My head was spinning. Between watching the unbelievable fall of Communism in Europe and most importantly in my native Romania, and at the same time running a household and dedicating time to my two babies, yes, my head was spinning!
There was no doubt about it. I was confused, scarred, tired. I felt a constant out-of-body experience, as if in a dream. It was like the old me was somewhere else and a robot, a replica of who I once were, was performing all the routine tasks of survival in my new role as a mother of two and wife in suburban Philadelphia. To this basic role, I added several volunteer activities, primarily with our Presbyterian Church. As a good suburban wife and mother, I had to fit the mold of volunteering. I became a Sunday school teacher and later, an Elder in the Presbyterian Church. All unpaid work, giving back to the community. I was eager to give back, yet, the secret was, we didn’t have enough… I was giving a part of my very soul, not surplus of material goods or extra time. Now, I had a status to protect, and damn if I was going to give up that which I worked so hard to earn!
That which I desired with all my heart had become my reality, and yet it felt surreal. It felt as if I had stolen a slice of happiness and at any time some disaster was going to happen to wake me up, to throw me into the reality of my own foolishness: How dared I, a first generation immigrant, to even think I’d be good enough to buy a year or two of not working full-time and dedicate a majority of my life to our babies and volunteer work? Did I even have the right to be a full-time mom?
Of course not! The reality of Kevin becoming more and more distant, as the savings I brought into the marriage were diminishing, was a clear sign: I had to go back to working outside the home while continuing to be a dedicating mother and wife. Of course, if I did, the father of my children wasn’t going to wake up in the middle of the night, change diapers or clean the house. After all, he was a man, a man wouldn’t humiliate himself by doing all these wifely duties, just as he refused to eat food brought from home. A real man was supposed to come home, eat the meal which was already on the table, get up silently and watch television until the time to go to sleep arrived…
May be, if the girls were good enough, smiling, not crying, cuddly, as daughters should be, he would allow them on the couch, next to him to watch his favorite football team. Our household was in a frenzy when the team won, and in deep upset if they didn’t. We all prayed they did, so Dad would be nice and happy and his mood would then reflect on the entire household. Then he would speak to the girls, but never play with them. That wouldn’t have been manly… play was a woman’s job, mine!
His changing moods, coupled with the unpredictability of his work patterns paralyzed my thinking at first, but my survivor mode kicked in fast… I needed to protect my nest! When a co-worker of Kevin’s told me people were playing practical jokes on him, I panicked. Why would people do such mean things to my husband? A woman in his office, secretly told me the other colleagues glued onto his desk everything on the desk, and he got very angry and almost broke the office copier. He never told me what happened, and I was sworn to secrecy by my friend, his co-worker. I was confused … why would people be so mean to him? Was he doing things to them to deserve such retaliation? How much I didn’t know about my husband? At home he was silent, reserved. He wasn’t the man I married any more, but I was determined to pretend I didn’t see, and if I pretended and ignored long enough, I was convinced it would go away… It was a phase. Yes, even the experts said when the children were little it was hard for the couples. It surely was a stage I had to ignore for the sake of our family. Regardless of what was happening in my husband’s life outside the home, my duty was to protect our home Paradise. I had to somehow be the mother I never had and also the perfect wife my husband needed. I had to start producing enough money to keep my children safe and our home happy. I wanted back the man I married and was convinced if I started making money again, that man would come back to love us more than ever!
The time was right to go back to work, it sure was… Natalie was now almost a year and a half. She was born with a clogged tear-duct and two surgeries had to be done on her right eye in her first year of life. Eva was very empathetic to her sister’s suffering and all her dolls had a problem in their right eye. They were all hurting. Later, Eva understood it was even more efficient if she claimed to be hurting “all over” herself. That definitely brought my attention to her suffering, especially when indeed it turned out she needed ear-tubes and had surgery at Children’s Hospital, just like her sister. Both my girls had to have minor surgeries in those first years of their lives. These might have been minor if they happened to someone else’s, but when my children were involved, suddenly it was major. I feared the anesthesiology more than the actual surgeries. Before each surgery I spent sleepless nights praying to a vague God, I wished to believe in… I asked to please, please, make my kids healthy and everything okay. I was thankful to the doctors and my vague God, as my children recovered. They didn’t fail us, that was God and the doctors.
As I looked back, the first few years of my motherhood, life was strangely hectic but routine. One of those many lives in which if someone asked: “How have you been? What is happening?” I’d say “Not much” Yet, a lot was happening, but so routine, I didn’t want to bore anyone with stories of being up all night, nursing my children, cleaning, shopping, caring for our many pets. This was my life, a life I chose and which every day, I realized was a luxury I wasn’t going to be able to keep for long. It was hard, yet it was too good for me. For me it was too easy. I was expected to do more.
When Eva was now 3 1/2 years-old she was in a state of rebellion against me. She probed everything during day-time. However, the new stage faded at night, when she waked up to me at 4:00 A.M. to take her potty and then cuddled with me in bed. It felt good to have my daughter back, even half asleep. Then, when the morning came, the rebellion was back.
Meanwhile, Natalie mastered two words essential for her survival: “No” and “More”. She, unlike Eva, never crawled. Never went through what the experts consider an essential stage in a child’s developement, probably because it was important to feel little, to look up at the world, rather than on an equal level. But this never happened with Natalie, she stood up in her crib at six month, managed to jump out at seven, and by ten-months she was running, not walking. At fourteen month she pointed to the toilet which was now routinely used by her sister and said: “Potty” and jokingly I sat her on it. This was how she self-potty-trained at fourteen-months, and experts assured me this was not “normal”either, but I wasn’t going to pull her off the toilet just because it was too soon. I donated the rest of the diapers. My girls were now potty-trained, a mile-stone which for the outside world is an insignificant, normal event, but which, any mother could tell you, is a mile-stone.
Yes, my girls were growing up and already having a mind of their own, which I, as a mother who read the books on parenting, was encouraging. Most times they were best of friends, but sometimes they needed to be separated. Even in those moments, they refused to eat without each other and their temporary disagreements over Sesame Street toys always lost in favor of their need to be together and their love for each other.
Motherhood wasn’t easy, but it was rewarding and those times when I experienced the simple but complex pleasures of watching my daughters play together, were the most rewarding of my life. Their closeness was a sign they would grow up to be friends, to be of support to each other years from then, when they would be adults, and I would be unable to continue to protect them with my endless motherly love.
As I watched their innocent play I knew it was time for me to go back to work outside my delusional, borrowed Paradise. I knew I needed to find a way to continue to be the mother I never had and also bring money into our household so that the illusion of perfection could continue to live, so that my children could have what I dreamed and never had…
I was determined to be everything and more, because my love for them knew no boundaries!