It was 2005. The girls were barely 9 and 12. I had to leave my ex husband. We left nearly everything; I took my kids and the clothes we had on our backs, and just enough belongings – a very small storage unit – to start a new life.
I left heirlooms and photo albums, boxes of childhood stuff, meaningful – all of it. I went from stay at home mom to working four jobs at once just to feed and house my girls. I had no help of any kind, financially or emotionally.
I worked one of the jobs so that Lexi could take Hula lessons and Ash could pursue her interests. I fed them a lot of chicken nuggets, ramen noodles, and instant mashed potatoes, and happy meals. I myself lived on cigarettes and Diet Coke, and lost 80 pounds in a short amount of time.
I was so frazzled and scared, and had only four years sober at the time. It is by the grace of God I didn’t pick up a drink; I know this because I am not that strong – I had supernatural help.
The pics from this time period came up in my memories and punched me in the gut, but almost in a good way. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I have memories of crying myself to sleep, but I also have the best memories of the times represented by these pictures.
It was so hard. But those precious girls! This is one reason my daughters and I are so close. We’ve been through some sh*t together. I wasn’t sure we’d survive it. But we did.
I’m writing this because I have so many friends going through single motherhood.
Mamas, you are doing an awesome %#@&$ job. You’re slaying it.
Even though you worry about your babies constantly.
Even though you feel like you’re missing the mark.
It tasted like loving myself. At the time, at least.
This might not be a big deal, but you see, my diabetes is severe and my kidneys are slowly failing.
Why did I do it? That’s a good question.
I ate the first one because my sugar was tanked after neglecting to fuel my body consistently the right way throughout the day.
They were sour coated gummy worms, and I guess that’s why I ate the next one.
And then I had a visit from an old friend called “WTF” (those are it’s initials…I don’t like to use it’s whole name in polite company.)
A brilliant conversationalist, WTF has a lot to say.
WTF says what difference does it make?
WTF makes sense. I’m making all these lifestyle changes to little avail. Even when I eat perfectly, my kidneys are still tanking.
This things gonna get you anyway, it says.
So WTF. Eat the rest of the bag. Go out in a blaze of Trolli limited-time-novelty-candy glory.
WTF reminds me that I FELL BETTER in my soul with sugar on my tongue. So I keep putting more candy on my tongue, because cause and affect are a real thing.
As it melts in my mouth salaciously, I love myself a little. And hate myself a little, too.
So in other words… it hits me RIGHT in the childhood.
WTF is very persuasive. The more I guiltily stuff worms in my face, the more I feel I deserve to eat worms. “You lazy jerk,” WTF whispers. “See? You can’t control yourself. Guess you may as well eat the whole bag.”
But ironically, as long as I am eating the candy, I can hush the scolding for the time being. It’s a bit of an “I’ll show you” display of mid-grade rebellion. With every candy, I am sticking to The Man (except if I’m honest with myself, at this stage, The Man is really only me)
I am in a frenzy of sour-coated, sweet and tangy bliss. My inner child has a full belly and a blue tongue.
And I crumple the empty bag and stick it in the trash, under some other trash. Which is what I feel like now…trash.
This is hard.
And it’s extra hard because WTF and I go way back. We have a history.
I remember it best from my drinking days. And that’s why we broke up on January 3, 2001. I wasn’t expecting the shady bastard to show up on my doorstep again.
WTF. It likes to tell me things like “Everybody drinks wine.”
WTF. “You drank last night and it made you feel while and complete. Drink again.”
WTF. “It doesn’t matter anyway. You’ll never get it right.”
WTF is kind of a live-in-the-moment guy, which is what makes it dangerous. Impulsive, it encourages me to be impulsive – something I have a penchant for anyway.
WTF says, “If it makes your soul feel satiated, why not do it? Don’t think of tomorrow, or next week, or even when the sugar crash will start.”
WTF says that now is the time. Now is always the time.
Even though last night’s bender was just in candy, it was still a Bender. It’s poison to my body in my condition, just as alcohol became poison to me, mind, body, and soul.
I am not a healthy girl. I can not afford to take poison.
So I am writing this at 4 o’clock in the morning, feeling sick and befuddled, knowing I’m going to feel worse tomorrow.
And I’ll have the added weight of knowing I chose – in however small a way – self sabotage over self-care.
WTF comes under the guise of a nanny of sorts. It encourages me to take care of my inner child by giving her what she THINKS she wants…not what she needs.
All I can do is tell WTF to eff off, take Little Me under my own wings, and care for her the right way.
And write about it. Because it’s the only way I know to purge these feelings. And maybe make someone else feel less alone.
I will choose self care for the rest of today. Join me?
It’s (still) Ehlers Danlos Awareness Month. I thought I would share some interesting things from growing up with it undiagnosed, in letter format, from the prospective of what I know now:
Dear Kindergarten-2nd grade teachers: We have been trying to correct the way I hold my pencil for a couple of years now. There’s nothing wrong with my handwriting – I just hold my pencil with pretzel fingers overlapped because that’s what feels natural and comfortable. Please stop trying to make “holding the pencil correctly” happen. It’s never gonna happen.
Dear OBs: There’s a reason why I keep going into preterm labor. It’s called “incompetent cervix” and is pretty much what it sounds like. I don’t have enough collagen to stabilize my womb. My babies will come FAST, and with life-threatening complications for me and them. Both of my babies had to be resuscitated at birth and I nearly died, both times. Knowing what was wrong with my body may have helped me have safer pregnancies.
Dear PE Teachers (every single last one of you…): I’m not faking the sprains and dislocations. I’m not sure how one would “fake” a dislocation, as you can clearly see my shoulder rolled in an awkward, unnatural position. Nothing like being forced to run the mile on the track when your hip has subluxed out of place! And also….When my mom writes me notes excusing me from PE, it’s because I get injured incredibly easy and I AM IN PAIN. Not “owie” pain….No. We are talking grown-ass man-would-cry PAIN. No, I don’t care about your class, because I dread EVERY morning having to participate in things that hurt me, and hurt me badly. I admit to having a bit of a disdain for PE teachers. Between getting yelled at because of injuries and given “F’s” in class, I’m not a fan.
Dear Fitness People: It’s not normal for my heart-rate to go up to 200 on moderate exercise. Being pushed to work harder and go faster is a recipe for disaster. I pass out. Everyone cannot do what you can do.
Dear Childhood friends: I cannot hold my fork like you do – it’s not bad manners, I promise. It’s the only way I can keep a grip on my fork.
Dear Healthcare workers: Just because you are not familiar with a syndrome or disease doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or isn’t profound. That is why me – and those like me – are so determined to spread awareness. People don’t know. People need to know.
Dear “Every Doctor I saw before I was 40”: Please do not hastily slap the “fibromyalgia” label on every sick person. While it is a very real thing, other illnesses can masquerade for it – conditions that require treatments. It took me almost 20 years to get a correct diagnosis.
EVERY SINGLE THING I experienced health-wise my whole life makes SENSE since the diagnosis. By the time I met Bob, I was at the END of my rope. I wasn’t sure what was happening to me, and half the doctors insinuated I was just crazy, which adds insult to injury. Please, doctors…PLEASE. Listen to your patients and pay attention to the symptoms.
If I still had no idea what was wrong with me, I don’t know where I’d be, ya’ll.
Because after decades of your shit dislocating and experiencing debilitating fatigue and repeated injuries, stroke-level blood pressure, a crappy immune system that refuses to cooperate consistently, horrible migraines that take you down for days…..you lose hope.
I was absolutely losing hope, and honestly, it made me want to drink. I only came out of this thing with sobriety intact because of the love of my good husband and the care of an incredible doctor.
At least I know what’s happening when I sublux or dislocate, or experience high pain. I am so fortunate to know, so that I know how to best deal with my chronic illness.
I wish the same for every person with a chronic illness.
Thank you for making me a mom – it’s been my greatest and most challenging role.
When each of you were first born, you wouldn’t cry on your own. Because of my condition, your births were unsafely fast. Neonatal doctors were called in to resuscitate you, and it was then I had my first taste of sheer terror and first fervent Mama prayer.
Your cries were the sweetest sound.
When you were babies, I nursed you for what may be considered a “long” time, and I wore you in baby slings all the time.
We co-slept because it felt natural – it WAS natural – and I didn’t take one second for granted. “Remember this,” I would say to myself all the time. “Remember the way the nape I’d get neck smells. Remember how she plays with your hair while you’re breastfeeding. Remember these peals of laughter that sound like a thousand angels playing bells.”
When you were in your terrible twos (and then threes,) it became so apparent that you were your OWN people, not extensions of me at all (and boy am I glad of that!)
Peeling you off the floor of the grocery store, where you’d decided to tantrum hard core over God only knows what minor disappointment, I told myself to remember that, too. “Someday, you’ll look back in this and laugh,” I said to me. And without fail, when your tears were dry, you’d crawl up in my lap and say “I love you, Mommy.” And all was right with the world.
In your elementary school years, you were all about learning. Some of our best times were going to museums, and art festivals (and of COURSE cultural fairs!) Witnessing the unfolding of your minds was one of the greatest pleasures of my life. So bright! So eager to learn about the world.
Then you became ‘tweens and Lord have Mercy, Katie bar the door! All of the sudden, my mom confidence plummeted.
I no longer felt like I knew what I was doing at all, but I faked that I did.
You were morphing into beautiful, opinionated beings of light with penchants for drama.
And even in the midst of arguments, I still told myself, “Remember this…” When the squalls passed over, we were all three right as rain again.
These were the years I welcomed my Bonus Daughter, not by birth, but by grand design. I’m grateful. God must really love me or something.
In the blink of an eye, you girls were in high school. My babies not so much babies, but spitfires unafraid to assert themselves and their ideas.
Your ideas were certainly not my ideas, nor my beliefs yours. But oh my God how proud I was that you had that crazy zeal for life, and in your quest to figure it all out, we became actual friends.
There have been many moments of sheer terror in being a parent. And many, many more fervent prayers. And I still try not to take one moment for granted, even though we don’t always see eye-to-eye.
I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.
Always my babies, now you are almost 26 and 29.
You’ve given me stretch marks and gray hair, and the greatest joy I’ve ever known.
When we spend time together, there is still a piece of my mama heart whispering, “Remember this.
Remember laughing so hard that we peed a little.
Remember her face when she accomplished that goal that she worked to hard to achieve.
Remember all of the difficult times, but especially remember the beautiful breakthroughs.”
I’ve been looking through old pics because Mother’s Day makes me melancholy.
Part of it is the necessarily severed relationship with my own mother, and partly because my kids’ childhoods were a time I actually felt competent in a way I haven’t since.
When they were littles:
I could make their food with my body (for 4 1/2 years out of my life between the two of them. I was virtually the Dairy Queen!) It was the purest experience of my life.
I could hit up every library in Raleigh so they didn’t miss one single “Toddler Time” program in town.
I could teach them how to read and to ride their bikes.
I got endless snuggles.
I could wipe every year and kiss every booboo.
I got to choose their friends.
And celebrate their every accomplishment and victory.
But best of all, I got to see the world through their eyes.
And my arms were always full with children.
I figure the picture I’ve chosen for this blog is probably the most accurate candid shot, and utterly relatable to other moms who are willing to say the truth: Parenting is not easy.
All we see on social media is Insta-worthy, misty watercolored perfection. We use filters. We want the world to see how perfect our kids are; how stellar we are parenting.
The problem with that is that they aren’t perfect, and I’m not a perfect mother. (PS…perfection – even filtered – is an illusion.
I remember this picture because my friend was taking pictures at the preschool that morning and she snapped this one. I hated it at first. But now I kind of love it.
A harried, overwhelmed mother of two littles, trying to pick up one child from preschool while running late for the other’s dentist appointment.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself it will all be ok. I wish I could tell this young mom that one day she will be able to handle the chaos and unpredictability without alcohol. I wish I could tell her YOUR BABIES WILL BE OK. They will not escape childhood unscathed. And YOU will not escape it unscathed.
So I’m telling YOU, Mama. Your babies will be okay.
Y’all, what an odd time to be alive. We want to be seen in our best light all the time, and social media has set this expectation in stone.
But here’s the thing, Moms…
You ARE the light.
You’re doing a great job.
I know my kids have some unpleasant memories. After all, you never know what they’ll remember from childhood. They could recall in detail the time Mommy burnt Thanksgiving dinner and lay on the kitchen floor crying in a heap. Or when she yelled at them for the 10th time in a day. They may remember those near-perfect days in Disneyworld when they breakfasted with Snow White and got to pull the sorcerer’s stone out of Merlin’s rock outside the carousel, ride Big Thunder Mountain twice in a row, and eat churros while perusing Epcot.
It’s a crap shoot, really…. the memories they take away.
I still routinely find myself with the expression of the young mother I once was. Life is confounding and overwhelming.
But look what I have in my arms! Having them is having EVERYTHING. Big kids = big problems. But we still all hold on to each other.
I still celebrate all of their accomplishments and victories. I still hug them every chance I get.
I am still seeing the world through their eyes. They teach me as much as I ever taught them.