Hola, friends! My name is Brittany. And, yes, as the mother of a 13-year-old (step) son, Keaton, an 8-year old (biological) son, Zachary, and a 2 1/2-year-old (biological) son, William, (yes, my friends, 3, count them, 3 boys!), I have watched entirely too many episodes of Dora the Explorer! I do sometimes wish I had her backpack though, because that thing is super-magical and would have come in handy on many occasions. Ever toted around a baby and all its required baby things thinking you had it all under control and then realize you had forgotten something vital, you know, like DIAPERS?. Yeah, I’ve been there a few times over the years. Then all I would have to have done was holler “BACKPACK!” about 15 times for it to appear and spit out just what I needed, like my own personal vending machine! “Yum, yum, yum, delicioso!” I wouldn’t have had to find one of those machines they have in airports now for parents who have forgotten something vitally important at the most inopportune time. You know, like extra diapers and a change of clothes when the dreaded up-the-back, nose-burningly pungent, blow-out diaper occurs in public (been there!). But, I digress…
Yes, as the mother of 3 amazing boys, I have my hands full at all times. Throw in the fact that I work outside the home 37.5 hours a week, and that means that I have to be even more well-organized. It was a good thing I was born the daughter of a “planner,” as my mom has always been called by those that know her, and that I inherited that “planner” gene. Having the innate ability to be a good planner sure does make being a full-time working mother a little easier at times. I still think that pretty purple talking backpack would come in handy for those times that I’m off my game, though.
After all of these years, I like to think that I for the most part have effectively learned to manage my kids in such a way that they get to school on time, I get to work (usually) on time, we get to after-school activities, have food on the table for dinner, even if that means the occasional (or frequent) take-out meal, get homework done, baths taken, prayers said and off to dreamland at a reasonable time. Sometimes we even get to throw in a little TV and play time. I used to think I did pretty well at “having things under control,” most days anyway. I had learned to make task lists at work and at home, to organize everyone’s activities, and to make sure that we all, including Seth, my husband of 4 years, ran on a smooth, tight schedule.
Over the years I had become a mostly efficient, “functional mother,” and was cruising through life raising my two biological boys, Zachary and William, until about a year ago in March 2011 when my normal, safe, rather ordinary life began to slowly unravel. Up until that point, the most difficult thing I had to endure and then learn to manage had been the unexpected diagnosis that we received when Zachary was 8 weeks old. Zachary had inherited a genetic condition called albinism, characterized by a lack of pigment in his skin, hair and eyes. The lack of pigment in his eyes along with other physical changes cause him to have a visual impairment. Now, at the age of 8, his vision is stable at about 20/70, which is fantastic for a person with albinism. Suffice it to say, however, that getting to this total acceptance of Zachary’s condition, which he has as a result of gene mutations that both his father (not Seth – another story for another day), and I passed down to him. I carried a lot of mommy guilt for that for a long time, but I learned as the years went by that albinism would only be a small part of the whole that makes up my beautiful, intelligent, first-born son. I have called him my angel on Earth since he was a baby,with his platinum blond hair and deep blue eyes, and it has only been within the last year that I have begun to understand the full extent of his role and purpose in my life as his mother, for which I am so grateful. But, more to come on that later…
Now, let’s return to March 2011 when I began to realize that the tapestry of my otherwise normal life had begun to unravel… Although it took me a while to comprehend the full extent of the unraveling that was life as I had known it, I realized quickly that things were beginning to come apart at the seams. It all began when my mostly quiet, cruise-control life took an entirely unexpected turn when my step-son, Keaton, revealed unthinkable things about his life at home with his mother and step-father. This led to my husband and I taking emergency, and then permanent, full custody of Keaton. I will save the sordid details for a future post, but suffice it to say that this event opened up a whole new proverbial can of worms for our family, and although we loved him deeply and wanted so desperately to help him and change his life for the better, we began to realize that we had been totally unprepared for what it would be like to take in a child that we had not raised. And not just a child, but a preteen!
I also realized I had become somewhat burnt out with work about that same time. I have been working as a paralegal for insurance defense firms in Charlotte, North Carolina for over 11 years. While I am very happy with my current work environment and the relationships that I have cultivated there, the work had become somewhat mundane. I had also turned 35 in February of that year, and it hit me that I was already past my 15th(!) high school reunion. I began thinking to myself, “Where in the world has the time gone?” Surely I hadn’t graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill a full 12 years earlier?!
Yes, 2011 was supposed to be the start of a new, happier time for me. And it did start with a bang, just not the promising kind for which I had hoped. Not long after we took Keaton in, my marriage became strained as Seth and I realized that we had to find a new reality. We also had to figure out how to help Keaton overcome his past and the inevitable feelings that all of us would face as a new, even more blended family. The summer was just the beginning of the struggle. Things got even harder when the school year began, and Keaton struggled to find his place in his new school with new peers. I faced a kind of stress that I have never really felt as a full-time working mother. Sure, managing 2 kids was difficult at times, but 3? Could I do it and still maintain my sanity? Some days I really began to wonder if I was still sane at all.
As 2012 began, it began to seem like every time I turned around, a new layer of difficulty was being added to our already complicated lives. My mom’s father, Granddaddy Bill, fell at his home in January and entered a rather fast, 3-week decline that ended in his death. I have dealt with death before in my 35 years, such as the unexpected death of my step-mother Jeanne in 2010 following a heart attack, but I have never had the opportunity to watch such a fast decline from life to death. I literally watched my grandfather die, and that has had a profound effect on my life and my desire to be a better person and mother. I do not want to reach my death-bed, whenever that time comes, and have regrets about how I had lived or treated my family and the others around me. Not long after my grandfather’s death, my step-sister Allison was diagnosed with grade II brain cancer. Again, I was staring the reality of death in the face again as I waited at the hospital with family for the doctors to remove a tumor the size of her entire left front lobe. Allison has made an excellent recovery, thankfully, and is taking her recovery one day at a time. No doubt Allison has a new appreciation for life and death. I know I do. As one of her family members said during surgery, “Life turns on a dime.” You just never know what you are going to face from day-to-day, so you can only do the best you can to appreciate and make the absolute best of the present.
As I began to reflect on the events of the last year, I couldn’t help but think that these events happened in my life as a part of a greater plan to help me overcome the personal struggles that were beginning to take over my life, turning me into a person that I didn’t quite recognize anymore, or, quite frankly, like very much. Death and cancer are pretty strong motivators. They made me re-examine my life, under a self-imposed microscope at times, to figure out exactly what had happened to my marriage and why I didn’t feel like I was as successful a mother as I had hoped to be. Yes, I was maintaining at work and at home, but I didn’t feel as though I was LIVING any longer. Why was that, I wondered? Did I make wrong choices or take a wrong turn somewhere?
It was time to untangle all of the confusion and to really SEE what I had become. To determine why I felt like my marriage might fail. To figure out where I had lost my joy for parenting and how to get it back. I knew I loved my husband and my children, but I felt like I was missing and had missed a lot because I had become buried in the day-to-day struggles of being a full-time working mother, managing my family instead of enjoying them.
Hence why I have turned to one of my very favorite things, writing, to find my way back to the light and to regain the joy I lost somewhere in the everyday living of my life. I invite you to join me on my journey, for I think it will be an interesting and insightful ride. And because I need someone to hold me accountable for the inevitable changes that will need to be made in my life in order to accomplish my goal. I don’t just want to be a functioning wife and mother, but a purposeful, intentional, loving wife and mother. I want to parent with intention and not just schedules, rules and discipline. I don’t want to manage my kids, but to raise them with love and compassion. I want to learn the patience to listen to and hear my husband and children in order to better recognize what they need and want from me. How can I better serve them in my roles as wife and mother? It is time to put the work in and find out.