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Wanting More Than Enough

By Kristina Wright

0-2“You shouldn’t have children,” my mother said. “You’re too selfish.”

That word echoes down the timeline of my life. Selfish, selfish, selfish.

I was forty-two when I had my first son, forty-four when I had my second son. I have felt lucky. Lucky. Or crazy, depending on who I’m talking to. My mother, if she were alive, would say I was selfish. Selfish for having them, selfish for waiting until I was in my forties to have them, selfish for feeling lucky instead of … guilty, I guess.

Selfish. Maybe I am. As I look at their faces for signs of me, of my mother, wondering if it’s a good thing or a bad thing when I see some shadow of myself in them, I feel selfish.

*   *   *

I don’t know how to be a good mother. I have no role models. My maternal grandmother died when I was two, I never knew my birth father or his mother and my stepfather’s mother was distant and cold. My mother was not a good mother. She was a martyr to the cause of motherhood. “Look what I gave up for you!” she said when I didn’t do what she wanted, when I wasn’t enough like her. “I gave up my life for you!” Is that what good motherhood is? Sacrificing one’s self to the cause? Because if it is, I’m destined to be a bad mother.

*   *   *

I love my children, I do. They are my sweet, beautiful, funny, playful boys. I love them. But motherhood is not my calling. I have known that my whole life, even into my late thirties when I was told it was “now or never,” even after the miscarriages (three over fifteen years), even when I turned forty.

Conception came easy for me. Wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am-I’m-pregnant easy. Eight or nine weeks later, there was blood. Always blood. I dreamed about babies before I had my own. Now I don’t dream at all. I’m too tired.

 *   *   *

Pregnant again after a miscarriage eight months prior, my doctor prescribed a progesterone supplement. Carrying to term then became as easy as conception. My first son Patrick was born after three miscarriages. One year and one week after his birth, the very first time I had unprotected sex, my second baby was conceived. I thought I would surely miscarry. But no. With progesterone prescribed again, Lucas was born twenty-one months after his brother.

This double success made the temptation to try for a third, yes at my age, almost overwhelming. I could hear my mother in my head. Selfish, selfish, selfish. Two babies in two years, two Cesarean sections to deliver those large, healthy boys. My body had done an amazing job, but two was enough. Enough.

 *   *   *

“Enough!” I’m screaming in frustration. No, anger. Rage. Two kids testing my limits, one not-quite-two, the other a defiant three-and-a-half year old. Where did he learn that, the defiance? He’s not in daycare. He’s usually with me, except for a few precious hours a day when I escape—I mean leave—to write and edit and reclaim my sanity and self. I entrust my boys to a beautiful young woman who could easily be mistaken for their mother. Katherine is less than half my age. I could be her mother. Their grandmother.

“Selfish,” my mother hisses in the cold dark part of my brain. The part that remembers how she gave up her youth to marry the guy she met while working in a bar, the one who was willing to take on the parenting of her bastard baby by a married man. Was she selfish, to be out dating again before I was even able to walk? Was she selfish to keep me when she realized the man she was with had a wife and maybe even other children? Roe vs. Wade hadn’t come to pass yet. It was the late sixties and the options were adoption, illegal abortion or keep the bastard. She kept me. Was that selfish?

*   *   *

All I ever knew about my biological father was that when I was stubborn or did something my mother didn’t want me to do, I was, “just like him.” I took it as a compliment. I was as different from my mother as any person could be. I imagined him to be wealthy, strong, powerful, kind, loving. He would show up and want to take me home with him, my father who may or may not have known I existed (the story changed over the years). I wasn’t told his name, but I knew it must be beautiful and exotic and go perfectly with Kristina in a way my mother’s maiden name and stepfather’s name didn’t.

*   *   *

I didn’t find out my biological father’s name until after my mother’s death in 2007 when an aunt gave me some information about him. His name isn’t beautiful or exotic and I still prefer my married to name to the other three possibilities. So much for that fantasy.

*   *   *

“Enough!” I’m yelling at my children, my pulse pounding, my heart aching. I sound like her. I feel like her. I have become her. I can’t stand it. I am selfish, selfish, selfish, but not in the way she accused me of being. I’m selfish for wanting my children to be better than me. Better than her.

*   *   *

My husband is going out of town. Jay is a lieutenant commander in the Navy. After twenty-three years of marriage, only four of them with children, I’ve been through more three month and six month deployments than I can remember. But he’s never been gone more than a few days since we had our second son. And now he’ll be gone for two weeks. I feel my heart racing like a rabbit cornered by a dog. How will I manage? How?

It’s not the housework or sleeping alone that bothers me. It’s not the noises in the night that wake me. It’s not even the days when I have our sweet babysitter, whom I trust completely and the boys adore. It’s the weekend, stretching out before me. Solitary parenting with no break, no buffer, no way to escape when enough is enough.

*   *   *

Jay was gone for eight months when our first son was born—the entire third trimester and the first five months of Patrick’s life. He was home for eighteen days after the birth, and then I was alone again with a newborn—me, who had never even changed a diaper before. I had to do it all, even things my doctor told me I shouldn’t do. At less than three weeks post-partum, I shoveled snow off our deck so our old dog could get outside to relieve himself. My Cesarean incision burned for days afterward, but I did it.

I have done other things alone. Managed. Survived. I went through miscarriages and emergency room visits and prenatal appointments and endless tests because of my advanced maternal age. I’ve experienced job changes, family conflicts, the ebb and flow of new and old friendships, a dog’s surgery, the death of two cats and the news of my estranged mother’s death—all alone. I even went through a hurricane by myself. I’ve dealt with all sorts of things alone, confident in my ability to do anything. Anything. And now I’m terrified and depressed over spending time alone with my children with no time at all for myself.

Selfish, selfish, selfish. It echoes from beyond the grave. I am selfish for not finding infinite joy in every minute spent with my boys. I am selfish for not relishing the time I have them to myself, the long summer days and nights, just the three of us. I should be happy! I should be excited!

Enough, I think. Enough.

*   *   *

I can’t recall many days in my childhood when my mother seemed genuinely happy. Nothing was ever enough, nothing was ever just right. I wasn’t loving enough, I wasn’t appreciative enough. I wasn’t enough. And yet, I have known many happy days in my adulthood. Yes, even since I had children. Yes, even now when I am alone with them. I just need some time to myself. Some solitude. Something that is mine and mine alone. My self.

*   *   *

I redecorated our bedroom when I was pregnant with my first son. Rather than buying new nursery furniture, we bought a new bedroom suite for ourselves for the first time in fifteen years and had the old furniture refinished for the baby’s room. Selfish, my mother would have said. But Patrick didn’t know the difference and looking around my new bedroom (“It looks like an adult’s bedroom now,” Jay said), I declared it my sanctuary. Home. Haven. Heaven. Mine.

 *   *   *

I just rolled over on a Matchbox car. The sharp metal digs into my hipbone. I am in hell. They bring their toys to my room, their stuffed animals, their little boy laughs and cuddles. It’s a place between the heaven of solitude and the hell of exhaustion and caretaking. It is home. I am comfortable here now. Almost always.

*   *   *

The days pass in a blur, some better than others. We get through the first weekend and Jay comes home in the middle of the second weekend. It wasn’t so bad, not really. Not at all. Really. They were good boys, I was as good a mother as I will ever be. Jay comes home and they are excited to see him, but not overly so. Not as if he has been gone for two weeks or as if I’d done such a horrible job they couldn’t bear one more minute with me. In fact, when I leave to get coffee at Starbucks, they cry. They’re young, they only know what’s in front of them. I try to put my best face forward. For them. For myself. Fake it until you make it, right? I’m faking being a good mother. Maybe I’ll grow into it.

*   *   *

My mother was not the comforting, coddling sort of mother. She believed in tough love. “If you are too sick to come to the table,” she would say, “then you’re too sick to eat.” No chicken noodle soup in bed for me. It made me self-reliant. I can appreciate her tactics now, though I’m not sure it was a tactic. A bitterness, perhaps. Of sharing her parents’ love with eleven other children, of sharing everything she ever owned with someone else. Of never having anything that was hers and hers alone—until she had me and erased my paternity from my birth certificate and my life. She always seemed hungry for something she couldn’t name. I know that feeling. I inherited it, I think. But my hunger is not for more children or more security or more love. It’s a hunger for life itself. More, always more.

*   *   *

The anticipation is worse than the reality. The intangible fear of losing one’s self is greater than the slow slipping away as hours once spent in self-absorption are now given over to thoughts of breakfast, lunch, nap, dinner, bath, stories, bedtime. In between “The Wheels on the Bus” and “You Are My Sunshine,” I pause to think, “This is my life. This is it. Right here, right now. Forty-six years old, two kids, married for half of my life. This is my life.”

It’s a good life. It’s enough, and yet it’s never enough. I want more of this life, and the life I had before and the life I can only imagine. I want it all. For me. For my boys. For my mother, who never had the chance. Is that selfish?

Yeah, it probably is.

Kristina Wright ( is a full-time writer and editor, Navy spouse and mother to two young boys. She holds a graduate degree in humanities from Old Dominion University and is the author of Bedded Bliss: A Couple’s Guide to Lust Ever After, published by Cleis Press. 

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

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