Mother’s Day is upon us once again and I thought it was time for me to share the story of a Mother’s Day I will never forget. Sit down and buckle up, Friends, cuz’ this is one long, bumpy ride.
Allow me to set the stage for you. The year was 1999 and we were living in Orem, Utah. We were in our third home in two years. Hubs was working during the afternoon to late nights and I worked part-time during the days. Our schedule was such that when one of us was with the kids, the other was sleeping or working. It was a very tough schedule.
Man-child was nine, Baby Girl was seven, Buddy was three and Kiddo was one. Man-child was my only sleeper. Baby Girl was still waking up a couple of times a night with night terrors, the result of a house fire that started in her room with her bed catching fire in the middle of the night. That’s a story for another time, but two years later she still wasn’t sleeping well.
Buddy, was a restless sleeper and for the some reason, the freedom of a big boy bed was too much for him. He would wake up a couple of times a night. Kiddo was over a year, but was still waking up 1-2 nights. Kiddo was born 6 weeks early and although he was long, he didn’t have the body fat to allow him to go very long between feedings.
Between the three kids, I was getting woken up about once every two – three hours a night. If I went through a four-hour stretch of sleep, it felt like a dang good night. This had been going on for over a year by now and to say I was exhausted is the grossest understatement of the word possible. I thoroughly know and appreciate why sleep deprivation is prohibited by International law. Unfortunately, my kids weren’t not exactly willing to follow the rules of the Geneva Convention.
By the time Mother’s Day was rolling upon us, life was more difficult than I wanted it to be. Hubs job had never panned out to be the job we were expecting and we were actively looking for new work. For a newspaper editor, a new job means a new location and another move. Money was incredibly tight as well. If you are one of those who think that newspapers pay well, let me inform you, they don’t. I believe we were in the category of the working poor. Moving destroys a family budget for about a year and we were still recovering from two moves and planning for a third.
A week or so before Mother’s Day, we got a call asking if Man-Child would be willing to give a talk in Sacrament meeting. For those of you who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sacrament meeting is our main worship service. Since the Mormon church is lay ministry (no one is paid to serve in the church), the services are given by members of the congregation. The services for this Mother’s Day included people from all age ranges speaking about mothers.
Normally, I would have helped Man-Child prepare his talk, but it kind of felt like writing my own eulogy. I’d asked Hubs to help with the talk and reminded him several times beforehand to make sure it got done. He assured me it was taken care of and it was nice to not have to worry about the talk.
On Sunday morning, we were sitting in church. We were about 5 or 6 rows back from the pulpit. Our building was a stake center, which meant the chapel area is bigger than a normal ward building. Our particular ward had many older members whose adult children and families often attended our ward on big days. The building was packed.
Seated behind me was this one sister. I will call her Sister Perky, since I have long since forgotten her name. Sister Perky was everything I was not. Her kids were past the torture stage. She was cute and tiny and obviously had money. She had many friends in the ward and every time I saw her, she was laughing at something. I’m sure she was a wonderful woman. I pretty much hated her. Her teenage daughter sat next to her, a younger version of her Momma.
Finally, the services began and soon it was Man-Child’s turn to talk. I’m not sure what I expected. I knew I wouldn’t be gushed over, and in all honesty, I can’t remember much of the talk. Here’s what I do remember. “My talk is on Mother’s Day. I’m not sure what my mom does. She sleeps a lot and is always laying down. She loves to read romance novels and someday she wants to write one.”
Oh. My. Hell! He did NOT just say that to several hundred people just now. Breathe, Suesan. He didn’t really just lay your most private desire bare for all the ward to see right now. Breathe, damnit. Why can’t you breathe?! Tee hee hee. The stereo giggling of Sister Perky and the Perkette confirmed that yes, my son had really just said that.
Really? Really!! That’s all you know about me, kid? What about the many, many hours we played Nintendo together. Or the hours we’d spend outside shooting hoops and playing HORSE together? Huh? What about that? How about the 9 years of reading a story every night every. single. night. or the hours of homework help or the dozen or so kick-butt costumes I’d made for him?!! What about the ridiculously awesome cookies I bake or the millions of dinners? Where was the kudos for that?!! Not found in the lines of this talk, I’ll tell you that much. I sat there, stunned, with some weird smile frozen on my face. I didn’t hear the rest of the talk, just the frequent tee-heeing behind me, letting me know that more “joy” was being heaped upon my head.
I glared at Hubs. I said, “I thought you helped him with this?” Hubs didn’t find anything wrong with the talk. He knew that what Man-Child was saying was truthful but it never occurred to him that I might want something different said about me. The talk finally ended. What was less than five minutes felt like five years of my life. I could not get the weird smile off my face, though. I’m okay, people. Nothing to see here. Move it along. Pay no attention to the lady behind the crazy smile.
Next, it was time for the Primary children to sing. Buddy and Baby Girl went up on the stand to join Man-Child for the songs. Buddy was three and being one of the youngest up there, he was moved to the front so he could be seen. I knew that he didn’t know the words but he dutifully stood up there to “perform” with the rest of the kids. Buddy was one of those super-cute kids. The kind that just oozes personality and cuteness. The kind that strangers stop you to tell you what a cute kid you have and that store owners just give him free stuff simply for being so cute. The music started and Buddy got cute, but not in the way I could appreciate.
Buddy stuck his finger up his nose and kept it there for the entire song. “Mother Dear, I love you soooo,” Tee hee hee. “Your happy, smiling face.” TEE Hee hee. “Is such a joy to look at…” TEE HEE Hee. “It makes home a lovely place!” TEE HEE HEE!!! No amount of gesturing or meaningful looks could convince Buddy that his nose was not a finger holder. And, yeah. People noticed. It wasn’t just Sister Perky giggling throughout the song. By this point in the services, I felt like there was a Klieg light shining right on me! The frozen smile was still there, but I was not happy.
The next speaker got up and began to speak and things settled down for a few minutes. Kiddo started fussing and Hubs, giving me a break, took the baby out to the foyer. That left me sitting on the bench with Baby Girl and Buddy, who were prone to fighting given more than 2 minutes together. I quickly moved a child to each side of me to nip any problems in the bud, when Buddy turned to me and loudly said, “Mom! I gots to PEEE!!!!” Tee Hee Hee! Thanks, Sister Perky. I guess you heard that one, too. I’m pretty sure half the ward heard it.
There was no possible way I could have brought myself to stand up and walk out of the chapel with everyone looking at me. I couldn’t do it. Since Hubs had just walked out, I sent Buddy out to find his dad. Several minutes passed. I still was not able to hear anything the speakers said. I focused on breathing and trying to bring my heart rate back down out of the red zone.
Then, I heard it. Sharp, loud intake of breath followed by chuckling and giggling. It started at the back of the chapel and rolled towards the front of the chapel in a wave of snickering, gasping and giggling. I was not sure what the commotion was, but somehow I knew it had to do with me and my child. I turned around to look and there was Buddy, heading up the aisle with his corduroy pants around his ankles and his Barney Butt underwear flashing the ward.
Oh. My. LANTA! I could not catch a break! Dear Lord, take me now! Just open up a portal and drop me in it. Please?! The snorts and laughter coming from Sister Perky and the Perkette have no sound I could replicate. It’s that weird laugh you do when you know you shouldn’t be laughing but you can’t keep it in. Silent guffawing, if you will.
The meeting from Hell finally ended and I spent the next two hours trying to laugh it off as members of the ward tried to laugh it off with me. I pretty much figured that my sole purpose for attending church that Sunday was to help every other woman feel better about her efforts to be a good mom. They could all say, “I may have problems, but at least I’m not Sister Kennard!”
It was the single most humiliating day of my life. As I have told people the story over the years, there has been much laughter. My mom told me, one day you will laugh about this. If I had been Sister Perky and had a front row seat to it, I would have been her. I would have giggled and laughed and silent guffawed my way through the service, too.
It’s been 13 years, and I still am not laughing because here’s the thing that no one knows. When we got in the van, all my humiliation and hurt and embarrassment were more than a seriously depressed, sleep-deprived woman could handle. I was mad at Hubs, convinced that somehow he could have stopped some of that from happening. I was overwrought and pushed to an edge I didn’t know existed. As we left the parking lot to drive the three-blocks to get home, I made a plan to kill myself.
Orem is at the foot of Mt. Timpanogos. There are foothills and sharp cliffs and canyons. My plan was to drive up to the top of one of the cliffs and just drive over the edge.
I was fully committed and determined to do it. Three blocks doesn’t seem like a lot of time to come up with such a plan, but if Hubs hadn’t refused to leave me alone in the van when we got home, I’m certain I would have done it. I know that God had heard my short prayer that basically said, “If you don’t want me to see you in a few minutes, you better intervene here.”
I honestly don’t remember much of the rest of the day. I know I cried. I called my Mom. I slept. I probably yelled. It was a day I have tried desperately to forget and I’m not sure if I will ever be able to laugh about it.
The thought of killing myself may seem a drastic reaction to you, but it wasn’t the first time I’d wanted to hurt myself. Shortly after the fire, I started fantasizing about cutting my wrists. Scared the hell out of me the first time it happened because I was actually holding a knife at the time. I thought how nice it would be to just cut my wrist instead of the vegetables. It would only hurt for a moment and then all the pain I was feeling would go away.
I dropped the knife and ran out of the kitchen because I had never had such an overwhelming desire to hurt myself before. After that, the thought came more often and was just as scary to me every time. Not for how ugly a thought it was or how squeamish I am, because I am squeamish, but because of how strongly I wanted to do it.
It has been a thought that has stayed with me for the last 15 years or so. Whenever my stress is high and my personal resources are low, that is the thought that plagues my mind. However, you should know that in all that time, I have never once actually cut myself. Never.
I have taken a red pen and have drawn across the place I’ve wanted to cut. I even drew the line up my arm one time, knowing that if I ever cut myself in that direction it wouldn’t be a cry for help but a six minute countdown on the rest of my life. It has been very, very hard to not follow up on such strong feelings.
Despite the overwhelming desire to cut myself, I have fought off those feelings and desires for one reason – my kids. I could never hurt them in that way. Here’s the thing. No matter how inadequate or bad I have felt as a mom, I have also known very, very clearly how deeply my children love me. They have seen past my flaws and have adored me from day one. That has always been very clear to me and I could never, ever harm them by hurting myself. That is something I could not live with. No matter how terrible things have felt to me, the love my children have for me has stopped me from hurting myself.
Pretty horrifying, right? For most of my adult life, about 25 years now, I have dealt with depression in one form or another. Most people who find out I have depression are genuinely surprised. I am a fairly positive, upbeat person. I laugh a lot. I have a lot of natural optimism, so my natural demeanor is not one of an Eeyore. I’m more like Tigger, full of fun, fun, fun. But less Bouncy. Depressed is not an adjective easily applied to me, and yet, it has been a struggle throughout my life.
I felt impressed to share my story because I know there are many women who struggle with depression. If my story can help someone understand what they are going through, then I’m happy to share. I will share a bit more in later posts to share the strategies I have developed over the years to manage my depression. If you are struggling, get help. Reach out to someone and find a ways to deal with the stresses of your life. Do not ever give up.
I also wanted to share because I think we all reach a point where we feel inadequate as a mother. Raising children is not for the faint of heart. Children can be embarrassing and demanding and challenging. You may feel like all your efforts are unnoticed or unappreciated or in vain. You may at times feel like there is a spotlight on you, highlighting for the whole world how much you suck at being a mother. Or, maybe that was just me.
But if it is also you, please remember that while those feelings may feel very real, I guarantee that they are not true. Things do get better. Not usually in one fell swoop, but in tiny increments, things improve. Kids grow up and the seasons of your life change. Those efforts you are making to teach and love and raise your children do make a difference. You may be blessed to see snippets of those differences along the path of motherhood. Mostly, it takes time to see that you have done a good job and that you are enough.
It takes time to realize you can’t do it all, you could have done some things differently, you probably should have made some different choices along the way, and that you did the very best that you could at the time. But the good that you do by being present, listening, loving, participating, encouraging, disciplining, strengthening and just showing up every day to try again – well, that matters. Probably more than you can ever fully appreciate.
You are not alone is this journey. You are not the only mom who’s kid threw a public tantrum and got permanently banned from the library. Other mom’s have had kids get stuck in the washing machine.
There are plenty of women who’ve had the police call them to tell them their kid got picked up for shoplifting. You are not the first mom to be lied to or thrown up on or whose kid has poop squishing out their diaper and landing on the department store floor without a diaper bag handy so you can clean it up. Other moms have gone through it, too, and have managed to survive. You will, too.
There are plenty of moms who can’t volunteer at the school or go to every single 936 baseball games or soccer matches of the season. Many, many, many moms bring store bought treats to school events, buy their kid’s Halloween costume off the rack and don’t throw themed birthday parties. Not every single event can be a Hallmark moment and if you snap a picture or take a video of more than half of your kid’s life, you’ll miss out on the other half just trying to watch it all. Not all of us can or even want to do it all. Give yourself permission to be enough right where you are right now.
As I celebrate this Mother’s Day, I am so grateful for the chance to be a Mom. I would never exchange one minute of my experiences for anything in the world. I have been greatly blessed. I am so amazed by the wonderful people my children have grown into. I am so thankful that my challenges and inadequacies have not harmed them. They are the very best part of me and I am so proud to be their mother.
Nathan, my Man-Child. He stole my heart 22 years ago. I have never wanted it back.
Ryley. My Baby Girl/Daja. She is 20 and beautiful in every single way.
Noah. My Buddy. He’s 16 and still cute. One hug from him is enough to cure whatever ails me.
Sam. My Kiddo who towers over me at 14. He’s 6’3” and no where near done growing. He needs a big body to house his giant heart and spirit.
Happy Mother’s Day. May you always remember that you are enough!
ps. If you know someone who can relate to my story, would you please share it with them? Thank you!