Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Mom with a Past

The Cloisters Museum in New York City is a great place to take a child on a rainy day. What better way to occupy a child for a few hours than to transport her to the Middle Ages? I’m carried to a time in the not so distant past too.

It was 1999, and I was planning a wedding at The Cloisters. Everything was set; the RSVP's had been taken. A month before, I called it off.

I would share with you the painful particulars about what went down, but I wouldn’t want my lawyer ex-fiance to sue me for libel. It wouldn't surprise me, even after all these years. Let’s just keep it vague, and say it was not a good period in my life.

Anyway, the reason why I am bringing up the past has less to do with him and more to do with Claire and me.

Moms all have a past. Claire doesn't know mine.

When I learned my mom had a life before me, I remember experiencing major cognitive dissonance. In the egocentric world of a child, it’s hard to understand that your mom existed before you. After all, your mom is your world.

And, from a mom’s side of the fence, giving birth is like being reborn. Becoming a mom is nothing short of a complete identity transformation. I do mark time as “before Claire” and “after Claire”.

This clear-cut definition of time and identity makes it tempting to put the bad relationship on the "before" side and be done with it. I have a desire to tuck away my almost wedding into a locked compartment in my brain.  I would like to join Claire in a place with no history. She’s oblivious to my past, she lives in the present, she represents the future.

But it’s tricky. On the one hand, I want to be with Claire in the moment, living as if the world was born when she was born. I want to believe like she does that The Cloisters was made purely for us.

Yet, I had her at 44. When her life started, I had already lived one. It’s impossible for a child to take away the experiences of my life.

I wouldn’t want her to anyway.

When that relationship ended, I felt like a turtle turned upside down, vulnerable with my soft underbelly exposed for everyone to see. It took me a year to right myself. I found I had the ability to surrender to feeling raw and lost. I found I could survive still. I found just how much the love of friends and family can feel like grace.

I walk with Claire as her mother, because of who I was before I was her mother. She doesn't need to know what has brought us to this place, but I do.

Still, it’s fraught to be at The Cloisters. Somehow, Claire seems to make me feel more present with both the pain and the beauty of life, of my life.

It's like I'm unearthing my past in an archeological dig. Claire has added another layer to the excavation.






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30 comments:

  1. Everyone surely has a past. I was married before and I'm sure I will tell my future kids as some point when they are old enough to understand.

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  2. This is so beautifully written, and allowed me to feel the pain and the joy all intertwined in your words. I a, your newest bloglovin follower
    www.mommysrambles.blogspot.com

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  3. We all do have pasts and sometimes I just can't believe how far i came and where I am at at this point. But will say this I am sure that someday if my girls were to here the half of it, I would probably blush quite a bit!!!

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  4. I agree, I have a before and after life as well. But you are more than just before and after Claire. You are also before and after this point in your life. And each layer adds to the person you are today and the one you will become. I think you are doing a fabulous job of enjoying the journey.

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  5. Chin up! The past always gets better the farther we are away from it. ; ) No regrets- all experiences were just that. Besides, that's what makes us the wonderful wacks that we are. BB2U

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  6. You are not alone. I have a before and after, there are times that my before feels like twilight or as if I am looking at a different person. In reality, I am a different person from my past, but it is weird. I am sure I will tell my daughter when the time is right. I feel that as moms we have experience that could help our children or even another person in general. Thanks for sharing this!

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  7. I am not kidding when I say that I have both goosebums and the threat of tears with this post. You say so much more beautifully than I have ever done so what it actually feels like to be an "older" mother. To know that our children are
    oblivious to my past, live in the present, and represent\s the future." Wow, friend. Just wow wow. I feel this same way so often. I had Tucker about 6 weeks before turning 41. I want him to have a sibling so badly and we've risked, countless time, the "side effects" of doing so. I love this. I love you. I love that you get me and I am sharing this everywhere. Because, duh. Somebody needs to say it. <3

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  8. This is perfectly put. I love how you describe our relationship with the past through the added layer of a child, an archaeological dig is a great metaphor.

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  9. Fabulous post! I, too, have a past, which my kids at 10, 13, & 19, know all the gory details of. LOL! Seriously, I shared with them, because I am not perfect and I make mistakes. I think it helps them to realize that making mistakes is okay, as long as we take a lesson learned from it!
    Stacey @ This Momma's Ramblings

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  10. Oh, wow. That was brilliant. I was married before, and I have thought so much about the topic of "my past" and how it pertains to my daughters. I love how you referred to the cognitive dissonance you experienced about your mother's past. I look forward to a day when I can speak candidly with my daughters about my former life, and I try to make it a priority for them to view me as a "whole person" whenever possible in our daily lives. Beautiful, thought-provoking post, Rachel. Loved it.

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  11. Love this post.

    I remember around 23 realizing "holy crap, my parents are PEOPLE - they were not put here simply to exist in relation to ME."

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  12. Oh mama, you are so right. I have a past and have firm promises from loved ones to keep certain aspects of it from my son - no matter what happens.

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  13. My mom was always open with me about her life before me and I was always amazed of the things she did. Obviously she kept the bad parts out except for the time I got caught drinking and she told me about her adventures. Never knew she had it in her. I think its important that we do talk about our past. As little or as much.
    This is so beautiful. Past present and futures make us who we are.

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  14. Gorgeous and so very true. My parents talked about their pasts with me a little but they were so innocent and uncomplicated -- they met one another when they were 19 years old. I don't know how much of my bad periods I want to share with my children, but maybe someday it will help them understand me a little better. xoxo

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  15. I always wanted to visit the Cloisters, just haven't been able to whenever I've been to NYC. Beautiful photos. It is shocking to find out your parents have a past, isn't it? I remember telling my mom about something stupid I did in college, being terrified that she would disown me, only to have her say, "well, this is what I had to do when that happened to me." Um what? At 19 years old I had just never thought about what my mom was like before I was born :-)

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  16. My daughter was asking me all kinds of questions the other day about what I did before I was a Mommy. I think it's intriguing to her that I had a life before she and her brother came along!

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  17. Beautifully told! I remember when I discovered that my mom had a life BD (Before Diane.) It was when she was trying to teach me to skate. And, once I was safe on my own, struck out to the middle of the ice and did some moves that were . . . amazing. I never knew that she had wanted to skate professionally. Or that she had been invited to try out for the Women's Professional Baseball League. Wow. I mean, wow! My kids know my history backwards and forwards. I guess that's a side effect of living with a talker/writer/storyteller. Sigh. No secrets to disclose here. But you know what?They love hearing about my past. Your daughter will, too.

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  18. Sometimes I too would like to live in the land of no history with my children. My kids are so young that the mistakes I made as an adult don't quite come to mind but it's some personality traits that are emerging in them that I have myself and struggle with. My son is as easily frustrated with tedious tasks as I am and since I haven't learned how to cope very well with them I find myself at a loss for how to coach him.

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  19. We all have pasts, myself included! It is getting past and being happy! This post is beautiful!!! You are one beautiful writer!

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  20. I'm sure Claire is glad you took the path you did :) You have her! I lived my life also way before my dd. I will tell her I took a 'scenic' route!

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  21. This is an amazing post. It is so true. I remember when I found out that my mom had been married before. She waited until I was older to tell me. Yet, somehow it changed how I saw her. Not for bad, it just showed me she had faults too. On the other hand I also have a past, a somewhat shady one, and I am not sure how much of that my son needs to know. I could glorify parts of it, and leave some of the others alone. Or say: This is a talk for when he's older...much older.

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  22. My daughter is going through a stage where she asks me about my life before her. Where was she when I was little? I don't know how to answer... If only they could stay little forever!

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  23. When I first started reading this post I thought it was going to be about a lovely day at the Cloisters with your daughter. I love where you took me!

    Now that my kids are getting older, 14, 11 and 8 they do ask questions about the lives my husband and I led before they were born. We give age appropriate answers. I don't believe children need to know every little skeleton in our closet but I do think that if we can share some of the lessons we learned it makes them see us a bit more clearly. I feel I walk a careful line, I do not want to over share with my kids, but I do want them to have a sense of the person I was and the person I have become. Thanks for a wonderful post!

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  24. Incredible! I loved your post, and am so happy I found you through the Honest Voices link-up. Your post is beautifully written with a hook for me as an older mom myself. My life BC (before children) was exactly that: my life with all it's ups and downs and changes and decisions. Who I am now is quite different than I was BC. I love your blog and you have a new follower for sure.

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  25. How very wise and true of you to recognize this. I often wonder if I will attempt to offer my daughters advice that begins with, "When I was young once..." Even my husband doesn't particularly care to hear stories of my past, so sometimes - only sometimes - I feel like maybe I've had to let go of my past, but that's what made me who I am today.

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  26. I've thought about this, wondering what of my past I'll share with my boys when they are old enough to understand that mom isn't just mom.

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  27. I think this is why I blog - I want my children to know who I was before them, and who I was (am?) at this time in their lives. Lovely post, and thank you for linking up with us!

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  28. My past is soooooooooo not perfect! I remember when my kids realized I had a real name that was not mom! Wait until they find out the other stuff! I think when they do they will realize that no one is perfect! no one is perfect! said it twice on purpose! get it...

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