parenting, special needs

If you don’t play…An Isolating Start to Motherhood

My passage into motherhood was not at all what I expected when I was expecting. Sometime in my son’s early years, I don’t remember exactly when, I had a fleeting thought that took hold: “If you don’t play, you can’t lose.”

The truth is, after Isaac was born, I was terrified I was going to fail at this entire phase of life. I didn’t know what to do with this little child I’d helped God bring into the world. He was tiny and precious, and I held him, and I loved him. But I truly didn’t know what to do with him. He was inexplicably small, didn’t eat as well as the doctors wanted, and slept a little too much. He wasn’t diagnosed with failure to thrive, but he wasn’t thriving either. The milestones were delayed, or worse, ambiguous. From his first breath, Isaac followed his own timeline, his own script.

Motherhood and control

At some point, all parents experience the feeling that they are “losing control” of their kids, definitely in their teen years if not before. I never felt like I was losing control of Isaac because I never felt like I was in control of him to begin with. Not for one minute. I’ve since accepted it as a spiritual truth–that we’re not in control of our children–but it still felt like a devastating loss.

For most of my life, I had excelled at everything I’d tried. Music came easily. Academics were fun. I could write, speak to crowds of people, entertain. I could hold my own in most sports. (Except golf, which I tried once and hated because I wasn’t any good at it.) And maybe that’s it. I had the “golf response” to being a mom. I went into it thinking I would be a natural and quickly learned that I was not. Something in me wanted out–not of motherhood, per se, but of the expectations surrounding motherhood that I already felt I could never live up to. If you don’t play, I thought, you can’t lose.

To be clear, I never neglected my child or my responsibilities as his mom. He was always fed, held, clothed, and loved. I worried over him immensely, sought after therapies and medical interventions, and followed through. When it came time for school, I was deeply invested in finding the right place (on the first go-round, the second go-round, and the third). And when his sister arrived, I gave the same love and devotion to her.

An isolated motherhood

“Not playing” wasn’t “not being a good mom to my kids.” It was more of a stepping back from the world around me, bracing against the shared experience of motherhood, because my experience didn’t seem the same as others. “Not playing” was a subtle way of radiating out the isolation I felt within. In practical terms, it was giving myself a pass on anything that wasn’t urgent. Not answering calls, or texts, or invitations. Not making an effort to connect. It was being intentionally noncommittal, uninvolved, disengaged, because engagement felt both too painful and too risky.

You know when good moms remind each other that the world will not stop if we give ourselves a break now and then? This was the opposite of that. It was choosing to walk away from the revolving world.

What I missed

I could argue that some of what I set down is best left behind. The early childhood comparisons, the measuring-up side of mom culture, the manufactured have-tos of life in general. And while that’s true, it’s also true that living in community and sharing our struggles–even failures–with others is good and healthy, not only for us but ultimately for building communities that are more compassionate and understanding, that embrace people in crisis and name perfection as the false idol that it is.

Looking back, “not playing” was both an acknowledgement that I couldn’t achieve perfection, and ironically, an admission that the impossible standard was, in fact, my goal. Finally, I can say, no more. Whatever I had hoped to avoid in grief and heartache was unavoidable anyway. The true risk, I suppose, was feeling exposed, allowing others to see me through a time of deep emotional turmoil and grief. What I really had to lose was the idol of the life I expected, and I needed to lose it.

A new day

After many years of “not playing,” another thought finally dawned on me: “If you don’t play, you can’t win.” Fortunately, I’m competitive, so the thought intrigued me. “Not playing” was supposed to be playing it safe, but at what cost?

I didn’t want to lose. That’s where I started. But I’ve tired of the apathy and depression of “not playing.” I don’t want to reside there any longer, for my sake or the sake of my family. As my children have gotten older, it’s become clear that they need me to be engaged, both as a model for how to live and move in the world and as their mom, the family social planner, to be open to new friendships and experiences, so that I don’t inadvertently hinder their experience.

I don’t necessarily regret time passed. There was some wisdom in the shelter I created, and I learned from living in that space. But I am ready now to move on. If you don’t play, you can’t win.

Gray Colored Glasses

This blog, writing about life and the perspective I’ve gained over the past ten years, is me saying, I’m here to play. It is putting myself out there, knowing that I will make mistakes. I might even fail altogether. It is a real possibility that day to day life will swallow me whole, that I will go for months at a time without publishing a post and ultimately concede that I can’t do this. Let’s just acknowledge that up front. 

But my intention is to engage, to offer something of myself and my experience, honest reflections on life and beauty and how my children have changed the way I see the world. If my words help to build more compassion and understanding, even on a small scale, that will be winning. 

The name Gray Colored Glasses came to me eight or nine years ago on the quiet patio of a restaurant in our corner of Houston. It came in the wind, a critique of glib beauty and a concrete reference to my little boy and his gray Miraflex glasses. It stayed with me, even when I didn’t know what it would be. Here it is. Here I am. Playing.