This is one, from a series of several non-fiction happenings in my life, I will be sharing. Each story reinforces the universal cosmic notion of Six Degrees of Separation & Karma. It's my hope you, as the reader, will relate with my experiences as well as reflect upon your own beliefs on our connectedness as human beings.
So school is beginning, right moms? From nursery school through college, moms journey through relationships and experiences that help us gain a better understanding of ourselves and provide insight to navigate our trek through motherhood.
Often, we hear clichés such as "what comes around goes around" and the idea of Six degrees of separation: the theory that all living things in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. Both these expressions became truisms in my life after I met another mom (who has since moved away) when our kids attended the same nursery school. I learned a few powerful lessons I'm compelled to share.
When my husband and I purchased our new home in preparation of raising our family, we both agreed to live outside of our comfort zone-- away from the towns we grew up in-- but not so far that we couldn't drive a few hours to visit close relatives and friends. Since we wanted to start a family, we ventured to an area touted with great schools and an active children's community. We didn't realize how challenging it would be to have absolutely no one we knew close by once we had our kids, only 18 months apart in age.
We were blessed with two extremely active boys who literally learned to run a few days after learning to walk. And as many of you may guess, they often went in different directions, with completely opposite personalities. Hence, I placed them in different nursery schools: While our older son enjoyed a Co-op nursery school where parents-- including myself--helped out, we placed our younger son in a nursery school centered around the Jewish faith. Even though we are Catholic, I felt the school's program and philosophy was the best fit for our son's high activity level. It was also a wonderful opportunity for all of us to learn more about another culture as they celebrated the rituals of Shabbat with prayers, lighting of candles, and --the toddlers favorite--offerings of challah bread and grape juice each Friday. We met both Catholic families who shared our outlook as well as Jewish families who welcomed us.
Both our sons, Derek and Dylan, were very happy, and I was acclimating to motherhood. I had struggled with my new mom status after our first son was born. In short, I built my career most of my life and never imagined leaving it to become a mom. But, my children needed me, and I loved them so much and felt no one else would raise them as I would.
I'm unsure if my struggles included some postpartum depression as I was never diagnosed for it. I only knew that I was experiencing feelings of isolation. This prompted me to seek therapy about 8 months after our first son was born. I needed to connect with someone who understood me and could help me get back on track. My husband was supportive but didn't feel as I did, which was lost: Lost in my neighborhood or lack thereof since most of the parents with small kids had nannies, lost in my stay at home status, wondering if I was a "good" mom, lost in me and what I wanted to accomplish as a woman, as a person.
I vividly recall pushing my stroller into the home office of the therapist I made an appointment with for the first time. She seemed to understand me. She was a career-driven woman as well and had accomplished children who also were new parents. Yet, after a few sessions, I have to regrettably admit, I didn't connect with her. She was often late to our sessions which annoyed me considering I had my baby on board, a baby I breastfed, dressed and cleaned before arriving--not to mention lugging everything including a 33lb Graco stroller in and out of the car and up her driveway. She also focused a good amount of time on completing my insurance forms to make sure she got paid (yes, we all want to get paid, but c'mon, do this after our session).
Anyway, within a few weeks, I had to discuss a major issue in my life involving one of my longest, dearest and closest friends. She was going through a terrible time in her life, and it was devastating. She began driving over to my home several times a week. Naturally, I was caring for my son who often didn't sleep, which, of course, meant I too was sleep deprived. I didn't know how to console her, and I was becoming overwhelmed in trying to help. I have to emphasize my friend's issue didn't involve substance abuse of any sort, which is why, when the therapist advised me to "cut-her out of your life," I couldn't believe it. I reminded her this woman was a lifelong friend who had helped me many times, and we've been there for each other...always. The therapist scolded, "You have a new baby, a new life...she's causing too much stress for you...you need to cut it off... see if she gets the help she needs." I understood the importance of taking care of my son. Still, I didn't think I had to abandon my friend completely.
After much contemplation, I did drop her--the therapist, that is! I was able to help my friend get the support she needed, and I devoted myself to my son and organizing our lives better. I also found joy in some of our simple strolls, his milestones... and writing. Unfortunately, a few months later, our savings were depleted and I had to return to work. Surprisingly, soon after starting my career again, I became pregnant. After the birth of our second son, I left my career, became a full-time mom and began a new career path in writing and tutoring, as well as venturing into educational advocacy work. And, I found a counselor who I admired, one who I felt understood me and could help me back on track.
So, as my sons grew into their nursery schools, each loving his friends and teachers, I became more confident in trusting my "mother's instinct" in making life choices for our family. During one of my younger son's, Dylan's play-dates, a mom and I chatted while our kids ran around. We had a quick play-date at her palatial house before one of my son's doctor's appointment, so I had them back over to our home. As the mom and I talked, she shared her son's favorite person in the class was Dylan and that her son didn't connect with anyone else. I told her not to worry as some kids, and moms, need time to warm up to others.
As our kids raced around, climbing in and out of a cardboard box (of course, a playroom of toys, and Dylan chose an empty box as his conquest) we discussed all the different issues we faced as parents. She explained some of her philosophy, especially the importance of having alone time with our husbands. I was somewhat envious that she and her husband often left their kids with her parents and went away on the weekends to a second residence, an apartment in NYC her parents owned. I was also a little embarrassed to admit I couldn't remember the last time my husband and I went out alone.
Then she asked if I cleaned my home. "Ummm, yup, I do." She couldn't imagine "living without" a cleaning lady: "She even does my laundry." I recall giggling replying, "There's no way I'd let anyone do our laundry--unless it was dire circumstances." She told me I needed to change my thinking... and in some ways, she was probably right. I had--and still do--some old fashioned ideas about cooking and cleaning. Still, the main reason I do these tasks is to show love to my family. I have since cooked with my kids who now prepare occasional meals, and they help with the cleaning. Next, she advised me to install a surveillance camera outside so I didn't have to leave the house all the time to watch my kids when they were playing. That was funny to me as well because I couldn't imagine sending my toddlers out to play alone... especially since we don't have a fence... Besides they like me to play with them, well...sometimes.
Once we discussed our careers, I explained I took a hiatus from mine and was working to build something else. She explained she studied psychology and would be working with her mom who happened to be an "amazing" psychologist. As she described where her mom's office was, I got that strange feeling in my gut: "Was her mom the psychologist I saw?" I thought, "Lord, I hope not." I'm bad at pretense, so I just smiled and nodded before turning away, worried she might sense my familiarity once she mentioned her mom's name, my former psychologist!
Before leaving the mom paused, "There's one question (Oh, geez, I hope she doesn't ask me why I stopped seeing her mom) I've been meaning to ask you....(long pause).. "Why is Dylan always so happy?"
I smiled, answering in relief: "he just is." I felt joyful after she left, recognizing my children are happy. So maybe I, in some way, I thought, "am contributing to enriching their lives? Maybe that's one way to measure my success--at this time in my life?" Obviously, kids go through stages just as parents do. But right now, my kids are cheerful. And that's wonderful!
Moving forward, I felt uneasy in the thought I might see my former psychologist at my son's nursery school, but realized I had to choose what was "right" for me. If that meant some moments of awkwardness, then so be it. It wasn't long before there was a holiday party and grandparents were invited. When I saw my former psychologist, who was sitting with her grandson at another table by themselves, I smiled and let them have their time together. Instead, I focused on my son who was dancing all day, extremely happy.
As the year progressed, we had many play dates with both our kids' friends and their moms and tons of birthday parties. At one party, I saw the mom/psychologist standing alone in the corner, looking sad and upset. I walked over to her and noticed she was crying. I asked if I could help. She explained her sister just delivered a baby with Down's Syndrome. She said her sister worked with these children in her profession, so she was accepting and feeling blessed to have the baby. I shared "how beautiful it is and how lucky this baby is to have a mom who has this experience to help provide a wonderful and full life." As the mom wept, she added she worried, "you know how everyone compares kids...and how her child won't measure up..." I understood, but reminded her that her sister may not feel this way. "And who knows," I explained," your sister may help this child soar to unimaginable heights." Her sister appeared to be evolved beyond most people, myself included. Ultimately, I did my best to comfort her.
The next day at school during drop-off, the mom stopped me, "Thank you so much for everything you did for me yesterday. I told my mom you were the kindest human being I've ever met. I mean, no one has ever been that kind to me in my entire life." I hugged her, and said I was just being myself and doing what any caring person would do.
On the ride home, I felt grateful she shared her appreciation with me. I also felt sad for her that, on some level, both she and her mom didn't understand the meaning of friendship. The caring attention I gave to her, as an acquaintance, is the same consideration I gave to my best friend in getting the help she needed several years earlier. Would my former psychologist have wanted me to turn my back on her daughter during her painful moment?
Moms (& everyone) need to ultimately realize the remedies psychologists and all doctors give their patients aren't always the best solutions for our issues; sometimes answers aren't found in textbooks; sometimes they are discovered in the depths of our heart.