This post is part of an effort organized by Ez from Creature Comforts encouraging bloggers to open up today and write something about themselves that they might not normally share with their readers (head over to her site to see a list of participating blogs). It probably won’t come as any surprise that I wholeheartedly support more of this openness and it harks back to that post earlier this week about shutting out some of this internet chatter because it’s become so unrealistic to measure ourselves against everything and everyone out there. I remember talking once with a very talented designer whose work I really admired. You know, the kind of person who seemed like creative ideas just came easily and quickly to her, only to discover when she confided in me that she was really insecure and had debilitating anxiety before design projects. Man, I could totally relate to that. But I think back to that conversation often because it reminds me that there’s always more to any carefully crafted veneer than we think we might see.
So the thing that I want to share with you today is that sometimes I have doubts about whether or not I’m being a good mom. It’s not that I think I’m a bad mom by any means, but as the girls get older and their needs get more complex, I worry that I’m not capable of handling any sort of emotional crises, should they arise. I feel like I knew how to take care of babies; their needs were a little more basic, but with girls who will soon be entering into adolescence, then preteen, then teenage years and beyond, the responsibility of raising them to be confident little ladies while acting as their centered, supportive anchor seems overwhelming right now. Sometimes I feel like it’s just an illusion to think that I can raise them right when I battle all kinds of demons like insecurity and bouts of depression myself. To dispense any sort of advice on potential problems with their peers, with school, with relationships, or with their self esteem seems incongruous when I am still trying to figure all of this out myself. I know that we don’t have to have all the answers, that it’s impossible to have all the answers. I know that as a family unit we need to figure things out as life plays along. I just don’t want to look back and feel like I failed as a parent or to feel like I’m living some sort of contradiction where I can’t follow any of the advice myself that sometimes comes out of my mouth.
This never felt more true than last week when an issue arose with one of the girls. I felt like I was in over my head, that it wasn’t something I had any answers for. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and that I hadn’t paid enough attention. In the end I think things will be ok, but I did find myself in a little panic wondering how I’d be able to handle anything big. It made me think back to when I was a kid and how my mother might have felt when she was faced with certain issues that were going on with me, all the while battling her own demons and life problems. As a kid, I wasn’t really aware of what was going on with her until much later because she was always just “mom” and not necessarily a “person”, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the duality of some of these shared childhood experiences, but from a mother’s point of view now that I’m on the other side. How would I emotionally handle, for example, if it was my daughter who was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to wear an uncomfortable, ugly plastic brace for all of her teenage years and deal with doctor appointments all the way in the Bronx to get x-rayed every month for 5+ years? I know how I felt going through that as a kid. I was angry and insecure and anxiety ridden, but I never really thought about how hard that must have been on my mother as well, and I am deathly afraid that since it is hereditary I will need to relive this all over again from the other side. My mom later told me that she cried a lot during those years, but at the time I never knew. In my eyes, she was just being my mom.
I’ve been thinking too about my short-lived, but very intense bout with an eating disorder I had when I was 18. I think for me it was a rather atypical case of anorexia as it had less to do with body dysmorphic disorder and everything to do with feeling like I was in control of something when life seemed out of control the summer I graduated from high school. From an outsider it may have seemed that I had everything going for me at that point in my life and I had attained pretty much every goal that I had set as a high school senior. But when school ended and I was faced with the daunting prospect of starting over at a new prestigious art school, I was lost and scared and all of those achievements felt empty when there were still issues I hadn’t dealt with. I was scared of failure before I even started. I needed something new to focus on. Unfortunately it channeled itself into a very unhealthy manifestation, but the challenge of seeing how far I could go without anyone noticing became far too tempting to stop. But of course my mom did eventually notice. I think back now to how desperate she must have felt, how alone and scared and in over her head. How could you not think that you failed as a parent on some level when you first realize that your kid is starving herself? I don’t think you can. My mom thinks that it was God who saved me, from all her prayers, but I don’t really believe that. It was the moment when she handed me the phone to talk to a doctor, who told me that I was at a dangerous weight (I had dropped to 89 pounds at that point. I am 5’6″ for reference) and that if I didn’t start eating I would have to be committed. It was again that threat of losing control that scared me back into eating and realizing for the first time the severity of what I was doing and that I was not only ruining my life, but also my mother’s. I gained back the 20 pounds that I lost that summer in 3 weeks.
I may experience moments of desperation like these with my daughters – or I may not. It remains to be seen. Sometimes I feel like my life with them has really just started, that we have a long road ahead that doesn’t just stop when they move out of the house. Although some days I may not feel it, I have to trust that I’ll know what to do when the time comes. I also hope that I have the courage like my mother to let go of my kids like she did when I left home freshman year. She hated those years I traveled around the country in a car and hung out with what she probably thought was the “wrong crowd” and was out of touch for months not knowing where or what I was doing. But she didn’t stop me, and while it was exasperating during those years when I thought she just “doesn’t understand”, I hope she understands now that those were the years that really did save me.
I’m thinking about all of this now, particularly that really hard summer because it has so much to do with preserving and keeping up that perfect veneer. I couldn’t sustain that in high school. I tried and I cracked, so I certainly make no attempts to depict any sort of perfect life now. While sharing your life so openly is not comfortable for everyone, I applaud all the bloggers who are participating in Things I’m Afraid To Tell You today. I think we could use a little more realness. Let me end by saying one more thing I’m afraid to tell you. It isn’t easy pressing that publish button on posts like these. I wouldn’t publish something that I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing by any means, but it still isn’t easy. As much as I don’t want to admit it to myself, I still care what other people think. Probably more than I should.