Mother of One

It seems that there is always something, something, something that women feel guilty about. Or, worse yet, are made to feel guilty about. (A great line from a fascinating New Yorker article on parenthood observes: “all the mothers want forgiveness; all the fathers want applause.”)

Being single, being childless, staying home, working, working too much, living in a messy house, cooking prepackaged meals, letting kids watch TV, andonandonandonandonandon…

Lately, my potential guilt-causing thoughts have been moving to the fact that, in all likelihood, I’m going to be the biological mother of one child. And since, psychologically, more than an 8-year gap between siblings (my step-daughter Rebecca is almost 16) means they turn out like “only” children, it is the reality I have to ponder for myself and Annie.

These past six weeks in Canada have brought a lot of contact with my many friends. (I am rich and blessed in that life department.) And many of these friends are moms who had their first child around the time Annie was born, and went on to have a second. I’ve heard more than once on this trip something like: “I thought one child was hard, but it is a piece of cake compared to having two.”

And a few weeks ago, when I was having one of my mommy pangs and asked  Markus, mostly jokingly, if we should have another, he said with a slight laugh: “I’m not sure you couldn’t handle more than one child.” Despite the fact that this is a very painful thing to hear from one’s partner, it doesn’t make it any less true.

I also very accidentally stumbled on a horrible blog post a couple of months ago (by clicking on a ubiquitous Blogher ad) that railed on about how people should either have no children or more than one, because parents of only children are overprotective, pushy, perfectionists, blah, blah, blah.

I like to tell myself that, should I become pregnant again despite our best prophylactic measures, I would still be a good mom to both my children. I would rise to the occasion and, though complaining often (I was a chronic complainer long before motherhood was bestowed upon me), my kids would grow up loved and relatively normal.

And honestly, I don’t think I’m kidding myself about that. But being over 40 as well as having been told any further pregnancies would be considered high-risk due to my placenta issues after Annie’s birth, I also have to admit that raising a high-needs child might be more than I could handle. The constant time and attention a high-needs child requires would, I think, send me spiraling into depression. I’ve seen moms of these children, amazing, loving, energetic women, and I don’t see myself in them. Maybe I’m underselling myself. Maybe not.

That leaves adopting, which, although I love the idea, doesn’t really seem to be in Markus’ and my future.

So it looks like I will be raising one child. (I don’t feel like I raised Rebecca, as she has two very loving and involved parents…although I do hope I’m avoiding the evil step-mother archetype.)

And frankly, oddly, interestingly, I’ve come to the conclusion (at least for now) that I feel pretty good about that. I’m an intense introvert, in that the only way my battery is recharged is to be completely alone for long stretches of time. I don’t enjoy the basics of running a household. I can’t be a stay-at-home mom, so need to pay for daycare. My stress level goes up when there is too much noise (of any kind, but particularly yelling.) Annie adores Rebecca and will have her to share her adult life with, if not her childhood. I still have a double-shot at grandchildren, which I think will be totally awesome. (Rebecca is an experienced superstar at accepting every single definition of “grandparent”, so I feel confident that I can be involved in her children’s lives.) And, perhaps most importantly, I feel like I’m being a good mother to Annie. Not perfect, maybe not even great, but right now, with one child to raise, I’m confident that I fall into the good mother category. (Thanks, Stacey, for the positive reinforcement of that during my stay in your beautiful home.)

But what all of these comments and articles and thinking has made me realize, is that parenting Annie since she has turned three-years-old, is, in fact, fairly (or should I say relatively?) easy. I loved the first 10 months on maternity leave (although wouldn’t have called it easy), had a very, very…very…hard time being a parent when Annie was two (not all due to Annie, but also external life circumstances compounding parenthood). But these last few months, I gotta say, have been much less challenging. Not every second, not even every day, but overall I have to admit it isn’t that tough. First and foremost, Markus is an amazing and involved father, and often takes Annie alone for dad/daughter time. (Oh, how I missed that these past 6 weeks!!) As well, Annie is a ridiculously happy child who spends most of her life laughing, running, singing and begging to be tickled. Pouting and crying almost never last more than one or two minutes. Her high, high energy can be expended in many ways, as she is open to almost all experiences. I love it when she is in daycare a few hours a day, and she loves it when she is in daycare a few hours a day. When I can’t reason with her (sometimes I can!), bribing almost always works. And, putting guilty feelings aside, when I need a break or want to get something done she is very open to watching TV. Now I know everything in childhood is a phase, and Annie could wake up tomorrow a miserable, difficult child for the next six months, but I certainly can’t say that about her at this time in her life.

I get the feeling, because I have had the exact same thoughts, that many people see life as a contest. Whoever is the busiest or makes it through the hardest times or rises to the most difficult life challenge wins. If someone comments how easy it is with one child, my reaction is always to think or say something like: “well, you have family nearby, or you have lots of money, or you have [insert excuse why I can claim that my life is just as difficult.]” I actually talk myself into thinking my life is sooooooo hard. I really think that it is time to let that go. I don’t need to believe this life is that kind of (con)test and even if it is, I’m O.K. if I don’t win. (You people, all you commenters who want me to know  you are superstars because you have more challenges than me, you win. Because, in honest-to-goodness fact, I think you are superstars too. Good job!) What I do need to do is complain less, appreciate my life more, accept myself and other people for who they are, and love my family. Not easily done, but I’m going to start putting in more time working on just that. And the next time a friend asks how is it going with Annie, I’m going to say: “Delightful, thank you. Now tell me about your parenting troubles. Right now I’ve got lots of time and energy to listen.”

Hoping to Dry Off Soon

Well, how do I describe this month in Manitoba? Let’s see…3 1/2 weeks of rain and cold in a small cottage, two weeks of the worst cold I’ve had in a long time, and I tried to kill my father. Too negative? Let me try again.

I’ll start with the positive. Annie had an absolutely wonderful time with her family. She had hours of screaming laughter with Winnipeg relatives Uncle Bruce, Aunt Sylvia and cousins Paige and Devon, as well as Uncle Ian and Evan who flew in for a few days from Vancouver. Lorraine, my step-sister, was visiting from Ottawa as well and Annie was thrilled to play with her “friend”. As in, saying very loudly in the main room of the small cottage every morning, “Where is my friend Morraine (sic)? Sleeping? Can I play with my friend?”

Annie is an expert at sitting calmly in a canoe and watching the wonders on the shore. She loved splashing in the water at the beach (on those 6 sunny days), and made progress in her bravery at swimming off the dock into the cold, dark lake. Nana and Grandpa Drew spent hours reading, tickling and baking delicious blueberry muffins together with her. Grandpa and Grandma Samson had good visits with Annie including a big boat ride across The Lake of the Woods. Since I had such a grim time, I’ve decided to think of myself as a cardboard cut-out Mommy whose only role was to make sure her daughter enjoyed her summer and got to spend time bonding with family. Mission accomplished.

So what am I complaining about? Well, first of all, my own faulty decision making. My lowest times this year were when Markus was out of town, as I just am not a person who can happily manage a toddler by herself, even though Annie is quite an easy child. (Some genetic deficiency couple with advanced age I think.) And then I go and apparently take some crazy drug that makes me think I’ll be fine being alone with Annie for 6 weeks. Not fine. Even though Mom, Drew and Lorraine were very helpful and willing to lend a hand, it just isn’t the same as switching off with Markus.

As well, I’m just a wee bit stressed around any family member (Pavlovian response from days gone by.) And it rained. And rained. And rained. In our 29 days in Manitoba, we had 6 sort-of sunny days. The insane amount of mosquitoes who made my daughter’s fair skin welt up like she had been beaten didn’t help much either.

Oh and then I caught a monster cold that lasted 10 days and then morphed into a excruciatingly painful sinus infection which, as I write, is starting to feel better after 3 days of antibiotics. So I had to cancel many plans to see  friends, not feeling up to visiting, nor wanting to pass on my germs.

Except I didn’t make that decision when my dad asked us to come for dinner. He even suggested that Annie and I come another day, but not wanting Annie to miss out on spending time with her cousins, I thought we could make it. But then (because apparently I am an idiot) I went out on the boat with them where it, of course, started to rain. By dinner time I had a fever and thought for sure that H1N1 was upon me. (This is the trying-to-kill-my-father part.) My dad had stage-4 cancer about 5 years ago, and so has a depressed immune system. Even a mild cold for others can turn into pneumonia for him. And here I am spreading swine flu around. Not really very bright. Or kind, for that matter. I ended up getting my very sweet brother Bruce to drive me to the Kenora hospital, where they informed me that they don’t test for H1N1 anymore because the wait is too long, and that they wouldn’t do anything for me anyway so I should just go home. O.K. then. So much for detailed flu protocol. My fever broke the next morning, once I dried off and warmed up, so there was never any flu anyway.

Luckily, to date, my dad is fine. I can’t imagine how much therapy would be required to get over causing one’s father’s demise, but I’m guessing more than our health plan would cover.

On the plus side, I had one dinner with friends Lori and Shawna, and their gorgeous new baby Matheson. I saw Dawn and Tracey, two friends from grade school, with their children. I had lunch with Leslie, who I have known since Kindergarten and keep in close touch with. And another lunch with Mara-Lee, a friend from high-school, who hopefully will come to visit me in Austria this fall. I had short visits with some lake pals, Shannon and Jennifer, but most of the plans for longer get-togethers were cancelled due to illness. I did attend a beautiful 50th wedding anniversary of  Jennifer Hayden’s parents, and so got a chance to chat with lots of people for a few minutes. Yesterday my aunt let me come to her place despite the sniffles, so I saw her and my uncle and cousins briefly. Aunt Jean has some great old pictures; I am putting a longer visit with her on my life wish-list to gather pictures for a heritage scrapbook. So there, not all was lost.

I’m off to Victoria for a week on Wednesday, and then a week in Vancouver with my brother and his family. Hopefully the weather will be fine and I’ll get a lot more visiting in. Knowing that there is a chance I won’t be back to this part of the world for at least a year makes me feel more frantic to fit things in. This is absolutely one of those times when I am going to need a vacation from my vacation.

Going to Wash My Mouth Out With Soap As Soon as I’m Finished Writing

“Oh my!”, says my just 3-year-old daughter as we are driving in the car.

She continues, “I can say ‘oh my’. I don’t say ‘oh shit.’ Shit’ is an adult word. Only Mommy and Daddy say ‘shit.'”

And then after a few moments thought, “I can say ‘Oh my goodness’ too!”

That’s right baby girl. Your first lesson mastered in the complexities of the social levels of the English language.