The day before we left on our trip to San Francisco we went shopping to buy Leta some new Fall/Winter clothing, knowing that she’d need a warmer wardrobe for the temperature difference. And when we packed her bags a few hours before leaving to catch the plane, I stripped each piece of clothing of its price tag and long, vertical size sticker. We were in a bit of a hurry, and so instead of making the effort to dispose of those tags and stickers, I simply discarded them on her bedroom floor, not realizing that Leta would look at that pile of trash and consider it a mound of treasure. Again, this is definitely a tendency she inherited from me, the desire to hold onto useless crap just in case it’s needed later. You never know when some homicidal psychopath is going to show up to your door with a gun and demand to see the Halloween-themed box of Cap’n Crunch from 1997, and what do you know? You happen to have it right here in your hall closet wedged in between a stack of coffee stirrers you’ve collected from Starbucks and seven years worth of gasoline receipts. And because you saved that Cap’n Crunch box? YOU GET TO LIVE.
She secretly collected each tag and sticker, a two-fistful wad of garbage, and stuffed it into her backpack. Hours later as I followed her down the walkway to board the plane, I noticed that she had her backpack on upside down, and every time she took a step something would fall out of it onto the floor. By the time she was halfway to the plane she had left a trail of 4T size stickers and $5.99 price tags in a haphazard line behind her. Looking for Leta? Follow the trash. Much more reliable than a Google map.
That walk to the plane was one of the only bright spots of our trip. We did not have fun in San Francisco, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because Leta really didn’t want to be there. It was the hardest trip we’ve ever taken with her, in terms of her not sleeping and not eating and not being willing to do anything without putting up an exhausting fight. Two days in we were ready to turn around and come home, but we kept hoping that things would get better, unaware that she was determined for things to get worse.
I had imagined that we’d go to this beautiful city and forge great memories as a family, but all I can remember is being miserable.
For many months after Leta’s birth I felt like I was going through an identity crisis, even after my hospital stay when I could think about things more clearly. I didn’t know I was going through it then, but I had many symptoms of a mid-life crisis, including excessive drinking and lashing out at the most important people in my life. I can look back at those months now and see what was going on, that suddenly I was a mother, but didn’t feel like I thought mothers were supposed to feel. It was as if overnight I had gone from working in the mail room to becoming the CEO, and I had no idea how to run a company. I didn’t want to run a company.
We spend years and years of our lives discovering who we are, and it’s not a sudden realization, but one day you figure out who you are, that you are the type of person who likes to be in charge, or you are the type of person who likes to be given a list of tasks. Maybe you’re the type of person who can’t have fun unless you know that the other people around you are having fun, or maybe you’re the type of person who has fun no matter what. And if you’ve had enough therapy you’re okay with that, you’re okay knowing that this? This is who I am.
But becoming a mother was nothing like that for me. It was an identity that I did not grow into. It happened immediately without any transition. It was, I am a mother, and I don’t understand what this means. And for a long time I felt really guilty that I didn’t understand it, that I wasn’t okay with it.
I felt guilty that I really didn’t enjoy staying at home, guilty that sometimes I wished to be any other place than here. Everything that they tell you about the love you’ll have for your child is true, but there’s all this other stuff that is true, too, stuff that you’re afraid to talk about, stuff that you carry around and try to hide. Stuff like resentment and fear and anxiety and longing.
It wasn’t until Leta was about two years old that I grew into my identity as a mother, that I finally stopped feeling guilty and embraced my version of that role. I knew that I loved my child, that I would do anything for her, but that I don’t necessarily do this thing like many other women. And that’s okay. I am okay with being the mother who doesn’t get a thrill out of sitting on the floor and playing blocks for two hours. I am okay with being the mother who does not look forward to Little Gym. I’m okay with being the mother who lets her child go another day without a bath because tonight? I’m too tired tonight. I’m okay because I know that none of these things make me a bad person.
Going on this trip forced me to realize another facet of this, that although I wanted to be the mother who could travel with her kid, I’m not. I can’t do it. I do not enjoy it. And I’m inclined to feel guilty about it, because I want that photo album with pictures of our family in front of interesting and far off places. But to get that picture I know the hoops we’d have to jump through and the false smiles we’d have to wear on our faces, and I’m just not the type of person who has the strength to go through all that trouble. And it’s probably going to take me a little while to get there, but one day I’m going to be okay with the fact that there is nothing wrong with feeling this way. It’s just that today, right now, I still feel really disappointed in myself.