Thoughts on Life

#101922: There’s no one to blame, or claim, but you

Thoughts on being a mom
by Leandra Medine Cohen
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How is your week going? The beg. of mine was rocky — not because of any conflict that is out of the ordinary, but I think mostly because of how hard I can be on myself. Which, I guess intellectually, I have always known and said, but am only now starting to really understand.

It’s like, every time I think I have accelerated to the next level of ‘self-improvement,’ every time I think the old demons have been exorcised — the bats have been put to sleep as it were — I assume that rising the rank in this game of Tetris will mean I’m not going to make the same mistakes that I did one tier down. The thing I’m realizing now is that telling myself I’m “beyond” those mistakes makes me feel like an outlaw in my own vessel and puts emphasis on the wrong syllable — the mistakes as opposed to the response to them. What I say to myself, how I treat those I love (and those I don’t know) — that’s where the growth happens.

When I’m trapped in my own head for long enough, when I can’t believe I have made the same mistake again, this fact rubs up against me so uncomfortably that my instinct is to flee — leave myself behind and go somewhere else.

And I guess there are ways to pull off this escape when you’re not spending time with your kids or really, anyone to whom you feel sincerely and emotionally responsible, but when the sheer fact of your dependents dangles apparently like appendages protruding from your chest, there’s really nowhere to go. Which is the worst when you’re in it, but kind of amazing in retrospect because you succeed in avoiding avoidance. You have no choice but to put the skills you think you’re cultivating into action.

In the moment though — when the appendages won’t let you let go is usually the point where I start to beat myself up. It’s like I can’t stand being alone in myself, and that really is what it feels like — a very stark, overwhelming loneliness.

The irony is that once I can actually get some time alone is when I can put myself back together. This morning, for example, after my kids went to school and I had to shake off the lingering hysteria from the previous five days we’d spent together in the shapelessness of another break from school, I realized that the hysterics were completely my own — that the kids are alright.

The thing I wish I could have said to myself when I was losing it and let me tell you, I lost it, is that people are people and people go through shit and I’m not as alone as I think I am — that to the same extent that I’m just one person, I’m also part of the fabric of a much bigger quilt and when I can remember this, that my pain is no worse than anyone else’s, my triumphs no more impressive, I calm down immediately, like a window opens to expose a breeze and the soft chirping of these little birds and suddenly, it’s like I’m alive again.

Sometimes I think I am totally nuts, other times I think I’m just human. It helps to double down on the latter possibility when I’m trying to guide my kids, but really, when I need to guide myself back to calm waters through the storm of self-disdain.

Which always tries first to take me back to my own childhood, to remind me of what I didn’t get from my own home — to blame them and stay caught in this helpless net. I’m sure it’s a protective measure, but I don’t need to be caught in a net these days.

You know, it’s true what the “experts” say, that parenting invites you to re-parent yourself. But I hate when they say this. It sort of pits you against your conditioning, the way your parents may have raised you. Creating this sort of dynamic of ranking where you’re expected to outdo or one-up or recover what they did. I’m pretty sure mine did the best they could given the fabric of their respective contexts and lifeworlds, but it’s also impossible, I’m realizing now, to have all your needs met or parts seen or whatever by the person who ushered you through adolescence.

So it’s more like, parenting invites you to learn yourself better, sometimes to forgive those who came before you too. To keep peeling until you can find peace with your wants and desires and needs. To honor them, to indulge them, to ruthlessly protect them, and to strip out the shoulds wrapped around your soft parts so you can honor and indulge and protect those too, then forge the deep intimacy we all yearn for from somewhere — in this instance, for me, with these two tiny people who seem so very close they may as well be me and yet are so distinctly separate.

My greatest teachers and triggers.