Mommy-Guilt and Jenga

I went back to school on purpose.

I say that to myself a lot, teeth gritted, eyes closed, fists clenched, usually while taking a shaky breath and trying to clear my head of all the build-up from the day so that I can fall asleep.

Obviously, no one goes back to school accidentally. It’s not like they find themselves on campus, schedule in hand, and think, “Oh wow, well I guess I’m going to school now.” Usually there’s a little bit of forethought and premeditation involved, and there definitely was in my case.

But my Now Self is still, sometimes, a little pissed at my Back-Then Self. And my Back-Then Self has to remind my Now Self that the one she should REALLY be filing formal complaints with is my WayBack Self, you know, the one who didn’t finish college the first time around. And my WayBack Self fights back with familiar phrases– you didn’t like your current major (or the one before that), you had some major funding issues, if you’d finished on time you never would have met Mitch, and so forth.

So since I can’t really demand any public apologies from anyone, all I have left to do is just be frustrated with my schedule, my lack of sleep, my time away from my baby, and just try to be thankful that at least I live in a time and place where I am able to go back to school. Some women don’t have that opportunity at all, ever in their lifetime– and I get to do it after having a baby. So really I should like, wake up every morning and greet the sun with shouts of glory and gratitude for the fact that on this day, I get to study math methods.

But its hard.

Have you ever played Jenga? You wait for your turn. You see a piece, and for some reason you commit to it. You wiggle, you hold your breath, and your other hand waits on the other side for the piece to slide free, so that you can place it on top of the wobbly tower. You and this piece are in it together now. If the puzzle holds, then you’ve survived to play again, choose a new piece, and go through it all again. If the puzzle falls, you build, trying to make it stronger. You start again, with new knowledge about structural integrity.

Life is like that. I learned a lot from growing up around  women who had a tendency to get stuck. They would complain and cry and say that they were painted into a corner– and I would always be angry at their complacency. So you’re painted into a corner, I would think, the only reason you can’t just walk yourself out of it is because you’re afraid to get paint on your shoes.

I haven’t always made the best decisions. But I try not to spend a lot of time worrying about it, because the more time that passes, the more those bad decisions are diminished by the onslaught of other bad decisions, and the knowledge of bad decisions yet to come. Like Jenga. If you let yourself get consumed by that one time that you were the first player to go and still somehow managed to knock the tower over, you might never play again. And that would be too bad. Because Jenga can be a lot of fun.

Parenting is scary, because– no matter what your track record for good and bad decision making used to be– you are now responsible for making all the choices for another human being for a very long time. And one of the first major decisions that I made for her, before she was even born, was that I was going back to school. Sometimes Mama wouldn’t be around. Sometimes Mama would be very busy. Very busy. Sometimes Mama would be stressed.

So far I’ve been lucky– selfishly lucky– I got to see her stand up for the first time. I heard her first word (A delighted “Daddy!” when Mitch got home from work). She took her first steps to me, a few days before Christmas. She throws her arms around me everytime she sees me.

But…. there are sad times too. One Saturday morning, I had to go to class very early, and when Mitch went in to wake her up she kept looking over his shoulder. He realized she was looking for me, and walked her through the whole apartment, and eventually she realized that I wasn’t there.

I know that she probably won’t consciously remember a time when Mom wasn’t around very much. But I also know that somewhere, deep down, the knowledge will be embedded. And it can kind of go two ways…. maybe she’ll grow up to be resentful, suspicious, and insecure. She’ll wonder what was so important that I had to be gone up to four nights a week, why she had to go to daycare when I was taking care of other people’s kids all day long. Maybe, when we have a new baby, long after I’ve graduated, she’ll resent the new baby because Mama got to spend a lot more time with him/her. Maybe, even if it is never really addressed, there will always be a little wedge between us all because of the time I’ve spent away from my family.

Or… maybe she’ll grow up to be independent, strong, and admire what our family went through when she was so small. Maybe, if she is ever struggling in school, she’ll remind herself how hard it was for me, for all of us, to do it the hard way.

Or maybe none of this will effect her at all. Her earliest memories will be after I graduate. She’ll remember me being home for every bedtime. She’ll remember going to plays and dance classes and hockey practice, and she even though, somewhere deep under her skin, she’ll know that she went through this with us, it won’t have even the slightest effect on her whatsoever.

Making decisions is, I think, what separates a child from an adult. Autonomy is the ultimate goal of childhood, after all. I think that a lot of adults are just scared to death to make decisions. I blame Dr. Phil. We see so many hours of television where they’re telling us: it’s my mom’s FAULT that I’m like this, it’s my parent’s FAULT that this happened, because of my mom, because bla bla bla. So we end up just terrified– every night I ask myself, “Welp…. how’d I screw up my kid today?”

But what can I do? Would I feel more or less guilty, in ten years, if I didn’t go back to school? Would Maren have a better or worse life, in ten years, if I chose something else?

Whenever anyone asks me how I make decisions– how I can be SURE…. I tell them this:

I’m not. I never am. You just have to make the best choice you can– a choice that you can live with– and then you have to commit to it. Plan your attack, hold your breath, and make your move. If the puzzle falls, build it again, but stronger this time. With a better knowledge of structural integrity. Next time, maybe you’ll make a different choice. Or maybe you’ll make the same choice– but you’ll have a different angle, more information, trust your steady hand a little better. The best decision I ever made in my life was to give a man who’d wronged me another chance– against my instincts and the advice of almost anyone I knew. And I’d make that decision again, and I do, every day.

There are bad decisions and good decisions. There are impossible choices. As a parent, there are so many difficult choices its unreal. But you can’t let that paralyze you. The puzzle falls, you play again.

The real crime, the real mistake, I think, is not to play.

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1 Comment

Filed under Baby, Let's Be Besties, Occasionally, I Am Just Me

One response to “Mommy-Guilt and Jenga

  1. Lindsay Heard

    …or maybe she’ll read your blog and understand your sacrifice, giving her confidence to try the risky things. The hard to fathom the process, but hopeful for the outcome things. ….or maybe… (I think this is how I was)….it will all make sense to her when she is a mother herself. It will click. You aren’t causing her any harm by modeling that anything worth doing takes work and focus and often, sacrifice. You’re sacrifing now to make better you. You are undoubtedly only going to be a better and better mom. And you’re already a really remarkable one!

    Hang in there…realize my advice is only my opinion – I can’t fully know the depth of this reality for you, but I’ll encourage you in the process!

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