I've been cogitating a great deal on mom-dom of late. I've mentioned on more than one occasion that I am honestly disappointed with my mothering skills. Not always, but enough to make me constantly re-hone my approaches to the boys. Which, I think, makes me a better mother than I may be giving myself credit for.
I've also been thinking about "bad" moms, the ones who make us gasp when we read about their awful deeds. When I was a first year teacher, back in Baltimore in the Head Start Program, I witnessed a mom who violently shook her baby. A grandmother who spent her grandchild's Social Security Check on a new fur coat for herself and gambling, while the three year old granddaughter came to school in midwinter wearing torn ladies' panty hose for socks. I remember telling someone that I could not have compassion for these mothers. I felt too strongly about the wrongs that were being visited on their children.
I couldn't wait to become a mom. I imagined all the possibilities of children I might have -- a girl, a boy, one of each, someone who had Alex's eyes and lovely voice or who liked to explore the woods like I did. We talked about adoption even before my illness made it clear that having kids the "natural" way was not in the cards. When I was stronger and on the road to being as normal as I could hope to be, we began exploring adoption for real. And then we actually did. We adopted two brothers, H and L. They were, and still are, breathtakingly beautiful. We would have a family after all.
I've already written a lot about the challenges of that first year as a family. I still think about it with sadness. I wish I didn't. I wish I could look back and say it was perfect, everything I expected, I rose to the challenge, etc. But it wasn't, and I didn't. I was just barely keeping it together, and I was severely depressed. I sought help for myself, which was a major financial drain, but it was either that or I would indulge my fantasies of diving into the ocean one night and not coming back. I contacted our agency more than once, desperate for help with behaviors I found alarming. I was told that this was what happened sometimes, and that in a few months things would be better. I was told to look online for resources to help me. Another mom in the same boat as me was told by her agency to go and buy her child an ice cream cone when this daughter screamed for three hours straight. I think the same social worker told her to go and take a yoga class herself.
My social worker contacted me once to ask how things were after one of my more desperate emails. She told me about a place about 2 hours from us who dealt with behavior problems with kids. I called them. They used a behavior chart system not unlike the one we already used. The woman there laughed and said to give it time. They didn't know what attachment was, or that a child might not attach. They supposedly specialized with adopted kids.
I felt alone and unsupported, though I wasn't actually alone, I had Alex and my family. Going to therapy cost a lot at a time when I wasn't working, but we could scrape it together. And our moms both came to help out with the boys. And still it was overwhelming to me. So now I look at the two moms I mentioned from my Baltimore days, and all the moms who've made us gasp in horror over the years, including most recently the mom from Tennessee who sent her newly adopted son back to Russia alone on an airplane. I know a bit about the Baltimore moms from having worked with the social workers on the case. They were victims of abuse, themselves. They were very poor, disenfranchised people put into circumstances for which they were totally unequipped. I don't know anything about the Tennessee mom, except that she was a single mother. And she probably had hopes of being a happy family. I don't know. I know that I had more support than they, but still I felt totally at sea.
None of these cogitations about myself or these moms is meant to take away from the fear, trauma and pain of the kids involved. I have witnessed it first hand as a teacher and as my sons' mother. That is one of the reasons why my memories of the first year are so sad. There was undeniable pain underneath the smiles and playfulness in our photographs. I feel regret and shame about the way I performed as "mother" in those early days. I am pretty sure that those other mothers did, and do, too. Part of a meditation method I am currently learning advises you to "taste" your extreme feelings. Think back about a particularly painful episode in your life and feel the emotions and physical sensations that accompany it. Don't name them, don't repress them, don't judge them, just feel them. And then acknowledge that countless other people have experienced the same feelings and sensations as you. This is the beginning of compassion.
The refrain, "It's not that far..." from Walking Down Madison by Kirsty MacColl keeps chiming into my head:
It's a shame to be human it's a human shame
It seems we've forgotten we're one and the same
One and the same
One and the same
No it's not too far
No it's not too far
We're one and the same
Parenting is a humbling experience. I'd like to think that in similar circumstances I wouldn't make the same choices as these moms. Their actions were exceedingly hurtful and cannot be undone nor excused. They will leave indelible scars. But if we are to move on and heal these terrible hurts, I think we must start with feeling compassion for them as well as for their children. And for ourselves. Compassion is the beginning of healing. Then we can all move on and be the mothers we've always meant to be.