An Unfinished Parent...What defines success in parenting? Maybe the world thinks I failed at parenting my brain damaged, mentally ill daughter or maybe it’s just me being my own worst critic. There isn’t a day that passes that I go un-reminded and so no matter what mountains I move to continue to be the best parent I know how for the other children, I will forever be responsible for what happened with Emily. The obstacles of pain, regret and self-recrimination are only as distant as my burning the taco shells or losing a month’s rent to our landlord’s greed. The perpetual loop of blame for not being able to fix my daughter’s prenatal wounds plays over and over in my head. You. It’s your fault! It happened because of something you did and because of who you are!
I am but a seat filler in the cheap seats during most of my daydreams as in my mind’s eye I see myself scribbling my name on the lines of adoption papers, psychiatric hospital admits, guardianship papers, and finally forms giving up all parental rights to a child I love but cannot help nor keep safe from harm or from harming others. Tears drip onto papers of all repercussions as I hear my own voice repeating that common phrase we tell ourselves when life sucks that we are given only what we can handle. With time and space I have come to see that we are not victims of the poor decisions of an alcoholic drug addict, my daughter’s since deceased birthmother. No, we are not victims. We are responsible for our responses to the cards that we were dealt and folding those cards has been the most difficult thing I will ever do in my life.
Outside of having her sent home for one major bipolar episode May through June of 2011, Emily has not lived with our family in nearly two years. That is not to say that any time during those years existed a moment when we could rest knowing she wouldn’t be sent home in a complete mentally ill state. That assurance just didn’t exist, until we signed those last forms and with it, every dream we had for our idealized life with our wounded child were GONE. Evaporated. As if they had never existed.
I have not heard her voice, her cry, or seen her face in nary a picture in nearly a year. One would think that in that time the reminders of the sheer madness that we lived with would have faded and that things would have settled. Hearts would have mended. Perhaps compassion would outweigh the relief of not living with mental illness, but more in truth, the foundation of our family is still rocking as if by mini earthquakes daily. Perpetual mental illness prevails as the undercurrent of our daily existence.
The pain, the loss and the feeling of my inability to forgive myself for not being able to make it better haunt my every minute, both waking and sleeping. 8 years of life dedicated to managing her in every way invalidated by the finalization of knowing in the end that I could not. The blame of the whole mess being mine as repeated by those you would think would be most compassionate.
Choruses of “Why did you adopt her to begin with? What the hell were you thinking?” erupt at the slightest interaction with my now teenage son.
How do I explain to my firstborn son the motivations of a younger me who just wanted to grow a family to love and cherish so desperately, without demeaning his value in our family? He witnessed the 8 miscarriages between him and his youngest sibling, who is now just a painful reminder of the space in the middle that was filled by lunacy and disappointment. He was privy to a life before it became unmanageable and now life after. Could he ever go back to feeling about me, about us, about our family the way he did before?
But the clock doesn’t stop ticking and the sun and moon rise and set and life goes on. As I pick up dog poop in the yard and relocate stray moving boxes strewn about on the driveway I ponder the responsibilities I have for the day beyond the tears that sit just behind my throat ALWAYS for Emily and what happened to our family and the pain I feel inside- school lunches, chauferring, unconditional love, 2 three-course home cooked meals and when I realize my skin is crawling with red ants and I am being bitten over and over my thoughts return to self. Sh**! I hit myself and try to come back to the pain of the moment. I’m covered in ****ing red ants!
The victim in me loops to, “of course, this is your life, you deserve to be covered in red ants” and I wage an inner battle with my ego as I try to own the monster everyone thinks I am knowing full well that I am not. Being covered in red ants is not something I am deserved of nor is pity something I am entitled to. But I must find my inner compassion and the ants like other distractions daily drive me further away from it.
Meanwhile, all of my deeper musings and therefore internal energy are directed towards the sadness of my lesson of loving and losing. Of fighting the best fight I could for an innocent wounded child and against all odds, I lost. Russian Roulette with a life. But I don’t get a day off of the regret and again, the reminders are in every mini earthquake and tantrum from those left to make sense of the grief hidden under every normal everyday activity. It creeps up on us whether we are at the dinner table or in the bevy of therapists offices as we all just try to accept the journey for what it was. I just want to be able to pass the butter and not feel like I could cry as I look at the empty seat.
Ours is a story of unconditional parental love, joy, loss, deceit and betrayal. It’s a story about human nature and the frailty of the human condition. It's a raw story of truthful mothering and commitment. The perfection in unconditional loving is in giving it. It is not the outcome of having given it that makes it perfect. I am here on earth learning about love and letting go and mine is the story of a journey with a little girl who I could not fix but who I love from the depth of my soul. I am flawed and an, as yet, unfinished parent.