Monthly Archives: July 2013

mother as a verb

mother: (v.) to care for or protect like a mother; act maternally toward.

I have not been able to find a job in five months.  This is radically unusual for me.  I would be even more confused and concerned were it not becoming increasingly clear to me that the universe has assigned me a job — right now my job is to mother.  And, more specifically, to mother James’ three children — Jay, a 13-year-old boy; Chelsea, who is almost-11-years-old: and Chloe, aged 7 1/2.

Now, in a blended family situation, the step-mother necessarily assumes some mothering responsibilities, which are easily enumerated and the focus of countless books.  But there is no book for the kind of mothering I am providing to these children.

For the last six years, since their parents’ divorce, the children have lived with their mother in another state — let’s say Georgia — for most of the year, returning to their hometown and Dad for eight weeks in the summer and every school vacation.  Despite this pathetically small amount of time in Colorado, they consider it their real home and their dad to be their primary parent.  Unfortunately the courts don’t agree.  At least not yet.

For the last five years, the children have been seeing a well-known and respected child psychologist when they come to Colorado, and she has been quietly wringing her hands as their situation out-of-state with their mother has become more difficult, more dangerous, and more heartbreaking. Their therapist has listened to their sad and angry young voices detail their mother’s neglect, selfishness, and abusive boyfriends, all the while knowing that she didn’t quite have a legal basis to file a report.

Until this summer.

This summer, the children arrived as usual and went to see their therapist to unload several months’ worth of private angst, frustration, and disappointment.  As usual, they begged her not to make them go back to their mom’s house.  As usual, they all reported, separately, the same sad stories of her parties and drinking and how they feel that they are the lowest priority in her life.   But this time, they also must have said something a bit different… shared something slightly worse than was typical… revealed an infraction that was, finally, a firm basis for a report under mandatory reporting laws.

The therapist wasted no time filing a report with the mother’s state department of social services.  The intake worker at first seemed fairly nonchalant while receiving the therapist’s report, but very shortly, most likely after a review of police calls to the home, the investigation kicked into high gear.  And we and the children were thrust into the frightening and bureaucratic world of child abuse investigations.

It was what we had been waiting for all along.  The allegations were no surprise to us, but they were heart-wrenching and sickening.  And the matter-of-fact way in which all three children were able to detail the nature and frequency of their mother’s infractions was breathtaking.  Yesterday, James and I sat in a child advocacy center for several hours while, downstairs, his children did for themselves what we have not been able to do for them:  they demanded the attention of authorities tasked with protecting their well-being.  They were forthright and honest and composed.  And they likely changed their futures, one way or another.

And now, as the legal repercussions swirl around us, we fiercely try to maintain some kind of “normal” for the children.  My daughters know what is happening, and they are as protective and nurturing of Jay, Chelsea, and Chloe as James and I are.  As a family, we are completely focused on validating and supporting these three achingly-young children as they enter a governmental system that is more powerful and more arbitrary than they can possibly realize.  Should they be required to return to Georgia at the end of the summer, they will face a mother whose fury and vindictiveness they are well-acquainted with and terrified of.  If they are forced to go back, after all they revealed and all the trust they placed in anonymous adults who promised to help them, I fear they are likely to give up.  I fear she will finally break their amazing, resilient spirits.

And if they stay, every single aspect of their lives would change:  schools, friends, everything.  Their mother would likely fly into a rage and spew all sorts of venom and hatefulness at them.  James and I would do our best to protect them, of course, but the allegations are unlikely to warrant a complete termination of parental rights, so the force of her anger would likely be felt.

So this is where I am living this summer:  in emotional limbo.  I love these children as if they were my own, and they love me back.  Before James and I even moved in together, Chelsea asked if she could call me “Mom.”  I responded that she could call me anything she wanted, as long as it was kind.  She beamed.  Chloe quickly followed suit.  I have watched them, as they call me “Mommy,” trying the word on their tongues.  I have seen their little grins of pleasure when I respond as I would to my own girls, and those grins make my heart ache.  Jay, when he’s not busy with his friends, hovers around me, telling me about music and movies and pretends to be appalled at my lack of coolness.  But he also asks me to visit him to when he’s getting ready for bed (not to tuck him in, of course, because “that’s for babies and little kids”), and we play basketball whenever we can.  Chelsea is my little shadow — a recent target of her mother’s derision, she blossoms when I tell her how smart and accomplished she is.  And then there’s Chloe.  Little Chloe.  Despite being her mother’s favorite and avoiding the worst of her actions, Chloe cried to James recently, telling him that I am the only “real mother” she has and she doesn’t want to have to leave us.

What am I to do with these children?  I have so very little control over their fates.  And if things between James and I don’t improve, I could lose them forever regardless of the court’s decision.  I am not their mother, and I do not endeavor to replace her.  But I would like very much to take those spaces in their lives into which she pours fear and uncertainty and sadness and backfill them with kindness and support and affirmation.  So I do the only thing I really can:  I love them fiercely.  I kiss and hug them often.  I point out special and amazing and important attributes they have and accomplishments they achieve.  I discipline them with love and honesty.  I say prayers with them at night and talk to them about the guardian angels who I know guard them always, and especially when they are in Georgia.  I tell them, over and over again, how much I love and admire them, even when they make me angry.  And I hope and I pray that some small morsel of my mothering will sink in and carry them forward through the difficult days that lie ahead.

I feel helpless when I stare at the road before them.  But then I remember that I have these weeks, these few precious weeks, to pour as much good stuff into them as I can, before the hurricane blowing towards us sucks them in.   I try to be present and aware in each moment we have together.  I ignore my phone and email.  My house gets messy.  My only goal is to never look back and regret that I could have done more.

As I’ve been writing this, the kids have been playing near me in my office, all five of them.  Now it’s bedtime and there are five small foreheads to kiss, and five small bodies to hug, and five small souls to pray over.

Five small people to mother.

My favorite Madonna, envisioned as the "Queen of the Rodeo."  Denver Art Museum

My favorite Madonna, envisioned as the “Queen of the Rodeo.” Denver Art Museum

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why I hate being a stay-at-home mom

I hate being a stay-at-home mom.

There.  I said it.  Call me all the names you want.  It will still be true.

I hate having my daily life revolve completely around the care and upkeep of everyone else. I went to law school rather than medical school in part because I acknowledged to myself that caring for the basic needs of others could not be the central focus of my existence.

I hate that any achievement I make (A delicious dinner!  A clean bathroom! A watered garden!) is almost immediately undone or disappears. There is nothing that I do that is of lasting, tangible impact.  In my last job, I created things, I wrote things, I drafted new laws.  In this job, I make a pie that is gone in 36 hours and for which not a soul says anything, except a passing “that was good” from James, which is why he’s my favorite.

I hate that nothing I do merits more than a cursory “thank you” from anyone. Ever.  In my marriage, I tried everything I could think of to solicit some kudos for my cooking, baking, cleaning, painting, yard-tending, animal-keeping, laundering, etc.,  but nothing worked and I gradually learned the age-old lesson of all housewives:  if you’re really good at what you do, your family will take you for granted because people only notice the problems or mishaps in the minutiae of their lives, not the aspects that run smoothly.  A lack of complaints is really the highest compliment a housewife can expect.  And I hate that.

I hate that the harder I try to be seen, the more invisible I become.  Yesterday, I took the girls shopping.  I bought one girl a bike and another girl some clothes and some sports equipment, and another girl an accessory for one of her toys.  For the bike, I got a big hug (which I savored greedily), but the others prompted nothing in the form of recognition or gratitude.  It wasn’t a matter of the missing “thank you” as much as I was hoping that they would see that I cared for them and their needs.  But, of course, they are children and that was lost on them.  As soon as the goodies were placed in their hands, I receded into the ether, gone until the next time they need something.

I hate that I don’t have grown-ups to talk to about grown-up things.  I went to dinner last night with my friend Gwen, and found myself waiting at the table for her arrival, nervous that I wouldn’t have anything interesting to say.  I was fairly certain that she wouldn’t be enthralled with news that the big dog is shedding like a maniac or that our lawn has turned brown in patches and I’ve no idea why or that Jay’s bike tire has been flat for weeks and I can’t seem to get around to fixing it.  But when she sat down across from me and started talking, I could feel my innards begin to untwist and relax.  And before I knew it, we were gabbing away about work and men and kids and faith.  I can’t count the number of times she said to me, “I can’t believe how much you’re juggling right now!  I don’t think I could do it.”  It was like soaking in a warm bath of acceptance, validation, and understanding for a few hours.  But than I emerged, got into my car, and felt my guts tighten up again.

I hate feeling sorry for myself.  I know — really KNOW! — that I, and I alone, am responsible for my current lack of employment.  I knew when I sent the final email to the Mayor that I would likely be terminated for refusing to adhere to his way of doing things.  I also know that there are fateful reasons for my being unemployed right now; I know that it is necessary for me to be home with the children this summer, to ease their transition and grease the blending of our families.  I can easily appreciate that I am immensely selfish for resenting sacrificing one simple summer for the sake of 5 precious children.  But there are definitely days, like today, when resent it I do.

I hate feeling tired and frumpy.  No amount of exercise or nutrition or sleep helps me shake this low-energy mood.  The endorphin high from working out lasts only until the next “MOM!!!!!” is screamed amidst yet another sibling argument.  There is no need to dress nicely when I am simply chauffeuring and cleaning up after children, so I sport the de rigeur summer uniform for the stay-at-home mom — jeans shorts and a cotton t-shirt — each and every day.  Sometimes I even put in earrings, but that only prompts the children to ask why I’m so dressed up.

Being a working mom is really tough. This I know.  I’ve done it with babies and I’ve done it with bigger kids.  I’ve commuted almost an hour each way, through all kinds of weather, while worrying what I was going to get on the table in time for dinner.  I’ve missed school plays and soccer games and sick days for meager paychecks that barely covered the cost of child care.

During my first tour of duty as a stay-at-home mom, I was relieved beyond belief to be free of the guilt that hangs over the working mother like a London fog.  Finally, I thought, I will have the time and attention and focus to devote myself to my children and family and home!  Our lives will be unstructured and stress-free and full of laughter and fun.  But you know what?  I am no more qualified to be a stay-at-home mom than I am to be an astronaut.  I am simply not suited to it.  I don’t have the aptitude or the training or the fearlessness to embrace the challenges inherent in the job.  When I re-entered the salaried workforce after my divorce, I did so with a guilty pleasure about which I am still ashamed.

This second tour of duty as a stay-at-home mom was involuntary for the most part.  When I refused to turn a blind eye to the political corruption in my previous job, I failed to recognize that the absence of another job in the wings might result in my conscription in the Stay-at-Home Moms Corps.  Never, not once in all the time that I was unhappy under the new mayor and feeling increasingly put upon having to work for a foul administration for a pittance of a paycheck, never did I wish that I could be a stay-at-home mom again.  Yet, here I am.

To be honest, I’m not terrible at being a stay-at-home mom.  In fact, I’m actually pretty good at it.  But this is only the second job I’ve ever had that I was good at but didn’t like.  The first was being a waitress at Bob’s Big Boy when I was 15 and had to wear a brown plaid, polyester uniform and orthopedic shoes.  I have to say, in all seriousness, that the waitress job was only marginally worse.  At least I got tips.

I know that at some point, all the job applications I’ve completed, all the resumes and cover letters I’ve sent out, all the interviews I’ve smiled my way through, will eventually result in a new job coming my way.  And I am equally certain that said job will appear at precisely the correct time in the universe’s schedule.  But until then, I’ll make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while wearing my hair in a ponytail and repeating “Would someone please get this hairbrush off the kitchen counter?” for the 534th time.

Because I’m a stay-at-home mom.  And that’s what we do.

mom to-do list

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