“No mother is all good or all bad, all laughing or all serious, all loving or all angry. Ambivalence runs through their veins . . . What is certain is that there is probably not one of you who has not at some time of your life demanded an answer to the question “What kind of mother would . . . It’s an old phrase, conceived in innocence, carried with pomposity, and born of condemnation. It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.” Erma Bombeck
BY E.M. FORTIER
When I first began think of writing in any way that might be thought of as pertaining to a general audience, I aimed to do so with humor and in the same vein as Erma Bombeck. Although I do not like the term “trailing spouse”, that is how I would be termed in Los Alamos vernacular. When we moved here, I left behind a career as a prosecutor and started the journey as a stay-at-home parent; first to a toddler and baby born three weeks after we moved here and then to those two and a third that arrived three and a half years later. It was in this role that my sense of humor was most honed and most tested.
When I was 26 years old I began a career prosecuting child abuse cases. I was a woman two years out of law school. I had no husband or children. Of course I demanded an answer to the question “What kind of mother would . . .” And I still often pose that same question, but certainly with greater compassion and understanding and often self-directed.
Being a parent will test you to the depths of your heart and soul. Yet at the same time, that pitting of your former self – of the self who had one (or maybe self plus one) to be concerned with – that carving away and emergence of a vessel far deeper than before, also allows for so much more joy and love and laughter and beauty to fill it.
As we end the third week of being constantly at home with our spouses, children, and pets (I have more of those than the other two categories combined), this topic seems appropriate in that we are all likely out of sorts. Our jobs are not regular, our children are learning in manners we never before considered, our pets are both overjoyed at, and suspect of, the fact that we never leave (that might just be mine), and we are oddly focused on toilet paper. Abnormal times sometimes lead us to react in ways we would rather not. It can make us angry, it can make us sad, it can make us apathetic, it can make us react as our most base selves.
Years ago, when I was very young and still prosecuting, I struggled with how humanity could be so duplicitous – how it could be simultaneously beautiful and vile. My mom, God bless her soul, told me one of her basic beliefs, having herself dealt with this reality in her lifetime, is that people are only unique in our goodness; we all have the same potential for bad. So the key is to make every choice as unique as it can be and to appreciate the unique beauty of people – good will follow.
It is not easy to be living in these times. It is not easy to be at home and adjusting to 50 life changing events all at once. But you’re doing okay. If, like me, your dog decided to finally finish off loosening the bolt that held the gate to the frame of the fence (and broke a piece of the frame in the process) and you had to repair it all while allowing your five-year-old to make a bowl of cereal for lunch by herself and the milk spilled and your 10-year-old told you one too many pre-teen jokes while laughing so hard that he let loose of said gate he was supposed to be holding while you leveled it and your 9-year-old later complained that her quesadilla for dinner was burnt (it was) – you’re okay.
Perhaps a bit frazzled. Perhaps a bit drained. Perhaps on the edge of being the sort of “average” my mom referred to – the one that allows yourself to give in and break down to basic nature. But you are unique. You are okay if you are still in your pajamas. Your kids are okay if they read a comic book rather than Jack London. You are as beautiful with your messy mom bun or scraggly dad beard as you were on your wedding day – because you are living a life worthy of hope.
Remember to laugh. Remember to give yourself a break. Remember that love trumps perfection. Remember to ask for help if you need it.
Also – my dog is not okay if he knocks anything else apart but he is a boxer so he will likely give me his big eyed sorry look and, then, even that will be okay.