After a rather fitful night of very few hours of sleep I just now awoke with the realization I’ve spent my entire life attempting to work my way into being the number one love of someone’s life.
At the age of 38, when I married Brian, I did so with the belief that I had, at last, finally connected with someone who loved me enough that I was number one in his life. This was truly a first for me.
I was born to a mother who clearly favored my older brother; her firstborn child. I spent my entire childhood trying to be the good child and mommy’s helper and right hand in an attempt to win favor in my mother’s eyes. I was the second of my mother’s eight children so there was much competition, and in my family of origin competition is what is was and still is all about.
In my teen years, as my older brother rebelled and I became my mother’s confidant, I finally began to feel I’d won some favor.
Those teen years, however, would also be when I went full on in my quest to try and earn the love of a man. Despite the fact my early years began with the favor of my dad’s eye, any positive that could perhaps have come from that was strongly countered by the harsh physical abuse I, as well as my older brother, suffered, at his hand.
My first serious boyfriend was a 17 year old to my 14 years. It was his best friend who really liked me, but as would become my established pattern, I didn’t “like” the guys who actually really liked me. I now understand the reason being to do so didn’t fit my agenda; as my agenda was to try and win the love I didn’t receive from my primary caretakers.
So, rather than accept the love of the boy who was crazy about me, I spent my time trying to win favor from the one who wasn’t pursuing me. Within a short period of time I did win his favor and we began dating. At first it felt great. But after three months of being used for his pleasure I found I felt empty.
Despite his initial verbal manifestations of love, no sooner did I tell him I wanted to also see other people (I was only fourteen after all) he promptly had some floozy in his bed giving him what he’d been hounding me for. She wasn’t his first and most certainly not his last. What really hurt me was the harsh, painful and swift rejection. In reality, which perhaps I sensed all along, by him I was not loved.
I spent my freshman year grieving. I thought it was over that guy, but as an adult I realize the roots of my grief went much deeper than the end of that romantic relationship.
It was during my freshman year that I met the boy who is now the man I’m married to. As a girl, I was initially attracted to him but my interest quickly waned. Likely because he actually liked me, and because my heart was not really open to love—much as I longed for it.
I spent the next few years replaying, over and over again, the same theme– meeting and becoming attracted to a guy who refused to love me. Some dated me briefly, some not at all. If I met someone who actually wanted to love me I either rejected him immediately or found fault in the relationship and moved on.
The first man I married seemed to like me a lot, initially. After a month of dating each other, true to fashion of the primary culture in which I belonged, we were engaged to be married within a month of meeting.
However, as soon as he proposed he wanted to back out. By this time I was becoming frantic for my want to be wanted and loved. It would seem he fit the bill perfectly because, clearly, he didn’t really love me and didn’t really want to. Despite all, we ended up married two months later. It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life, and yet, at the same time, it fit my unconscious agenda perfectly.
I spent the next seventeen years fighting for the love of a man who made it clear he really didn’t love me. I suffered miserably but comfortably as a second rate citizen in his life until, finally, I’d grown enough within myself that I chose to no longer suffer in such a way. Somehow, I believed, I’d come to love myself enough that I didn’t need to suffer in a loveless relationship. I thought I loved myself enough that, if need be, I could spend the rest of my life single and be okay with that.
Shortly after leaving that painful marriage relationship my path crossed with Brian’s. Brian had been single for several years after being left by his first wife. He was afraid to open his heart again but, it seems, I was worth taking a chance on love for.
I think I loved Brian as much because he loved me as I loved him for him.
And then a year and a half later I got pregnant. And then his first child was born. And she was born with a genetic birth defect. But she was and is beautiful in our eyes. And she has been so loved by us from the very beginning. And she is her daddy’s one and only child whom he has been truly devoted to all along.
Eleven years ago I had plans for my life; plans that did not include being primary caretaker and devoted homemaker with yet another child. But because I was pregnant with this child I changed my plans and got my mind wrapped around the idea of full time motherhood again. At the time I took comfort in the belief that my child would become independent; first going off to kindergarten and eventually graduating high school. Thus it was I experienced this unexpected midlife pregnancy with a vision that soon enough there would be time, again, for me and my personal aspirations.
However, upon her birth we promptly learned our baby was born with Trisomy 21, most commonly known as Down Syndrome. In my grief I found some comfort in knowing the type of Down Syndrome she has is the mildest form and thus we could anticipate she would be very high functioning; we had every reason to anticipate she would be mainstreamed in public school as well as possess the potential to pursue some college. Little did we know then that she would also suffer the effects of a form of Autism.
Until a person has full time care of a child with Autism, let alone a dual diagnosis, you can only try and imagine the effect it has on the primary caretaker. For the past ten years my husband has gone off to work five days a week, leaving me at home to care for this special needs child.
He spends his day working for a company performing job responsibilities that he loves. Sure he has days when things get stressful, and he has to deal with occasional frustration. But at the same time he works with adults where he is able to enjoy that type of association, and he performs job duties where he not only is he rewarded financially but of equal importance he is rewarded mentally and emotionally.
While he is away from home during the day performing his labors and the subsequent rewards of doing so, I’ve been at home day after day, hour after hour, month after month, year after year tending to, caring for, and dealing with the needs, demands and behaviors of our dually diagnosed special needs child.
When she was a baby and toddler, while there were still the sacrifices to be made that come with parenting any young child, it really wasn’t that complicated. She was not a demanding baby so, for the most part, life was reasonably calm. I was able to take her with me as I went about doing many of the things of my life. I went shopping, got my back adjusted at the chiropractor, was able to go walking as she happily rode in a stroller, and could visit with an acquaintance.
Then, about the time she was four years old, she began to make it known when she didn’t care for an activity. Typically this was done by throwing a tantrum. My most memorable is the time I was trying to shop at a Kohls department store. She flopped herself down in an isle and refused to get up. I had to haul her out of the store while strangers looked on as she was kicking and screaming.
I was embarrassed and frustrated and soon began curbing my activities as it got more and more difficult to go out. Being intelligent as she apparently is, she soon learned she could control our activities via her behavior. As she continued to grow taller and heavier it got to the point where I stopped going out of the house with her unless I had another adult with me because, physically, I simply couldn’t handle her on my own.
More and more I’ve felt frustration of becoming like a prisoner to my own home because of my child. I’ve tried to make the best of the situation by keeping busy with projects at home, such as interior decorating and taking on various activities to that use some of my talents. Years ago I would go into the city with Brian, leave him at the office and take the car to go shopping. Once shopping was no longer a viable option at least we were able to occasionally go to his office, with Brian, and hang out in an empty conference room. Just doing this made for a nice break for both Elayna and me. It was something different from being home, isolated in this extremely small rural living that offers nothing by way of entertainment. But about a year ago that option came to an end when the company Brian works for moved to a different building and changed the rules in regard to visitors.
At present, it would seem, my life is very out of balance. I’m frustrated and unhappy, and Elayna is becoming more temperamental and sometimes stubborn and otherwise difficult.
And then there is last night…
Our dining table is sitting on the patio because we, in ignorance, purchased a dining table with a decorative cut out groove, that has proven to be a major food trap. It is a real pain to clean. I determined I could fill it with a polyurethane stain thus preventing this food trap major pain clean up problem. Last evening, while it was drying, I’d left the can of polyurethane stain on a pad in the center of the table so that I could lightly sand the surface one more time and apply a final coat.
In the meantime I was inside washing dishes when I learned Elayna was in the backyard playing on her swing set. A short time later my adult daughter informed me there was a problem outside. It seems before coming back inside Elayna had tossed that can of polyurethane on the patio. The lid was not secured well enough so the remains of the can of dark brown stained polyurethane was now oozing into the deep grooves of our stamped patio as well as being splashed on the house siding.
Thankfully my hands were already protected with rubber gloves, from dish washing, so I called to my husband to help as I began mopping the mess up with rags and newspaper. During the clean-up of this disastrous mess, (most definitely not the first of the past ten years) I began to verbalize my frustration. In there I expressed how I didn’t want him to leave Elayna home with me the next day. She’d given me a hard time all day already and I’d just had enough. To say I was exhausted is an understatement.
Somehow Brian took what I was saying and determined I no longer wanted to be Elayna’s mother. I’ve not said so, and in my heart I don’t feel so. But my love for my child is at war with my depression and massive caretaker burnout. I NEED HELP with this job and I’m NOT getting what I need.
Despite my knowing that Brian takes every spoken very literal, thus despite better judgment, to his accusation/question that I no longer want to be Elayna’s mother, I replied “I’ve been telling you that for a long time”. In reality that is NOT what I’ve been telling him for a long time, but because my words seem to fall on deaf ears, or at very least what I actually say, the cry of my heart, is never heard, I sometimes, foolishly, verbally agree to what he thinks he hears. For me, it at least means he’s hearing something!
But, it would seem that comment really brought a truth to the forefront in a way I didn’t expect. For some time now I’ve, on occasion, made the comment that I think the only thing that keeps us together is our child—due to her actual need for both of us. He needs me to care for her during the day so he can go to work which provides us all with income, which translates into meeting our monetary needs.
But once he believed, in his mind that I, literally, no longer wanted to be her mother, its likely something majorly switched with him. Initially I just thought I was angry, but later as I sat on the sofa by myself, reflecting on his attitude and words as Elayna was being tucked into bed, I had this feeling accompanied with the sharp realization that, unlike back when I was first pregnant and Brian offered to adopt out the baby if I really didn’t want it, now it was definitely the child over me.
Let me be very clear on this… I am not, nor would I ever ask him to choose between me and our child. I don’t and I won’t set up ultimatums where he has to “choose” between us. When I was pregnant I had every intention of keeping my child. And I want her to always feel secure in her place as our beloved child.
But it really meant a lot to me to know, back when I was pregnant, that I, and my happiness, was a first priority to my spouse. I have no idea at which point all that changed, but on some level I realize I have sensed the shift for some time. It just became so blatantly glaringly obvious last night. And I’m struggling as I reel from the reality of this realization…