Who asks that? If I asked any of you what kind of parent are you, would you know how to answer? The answer the person was looking for wasn’t good or bad. It wasn’t present or distant. It was a thought provoking, mind-boggling, soul-searching response to which I was not prepared to give. To answer a question like what kind of mother I am, I would have to be willing to open the doors of my mind, and view the movie reel flashing over exposed still photos of the life I lived and raised my children in. It would mean asking myself the difficult questions that often pollute my sleep masking as a wonderful dream of a time long ago until it changes slowly into a nightmare of loss and regret. To answer that question I cannot have a knee jerk reaction to immediately start defending myself to a faceless, nameless, entity because it doesn’t exist. It’s just a question.
The question was asked while speaking to a veteran parent of an addict. A veteran parent of an addict is someone whom I admire and trust and that has been dealing with her own addicted child a hell of a lot longer than I have. Our philosophies are not much different and our approaches are similar. The only difference between our addicts is that mine is still struggling for clean time, while her addict has been clean for many, many years. There is no judgment from one parent of an addict to another. I am not judged by her because our family still struggles. She understands that the struggle is my child’s, and that I am the passenger, a hostage along for the ride. She asked me that question as part of a bigger conversation. As part of a conversation where I say I am out of ideas, I don’t know what else to do. She explained to me that many years ago she was sitting where I was, and someone asked her what kind of mother are you? She never understood until now, why they asked that. At a time when I feel vulnerable and exposed I don’t particularly like playing Confucius games. Don’t ask me if man with hand in pocket feel cocky. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I am focused on what our future is. I have tunnel vision to the land of clean time and happiness while I drowning in the muck and mire of active addiction. I wanted to give her the finger.
When I opened my mouth to defend my own honor, to ramble off the statistics that say the mother is always to blame but the addict is responsible, she face palmed me. Hand up, head down, as though I was a runaway truck about to blow a stop sign running down a parade of elementary school children and she was directing the traffic. I stared gape mouthed, resembling a fish. Don’t answer she said. I closed my mouth and gave her the classic hate grin while using my grandmother’s favorite Italian curse silently: may all your underwear ride up. Driving home I thought only about what was for dinner, who was home, would I see my daughter. Would I recognize her as herself? It wasn’t until the infamous bewitching hour of 3am that I began to ponder the hidden meaning behind the question. It was while I was staring at the ceiling listening to the even breathing of my spouse as he used the sleep hours for the intended purpose that I got behind the question. Of course, this is the same story with a lot of people I know that I am wide awake at 3am trying to solve the words addiction problems, but drooling on myself at noon when I can barely stay awake. This 3am was no different inasmuch as I was awake, but it was completely different because I had something to actually chew on proverbially.
Who can answer the question of what kind of mother am I? How do I start even wondering that? To be able to be honest with myself, the place where all good lies are breed, I would have to think about what kind of a mother I wanted to be. And the answer to that is easy, I have no freaking clue. When I was pregnant with my first child I was still using Clearasil on my teen age blemish’s and thought my biggest problem was telling my parents I wasn’t going to college. The idea that I would be the person molding and shaping and educating and loving another human being was completely lost on me. As I have watched my friends have babies in their “older” years, and by that I mean a more respectable age to have children other than anything ending in teen, I have seen what planning to be a parent really entails. Reading books about parenting, different parenting styles, age appropriate conversations, organization, planning, an attention to detail I’m sure I did not have. I could make excuses about age, and ignorance, and station in life but the truth is, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it.
I was not the traditional cookies and milk afterschool mother. I usually waited until the last minute to get Halloween costumes, using dollars I found during laundry, change from the seats of my car and the last of money I got from my birthday to buy them. I always would forget about school pictures until the morning of hence why I have a lovely set of photos for all of my kids starting at kindergarten to present in which they look like orphans. I wrapped Christmas presents until well after midnight, knowing full well in a few short hours they would be ripped open with wild abandon. And, something I am proud of but probably shouldn’t is that all three of my children knew all the lyrics to Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC. A song we would play at full volume on Saturday mornings when we were cleaning the house. Not that their rooms where ever dirty because all four of us typically slept in my bed together, and if I really needed space, I would make a pallet on the floor for the two older ones. No one ever slept in or other wised used their own rooms unless they had friends sleeping over. I’m sure Freud would have a field day with that.
As I lay in bed, feeling the cat’s walk all over me while I did nothing (a metaphor all of its own I’m sure) I can see the shadows of their bodies on the ceiling. They move around, fighting each other, loving each other, jumping up and down, without a care in the world. I wish I was my cat. And I realize, that’s the kind of mother I really am. The kind that wishes things. I wish I had more money when they were younger. I wish they could have had a life that included living with both parents. I wish my grandfather didn’t die when they were so young. I wish my daughter wasn’t an addict. But that is what I am now. I used to be the kind of mother that was over-worked, under paid and sleep deprived. Now I am the kind of mother that lies in bed at night watching the shadow of her cat’s dance on the bedroom ceiling while I ponder what kind of mother I am.
It makes me think that someday, many years from now, I will either be a mother whose child is still active addiction, a mother whose child died from addiction, or a mother whose child is enjoying life in recovery. At some point, sleep happens, and I only know it when I wake up hearing the blaring horn from my phone alerting me to the time. As I drag myself through the morning routine I find I am still thinking about the question. What kind of mother are you? I continue to question and think and process and debate, while I drink my morning coffee. And I decide there is no answer. Right, wrong or indifferent. The question was asked to make me think. Not just in that moment but as I go through life and I make choices, before I seal something with concrete, I will ask myself is this the kind of mother you want to be? The question will give me pause, a moment to reflect on whether my action is the one I want to take. Before I run down this little shit that just stole my pumpkin from my front step, I will ask myself, do I want to be the type of mother that goes to jail over a Halloween decoration? Before I flip off the cross walk guard who always stops me before I enter the school, I will ask myself, do I want to be the mom that everyone remembers for giving the cross walk guard an inappropriate gesture? Before I turn into the human version of the atomic bomb on the people at sprint when my son’s phone didn’t work, I will ask myself, do I want to be the type of mom that the people in sprint hide from when I walk in? The answer to that is yes. Yes I do.