Mom used to get so frustrated with us kids that she would scream. The she’d break down in tears. It was like everything inside her finally came out. Her face twisted up. She held her arms away from her, her hands balled up, and she hunched slightly like a bodybuilder showing his biceps. That’s when she screamed, more to get noise out of her than to quell whatever it was she was upset at. Finally, the tears came, hands flew up to the roots of her hair and she’d say something like, “I can’t stand it anymore!”
In my memory, it seems almost a physical depiction of Giving Up. Like her whole self had to go through a release. A welling up, explosion, then wilting.
Sometimes she was mad about something we did, although her meltdowns never seemed tied entirely to an event. I don’t recall any of us ever coming home late to Mom sitting by the doorway. I don’t recall her walking in while we were having a party or her catching us smoking a joint in the bathroom. Rather, it was the little things that chipped away.
She found a bong in the bedroom. She didn’t like my boyfriend. She was a grandmother at age 40.
Life was anxiety-producing. We kids spanned 13 years. My oldest sister was pregnant, married and out of the house; my other sister was away at college; my third sister a teen; my brother in middle school; I was in elementary school. (In hindsight, the little things weren’t so little.)
I remember when I was pregnant with Dee, I got the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Every night I read and re-read the sections that covered the particular number of weeks I was into my pregnancy. I also read ahead. Then when I got to that phase, I read and re-read that section.
I eventually got to the point where I put away the book. At seven months into my pregnancy, I even stopped going to see the doctor. I’d decided to birth my baby at home, and the midwife I’d picked out — the only one who did home births — was going away on a retreat for six weeks. She’d be back by my ninth month, just in time to work with me before the baby came.
I don’t know what snapped to cause me to transform from someone bewildered by pregnancy to someone with complete faith that I could birth my own baby. Maybe it was the sense that all the books in the world weren’t going to prepare me. Or maybe it was Jim and my last childbirthing class where we watched a film comparing US and European births. The US father was dressed in scrubs from head to toe, his wife laid out on what looked on an operating table under a stark light. The European couple was in a birthing center that resembled a lovely home. In the car that night, Jim and I both blurted, “The hospital birth looked scary!”
The point is, I finally figured out that I wasn’t going to figure it out. I just had to go with the flow. And once I went with the flow, I became calm. I knew what to do. I started to take responsibility for my pregnancy, and I prepared the best way I could, mentally and physically. When the day came, with Jim and my midwife by my side, I birthed Dee. In my bedroom. By myself.
What this has to do with Mom and her breakdowns is, I’m feeling a lot like what I imagined she used to feel right before she blew. And a lot less like I felt when I gave birth.
Earlier today I went to see Dee’s volleyball game. It went three rounds; they lost the last round by two points. It was close. Dee didn’t play well. Her serve was inconsistent, and her other hits were not solid either. All in all, it was a going-backwards for her. She started stronger four or five games ago, yet today’s game was her worst. I watched from the bleachers. She wasn’t the only one who wasn’t good. But a few of the other players had gotten great. The gap between them widened. It was hard to watch.
This is our first experience with team sports. Dee did rodeo the past two years. Rodeo is all about the girl and her horse. Dee’s horse is good. You can tell by looking at him. He’s honest, and he wants to perform for her. He does whatever she says. He senses when she’s ready, and every time he’s gone faster, she’s been ready. Watching her do rodeo was a thrill. She always improved in rodeo. Her barrel time got shorter, her finesse with the flags finer. She became competent before my eyes. I was in awe. Truthfully, I was in awe.
In the car home this evening, I asked her how the game felt. She shrugged. “Mmm,” she said.
“You guys did better,” I told her. “Mmm,” again.
“You were the captain this game, right?,” I tried. “Yeah,” she said, “one of them.”
“Well, that’s great, that means you guys led your team to an almost victory, which is way better than the past three games.”
She was silent most the rest of the way. When we were almost home she told me one of the girls who’s gotten great told her earlier in the day that Dee shouldn’t play volleyball. That same girl also told Dee after the game that they lost on account of Dee.
I tried to tell Dee from that girl’s perspective, Dee and the other players who weren’t strong were the reason the team lost. Dee missed the second-to-the-last point. She had a bad game. I didn’t want to gloss over the fact that Dee hadn’t supported the team the way the best players did. I wanted to point out that team sports are different from individual sports that way. That team sports are about two things: your game, and the team’s game. I didn’t blame. But I didn’t say that the girl who blamed was bad. Only that that’s how things are when you play in a team. It’s life.
Honestly, I don’t think I did so well. Honestly, I’m at that stage of wanting a book to tell me what to do. And, while I’m being honest, I have to say I don’t want to go to the next game. If Dee keeps getting worse while the other girls get better, it’s going to get harder for Dee.
I know I need to let go. I let Jim practice with her tonight. She came in after about twenty minutes saying she learned to serve. I wanted her to show me, but I also didn’t. I’m at that place where I need to snap. Just like I did at seven months pregnant. I need to believe that she can do what she needs to do, and whatever happens she’ll be fine. I need to trust that Jim can be her father and help her. And that I’m going to be fine, too.
A part of me wants to do the Mom meltdown thing. The other part of me wants to rely on my own self for the journey. Then there’s the voice saying, “IT’S JUST VOLLEYBALL, FOR GOD’S SAKE!” Even so, I don’t know what Giving Up looks like for me right now.
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