The Ghost Mama
It was a dark and stormy night. Rain lashed against the windows and flashes of lightning illuminated dark tree branches outside. A dim lamp cast ominous shadows over the nursery walls. On the rug lay a forlorn baby, alternating between stuffing her hands in her mouth and crying angrily. In a rocker sat a bedraggled woman, rocking, rocking, rocking. Like an autistic person. Staring at the wall. Rocking.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Bunny went out of town. His absence happened to coincide with my menstruation-induced milk supply dip, and possibly also a growth spurt, but most certainly a fussy, angry baby. Like…an entirely different baby from the one I am accustomed to caring for. And I began to lose my shit. On the night the scene described above took place, Bun Bun spent much of the day wailing and refusing to nap, and I was tore up. After rocking her and cuddling her and nursing her and singing to her and walking her around etc., etc., etc., I put her down (gently, safely!) and just took a moment. And then as I looked down at her with a stoney face, it suddenly felt weirdly familiar. As though a ghost had briefly taken possession of my body. The ghost of my very own mother.
I wondered, was this what it was like when I was a child? Was I remembering being on the receiving end of such behavior?
As I’ve mentioned, my mother went through some rough shit while I was young, including depression. Because of that, and because of my own tendency to become cold and detached when under pressure, I’ve always secretly feared that I wouldn’t be able to handle motherhood. That I’d turn into a silent, angry presence. Certainly during my episodes of FUCKING DEPRESSED I felt a bit like that. Remote. Cold. However, aside from those times, I actually feel like I’ve taken to motherhood pretty naturally–the love and playfulness and patience (you know, SORT OF) and strength are there after all.
Just not always. And my brush with the ghost mama made me wonder: will having this spectral presence just outside the door ultimately be a good thing? Will it put me on my guard, make me extra wary of becoming angry or withdrawn? Do people who had less than perfect parents make better parents themselves?
Of course not. I simply experienced a typical episode of being worn out, the kind every parent goes through, even those who had perfect milk and cookies parents. People with good parents have good parenting models, and are therefore just as likely to be good caregivers as those of us cobbling together a ramshackle model out of our favorite books.
That’s the conclusion I came to in the light of day, anyway, with the phantoms of night all banished and so forth.