Before motherhood, guilt and, more explicitly, anxiety were pretty rare. Oh, I felt guilt at times (the right times), but anxiety wasn’t really in my wheelhouse. What will be will be, I thought. I can only do what I can do, and then let the chips fall where they may.
In other words, as long as I did the right thing and did my best, guilt and anxiety swam in the back of the pool of emotions.
AND then came motherhood. And all that changed.
Pretty much right from the start. Although, at that point, I was pretty relaxed (compared to many), anxiety started to rear its ugly head. Should I feed her more? Less? Was she getting enough tummy time? Was I letting her sleep in a dirty diaper? Was she dressed warm enough, or was she hot? Was I doing enough? Or not enough?
But I didn’t let the anxiety take over my life. Libby was sleeping through the night just fine, didn’t act hungry, and was strong and healthy. Anxiety was in its early stages.
And then I became the mother of a special needs child. Only 14 month after my first child was born. GUILT and ANXIETY revved into high gear.
My older daughter didn’t sign up to be a big sister to a special needs child. What was this going to do to her? Was I going to do enough to make sure they get enough of what each of them needed, individually? How was this going to work? How the CRAP was I going to be a good mother to both my girls?
I still have those thought. Except now they’re busy, almost teenage girls, and I have those ‘mother-of-teenagers’ anxieties. How the CRAP am I going to get them through the teen years? At one moment, I worry about my younger daughter and how I’m going to deal with budding sexuality and ‘womanhood’ in my beautiful girl with Down Syndrome. In another moment, I worry about how I’m going to get my typical daughter through it all without traumatizing her too much but still letting her know of the dangers of being a young woman.
And guilt?! When we miss that event, or this event, or I said no to an event. I didn’t punish enough, or I punished too much. Too much electronic time, or not monitoring enough. Too much junk food, not enough healthy food, not enough exercise. I’m setting a bad example. I should be working outside of the home, I shouldn’t be working at all. We should go to church more often, we should be more Godly.
And then there is the comparisons, to mothers I know have great kids. I don’t spend my life comparing myself, and I know they all have anxiety and guilt of their own, but I wonder what they’re doing that I’m not, or what they did earlier in their children’s lives that I didn’t do. I think both my girls are pretty good girls, but what if something I’m doing (or not doing) differently than these ‘great’ mothers really screws them up for later?
I’ve got to hope that we’re doing enough right to get them through these years, that I’m setting them off to fly on their own. This means different things for both of them. My typical daughter will fly farther than my daughter with Down syndrome. But I want them both to fly as far as they can. All I can do is hope that the foundation we’ve laid is the basis for something bigger, something greater.
I’ve got to breathe in and out and then decide, for the moment, that I’m doing enough to make them into good, productive adults.
Okay, here’s a book filled with the guilt: Julia Pierpont’s Among the Ten Thousand Things.
This book will be released on July 7th, and is available now for pre-order.
An intimate look at a family on the verge of breaking up, Among the Ten Thousand Things is beautifully written and captivating, and is the best kind of heartbreaking.
The Shandley’s are an artsy New York family: father Jack is a successful artist, mother Deb is a retired ballet dancer. Two kids, nice life. Until a package of ‘sexts’ printed out from Jack’s lover arrives at their building, and daughter Kay is the one that picks them up and read them.
As we watch, the family is forced to deal with Jack’s infidelity as a whole. Deb knows about his dalliances, at least somewhere in the back of her mind. Because, when she and Jack fell in love and Deb got pregnant, he was married to another woman. This time, though, Deb can’t back down; it’s in her face, but also in her children’s face. She doesn’t want Simon (their teenager) to become his father, she doesn’t want Kay (11) to watch her mother be weak and angry.
In the middle of it all, Jack has an opening of installation art, something showing the heartlessness and damage that happens to a home during a war, showing a perfect house in which he has set off some incendiary devices (earlier, not during the show). It seems, though, that one device didn’t go off earlier, and goes off during the opening, injuring a woman at the show.
Jack must deal with the implosion of his marriage and maybe his career. Deb and the kids must deal with what this all means to them.
With an interesting format, Pierpont takes the reader inside of a marriage and a family, and then breaks down that family into individuals, providing a look into the hearts and minds of those most effective.
Ultimately sad, but in the best way.
The telling of the story is wonderful, Pierpont zooms in on the hearts of these characters and relates their thoughts and feelings perfectly.
And the format? I loved it. Among the Ten Thousand Things begins with the letter to Deb from the scorned other woman. We slowly meet the family, starting with the children. As the book winds on, we get to know Jack and Deb.
In the middle of the book, Pierpont lays out the timeline of the family, telling us exactly what happens to the end of the book and far into the future.
And then the book gets intimate again, explaining in detail what happened in the ensuing days, and how it changed the future, for better or for worse. We get to know Deb and Jack’s backstories, and their story together. Readers watch as Simon takes steps towards adulthood, and as Kay walks the tightrope between her father and her mother and their fight.
I loved this book; intimate and lovely, melancholy and beautifully told. The characters are wonderful and full, the story is sad and beautiful.
Five stars. Thank you, Julia Pierpont.