Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Karen Morash’s essay, Dear Virginia. We asked readers to tell us about a time when it was impossible to separate being a mom from some other aspect of their life. Below is Margaret Feike’s response.
Certain Rules and Restrictions May Apply
By Margaret Feike
Other desires in my life have waxed and waned over time, but as far as motherhood was concerned, my preference never wavered. I always knew I wanted children, knew I wanted several, and knew that I would be actively, and also avidly, involved in their upbringing.
What I never anticipated was that my desire might not be unconditional; that, if the fine print were to be examined, I might note an exception or two, similar to the rapidly voiced caveats following pitches for cell phone promotions and other contractual agreements. Lines like: “Certain rules and restrictions may apply.”
An example of something constituting a restriction of my desire to be a mother might have been the death of the children’s father.
Three weeks before the birth of our fourth child, my husband went to bed and did not wake up. More than any other single event, his death changed my perspective about being a mother simply because after that, I was never allowed to forget it. Whether I wanted to or not.
Our three oldest were ten, nine, and two. Then there was the daughter he did not live to see. Privately I referred to her as The Blessing. As in “How terrible that your husband died but you must be so grateful for this blessing God gave you.”
I heard variations on that statement all the time after he died.
Unfortunately, just the opposite was true. Nothing about what had happened to us could be considered a blessing.
Our infant daughter represented everything that horrified and repelled me about my new life as a single parent, starting with the nightmare of having a baby without her father. Then there was my instantly restricted life, reined in as it was by a newborn and a toddler; the fact that I had to find a job because of an inadequate life insurance policy; the inability to mourn my husband or deal with my own grief; and the fear of a terrifyingly unknowable future.
The bitter irony of it all was that I’d realized my lifelong dream of becoming a mother, and now here I was, a single mother of four. Repeated enough times, it almost sounded dirty.
Guilt and grief, resentment and confusion, often dominated my parenting. Motherhood had once been something that had been integrated into the whole of me, merged holistically with all my other roles. When Keith died, that part of me was brutally ripped out, as if I’d been hastily and crudely operated upon against my will, then reattached to the exterior of my body in a hideously obvious place, like my forehead. For years, I felt deformed.
I had to learn how to be a different kind of mother. I had to learn how to be a different kind of person. I buried my husband nearly two decades ago, but I only recently removed from life support the part of me that died with him.
Margaret Feike is a mother of four and a grandmother of one. She lives and writes in central Ohio, with the two youngest of her four children. Her work has appeared in Salon, Ladies Home Journal, Modern Loss, and Chicken Soup for the Soul.