I was a very tired young parent because I did my thing with the kids all day, put them to bed, and then I tried to have my own seven- to eight-hour (work) day. I didn’t go to bed until three or four every morning. My husband got up with the kids, so I’d have a little bit of sleep, maybe four hours or something. Then I’d start up again.
I hadn’t thought out what it meant to stay home with kids while your partner goes off to work. I was jealous of my spouse. Just the idea of sitting in an office, no matter how busy he was, that he had a chair and a desk and an office with a door. I was resentful. I was completely exhausted when he got home, and he was still kind of fresh from not having his emotional life depleted all day. In terms of creative work, obviously being a mother, especially to young children, affects your time and mood and availability to do things separate from caregiving. I felt overburdened by house care, kid care, food care, car care, yard care, taking-the-garbage-out care.
About two years into that, I realized I had to go back to work.
When I was younger, I never thought I had “anger management issues.” I always felt pretty happy-go-lucky. I experienced how close to the edge of a really, truly, irrational, angry person, who could say horrible things to my kids, I could become. When I got really, really angry—which happened a few times—I said, “Fuck off.” The first time I said that to my daughter, she was around seven. She was devastated. And so was I.
I thought, “Why am I so mad that I can’t control myself?” I was well educated and had enough money. Before kids, I’d never understood those stories where the nanny shakes the kid. I totally got it afterwards. It took everything, sometimes, to not just pull my hair out. I wanted to bang my head into the wall until I would stop feeling so damn frustrated. Many times, I thought my kids were much more mature than I was.
And there is also all the wonder of it, the terrible sweetness. All the good things; having kids really pushed me to play more. We went on nature hikes, we watched movies in bed. We took weeks-long road trips together and invented our own games. Kids give you so much in return. I’ve never been much of a theater person. Both of my kids are heavily involved in theater. I’ve been to so many plays. And in the end, I’ve kind of continued playing. We’re still playing. That early, intense, exhausting period ends.
It’s hard to imagine that part of my life being over. How can it already be done? This, the most important part of my life. There will never be anything that matches creating this family.
My daughter is a sophomore in college at a school nine miles away. She calls me at least twice a month and says, “Can you come pick me up and hang out for the day?” I drop everything when she does that, in part because she’s my kid and I don’t get to see her that much, but also because she’s my friend and she’s one of my favorite people to hang out with. I enjoy being with her. She’s hilarious, and we crack up a lot. Our relationship is moving into a different place. I feel lucky, because I feel this way about both my kids. My 18-year-old son and I are also very close and always have been. We’ve kind of grown up together.
I had a conversation with my daughter the other night about God. She’s an atheist and very much a materialist. We don’t actually talk about spiritual things that much. I am not a Christian. I don’t have a personal savior, but I definitely believe in some sort of “other-natural” life. She was asking me all these questions, and I realized I just couldn’t explain my beliefs well.
She point blank asked me, “Where do you get these ideas? What’s going to happen to you after you die?” It stopped me short because I was looking at her, at this person who’s now my size and looks like me, and realizing that this was the child that came out of me. She is of me and yet she is completely separate and her own person.
When my daughter left for college, I moved out of my house. I wasn’t waiting; it was just how the timing happened. The idea of the empty nest has become more complicated. My husband and I live in separate houses three miles apart, and we have family dinners. The idea of being the mother who leaves just about killed me. Letting go of my home was so profoundly difficult. I had made it a home. But I couldn’t stand the tension and discord between my husband and me. I didn’t want to be that couple who find themselves in a place where they can’t manage to have dinner with their kids. Right now I’m just trying to get to a place of equilibrium, a place where we can get along, where unity is at the forefront of our time together.
What advice would I give my daughter? You have to find your own way. I don’t have even mundane advice, like, “If you do this, your pot roast will turn out better.” So much of living is luck, and I’ve been really lucky in so many ways, and not so lucky in others.
One thing people don’t really talk about is how your kids perceive you. Do they see how hard I’m working? I didn’t understand my mother and father very well until I got older, and then my understanding was still so completely clouded by being their child. Now I want so much to be understood by my kids. I wonder, “Do you get it? Do you see why I made these choices? Do I ever get to grow up, or do I always stay that limited ‘mom’?”
I think, “I’m a person who needs to be forgiven and loved despite myself and because of myself.” That seems like a lot to ask from kids, having been a kid myself.