I was hugely pregnant, moody, congested and sleep deprived- and we added Honey, stray cat from work, to our family.
One night, in between kicks from Carter, Honey was harassing me. Not content to snuggle next to me and purr, she insisted on meowing and batting me in the face, inviting play when I wanted sleep. I shoved her out the bedroom door and climbed back into bed. Within moments, she was caterwauling outside my door. With the patience of a pregnant woman, I grabbed one of the eleven pillows supporting me and hurled it at the door. My fertility god, a gift from my sister, fell to the ground and broke. Honey escaped in fear and was quiet the rest of the night.
The next day, Honey died in routine surgery. The vet told me she had probably been hit by a car before joining our lives and the anesthesia loosened the muscles enough to allow the internal injuries to take her life. I knew better. I determined that if I had only opened the bedroom door, played with Honey one last time, that loving interaction could have sustained her. If nothing else, shouldn’t I have made her last night one of love and comfort?
The pieces of the fertility god are in my dresser drawer. I haven’t repaired it, I haven’t thrown it away.
Honey was just the introductory course in mommy guilt, because it’s inevitable- we screw up. I’m not talking about accidentally introducing cream of wheat before avocados, or forgetting to set the alarm clock for the six month well check, I mean really transgress. We say horrible things, grab too hard, react too strongly, and hurt the ones we love most. There are moments we can’t take back, no matter how fervently we wish to erase them.
On several occasions recently, I’ve heard friends, parents I admire, play a variation of I’m-the-worst-parent. Sometimes it’s over something truly upsetting, other times it’s barely cringe-worthy. It’s tricky territory. Clearly we don’t want to condone abuse, but wallowing in guilt isn’t productive either.
How do we move on, learn from our mistakes and earn forgiveness? I’d like to forget Honey’s last night because I don’t want to be that person- I don’t want any part of a snit fit-throwing, gift-breaking brat. If I accept it, I have to acknowledge that I have everything to do with her, an unpleasant truth, but if I don’t accept it, I can’t integrate it, learn from it and move on.
In his book, Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, Irwin Kula retells the story of Moses bringing the commandments down from Mt. Sinai, explaining that the first set of commandments were broken when Moses had a meltdown over his people’s debauchery. Moses smashed God’s word. That’s a pretty big temper tantrum for a leader of men. Moses had to start again.
After presenting the new tablets, Moses put the smashed tablets in the Holy Ark along with the intact ones. He didn’t get to wipe out his transgression- rather it became a part of the new work. They are carried together.
I will always feel sad that I wasn’t kinder to our dying kitty. I think of her when I see the broken fertility god and am reminded that kindness trumps sleep, sometimes you can’t take back a tantrum, and the bad nights are a part of life. I also remember that I offered Honey a home when she was stray, kept her warm in the winter, and spent a lot of time playing with and petting her and listening to her purr.
A year or so ago, the vet told me that later that same week she had come across a similar case to Honey’s, and because she recognized it, having just seen it, she was able to save that cat. She was certain that learning from Honey allowed her to save the other cat.
The story I carry includes death and birth, lives lost and lives saved, tears and laughter. It is incomplete if it has only the good mommy days. I carry it all, broken pieces and whole, together.
Kula closes his chapter on Forgiveness with a quote.
Nothing is as whole as a broken heart.
In striving to connect with our families, we have to bring our whole selves into the picture- broken pieces and all.
Here are some resources I’ve found helpful in coping with my own bad days:
The Anger Habit in Parenting
A great book on recognizing causes of anger and helping parents break out of the rut of angry reactions.
My favorite book of essays about motherhood- by far the most honest account of parenting I’ve read, complete with mommy meltdowns.
Calming strategies for parents
A room in our family Amazon Bookstore that contains links to books I’ve found soothing or helpful.