I am depressed. I cannot contain it. Tears leak out of me while I am driving, cooking,—whenever my back is turned and she can’t see my eyes.
On this particular evening, I am bent over the sink, weeping over mushrooms, when I feel Sophia’s small arms encircle my legs. She leans in and kisses my thigh. I look down, and she’s laughing. Empathy, a nascent emotion…her kisses are compassionate, but her eyes are amused by my red, twisted, tear-stained face. As if it is a mask and the real mommy, the happy one, will suddenly pop out and say peek-a-boo from behind these sad sad eyes.
I do not want her to see me this way. Kevin comes in, offers a kiss, and draws her away, leaving me to my salty mushrooms. "Mommy's sad?" I hear her ask him. "Yes, mommy's sad, " he affirms.
I do not want her to know that I am suffering. But I am even more concerned about putting my daughter in the awkward position of having to comfort her mother. (In the tunnel of my memory, I can hear my mother sobbing behind a closed door. I feel its magnetic pull, urging me to go in and hold her, reassure her. But it is my resentment that keeps me from unlocking my arms wrapped around my knees. From getting off my bed and going to her. Anger, guilt and fear compete for limited space in my heart.)
I have talked to others who disagree with this. One who says that in the act of holding and kissing me, Sophia is revealing a sweet and compassionate nature. Another who thinks it is okay to know that their parents experience a whole range of emotions—positive and negative. And still others who treasure such gestures in their own children.
But another friend, also sad, understands. She shares a moment, during which, utterly frustrated, she broke down and sobbed in front of her children. We both wondered at (and worried about) what their experience of our pain might be. What feelings it engenders. What memories they will be left with.
Every day, I push past the pain. I drag my sleep-drugged self out of bed to fetch Sophia from her crib. When I retreat back under the covers, she drops book after book onto my head, imposing consciousness. She crawls in next to me, and I recite the stories from memory until the blear lifts from my eyes and the words snap back into focus. We migrate downstairs, and I drink cup after cup of coffee until I feel something that resembles energy. On our days alone, we go to all the places she loves—swimming pools and nursery school, museums and music classes. I operate under the assumption that if I force myself to stay active, I might be able to trick my brain’s chemistry back into homeostasis. But it is her infectious smile, not these outings, that calms my mind and quiets my ruminations.
I do not want to be healed by her attentions. But her love is healing. I do not want to be her burden. But she doesn’t seem weighted down by me.
I have only the awareness of the virulence of my misery to prevent it from spreading. That and a sincere desire to regain happiness and, once again, be the content and lighthearted parent she deserves.