And the other option was that I resembled my father – an idea that wasn’t terrifying but simply so, so foreign. My father was, and still is, an addict and alcoholic. He was an extreme introvert who kept his feelings so deeply hidden they only appeared in the occasional explosive rage that felt inexplicable but also somewhat welcome. My father was silent but also a genius, a thoughtful artistic man who cared for beautiful things in a way my mother did not.
It didn’t matter. For all my life, I was told I was just like my mother. At least, I was told that by my mother.
In my adolescence I rejected deeply the thought that I resembled anyone I was related to and spent quite a bit of time crafting a persona that was as distinct from my family as I could make it. It took some years and some therapy to begin finding a middle ground.
And now, I can concede that I am like my mother: the same large, dark brown eyes; the same penchant for big words; the same unmistakable attraction to alcoholics.
And I am like my father as well. The same quiet thoughtfulness, the same auburn hair, the same cynical sense of humor, the same appreciation for Viennese waltzes.
It figures that just as soon as I became comfortable with this space that things would go and change on me.
Over the last year and a half, my mother has had two hip replacements, a knee surgery and an extensive back surgery. The back surgery was the most recent, and it happened in May, following epidural shots that had not eased the pain. My mom has had pretty extensive osteoarthritis in all of her joints for a long time, and I guess the shit kind of hit the fan. After the second hip replacement, she retired from her post retirement job (ie: she couldn’t handle being retired the first time so she got another job and just retired from it) and became increasingly immobile with pain first, then surgical recovery. She has only barely had time to recover from one procedure before having the next.
Consequently, she has been on narcotic pain pills for well over a year. I don’t know the entire scope of what she has taken or when or how, but I do know there was an incident where she ran out of a prescription a month early because she had not been keeping good track of when she was taking various medications, and that I have seen her turn into a drastically different person than I’ve ever known.
Conversely, my father, who spent the bulk of his life fighting additions to both alcohol and pain medications (he was a pharmacist until losing his license, meaning his drug of choice was generally injectible morphine) but has been sober for the last 4 years, has also become virtually unrecognizable – but in the most wonderful ways. My dad has gone from hardly speaking to initiating phone calls, from shying away from physical contact to hugging me on the regular, from not offering any opinion to being a legitimate support to me when things have come up. The man who I assumed was terrified of me (or just not very interested) has become this fun, funny, enjoyable, loving father.
And the mother I was told I so closely resemble has become moody, irritable, angry, confused, negative, and out of sorts.
I don’t know these people. But I want to know this dad, and I don’t want to know this mom. Add all of this to the fact that dealing with addiction in my father is something I feel very accustomed to; and while you’d think that might prepare me to face it with the other parent . . .its not quite turning out that way.
What does all this mean when it comes to babies?
There is the here and now: we have shared our planning and preparation with a few close friends and with La’s mom who is *amazing* (and who my mom has also developed a weird jealousy/competition for/with) and while I considered sharing some information last week at Thanksgiving, I couldn’t bring myself to tell my mom. Honestly, I didn’t think she would care, or her response would just be . . .lacking? inconsiderate? I’m not sure, but her responses to my good news have generally been less than awesome AND she has gotten weirdly controlling. I just didn’t want to risk it. But it broke my heart to not share with her – and particularly, to not share because I don’t TRUST her.
In the future . . .well, there is the increasing fear of my parents mortality in general (my dad also has an unknown disease that is similar is many ways to MS and has been struggling to get around although, thank god, not with pain or the other side effects my mom has seen) and the reality that because my parents were 33 when I was born and I will be at least 32 when our first child is born, my parents are not super likely to be the same kind of accessible grandparents that I had, or that La’s mom will be (she is 10 years younger than my folks.) There are the clear memories I have of my maternal grandmother who was similarly bitter and negative because she had experienced a stroke that left her paralyzed on the right side and wheelchair ridden for the last 25 years of her life, and my fear that this is the kind of grandmother my mom will be. There is the real fear of having to tell my mom she cannot be alone with my children if her addiction to pain pills persists. It all comes down to the fear that my children won’t know my mother – either because she will die, she will be so completely unlike herself, or she will be unable to see them because of addiction.
10 years ago, I may have been able to guess a situation like this would be in my future, but I would have expected to be saying all of this about my father. I am glad that my father has become the kind of man I want my kids to be around, that while he is losing some mobility, he seems to be doing very well in so many other ways. I didn’t know either of my grandfathers (one died when my father was a child, the other just a year after I was born) and I feel grateful that it looks like that may not be the case for the children I have.
In some ways, though, its even more heartbreaking this way. I haven’t had the years of preparing to get used to the idea of my mom being absent in some way or another. And while things can (and hopefully will) change, what I’m dealing with right now is more about the fear than the reality. And the fear is so much more palpable now that we are so close to the point of having a child.
Moments like these, I wish I was less analytical, that we could just stop being careful and wake up pregnant, so I could save all the complicated things for when a baby was born and not obsess about them before I’m even pregnant.