defense campaign, talking about how he used to hate her, but she’s totally changed. He joked and laughed with her, but I could tell his opinion hadn’t altered much over the years and that Molly’s behavior wasn’t doing anything to redeem her. I suddenly felt more defeated than ever. The only person who’d shown any genuine interest in me all night was a drunken party girl in her thirties, who referred to anyone who wants children as a “breeder”… and she made fun of my hair and my nice gesture. I had enough friends like that in my twenties and I didn’t even enjoy it then. I certainly can’t relate now. When Jake leaned in and whispered “Molly’s crazy, by the way,” I nearly burst into tears, because I’d gathered as much myself.
Me: “Don’t tell me any more. She’s the only person who’s talked to me all night.”
While Jake finished up his final game of washers, I hung my head and retreated to the car, walking the long way to avoid Molly and company, my shoes in hand as I trekked barefoot through standing water, so I wouldn’t be noticed. I crawled into the car and pulled out my Kindle, retreating into my forever friend: books.
Twenty minutes later, Jake climbed into the car next to me.
Jake: “Do you feel okay?”
Me: “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Jake: “I’m sorry you didn’t have fun.”
Me: “I’m glad you did.”
… and I meant it
The next morning, after I’d had some time to get my feelings in check, I told Jake that I didn’t dislike his friends. On the contrary, they’d been so nice to me before, that it felt worse to be so obviously excluded… and they are nice people. They try to include me in smaller groups… when the wives show. This isn’t a phenomenon Jake has to deal with, though, even though all of his friends have kids. Men’s lives are less likely to be consumed by fatherhood than women’s are to be consumed by motherhood. Men aren’t as naturally exclusionary as women… and Jake is generally the life of every party, so they’d fail if they tried.
I’m certain that none of the women intended to alienate me, that night. There were so many people there, that I imagine it was pretty easy to overlook one. Regardless, being ostracized by the Mom Club felt uniquely awful. Maybe one day, a year or two from now, when I’m once again one of the gang… in the same stage of life as everyone else, I’ll remember that feeling well enough to talk to the woman between marriage and motherhood. In the meantime, I have a husband who at least understands that he’ll never understand.
Me: “I think maybe you should come on more solo trips to hang out with your buddies. I don’t really want to do this again for a while.”
I had it all planned. I would mail the invitations and send a polite, but firm, text message to my mother, simply stating that too many bridges have been burned and she is, therefore, not invited to my wedding. I’d find a way to subtly mention the presence of security, so she knew that if she were to show, it wouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps I’d even blame my dad, claiming he said he wouldn’t come if she did. After all, the only reason he claimed he was joking when he did say it, was because my step-mom yelled at him. Sure, I hadn’t worked out the details. I hadn’t really told Jake or Gail that she was texting me more lately, trying to mend fences, but I figured I’d let all that be Future Belle’s problem.
I had it all planned, more or less… until she showed up at my new job, unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome, seeing as how we’re not open and are still a construction zone. When she said my name, I genuinely thought that this could not be happening. Not even she was demented enough to think I’d want to see her at the new job I didn’t tell her about and that it was appropriate to disturb me during my first week, when we were still surrounded by construction workers. I turned, and there she was, with her kicked puppy look, the one that always reminds me of a sad Kathy Bates, the reason I can’t watch movies with Kathy Bates. She stood at the walker I knew she’d been using, despite having informed me specifically that the doctors have told her again and again that there is nothing physically wrong with her… emphasis on physically.
Me: “What are you doing here?”
Her: “I just came to see you.”
Me: “We’re not open. You can’t be here.”
Her: “Okay, I just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to leave. This is a construction zone.”
Her Husband: “Alright, we know. We just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to go. Now.”
The director of the system had left only hours earlier. I can only imagine what he’d have thought if he had assumed I’d invited my, apparently invalid, mother to tour an unopened library. Fortunately, she and her husband left before anyone but the construction workers noticed, leaving me shaking. I never know what I feel when I see her… anger, pity, longing? This time “ambushed” ranked pretty high, as I typed out a text message to her. It was cruel and hateful and I was angry, but even in hindsight, I can only think how she refuses to respond to any other expression of my wishes. I have asked to be left alone (particularly at work), in every other way I can fathom, so the only thing left, it seemed, was to be ugly… or reprimanded professionally. I pressed send, terrified that her husband, Victor, would return to berate me for it.
Mental illness receives the most blame for who my mother has become, of course, but I place Victor second in that column. My mother has always been… embarrassingly weak. Even when she was young, she was a chameleon through and through, adapting her personality to those who surround her. With my dad, she was convinced she wanted to live on ten acres and spend her money on boots and livestock, neither of which ever gave her any real benefit. After things went south there, she let herself be completely absorbed in having young children, both dressing and acting like a child in many ways, from oversized Tweety Bird t-shirts and fanny packs, to childish humor and hobbies. Perhaps that was part of the cause of the divorce, not necessarily the effect, but I’ll never know. Then, she met this weird little man, who wears a conductor’s hat, lives in isolation, and makes his money from odd jobs and pyramid schemes, both of which naturally required her money, before she quit nursing to watch Netflix and self-diagnose herself on WebMD all day. This was the same man who convinced her to leave me and move in with him my senior year of high school, the reason she couldn’t “afford” my college application fees, the man who frequently tells her how horrible everyone in her life has been to her, increasing his isolation of her to only his home, where he plays into her contrived illnesses and doesn’t allow her to drive.
I think, often, about how different my mother would be, had she married someone even remotely normal. Perhaps she’d still be working, exposing herself to the outside world and the people in it. Maybe she’d share some random hobby with him, like disc golf or traveling with Renaissance Fairs. Maybe she’d still exist, period, because she is simply a shell of herself, today, and a poor one at that. Gone is the woman who insisted we wear my Gramma’s matching Christmas outfits for the family photo… who volunteered to chaperone every field trip and supplied cupcakes for every class party… who took me out of daycare just because she had the day off. I don’t even recognize her anymore, but I miss the woman she was.
In a weak moment, I called Jake and shared a touch of my mommy drama. I often joke with him that he can’t know the magnitude of it all until after we’re married and he’s trapped. I immediately regretted telling him. Despite my willingness to share everything else, I find I want to keep this particular pain from Jake. I left work just a few hours later and spent the evening ignoring his calls and crying over the horrible text I’d sent my mother, thinking that a man so respectful of his own parents was far too good for me. I thought about watching the home videos I have on a disc, but I know they would just make me long even more for someone who’s gone, and I’m not that masochistic. I thought of my wedding day, of dressing with only my Gramma and bridesmaids by my side, of the whispers from those who will never understand and I cried. I thought about having no mentor for marriage and motherhood and I cried. I thought about how I can’t do all of this without the mother I had at 7-years-old and how I’ll never see her again and I cried. I reread my text message and I cried.
Stop coming to my work. Period. I cannot talk to you. I’m working. I choose not to see you when I’m not working and forcing me to see you when I am is completely inappropriate. I didn’t tell you I switched libraries for a reason. Don’t come see me. Just assume that you are never invited to any part of my life. My wedding. The births of my children. Stay. Away. Do not respond to this message in any way other than to respect my wishes. I am not discussing this or anything with you.