[inspired by today's post at Ask Moxie, "The Right Way."]
My dearest Ri-Man,
I'm writing you this letter because I don't know what else to do. I'm hoping that by writing this letter, I'll find some answers to a problem that has been plaguing me for just over twenty months now. I feel embarrassed that I need to write this letter, and I hope you never see it, but for now, I need to try to put this all into words, no matter how painful the process might be.
Ri-Man, I love you with all my heart. I really, really do. But I do not know how to be your mother.
After twenty months, it's only gotten harder rather than easier. I don't know what makes you tick. I don't know how to help you feel better when you are sad. I don't know how to make mealtimes enjoyable for you. I don't know how to help you sleep.
You were part of my body for 38.5 weeks. Half of what you are is me, and the other half is from the person I knew best in this world, a person I understood completely. Somehow, the combination of your daddy and me has created in you a being that I find to be a total mystery, and this fact makes me sad, confused, hurt, and angry.
Not at you, although sometimes I take it out on you. Mostly at myself, because if I—your own mother—can't understand you, who can?
It's not that I don't know you. Oh, I know you very well. You are sensitive in every way, my sweet boy. Emotionally, you are the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I spend all of our time together a bit edgy, waiting for you to freak out about something. It could be anything that sets you off, but inevitably it's something. Most of the time, I either don't know what it is or I know what it is and can't help you fix it. When you get upset, I try diversion. I try rocking with you or giving you a big hug, although many times when I do this you push me away. I try letting you just have a few minutes to yourself to cry, and reassure you that it's OK to feel sad sometimes and need your space. None of these tactics seems to help much. Eventually, you come around no matter which tack I take, but even once you come around, I feel like you never fully turn the corner, that at any moment, anything could push you right back over the edge. Sometimes you won't meet my eyes when I'm talking to you, as though it's just too intense to hold my gaze and you have to look away.
You are cognitively sensitive. You need things to be just so. If drawers are open, you want them shut. If something is spilled, you need it to be wiped up now. If the lid on the toilet is up, you need me to close it.
You're physically sensitive, too. You have allergies. You are more likely than your sister or me to get sick. You hate the feel of the wind on your face. You don't like having dirty hands. You won't wear sweaters.
I know all of these things. I know that you like trucks, that you'd live on milk and milk alone if I let you, that you think peek-a-boo is hilarious, that anything with buttons to push rocks your world. Oh, yes, I know you. But I feel like I don't get you. I feel like you haven't really settled into the world yet, like you're still trying to decide if being out of the womb is really all it's cracked up to be, and like the process of taking in all this information overwhelms you at times.
To the outside observer, you are a happy kid. While I don't think that's necessarily untrue, I don't think that happy-go-lucky is your baseline. Which is OK, but it's hard for me to understand and therefore it's hard for me not to be impatient with you sometimes. You are so different from me, so amazingly different, and I have a hard time just letting that difference be.
I want to give you everything you need. Unfortunately, I often have no clue as to what your needs are. In addition, when I do know what you need, I can only give you all that I have to give. Sometimes that falls short. I know that you need more one-on-one time with me. But there's only one of me, and I have to split in three among you, your sister, and myself. That leaves all of us shortchanged. I can't remedy that, and it leaves you emotionally hungry and me sucked dry. I wish I could bring your daddy back or clone myself or do something so that you could have more of that attention that you so desperately crave.
And here we have really hit the heart of the problem, I think. It's not that I don't know what to do for you, it's just that I can't do it. I can't give you the percentage of myself that you want. When we spent the day together last Friday, I was able to give that to you, and oh! How you thrived. But I can't do that every day. I try to explain this to you, but you are so little. Even if you only understand the most basic gist of what I'm saying for now, over time you'll understand more and more and more. Right? I sure hope so.
I'm trying to teach you how to meet some of your needs yourself, but you are so young to have to do that. I can never decide if it's better to indulge your need for all the drawers to be closed, or if it's better to help you start learning now that things won't always be just so. I want to protect you, but I need you to learn.
Writing this letter has helped. I don't feel any closer to the answers right now, but I do feel reassured of how well I know you, and, on some level, how well I understand you. I know that I'm not a perfect mama, but I'm your mama, and thus the best mama for you. I just wish it felt more natural, or that I felt I was doing a better job. It's my own struggle to manage my desire for perfection, not yours. You are my ultimate test, and thus you have so much to teach me. It's up to me to learn.
I love you, sweet boy. Thank you for being patient with your very imperfect mama.