Mom Work

Yesterday my 2-year-old told me, “You don’t go to work. You just my mom.”

Today my job is to sit on my couch and talk on the phone. I absolutely hate talking on the phone. I’d much rather do it face to face. I can never seem to judge how long of a silence to leave while on the phone before checking to see if the other person is still there or did I miss something that was said. Is she waiting for me to respond? So I start to say something at the exact moment the other person magically comes back to life. Then she thinks what I have to say is important and insists that I go first even though I only wanted to know she was still there and not waiting on me for anything so I panic and make up a ridiculous question that further detours the information I was waiting on in the first place.

Today I’m doing all of this while stress-eating mini marshmallows and chugging blueberry lemonade seltzer which is giving me unbelievable gas that I try not to belch into the iPhone that’s starting to make my cheek hot and my shoulder ache. My bladder is currently under attack from a squad of tiny octopus that beat and dig at it before turning into an itzy-bitzy alligator who barrel roles over and over inside of me; churning up more marshmallow and seltzer gas.

All of these tiny, water-dwelling creatures are actually, somehow, a tiny little parasite of a person. I know she doesn’t mean to cause me discomfort. She’s reacting to my stress. And all the sugar I’m forcing upon her. This poor, squished up little baby with her poor squished up little limbs. I feel her kicks and find it hard to imagine the feet that are inflicting them. Two bony, misshapen feet.

“Your baby has clubbed feet,” Dr. Takoudes told me over the phone when I was 26 weeks pregnant. She wasn’t in her Falmouth office that day but was able to read the ultrasound in real-time from Boston. If you’ve ever had an ultrasound you know that they ask you to wait in the waiting room after the imaging. “So the doctor can make sure we have all the right images.” They tell you. But really, it’s so the doctor can phone in a diagnosis when those images don’t come out right. When you’re baby isn’t going to come out right.

“She’s a beautiful baby,” Dr. Takoudes assured me. “This is not a life-long issue. People born with clubbed feet go on to walk and run and play sports. Sometimes they don’t even need surgery if it’s mild.” Surgery? That’s when I broke down and started crying into Dr. Takoudes’ ear while sitting at her Falmouth desk, staring at her empty chair.

Since that day in January I’ve spent so much time on the phone, and the computer. Researching clubbed-foot, talking to doctors, making appointments, dealing with prior authorizations. That’s what I’m doing today. Right now. One the phone. I’m trying to get an ultrasound and consultation with Children’s Hospital in Boston approved with a prior authorization. It’s not working.

Before I left Dr. Takoudes’ empty office in January she told me, “You want Children’s. They’re the best. I’ll set something up for you.” When I double checked with my midwife she said “Definitely go with Children’s, they’re the best.” The director of the Family Center where I reached out for support told me that after talking to the former head of Early Intervention she suggests bringing the baby to Children’s. When I mentioned it to a friend she replied with 47 forwarded emails from people she’d reached out to who all recommended we go to Children’s. Now, at T minus 48 hours until the appointment I’m being told the denial of my prior authorization can be challenged but the hearing date won’t be for another month.

As I call each of the providers who recommended Children’s I can hear at first the determination in each woman’s voice. “Don’t worry. Let me call. I’ll figure it out.” And the resignation when they call back to tell me it’s not going to happen. “Mass General Hospital is a great hospital,” they tell me. It’s a revision of their original statements about how MGH doesn’t have a pediatric orthopedic department and how I really want to go to the best which is Children’s. They all apologize to me despite their efforts. It’s not their faults. They wanted the best for my baby. They tried their hardest. But there is a cheaper option for my state-supplemented medical insurance so that’s who we get. “It’s kind of nice,” the nurse at the OBGYN tells me, “because they’re right off the highway so you don’t have to drive in the city!” I thank each woman for her efforts and hang up to another, final apology from each one.

Before I can finish my thanks and acceptance of apologies from my primary care provider’s office I hear a DING in my ear indicating I’ve missed another call and have a new voicemail. “You have an appointment with Dr. Albright at MGH on March 27th.” The voice tells me. I scroll past all the office visits and non-stress-tests in my paper day-planner until I get to March 27th. I see the number 37 written over the week. I’ll be 37 weeks pregnant before they see me at MGH? I could go into labor just getting there!

On the phone with Nick I start crying when he tells me “Look, either way we’re having a baby. It’s awesome and it’s probably the last time you’ll be pregnant so try to enjoy it.” I log back into the timed-out medical schedule website to distract myself from the tears and notice something odd. An appointment for Tuesday, February 27th. “Shit!” I yell into Nick’s ear. “Either they gave me the wrong date or I just heard it wrong because my ears are wringing from being on the phone all day. It’s not March 27th, it’s February 27th; as in this Tuesday!”

The nervous excitement starts up the little octopus army all over again as I realize we don’t have child care for our daughter on Tuesdays, my mother-in-law will be away, and Nick starts to swear about how they need to realize we live on an island and can’t just jump-to for an appointment. “Can you even get a reservation for the car for Tuesday?”

“I have to go.” I tell him. “I have to make some more calls.”


A Fundamental Change

I announced my first pregnancy to my husband with my hands behind my back. We’d been engaged for five days and my ring was still at the jewelers getting sized. My naked fingers gripped identical long, slender objects. One in each hand. I instructed Nick to pick a hand. He finished wrapping his sandwich to bring to work for lunch with him and looked at me half annoyed by my games at 7am. He chose my left hand but I swung both around so he could see the identical positive pregnancy tests. They both had the words PREGNANT across the result screen in big letters although I was holding one upside down. There was a second where I could see him trying to register the information I’d just tossed in his face and then tears and a hug that lasted the rest of the morning.

I announced my second pregnancy to my husband with a bright yellow t-shirt I put on our 15-month-old. The words ONLY CHILD were crossed out and underneath were the words BIG SISTER. My husband looked at, and even commented on, the t-shirt for almost an hour before the message sank into his sleep deprived brain and he scooped us all up in one of his amazing hugs.

I announced my first miscarriage to my husband via text message while he was 40 feet in the air working with live electrical wires. “There’s no baby. They said it stopped developing and I’m going to miscarry.” I was mad that he wasn’t with me when I found out. That he had let his new job get in the way of our family; of me. I was mad that the child we’d been trying for for 6 months was already dead. My husband did not call me back right away. He told me later he had to find somewhere to compose himself away from his crew before he could talk. He was mad that I had told him in a text. He was mad that our baby was dead. We were both mad for the next 29 weeks it took for my body to be ready to try again.

I announced my third pregnancy to my husband with a printed out picture of a hamburger bun I placed in the oven. He got home before me and I told him to check the oven for me. I didn’t have a real bun to put in the oven because I figured the test would be negative. Again. I hadn’t prepared for this one. I’d resolved to the fact that my body didn’t work the way it should.

I announced my second miscarriage to my husband three days after the picture of the hamburger bun. “The doctor says it’s a good thing.” I told him. “It means my body can still get pregnant.” I faked the optimism as much as I could for him. He’d gotten his hopes up. He’d been happy for three days. I had been cautious. He needed the hope and our relationship needed the hope even as I assured myself we’d never have another baby.

I announced my fourth pregnancy to my husband three days after I took the test. It was one of those cheapo tests that gives you two lines if you’re pregnant and only one if you’re not. I didn’t want to waste yet another one of the expensive tests that report the words PREGNANT or NOT PREGNANT. For three days I was a complete bitch, mopey and irritable until he finally mustered the courage to ask me what was wrong. I thought of the line on that test that was far too faint to mean anything good and I stabbed him with my words so he could hurt as much as I did; I said, “We’re going to have another miscarriage.” He just looked at me without saying anything. He didn’t look upset or mad this time, but I was sobbing. After 18 months of trying, five rounds of a fertility drug that was turning me into a psychopath, and two miscarriages I had nothing left in me but hate and sadness and a desire to quit. “I’m not doing this anymore.” I told him. “I can’t do another round of those pills and I can’t do another miscarriage. I just can’t.” He gave me one of those hugs and told me it was ok.

Even 22 weeks into this pregnancy I haven’t retaken the test on one of the expensive pee-sticks. I probably should at this point. The tests from my daughter sit in her baby box as if she’d want my old pee when she’s older. The other two sit in a cigar box I painted with baby birds flying away from the rest of their family who sit together on a tree. I saved the original, barely-there positive test from this fourth pregnancy, but even as this little girl kicks me from inside while I write this it is difficult to be certain of anything anymore.

Where Has Our Village Gone?

While skimming the latest gossip off one of my town’s Facebook groups I came across a post by a woman who described her evening of attempting to photograph birds at a local, public beach. She described the stillness of her perch and how quite she needed to be so the birds wouldn’t be afraid to approach where she sat. Suddenly, she says, a family shows up and stops a little bit away from her. Not close enough to disturb the birds. She can tell they’re there for family photos. There’s a mother, a father, two kids and a light screen. The mother, this woman telling the story says, immediately loses it on the kids yelling for “Just one hour!” Completely disrupting this woman’s own photo shoot she’s worked so hard to set up with the birds.

I get it. It’s really annoying. There is absolutely no such thing as a quiet piece of space on our island in August. I complain about it all the time. I think it sucks that this woman’s work was interrupted. I started reading the comments people had added to her post. One after another they shamed the mother for yelling at her kids or for making a racket at all. How dare she disturb the peace of this beautiful place!

Well, I had my own little melt down at my house. Phone in hand. I wanted to rant and rave and defend this mother but all I could do in the moment was leave a snarky little comment about the difficulties of motherhood and not mom-shaming. In retrospect I could have been nicer and less sarcastic.

It really stuck with me though. This story. It perfectly illustrates the way I’ve felt over the last two years. It makes me ask: Where is our village? You know, that village that it supposedly takes to raise a child. Never mind two. Where is the support and understanding? The neighborly helping hand?
I’ve only been doing the mom thing for a little over two years and I’ve already had a few public meltdowns. They’re not something I’m proud of. I don’t set out for the day planning on screaming “Don’t you dare!” as my toddler launches a jar of spaghetti sauce onto the Stop & Shop floor. It’s just something that happens when you don’t have a village.

Moms need a break.

Last summer I was walking my dog down the narrow sidewalk on my street and pushing my kid in her stroller that veers left so I have to hold on extra tight so it doesn’t go off the curb into traffic. My dog was a 90lb, very energetic hound. I loved her very much. She was my first baby and I’d had her for seven years. I swore I’d never get rid of her, but we had already started searching for her new home which left me with a constant feeling of sadness and dread. My daughter had decided to get all her teeth in the span of a month so we hadn’t been sleeping very well. My husband was away for a 9-week work training thing, it was 90 degrees and I was due for a melt down.

I saw some of my neighbors walking their dog ahead on the sidewalk so we crossed over to the other side where there was no sidewalk, but it would keep our dogs from meeting. My dog did not like meeting other dogs while on a leash. The other family was walking much slower so as we overtook them, on the opposite side of the road, my dog decided to lunge out into the street just as a car came speeding down the road, almost pulling me and the stroller with my then one-year-old into the line of the car with her. I managed to whip her back towards me with her leash just in time and proceeded to absolutely lose my freaking s***. Completely. Utterly. No s*** was left. It was all lost. All over the street. In front of the other family with their dog. In front of the neighbors whoes lawn I was now standing on. In front of the passing cars. I screamed holy hell at my dog who cowered on the ground while my daughter shrieked in terror. When I was done yelling we walked home while I cried.

I was embarrassed and ashamed. I worried someone would call animal control on me or DCF. I hid in my house with my daughter and my dog and just howled. All I could see when I closed my eyes where the faces of my neighbors just looking at me. They looked at my like I was a crazy person. Like I was unstable. I felt like I had no right having a dog or a kid to take care of.

A year later I can think of how different it would have been if one of those neighbors had come up to me and asked me if I was alright. Would I like them to walk my dog back while I pushed the stroller.

How different would I have felt if after witnessing me at one of my lowest points someone had said, “It’s okay. I’ve been there.” I swear to you I would have hugged that person and cried into their shoulder before picking myself up and going on to be the best mom I could be for the rest of that night. I would have felt okay about not feeling okay. My mood would have lightened. I would still be embarrassed but I wouldn’t feel ashamed. I wouldn’t feel alone.

It is time for us to bring back the village. Moms need a break. Dads need a break. We all need to give each other a break. It’s scary inserting yourself into someone else’s business. And maybe it will backfire and just get you an ear full of “Mind your own business.” But that person will know, deep down, that she isn’t alone. Or maybe she will sob in your arms for a minute before apologizing and walking off ready to deal with the next thing life throws at her. Maybe she will feel like she is part of a community that cares about it’s people.


People get wiser with age. Except me. I get dumber. I used to consider myself a smart person. I graduated high school early and went straight to college a week later. Then I graduated college early and got into graduate school. I crammed a three year graduate program into two and a half years and completed my dual masters program, with honors, by the age of 25. Now, when my husband enthusiastically asks “who’s that” while nodding towards the TV I answer “It’s Snuffy!” before realizing he was talking to our two-year-old daughter. I feel embarrassed because that’s one of the only right answers I’ve had all day.

Two year old tantrums in the grocery store and I cooked the wrong kind of macaroni and cheese for lunch. Again. When I give her a choice between the blue dress and the pink jumper her answer is NO! I burn the quiche and leave out a whole cup of flour from the chocolate chip cookies that lay steaming in a swampy puddle on the tray. I finish vacuuming the living room and find a whole box of crackers dissected on the kitchen tiles. Every accomplishment is shadowed by another disaster. My husband comes home to dishes stacked on the counter and a naked, screaming toddler. He always tell me how good a job I’m doing.


There is no escape. No way out. I try to quietly ease my body off the sofa, heart pounding, eyes sharp with fear. My breath sounds like a thundering herd of beasts stampeding away from a predator. I try to stop my breath all together, but it’s no use, my will for life betrays me and I let out a sharp, exhalation. Was I detected? No. My captor has not shifted gaze. Still transfixed on the images and shrill sounds coming from the television. My weight comes to rest completely on my sore feet. I’m up. I’m yet unseen. I edge quietly towards the kitchen. Not daring to look back. Fearful of what will happen if my movements are detected. I turn the corner into the dark kitchen and feel the cool linoleum under my toes. A wave relief flows through my core and I start my route towards the bathroom, but as I reach for the doorknob I hear it behind me. A scuddling and then a high pitched cry! “Mommy!” I’ve been detected. Yet another trip to the bathroom where I’ll be joined by my toddler.


I’ve been neglecting my blog in pursuit of another creative outlet lately. I hope to share it in the near future. I promise to come back. Here is just a quick free-write I did during a writing group. It speaks to the theme of this blog but is in no way a finished piece. The prompt was butterflies. 


We’ve watched the Elmo about butterflies about 30 times now. I’m starting to memorize it. But it’s the easiest to pull up on the TV and quickest way to distract my monster, I mean toddler. I wanted to be a good mom. I wanted to tell my daughter, Now we’re going to wash the dishes. Pull up a chair and role up your sleeves. But instead I turn on Elmo and listen to Telly and Baby Bear try to catch the butterfly that’s swooping around Sesame Street. I turn on the faucet as quietly as possible and load the dishwasher quickly so Azealia, my monster, doesn’t hear and want to “help.” She loves to help! She loves to help so much that we’re almost out of dishes.

The first to go was the brand new butter dish I’d ordered from Amazon. I always thought that only rich people had butter dishes. The rest of us poor folk spread cold butter, strait from the refrigerator, onto bread that ripped under the force of the knife. So when Nick got his raise, I ordered the butter dish. It was only $11.95, but it made me feel rich. Then Azealia helped and it shattered on the ground a week after we got it.

Next was the plate that held the mac n’ cheese I was about to eat so that Azealia would see me eating mac n’ cheese, and herself decide to eat mac n’ cheese. A method learned from my monster’s nutritionist who helps her eat. Anyway, I was about to sit and eat this orange feast with my monster when she decided to “help” mom have some of her water bottle across the table, right onto my lunch and shatter the plate. Since then we’ve lost most other ceramic kitchen items to my child’s attempts to help. Now I turn on the Sesame Street about butterflies a little too loud, and the faucet on very quietly and half wash our plastic plates. Not the perfect mom.

Tomorrow Was my Second Child’s Due Date


Tomorrow, May 26, 2017, was my second child’s due date. I will never get to meet this baby but s/he will always be a part of me. This is the letter I wrote to my second child after an excruciating incomplete miscarriage. I’ve included this letter in a memorial box I painted of our family (pictured in the feature photo of this post). The design is one I saw online when looking for support and found comfort in it. I do not know the original artist. Inside the box is the pregnancy test I took in September and the following letter as they are my only tangible relics of this child. I’m sharing this letter as part of my healing and to lessen the isolation many feel when grieving someone no one else knows exists.


Dear Baby,

I knew the day before I took the test that I was finally pregnant with you. It felt like a long time that we’d been trying. So, when I got up to take the test at 3am I was so excited when the pregnancy pee stick read, pregnant. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I got out the bright-yellow t-shirt I’d bought your older sister months before. The words ONLY CHILD were crossed out and underneath it said BIG SISTER. I laid out the shirt with a new diaper and waited for Azealia to wake up. It was September 15th.

Azealia, you and me got up at 6am and went out to see Dad who was getting ready for work. He kissed us good morning and continued getting ready for work. Making his lunch, running to the bathroom, keeping your sister out of the kitchen cabinets, not noticing the bright-yellow t-shirt or the bright yellow sun beams coming from me. He’s a dad and sometimes dads need time to catch on so I put Azealia in her high chair and started to get her breakfast ready. Dad said, “that’s a nice shirt.” and mommy’s heart fluttered, but dad went back to his cereal. A minute later Dad was looking at the shirt again. Confused. “What does that mean? Like, Azealia doesn’t have a big sister. I don’t get it. If you were pregnant we wouldn’t know if it was a boy or girl.”

I tried, Baby. I tried so hard not to laugh at your dad, but I couldn’t help it. “Azealia IS the big sister.” I told him. “She’s no longer an only child because she has a younger sibling.” Daddy was so happy! He jumped up and gave us all a big hug! We were all so happy.

Later, after I brought your big sister to daycare, I started to feel the cramps. I thought it was because you were my second baby and you were going to stretch mommy’s stomach out faster. I wasn’t worried. I went to the hospital and did the blood work the doctor wanted because it was taking so long to make you. When the doctor called I told her the good news. “We had a positive test this morning!”

“Great!” she said. “Everything feels ok? No bleeding or cramping?”

“Some cramping this morning.” I told her and there was a pause that was just a second too long.

“Okay, I’m just going to have you go do one more blood test to check your levels in a couple days. Just to make sure everything is progressing alright.” She told me to call her if there were any more problems. I started to worry.

I called your dad and let him talk me down because that what he does. He told me not to worry and to enjoy being pregnant and to take care of myself and you. So I did. The cramps stopped. I started to get tired. Another week went by and I started to feel sick. The doctor kept making me go back for more blood tests every few days because my “levels” were low for your age, but I googled it and found out that levels are different for everyone. We were fine. When you were six weeks old in mommy’s belly we went for your fist picture. I couldn’t’ wait to see your little heart-beat. We didn’t get to do your sister’s first picture until about nine weeks and I thought I’d lose my mind waiting.

I had to go alone because Daddy’s new job wouldn’t let him take a day off yet. I tried not to look too excited in the radiology waiting room because then people would know why I was there and you’re not supposed to tell people you’re pregnant until about 14 weeks just incase something happens. When we didn’t see you on the screen at first I wasn’t worried. We could just see the sack you’d be in on the tummy ultrasound, but that early it’s easier to see a baby with the wand. The tech let me empty my bladder before it burst and then started the less-than-glamorous probing. I’m not great at seeing things on an ultrasound, but I started to realize I still couldn’t see you.

Right when my heart was about to break the tech assured me that I’d gotten the dates wrong and that you were only five weeks in mommy’s belly. That’s why we couldn’t see you in there. I knew I wasn’t wrong and that she was, but I let us both believe her. I had to believe her while I was stuck there. Skewered on the elevated table.

More blood tests. Two more ultrasounds. Lots of calls with nurses. Finally, on October 13th, they told me you had stopped developing right around five weeks in mommy’s belly.

Mommy’s body broke down. I started sobbing, but my mind was in a different place. I thought maybe they made a mistake. Well, I knew they didn’t. But, I told myself they made a mistake and I kept this secret place in my mind where you were all right while the rest of my body crumbled onto the ground and I watched it happen, but I didn’t feel it in this small space that I crept and crammed myself into. It was sad to watch everything happen from that space. Like watching a really sad movie. You feel for the character, but you know it’s not you and you can walk away from the sadness.

I’m really not sure how to describe it, Baby. I knew I was hurting, but I didn’t know exactly how much or exactly why. I knew I loved you. I knew it before I made you. It took me longer to fall in love with your sister. Not because of anything she did. I think it was just because I’d never had a baby before. I didn’t know exactly what it meant to make an entire person who is her own self and who I had to protect and comfort and teach. But your sister taught me how to love someone more than myself and that’s why I loved you so early. I knew what you could be.

Your sister would have loved you, too! You were going to be born in May, just after her 2nd birthday. I’ll tell her about you when she’s a little older and can understand a little better why you’re not here. Did you know that Azealia learned to say “baby” the same week we made you? After we knew what happened, when she would say it, it felt like a little tickle and a pin prick both at the same time.

On October 28th, I gave birth to you. I felt the first contraction in the grocery store. We’d just gotten the ice cream and were about to leave anyway. By the time we got home I felt like I was having real, active labor contractions so I called the doctor. She told me to take Advil and use a heating pad. I have never in my life found a heating pad effective enough to relieve the feeling of being torn into two from the inside out. I fed your sister lunch with my regular, old heating pad tucked into my sweat pants and tried to smile through the pain so I wouldn’t scare her. I couldn’t do it. I started crying.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore so I put Azealia in the living room and ran to the bathroom, but she was worried about me and insisted on following. Your sister sat on my lap and hugged me while you came out.

But, you didn’t leave me completely. Or maybe I wouldn’t let you go. The next time they took my blood to check my “levels” you were still there, but a little less. And the next time a little less. You stayed with me for a long time. I kept you with me for a long time. Mommy kept bleeding, but you’ve stayed with me through Halloween, then Veterans’ Day, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, New Years and Valentine’s Day. Leaving just a little bit at a time so that mommy wouldn’t have to lose you all at once.

On March 4th Mommy had more blood work and for the first time in 28 weeks you weren’t there. I love you. I loved you before I made you. I never got to see you, or hold you in my arms, but I love you. You were real. I know it’s just a story, but it says in the Velveteen Rabbit, “Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” I will always love you. You will always be part of me.

With all my love,


I Lost My Phone and My Mind

I couldn’t find my phone. I knew I’d just used it to call the landlord and now it was gone. My first instinct was to check the couch cushions where I’d been sitting. All I found were some Cheerios, a pen, two blue monkeys from the Monkeys in a Barrel game my daughter was playing with earlier in the day, and a random assortment of crumbs that jammed in under my nails. I tried back-tracking to the bathroom. Not there. Nor was it on my desk, on the kitchen counter or in the laundry room.

The next logical conclusion was that I’d lost my mind. It’d finally happened. Without any warning I had begun the steps to insanity that I’d witnessed in my mother ten years ago. I’d first started noticing that she couldn’t find anything. The spaghetti strainer mostly. Regularly, even. That red, dented spaghetti strainer with the paint wearing off around the bottom. My mother would scream Where the fuck is it? Someone stole the spaghetti strainer again! I could hear her slamming cabinets, roughing-up the dishwasher, and opening the fridge before starting to cry. I’d wait until her tears stopped before going into the kitchen. I knew her sadness could easily turn to anger and didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that.

“Have you seen the spaghetti strainer? I think someone took the spaghetti strainer.”

I’d open the cabinet next to the sink and pull out the strainer. “This one, or the little one with the handle?”

“Mother fuckers!” Her screams were shrill. “I looked there. They took it out and put it back to make me look crazy. I’m not crazy!”

Then her beads started going missing. The pearls she’d just bought at the gem show, the molds for her island charm collection, her needle nose pliers. She would scream and tear her workbench apart looking for what she knew had been stolen only to find it sitting in plain sight a week later.

I figured my mother was just getting older. My grandmother will use a ladle to stir soup then walk over to change the volume on the TV and return to the stove ladle-less. Then I started noticing the notes. The hand-written notes in the bathroom, under the mirrors and by the windows. Stop spying on me you perverts! You have no right!

As I opened the dishwasher my heart was pounding. No phone. It wasn’t in the fridge. I even opened the tupperware lid to the salad to make sure it was phone-less. Then I had an idea. I ran to my computer and pulled up iMessage. I fumbled my fingers over the keys and send “lsdfj” to my phone number as a text message. Nothing. I started to sweat. Could someone have taken it? Holy shit, it’s happening. Did someone take the spaghetti strainer to fuck with my mother? Is someone fucking with me? My breath was coming quickly now. I could feel a hot fluttering in my chest and I thought about what the doctors had said about stress. About what my husband had said. I needed to calm down if we were ever going to get pregnant again. I started to get dizzy and tears came to my eyes. They burned like vinegar. You need to be calm. If this is happening you can get help. This isn’t the end. You aren’t your mother. I told myself and collapsed in full panic-attack onto the couch.

“Ouch!” I yelled out and a wave of realization and shame washed over me. I reached my hand into the crease in the top couch cushions and pulled out my phone that had been weggied in there.

I don’t know if or when I will start to loose my mind. And if I do, I don’t know that it will look like my mother’s decent into madness, but I do know that I am terrified of it happening to me. What will happen to my marriage? My daughter? What will happen to me if I loose touch with reality? It’s this constant weight thats hanging over my head. But, at least for now I found my phone.

Daughter of a Schizophrenic Mother

I am the daughter of a schizophrenic mother. Because of this I have been raising a child without a village. It has been a long two years. Two years full of unanswered questions, uncertainty, and a lack of physical and emotional support. When my baby was up with her first fever in the middle of the night all I wanted to do was to call my mother and ask her what I should do. But I knew that was not an option. There was the chance I’d get the loving, eager-to-help mother I needed, but equally likely I’d get the mentally unstable mother who would turn my child’s fever into part of the crusade that she believes has been waged against her.

We all, at some point in our lives, scream out My mother is crazy! Or something similar. And yes, to a certain extent all mothers are a little crazy. It’s what happens after years of sleep depravation and chronic whining and screaming from the little terrorists we hope to turn into responsible, well-mannered adults one day. But, what’s it like to have a mom with a mental illness? It’s unpredictable. It’s never knowing what is okay to talk about and what might set-off the alarms. It’s knowing exactly what’s going to happen next because some poor soul walking down the sidewalk happens to pull-up his pants, or wave to someone, or touch his ear. It’s making excuses for your mother’s yelling and accusations while trying to calm her at the same time. It’s never talking about work during family gatherings and not inviting coworkers to your wedding or baby shower because they are part of THEY. It’s rocking your screaming baby through another excruciating episode of pain due to her food allergies and not being able to ask your mom to hold her for just one minute. Just one minute so you can recharge and be the best mother you can be for your child. You can’t ask your mother about cradle cap without a lecture on the doctors who signed her up for experiments without her permission. When you are the daughter of an unmedicated schizophrenic mother is means never saying I love you. Because you know she will just tell you to fuck off.

My mother does not receive help for her condition. She believes it to be a problem with the people and agencies out to malign her and destroy her life rather than a problem within herself. A person cannot be treated involuntarily for a mental illness unless that person is a danger to him or herself. My mother doesn’t want to hurt herself. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone else. She wants to be left alone by the people who are after her. Because of this my mother has gone from job to job and rented-room to rented-room trying to stay afloat. She does not receive any government aid because there is “nothing wrong” with her.

Over the past several years my mother has learned to count on me for help. From leads on jobs to paying her phone bill for 3 years to listening to her scream and sob on the phone almost daily. I was her advocate, her friend, her court-ordered-supervisor when she had visitations with my younger sister. Constantly running from a force that never gives up has got to be terrifying, exhausting and lonely. I love my mom and I want to make things a little easier for her. But, now I have a daughter.

My daughter will be two in May and I am just learning what it means to protect her and give her the life she deserves. I’ve realized that living under an unpredictable and sometimes scary mother has taught me to be a nervous person who feels like she doesn’t deserve a calm, predictable life that includes things like self-care. I don’t want that for my daughter. I want her to expect others to talk to her respectfully and to know how to leave an abusive situation. I want her to understand that she is just as good as anyone else and that she deserves all that she can make for herself. I want her to know that she is not responsible for any one else’s feelings. I want her to be able to let her guard down and have trusted people in her life. I want to take care of my daughter instead of having her take care of me. So, I’ve begun to set boundaries with my mother.

I’ve started three major areas of boundary setting with my mother. Number one: When she starts to scream or rant on the phone I now hang up on her. I was terrified to do this initially. I thought she would have no one else to turn to and she would kill herself. She is still here. Number two: I schedule less time with my mother than I used to. It helps that she moved off the island I live on, but even when she visits I insist she stay with my grandmother. Number three: I refuse to become involved in any legal/family drama. When she starts going on about getting custody of my sister back I tell her I am not involved and will not become involved. Which results in screaming. Which results in the use of technique number one. One of my mother’s greatest attributes is her persistence. Unfortunately for me this means continually reestablishing boundaries I’ve already thought were pretty solid.

For now this is working. For now this feels like I can breath and raise my daughter in a healthier atmosphere. In the future I may have to establish more boundaries or even cut my mother out of my life completely, but I still struggle with the need for my mother’s love and approval. I wish I could look to her for advice and help raising my daughter. This won’t ever happen unless my mother seeks help.

If my mother ever read this (or any of my blog) I’m not sure what would happen. I’m worried that she might never talk to me again. I’m worried she might scream at me. But mostly I’m worried she would hurt herself. I’m worried she would be hurt. She would say it was all untrue and I am part of what is trying to destroy her. I’m worried I’d loose what little of my mother I have.

Breaking the stigma of mental illness is a cause that’s been championed by mental health advocates for decades now. It’s not working. Maybe with depression and anxiety, but not with schizophrenia. My own schizophrenic mother doesn’t understand that having a mental illness does not make someone a bad person. If she could see that mental illness is just like any other illness maybe that would make it less scary to consider that the people out to get her are just in her head.


Dinner at our house was a time for tornado. Wet hair dripping, arms flung out, out of control bodies twisting and slamming. Bare feet climbing up blonde-wood cabinets, trampling the rest of of the Macaroni n’ Cheese. Slamming both the door on the cup cabinet and the plate cabinet or jerking the faucet violently off and on while piercing the room with high-pitched howls. Long, painted fingers my mother thought could have played piano or modeled rings, now snatched up by my mother and held just high enough to stretch out my toes to meet the ground as her other hand landed on my butt.

Hot body and steaming tears chased me to my bedroom where I upturned every doll, marker bin and box of legos. Hurling the hardest objects at the door I was aloud to burn out into a puddle on my bed. Other times being held with my arms crossed either direction around myself and my mother trying to keep her head clear of my jerking. Sitting on the floor. I, almost on her lap, fought with everything to get away from her body. More fuel added to my cyclone. Needing to run, get away. Don’t touch me. “I’ll fucking kill you, Mom!” Until I had to give up again to another person. My body not my own, it could not run away and break things but it had to do as it was told. I didn’t think about it that way when I was seven, I just thought “I have lost.”

Dinner at Grandma’s house was stuffy. We knew the restrictions before getting there. My heart would beat faster, my temperature rise, my teeth grind in preparation of the carnage. “Ill stay quiet. I just won’t talk.” I’d plan it out with myself. Along with breasts and hips for days, 6th grade had given me the gifts of forethought and reflection. “I’m going to make it through this Easter dinner under the radar. No disasters this time.” It’d start out nice enough, Grandma asking how we were and complementing us on looking so nice.

Soon enough Fred would start in on me. “Why aren’t you talking? What’s wrong with you?”

And my mother joining in, “This is the first time I’ve heard her quiet all day. Usually it’s non stop arguing.”

And Fred, “How come you give your mother a hard time?”

Grandma, “I wish you two would just behave for your mother. After all she does for you and all her hard work. You need to be nice to your mother.”

Fred, “If I ever talked to my mother the way you do or if I acted out my father would be there with the belt…”

I was gone. Anger, tears, hot skin pinking, reddening and ripening ready to fall off. I wanted to run, scream, kick, bite, hurl myself into something solid but I was too old for that now. I had only my words. My body was, except for the age-appropriate door slam, stilled years ago into submission. No longer able to fight back. And words came. They weren’t nice ones. They couldn’t stop. They were out of control tornados hurled at the people who’d just wanted to have a nice dinner. “Saundra, why can’t we just have one nice dinner?”

Dinner at White Hall cafeteria at Lesley College was unrestricted. I was alone and I could think of whatever I wanted. Or I could not think. I could have chocolate pie every night. I did. It was soothing to eat in peace. Even while the rest of the cafeteria was noisy with the chatting voices of newly freed young women. I could sit and eat and eat and eat.

And then I would go home to the Vineyard on breaks. Home to my family. Home for the holidays. Home for dinner at Grandma’s house. Newly sophisticated, learned, better than my family who hadn’t graduated from college in four generations. Home to, “Why aren’t you talking? What’s wrong, you don’t want to talk with your family?”

“Oh, Fred,” my mother would say, “Don’t get her wound up already. You know she’ll get going and we just want to have a nice dinner.”

“Oh yeah, did they teach you to behave at school?” Fred would ask.

“At least she’s not climbing on the counter tops like when she was little. Do you remember how horrible she was, Lor?” My grandmother would ask my mother.

“She was swinging from the chandeliers!” my mother would chime in.

We didn’t have chandeliers! I’d want to scream! But I didn’t.

“Have you heard of traumatic response?” I asked my mother one time after she’d, laughing, recalled one of my childhood tantrums. She had. She knew. She had been told how I sometimes couldn’t stay in my body. How I needed to destroy–the way I’d been destroyed. How the screams let out the violations against my child body. She’d explained to my grandparents on the phone and quietly while the kids were in the other room. They all knew I wasn’t acting out. That I was reacting from within.

“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” I wanted to ask her. Why didn’t any of you tell me? Help me to understand where my rage, and running, and screaming tornado body had come from? Why didn’t you tell me to tornado in the living room with the soft pillows? Teach me to tornado safely. Tornado with art, writing, moving. Why did you spank me and tell me I was a bad kid?