My children learned timidity in my presence, as they never knew which version of Mommy would appear. The mother that was interested in them and their lives, the mother that couldn’t get out of bed, or the mother that believed she was immortal and the life of the party.
Nothing gave me greater joy than the day I learned I was expecting my oldest child. He was so tiny and so full of promise. I vowed that I would love and protect him until the day I took my final breath. My husband and I spent countless hours discussing what it would be like with him, raising him, our plans for him, what college he would go to, and what awesome parents we would be.
Our joy was matched the day we found out our oldest would have twin brothers. Sure, we had apprehension about the prospect of twins, and being outnumbered with three under age three. But the apprehension was far exceeded by the excitement that our son would have two brothers close in age to him. We daydreamed about how closely the three of them would be bonded as siblings. We daydreamed about football scholarships and imagined what future girlfriends would be like. The future always looked bright, shiny, and full of possibilities.
The shiny future we envisioned became colorless for a long while. First there was the challenge of navigating my post-partum depression, and also of hiding it from the world. My husband had to figure out how to parent solo, despite having his wife present full-time, because I was incapable of parenting. I was incapable of feeling. I could not show all the love and promise my heart held for those boys. Once I returned and started feeling better, we had to cope with a new challenge: mania and the onset of bipolar disorder. My husband had to remain the primary parent while I remained absent, breezing in and out with a complete lack of regard for anyone but myself. The regard I had for myself during that time remains debatable as well.
My children learned timidity in my presence, as they never knew which version of Mommy would appear. The mother that was interested in them and their lives, the mother that couldn’t get out of bed, or the mother that believed she was immortal and the life of the party. My husband grew weary of trying to shield them from my self-destruction and insanity. The game-changer for me personally as a parent came after a nearly fatal overdose attempt, the one in which my husband sat at my bedside in the ICU for three days waiting for me to wake up, and praying I could come off the ventilator. I had a panic attack about missing my oldest’s graduation from his pre-K program.
I realized at that moment that I had been missing everything in their lives. I realized that, for my oldest, it was going to be just another day without Mommy around. I realized then and there that I wanted a better legacy for them. That I wanted to be their mother and be present. I was going to have to work hard to prove it to them.
It had been just over two years since that hospital epiphany. I wish I could say it has been smooth sailing. However, I am a mother who lives with bipolar disorder. My children still have to bear witness to mood episodes they do not yet understand. My husband still has to remind me to participate in the family at times. The boys have learned I love them and I’m not going anywhere by my working hard to stay stable and being reliable for the most part. They now come cuddle with me every morning that I am not at work. They ask for me when I am not home. They run to me when I open the front door after a long day working. They beg to have sleepovers with me on non-work nights. They always ask to run errands with me without hesitation over the lack of a fun factor.
I still parent with fear. I fear I may have scarred them by being so ill in their early childhood. I fear they will wind up in therapy as young adults discussing how their mother was not present, or ill, or unable to stay out of the hospital. I fear they will inherit my disease one day and not know peace as adults. I fear that their amazing, funny, intelligent, and talented brains will turn and betray them at some point too.
The question then becomes: How do I resolve all these feelings internally? How do I resolve my guilt over my absence in early childhood with my fears for their future and just needing to love and enjoy them one day at a time? By doing just that. Loving and enjoying them one day at a time. By being at every event and birthday party I can manage. By cheering them from the sidelines at their baseball or football games. By sitting down and doing homework as many nights of the week as I am home. By being present and active in their school. By relaxing and snuggling on the couch for the 10th viewing of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs in a row. By memorizing as many characters in the Marvel Universe as I can to share in their interests. In placing one foot in front of the other and marching forward as their mother, we hold onto that future which is so very bright, shiny and full of possibilities. I can let go of the fear.