Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Seasonal Depression

I realize that I suffer from seasonal depression around the first Sunday of May every year.  2011 presented the same set of circumstances, but I am pleased to say that my attitude about it has improved.

Several things occur to me this Mother's Day and they are best told as a story.  It is, as usual, a true story.

When I was a young girl I was often left in charge of my younger siblings while my parents went out on dates or on trips, or during the day while Dad was at work and Mom was out with friends.

Just after 8th grade my parents decided to go away for the weekend. It was 1977 and I was between 12 and 13 years old.  I had five younger siblings at that time. The news that evening and many evenings was full of stories about the Hillside Strangler killing young girls and women in Pasadena, Glendale and surrounds.  That's really all there is to the story: the backdrop.  I was in charge, I was young, the world was scary, and I was responsible for more than I probably should have been.

On that night, as I had been taught, I made sure the children were tucked into their beds, the kitchen was cleaned up, and all the doors and windows were locked.  When I went to my bed I was unable to sleep.  I was seized with a convinced panic that something would happen, that someone would break into our home and that I would not be able to protect my siblings.  I began to run sickening scenarios through my mind about how things would turn out.  The noises outside my bedroom window, while the same as usual, had turned malevolent.  Our home was in a nice neighborhood, but we were near Foothill Blvd., a very busy street.   On at least two evenings our backyard had been used as a hiding place for someone trying to evade capture. It was easy for my young mind to runaway with itself.  As I worried that my parents might never come home due to a car accident or worse, I imagined how I would feel if my own children were late coming home (as I myself often was).  On that night, while feeling vulnerable I considered never having children.

Every time my parents left me in charge from then on I entertained the idea that if I were to remain childless I would be able to avoid the crushing vulnerability I feared.  Somewhere between 13 and 17, after numerous times left in charge, I resolved not to have children.

When I became pregnant I was devastated by what I knew would come.  I tried to distance myself emotionally from my babies so that I could avoid the crushing vulnerability I'd felt as a girl.  I didn't let myself love as freely as I might have, and then I hated myself for being distant.  As in the a fairy tales, the removal of all the "spinning wheels" from the kingdom just meant that I didn't know what to do with one when I encountered it and of course, I harmed myself.

How utterly naive to think I could avoid loving my children so deeply.  I love them more than I love myself, more than I love breathing, really.  And with that desperate love comes the dreaded fear of not being able to keep them safe, healthy, happy, successful...with love comes vulnerability.

That's the lesson I now believe God is trying to teach me as a parent - it doesn't matter how much you love them, nor how much you try to protect yourself.  The privilege of children is rife with joys and sorrows.

I am not so naive any more.  It hurts to be a parent, but that is not the only aspect of the role.  Mothering is also one of my greatest and deepest joys.

And so, 2011 was the best mother's day I've had so far in part because my attitude is better than it's ever been.  Oh, and because my dear husband and darling children treated me well (and I let them!).  They bought me a birdbath and lavender and set it all up in the garden.

Happy Mother's Day