“I hate my life.”
I actually caught myself muttering these words under my breath between my rapid steps to the car and amongst the falling crocodile tears I was trying to conceal while greeting other mothers as they walked into daycare. (Seriously, where is a tissue when you need one? They are literally all over my car!) I have been nursing a “cold” so long, that as fate would have it, I am also sick today. It’s a Thursday morning, which means once I kiss my daughter goodbye and walk away from her smiling face, I won’t see her again until Sunday evening. She will be with her dad all weekend. Divorce is a nasty beast and not for the faint of heart.
Yes, at that very moment the separation anxiety was ripping through my soul like a dull knife blade through carpet, but it is still no excuse. You see, I promised myself that I would never say, nor even think, words like those again. It wasn’t that long ago that I was essentially starring down the barrel of a gun praying that some “one” would have the sympathy and the courage to pull the trigger—but no one did. And today I am eternally grateful for that. I was fighting the battle of my life through a crippling depression, the details of which are better left to an alternative forum, and once I made the decision to live and to live fully, I made a promise to myself to embrace every second that God and Universe have entrusted to me.
But mommy guilt is real and plagues even the strongest of minds. It is pervasive and non-relenting. You cannot work it away, or exercise it away, or even drink it away. (Yes, I’ve tried all three-but not at the same time, necessarily). It takes something really special to shift the focus from “I am a terrible mom” to–well, quite frankly–anything else. I am incredibly fortunate in that my brother (and my best friend), who was forced to witness my pain, provided me with the wonderful distraction that has enabled me to again feel like a competent human being, a good mom and someone of benefit to many other children as well.
“Dannie, let’s write a children’s book about the barn,” he said to me one day. Sure, we had tossed around the idea before but this time his tone was very different. My brother and I grew up on a boarding stable (our barn) that my dad owned and operated in his “free” time. We both loved it there. We both agreed it was the best time of our lives. Our father loved it there as well, and he deeply loved his animals. And since our father’s sudden illness and untimely passing about a decade ago, we both felt an innate need to pass along his legacy. (We were eventually forced to sell the property.) Writing a children’s book about our barn and our beloved animals seemed like a great way to connect our dad to his granddaughter, whom he never had the privilege of meeting.
There was just one problem. I wasn’t exactly in a creative place at the time and did not think I could lend my brother much in the way of positivity or success or even fond memories. I did not want my sad state to influence him. He did a fair amount of convincing for some time, but what really got my attention was something he stated one day at Sunday dinner. “Creativity can heal…and having a little fun wouldn’t kill you either. Do it for your daughter if you won’t do it for yourself.” Well…duh. I mean, what mom can argue with that?
So, we sat down to write a children’s book about the barn, a task neither of us really had any idea how to accomplish, and we failed horribly. Our first draft was so awful that we couldn’t do anything with it except agree to never speak of it again. I was discouraged, but my brother was not. He took the reins and plowed through the beginnings of a new draft, and it wasn’t half bad. Once we had some momentum behind us, the book eventually turned into a four-part adventure with five of our most-treasured animal friends leading the charge, and a young boy Joey (in honor of our dad) following faithfully behind. It also led to many treasured friendships from kind lenders of book-writing and book-publishing-aid along the way.
The books took on a life of their own in a very short period of time, and my brother and I slowly became entranced in our old-meets-new world of happiness and lightheartedness. We were back at the barn, getting into trouble, laughing at ourselves and our funny animals, and creating something for children with love and humility. To say the experience has been uplifting truly would not do it justice. Just the other day, I got to watch my two-year-old open our book for the very first time. She asked me to read it to her, and when I finished, all she said to me was “again.” It was maybe the greatest thing I had ever heard come out of her mouth, second only to when I heard “Mama” for the first time.
A day later, she said to someone, “This is my buddy, my mommy, and this is my book.” That’s right, baby girl, it’s all yours—created from a fantastic place where the energy of someone’s love for your mom literally transformed sadness into light, hope, dry eyes and a sense of adequate mommihood.
Dannie Maiolo currently spends the better part of her days finding herself. This consists of many different tasks, including but not limited to, writing, teaching, coaching, lawyering, meeting new people, reading, riding her horse, attempting CrossFit, and most importantly, serving as mom to the most amazing little soul on planet Earth. Visit her at www.littleredbarnbooks.com or on Instagram @littleredbarnbooks.