One of the most disheartening things about “growing up” is the learned ability to see things for what they really are. It’s a gradual process. Somewhere, in time, the pretty pictures we painted in our minds as children fade away and are replaced with reality. The pictures which reality paints aren’t easy on the eyes and are even harder on the mind. Reality’s pictures make us introspective; they make us question parts of our lives that we hadn’t considered as children.
Reality, being the bitch that she is, asks questions that demand answers. The journey of finding those answers strips us bare. It is in the adult journey to discovery that the heroes of our childhood are forced off of their pedestals and exposed for what they are- humans with real flaws.
Sometimes, reality is just plain cruel. Sometimes it forces you to draw up an entirely new picture of your family in order to find yourself. This is my current position in the good old “Game of Life,” and it is here that I find myself in the throes of a love-hate relationship with adulthood and reality, simultaneously.
My life, as a whole, is in a state of perpetual change. I don’t think my feet have been on solid ground since my youngest daughter was diagnosed with autism a little under a year ago. I’ve come to embrace this new, unsteady terrain, and the challenges that come along with it. I’ll even reach far enough to claim that this very lack of stability has granted me the clarity to prioritize my life.
For nearly a year, I stretched myself as far as I could go to meet the demands of my daughter’s treatment while working full time. I truly believed that I had everything under control. I’m not sure at what moment it happened, but I found enough clarity to learn a couple of very important lessons. First- I am not Gumby- I can only stretch so far without causing permanent damage. In an effort to meet life’s demands, I had stretched myself to the point that I was becoming invisible. I was so exhausted, I had become a shadow of my former being. Second- I was far from having everything that was important covered. My efforts to be everything to everyone had left me exhausted and, over time, had robbed me of my spirit. Consequently, I had begun to rob my husband and children of the wife and mother they needed, too.
In that moment of realization, I recognized that I couldn’t sustain a lifestyle that came at such a great cost. My husband and children weren’t getting the best of me. I hadn’t seen my own parents in a year. My father has battled and beaten cancer twice in my adult life, experiences from which I’ve learned that life can be fleeting. My children needed to see their grandparents to truly know them, and I felt that I needed to be surrounded by my family to feel whole again. My husband gave me his blessing to resign from the job I loved- a gift that gave me back time to be truly present for our family. The first thing I did was plan a long-overdue trip home. Unbeknownst to me, reality had planned a visit of her own.
Even as an adult, I haven’t outgrown my desire to make my parents proud. As we buckled our children into the minivan at 5AM, I felt like Dave and I had so much to be proud of! I was excited beyond measure to share Piper’s progress with my mom and dad. I couldn’t wait until they saw that Cameron had learned to read this past year in Kindergarten, or for them to be blown away by what an insightful young lady Kaydence has become at age nine. The closer we got, the more excited I became. I just knew they’d be proud!
I don’t know what I expected, but what I do know in hindsight is that, deep inside, I hadn’t outgrown the need for my parents’ affirmation, either. Reality knew, though. I wish she would have warned me and spared me the heartbreak of feeling completely deflated.
Fair or not, we all hold people to certain standards. After spending a week back at home, one which I had built up so much in my mind beforehand, I can say with brutal honesty that I didn’t feel like I measured up to the standards my mom and dad set for me.
I grew up with “superwoman” for a mother. That’s the picture I painted, with help from everyone around as they always marveled at her ability to do it all. To her credit- she put more effort into meeting our physical needs and making sure our bellies were full of delicious home-cooked meals than anyone I’ve ever met. She also managed to do an incredible amount of work around the house to keep an impeccable home, despite having four children. Perhaps by these standards, I have failed her. I could feel her displeasure with me as I relied heavily on my husband to assist me in completing the very tasks that she did perfectly by herself as a young mother. “He’s doing too much,” she told me. I know she that meant that he should be resting more after having back surgery in April, but still, those words stung. “You’re not enough,” is what echoed in my mind every time he helped me from that point forward.
I still can’t figure out where I have come up short in my father’s eyes. He didn’t articulate it, but I felt it. He was my “coach” and my biggest fan. He made a spiral- bound book of my athletic achievements that, if you don’t know better, reads like I was an Olympian! He taught in a different school district than I attended, yet somehow never missed a single high school softball game. He challenged me, sure, but he cheered the loudest. When did his voice fall silent? Is it that his own challenges have exhausted him, or have I let him down somehow? The pretty picture I painted doesn’t match reality, and this leaves me confused and sad. Do I no longer offer anything worth celebrating?
I said before that reality demands answers, and it is those answers that help us find ourselves. I’ve had a few days to sort through my emotions, and I think I’ve found the most important answer.
All I can be is just me.
My mother is a wonder of her own right- the most capable woman I’ll ever meet. When I said she did it all-I was being literal. I never did a single load of laundry, ironed clothes, or vacuumed while I lived under her roof. In her eyes, no one could do it like she could. She recognized that, and did all of it herself. As a result of her hard work, I was ill-prepared to do those things. Held to her high standards of keeping house, I will never, ever measure up. The thing is- this doesn’t make me a failure as a mother!
Though I so badly miss my dad voice his pride, perhaps I need to stop looking for it. His pride carried me through my childhood years. Maybe I reveled in it for too long. It could be that I became so dependent on his praise that I question myself in its absence. Perhaps he’s not belong aloof. He could just be enjoying the view from further back in the audience. The absence of affirmation, while it confuses me, doesn’t define me as a failure.
To the contrary, I think I’m doing okay as a mother. This is not in spite of my own parents. Their example shaped me as I was a child drawing pretty pictures, and continues to shape me as reality teaches me about imperfection and grace.
What I am is the mom who gets down and dirty. I may not be in a hurry to clean it up, but I enjoy the heck out of making a mess with my children. I am the mom who takes shortcuts, but not because I’m lazy. I take them in order to be present.
We got home at 5PM, yesterday, after ten hours in the car. My mom would have unpacked everything, put the suitcases away, and whipped up a meal without ever stopping to rest. I did none of that. I ran to the store and grabbed a handful of Lunchables. I put my kids back in the car, and my husband and I took them to the pool before it closed for the night. They didn’t even eat until 8PM, as we were on our way to celebrate National Ice Cream Day. The bags remain unpacked. My kids were filthy, exhausted, and happy. I am not the mother that my mother was. I never will be. All I can be, is just me.
The truth is, I can’t expect my parents to understand the challenges I face as a mother. I can’t expect them to know, without being told, that there is no day-by-day in the life of our little family. We live from one situation to the next, and are often overwhelmed, but we’re learning. Traveling with a child on the spectrum is overwhelming because change is their kryptonite. While I have much to be proud of, I was often tense and tired during our visit. My parents certainly didn’t witness my finest performance as a parent. They did get to spend quality time with their grandchildren, the stars of the show. I can tell you this-their grandchildren painted some beautiful pictures in their minds of those memories.
7 thoughts on “All I Can Be is Just Me”
I love your blogs, and this one touched home so much. I have three boys, 9, 6, and 3, my youngest just being diagnosed with Autism. Me and my husband work so wonderful as a team trying to make each day the best we can for all of the boys, but there is a curve ball in our life right now. We are trying to sell our house and we live with his mother and father for over a year now. She is the type of person who wants her whole house super tidy and clean, and relentlessly overwhelms me about chores, while me and my husband both work full time jobs and at the end of the day just want to spend a peaceful night with our children. With my family being of five and jobs and school and the certain unknown of everyday, sometimes my laundry backs up for days and the boys have no problem wearing what they wore the day before. But my mother-in-law sometimes breaks me down to the point I feel like I am not doing what I am suppose to be doing as a parent. I am slowly learning how to deal with her while hoping we are going to soon be out of her house soon, but everyday seems to be a struggle on top of all my struggles, worrying about what she will do or say. I know I am doing the right thing, but its a breathe of fresh air to read another parents same struggles and to know I am not the only one. Thank you for sharing your life with us, it truly helps me to know we are wonderful parents to these our terrifically special kids, all of them.
Thank you for reading and reaching out! I can’t imagine the stress of having to share a living space, like you do, when your Parenting styles are so different. My children are the same ages as yours, and it’s hard enough controlling the chaos in my home! I will be thinking of you, and I hope you get your own space, soon. You’re definitely not alone!
Boy I can identify with this one. Even though I am from an earlier generation, I also had a Wonder Woman for a mother and never did laundry, cleaned or cooked and never will be the housekeeper that my Mom was. She did it all! That is hard to live up to or compare to so please don’t! You are doing the best for yourself and your family at present with the skills and knowledge and love that you have. That is enough…..you are enough. Keep listening to yourself….you and your husband are on the right tract for your family and are doing a great job. Keep blogging….it helps all of us.
Thank you, Gail, for your empathy and your encouragement. I appreciate your support more than you know!
This brought tears to my eyes. I am the mother of a daughter who thinks I’m too hard on her. I love our grandchildren and love to spend time with the whole family! I think my daughter is doing an amazing job rising her children. I love that she focuses on the children and not the tasks, like I did. I don’t know what impression, as older parents, we may be sending. Please know your parents love you and your families just as there are. I still don’t have life figured out, still working on being a “Mom” to an adult mother with an autistic child and all I want to do is help. Still trying to figure out the best ways and not get in the way. You are right “All I can be is me!”
PS: My first time to ever post a comment!
First- I’m honored that you chose my blog to make your first comment! This is exactly why I share our journey- to reach out to people beyond my own little network. Knowing that I am doing so really means a lot, so thank you for sharing with me!
If I may ask, why does your daughter think you’re too hard on her?
Have you told her, like you’ve told me, that you think she is doing an amazing job? Speaking for myself, I know that is the kind of thing I long to hear from my own parents. We’re never too old to need to hear our parents are proud of us!
I wish the best for you and your family!