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Two ideals of myself met themselves on the highway during a downpour with no one else around to see, and that was kind of the point. The two of us seldom meet: the loving, selfless mother and the 21st century Queen of Generation Me. I don’t really like for anyone else to know the latter exists, so the lack of acquaintance between these two versions of me is by design. As I drove away and the distance between us grew, a brief rising ball of tears caught in my throat, but nothing followed. It would remain that way, no hysterics, no crying. The cold, calculating version won out—again.
I left two little boys for a month away from their mother, away from me, and drove away with no sobs.
I didn’t post on Facebook about them being gone this time. I didn’t want to lie. The trouble is I enjoy the break, and saying, “Oh, I can’t stand to leave them” is so fake that . . . well, I just left it out this time. We cold-hearted mothers aren’t supposed to say this aloud. We live in the midst of the easiest, most affluent, and I argue, the most selfish culture that has ever existed, but we never say what we really think when our children go away: “Thank you, Lord, for the peace and quiet.” Well, we don’t say it on Facebook, but we say it to each other in hushed whispers and while drinking one too many margaritas.
In some strange, twisted paradox, I cannot live without my children because I live vicariously through them. I treat them as experiments. If I say and do this, I tell myself, then my children will be well-adjusted geniuses and that makes me a genius. If I love them unconditionally, they will rise above the sin of the world, and I will be worthy of unconditional love. If I . . . they will. . . and I will finally (fill in the blank). It is the ultimate in selfish control. My heart is twisted, and when I say, “Oh, I love my children,” I assume that burns away the misplaced intentions and the ulterior motives. I assume the word “love” always means the Thing itself instead of a cover for my own desires. Narcissists and cheaters say they really love. That doesn’t make it true. I’ve been confusing love with controlling the outcome for a while now; therefore, as of late I seldom use the word.
The alternative to constantly spewing how much I miss and adore them is to be selfish and not a good mom, the worst insult. If I say I enjoy my time alone and don’t fawn over my child’s departure to Grandma’s for the week, African missions, etc., then I must be a wretch. Well, it may be true, I am in fact a huge jerk, but I’m not sure that this is an either-or choice. One can be a mother who loves and a scoundrel all at once. This is a dance that I know.
I propose that I love my children, but I can live without them. I also propose that I miss them, but minutes, no, it’s actually hours that go by before I remember that I do. I propose that when they leave, I don’t feel the need to tell anyone I miss them. The relief at their departure and the hole left by their absence floats through my mind, cuts my heart, and wears on my body. My missing them mingles with something unholy, and that mixture torments me more than them being gone.
Here is the thing, the real thing that no one is supposed to say out loud: How many times over drinks and dinner have you heard a mom rant and complain about her kids and spouse only for that same person to post how much they adore them a few hours later? I would be a fool to believe I am any different. See, this is what keeps me up at night. Which version do we believe? Who am I, really? And, if I am one version or the other, is either really good?
And so, I am back to the two versions of myself. I love my boys. I talk to them, I read to them, and I make sacrifices on their behalf that they will never understand, but I simply cannot say the sun rises and sets with them. Maybe other mothers love more than me. . . well, I know that most of them do. I’m just not that great of a person. But, the truth is I’m not sure all the gushing and the “I will love them till their perfect” is the way to go either, and finally, I wonder: who else is out there like me? I have my suspicions that we are legion.