Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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S + M and Max

I used to be this girl. I miss her.

Now that I'm coming out the other side it's a little bit easier to write about.

It got really bad after the house fire. I think it was so bad I didn't really admit it to myself even. I was so terrified by how dejected and hopeless I was feeling that I didn't really want to acknowledge it. Couldn't acknowledge it. Acknowledging would send me over the edge. Like removing a blood soaked towel from a gaping chest wound, it might be the end of me. I just kept trying to sop up the blood and get on with my day.

So I jammed the towel into my wound as hard as I could and kicked into autopilot mode.

And there I stayed until this past trip to New York City. Even just the four hour road trip felt like coming up for air after being underwater so long you feel like you can't make it another second. Every day all day people needing needing needing. Our entire days are an endless gauntlet of responding to our children's needs. It's exhausting.

New York City makes my heart pound with excitement. Even when I lived there a couple years, each excursion anywhere filled me with adrenaline and wonder. But it wasn't just that, the rubbing shoulders with the inherent excitement of New York City. It was visiting a past version of myself I had forgotten about. In tipping my hat to the girl I was at 27 I realized I made a mistake after becoming a mother. I lost myself in motherhood. I dove into the deep end the day Violet was born and I've been treading water ever since, this close to just silently slipping under. I mean, I hadn't been away from my kids for a single night since their birth, for godsakes! And I was proud of that, thinking that my constant, unrelenting presence was somehow a sign of great parenting.

I lost myself.

Serge and I nearly lost our marriage.

I forgot how awesome I am, y'all! Because I am! I'm totally awesome. It's just that life snuck up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and bitch-slapped me. I got into a street fight with life and life whipped out a switchblade and jabbed me good. But I think I'm back and ready to kick life's ass again. And what I mean by being awesome isn't that I am this fantastic individual. I just mean that I got this. I am aware. I can assess that, quite honestly, I haven't been being very awesome but I know I can fix that. I can work on myself and adjust the things I'm doing wrong and try and make it better. Because yeah, even though he's a total assface a lot I've got to figure that, for Serge, living with me over the past couple months has probably been pretty similar to living with a chick in a constant state of PMS.

All we can do is keep trying. And I want to try. Once you don't want to try anymore, what have you got left? Not much.

If I can impart any single most important bit of advice to a new mom it would be this: Don't forget about yourself! Motherhood is all consuming. Every moment of your day, even if you work full-time, is consumed by thoughts of your child. Guilt, unfortunately, is a mom's best friend. Always has, probably always will be. Guilt over everything. Too much TV. Not enough mom time. Didn't read them any stories today. Didn't brush their teeth. Chicken nuggets for dinner three times in a row. Chocolate milk again. Too many cookies. Yelled at your kid for whining. Ignoring your kid for an hour so you can surf the internet - all guilt-inducing! Basically, every move you make in life now causes you guilt, right? And chances are, you were probably screwed up by your parents so you want so badly to do it right and so you slam the gear into overdrive and just keep on truckin' even when you get a flat tire.

Stop and fix the flat! Recharge yourself! Maintain your interests. Get a trusted babysitter and go out of the house on your own, even if it's just to grab a coffee and browse the book aisle at Barnes & Noble. A couple hours here and there throughout the week is crucial.

I didn't do that, you guys. And I just became this angry, injured, depressed woman who had to claw through a black cloud just to get out of bed in the morning. It wasn't until I walked the streets of my old Brooklyn 'hood that I remembered I used to be someone else before all this happened. I was this sassy little broad who had the world by the tail.

I stood outside that crappy little Brooklyn apartment and searched for the letters I knew were there. They were tough to see. Six years old, a million sneakers, stilettos and boots wearing them away over time. Worn down over time: kind of like me. And then I spotted them:

S + M and Max.

Before this whole parenting thing began. We were there. We're still there. Engraved in our own little chunk of expensive New York real estate. So now, hundreds of miles away in the middle of the Pennsylvania countryside, I need to work to make sure that engraving doesn't become a tombstone. I need to keep that girl alive, need to keep scrapping with life because I have a switchblade too and I will totally cut a bitch.

Reader Comments (40)

Thank you, Monica. Thank you...I needed to read that today. Thank you.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermelanie

awesome lady!

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdg

Wow. Thank you. For writing about your experiences. For inspiring another Monica, who has also lost herself in motherhood, to get back out there and find the person I used to be.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonica F.

Funny how something so important to survival of your entire family (you having your own life) is seen by so many women as being so selfish that they willingly abandon themselves. I am so glad you found out that without you having your own identity your kids will never know you.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarty, The Napkin Dad

Thank you Monica! It's not just becoming a mother. I lost myself when i became a wife. Got trapped by the expectations of what a "wife" should be. I lost my awesomeness. I am working my way back. I know I am doing well when my husband looks at me with a "there you are" look on his face and breaks into a big grin.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

I totally understand this, feel like I've lost my old self too. Thank you for this post, makes me realise I'm not the only mum to feel this way x

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSonya McConville

This how I knew you. This time in your life. And you might not realize it, but Emily was Violet's age when I fell in love with Marah and back in love with my own life. She was 2 when I started to love music and writing and going out and being me again. Of course there have been many many bumps along the way - but it was a turning point of me-ness.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz aka EDW

This is awesome, as per usual!

I do relate to this. Remembering who we were.,

I don't have kids, and I haven't lost myself in that way, but I do feel like I've lost me, the essence of who I am. Gone, in a blur or mid 30s, work, life, blah.

But, I am finally doing something about it! Something big, and different and exciting coming up later this year, to shake it all about and mix it up!

I think you should definitely do more trips! And leave the kids with grandparents, and take a trip somewhere with Serge too. Sassy little broad. Yes you fucking are! So am I!

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterA

You are all kinds of awesome, Monica! Beautiful, intelligent, totally "got this"! Wonderful post.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

Perhaps you have read this, but I thought she was spot on (as are you!): "A well-known parenting magazine recently asked me to write an advice column for them. "About what?" I asked. "About how to raise happier kids," they answered. "Jeeeeez," I responded, "I don't know. I think the kids are all right. I'd rather help make mamas happier."

Here is the link to her article,b=facebook

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBonnie

Holly Shit did I NEED to read this!! Thanks for the reminder, it's so damn hard sometimes!

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily C

I am going to forward this on to a couple of my girlfriends who I think could use it. Thank you so much, as always, for being so honest. By the way - I have a girl crush on that Monica - keep fighting baby. :)

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRichelle

I think it's especially hard when you have children before you really know yourself. I've always loved the quote "stop waiting to find yourself and create yourself." As women we need to give ourselves permission to grow and change and damn, stop labeling ourselves and each other!

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTania

I find that music keeps me alive. When I stop going out to see my favorite bands play live, stop seeing friends, stop finding new music... that's when it gets bad for me.

Hey, there's a great band playing at the Wonder Bar this Friday night if you want to meet me there. You can bring your boyfriend if you want, I think he might have fun too!

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStarsky

Great post! Mothering definitely takes over from time to time. Sometimes my kids just need me more. Sometimes I have to make a huge effort to take some time for myself. Life is constantly ebbing and flowing.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBarb

Excellent post. It is SO true. It makes me so sad when mothers boast and brag about never having been away from their kids for even one night. And when they say they absolutely couldn't cope with being away from them for more than a couple of hours. I can see them drowning when I read between the lines. Of course we can't neglect and abandon our kids, but getting away from time-to-time allows us to be more relaxed and more present when we are with them. Nothing is one-dimensional -- especially parenting. You go!!

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

This is a little reason why I don't have kids... I grew up witnessing my mom being so, very overwhelmed by us. Welcome back Manhattan Miss.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Good for you Monica! I hope you keep at it. I have definitely noticed lately that you don't seem to really like Serge at all. The he said/she said seemed a lot more like a marriage imploding than a fun everyday 'annoyance' video.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I never had kids, but it is easy enough to lose track of oneself when one doesn't have children. I think my neice who is expecting her first baby needs to read this post. Glad you reconnected with the "old" you; maybe there's hope for me, too.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanis

I am not part of the Babble here with regard to mothering children, yet often become lost in my work as a home health nurse. While I love the freedom of this type of work, I still need to disembark from the daily grind and find some fun and adventure in the world. I am glad you had yourself a great awakening and caught up with yourself in the process!

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergina

I hardly ever comment, but I'm a longtime faithful reader, and I wanted you to know that this post has me crying at my desk. This is absolutely one of my biggest fears about having a baby. I've worked really hard all these 34 years on figuring out me--and I finally like me--and I'm absolutely terrified of losing that in becoming a mom.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHeather M.

I am a 5 week old first-time mother and not sure if im coming or going! My mind and body in constant battle between feeling something or nothing! My companion and friend.... Mr. Guilt... Thank you for reminding me through your words that I'm still alive and still someone... Not just a mother but still.... me! And that it's ok to still fight!

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIlona

I just exhaled for you.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I have had "me" day once every few weeks since I had my daughter last year. This may include anything from a mani/pedi to a walk to the library myself. My hubby and I have date night once a month-dinner/movie/whatever, and every few months I go out for a glass of wine with my friends after work (this is easy, we live in the city and there are restaurants and bars all over the place) lots of Friday nights we have our childless friends over-we supply pizza they bring the wine-it's usually pre-game to them,but whatever-I'm exhausted by 9Pm anyway and happy to hang out, but happy when they leave. Win-win! I even went to NYC by myself in Feb to visit friends-it was hard, and I cried the whole way there, but I am determined to not drown in jumperoos, poop, and baby talk.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa


March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMe

I feel like I need to play Devil's Advocate for all of the commenters who say that they are terrified of having kids. I felt the same way. I was totally convinced that I'd lose myself in motherhood. Twenty months later I'm hear to tell you that that isn't the case. I still work three days a week (thank God!), attend book club once a month, have lunch with my friends, workout, etc. My kid sleeps 7 pm to 7 am so that leave me plenty of time to go out in the evening. Often times the babysitter arrives after he is asleep and he never even knows that we are gone. My husband and I are about to go to Brazil for a week while the kiddo spends half the week with one grandma and the other half with the other. Obviously a trip to Brazil isn't feasible for most couples, but most people could get away for a weekend (even if that time is spent crashing on a friend's couch together). I just want to say that losing yourself is NOT inevitable. There are ways to avoid going down that road - you just have to really believe that a happy mama makes for a happy family. I know it is a cliche but it is true. Will I feel guilty spending a week with my husband sans child? HELL NO! It is the best thing that we can do as parents.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAb

Monica, This says so well what mothers feel and cannot put into words. Thank you. It took a full year after each child to get back to being "me". But the guilt is a daily battle....
One idea for alone time on the cheap is to trade babysitting with a friend.
Thanks for sharing the journey back to you.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercynthia coffey

Who gives a shit?

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

This hits so close to home for me. I too have gotten lost in my children, but recently I am finding me again. Thanks for reminding me that I am not alone in this. I love your writing and a lot of your posts seem to come at just the right time for me.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJocelyn

"Too much TV. Not enough mom time. Didn't read them any stories today. Didn't brush their teeth. Chicken nuggets for dinner three times in a row. Chocolate milk again. Too many cookies. Yelled at your kid for whining. Ignoring your kid for an hour so you can surf the internet..."

No offense people, but wake up. If that's the way you want to parent, do the kid a favor and just don't get knocked up.

March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJust a reader

You're fucking amazing. It's true!
Seeing that engraving broke my heart a a really good way.
So loved reading this.

And I disagree with Julie re: your marriage. What I have always loved about you and Serge is how real you guys are and how, seemingly, there is this really deep down in the guts love and commitment to one another. Shit gets tough - really tough - but the love always seems tougher.

Always rooting your for you guys and always rooting for YOU!

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermr

I just want to comment that I too disagree re you and your spouse. My husband love your videos, the love between you too is palpable, but not in a gooey soap opera way. that photo took my breath away. and just my 2 cents "just a reader" obviously "ain't a parent" and not fair to insinuate a child is going to sleep 7 to 7, yeah for you, not most people's reality.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermary cate

Amen. Get it. And thanks.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Ooh! Meanness from Vanessa and Just a Reader! Ignore them.

I also root for you and Serge and could clearly see you were struggling. But so what? Who is married for many years who doesn't have periods of struggle? Who parents small children and doesn't struggle? Who goes through a catastrophe like a house fire and doesn't struggle?

A few months of feeling low in a long term marriage is just one of the peaks and valleys any marriage experiences.

The good news is that you got out of the house and could look at things with a fresh perspective. We all need that.

It's hard to see things clearly when you're right in the middle of them and simultaneously trying to calm a squalling baby with a loaded diaper. My children are grown up now but I calculated an average of how many diapers I changed in my life (17,000+), how many meals I've cooked, how many grocery store trips I've made, how many loads of laundry I've done, etc. I did this just to get an idea of the numbers and they were both staggering and depressing.

Parenting and marriage are about hanging in there for the long haul. Whatever you need to do to accomplish it whether it be a weekend away or a night out with friends or any kind of alone time, DO IT. Pay attention to YOUR needs as well as the needs of the children. Everyone will be happier and healthier for it.

I'm hoping you and Serge get to go on a weekend away together next time.

Oh, and by the way, my husband often comes up behind me when I'm reading this blog and he thinks you're incredibly hot. When he saw this green tank top picture I thought he was going to have a conniption fit. ha ha

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

Amazing post Monica. You have really tapped into a huge universal truth here! It's okay to change, we can't go back. BUT there is a core to every person that is always there. A deeply held true self that is connected to all others. Its sits there just waiting for moments like these. Thanks for reminding us all to look for it.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

Your honesty is brave and refreshing, and you are still very very awesome Monica.

I think life is a series of losing yourself then finding yourself again. Over and over. I don't think that stops. I too lost myself during the early marriage and baby years. But I found myself at 33. Lost myself again at 39 due to my health. Finding myself again now and I'm on the upswing. It's a cycle.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

@mary kate:

Actually I am a parent. I have a 20 year old and an 8 year old. And I'm standing by what I said. If anyone reading this wants to be a crappy parent they ought to just not have kids anyway.

When you have kids you do become a new person and that person better be devoted to being a good parent and yes, a lot of that for little kids is HANDS ON CARE.

Narcissists who want to live in the past need not apply. "Glory days, well they pass you by..." You know the song.

And Monica if you & Serge are so depressed why not stop drinking? Alcohol is a major depressant.

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJust a reader

Just had an intervention type thing happen this week. My husband missed me, he didn't think my daughter was seeing the best of me. "What happened to you?" He asked. I use to be light hearted, free, fun and never worried obsessively about things,I have no control over. Turning me into a sharp edged, overly critical, hard ass disaster.

Fourth day today.... Working on me.

What keeps my husband and I ok is knowing we have the same ultimate goal..... Our family.

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJPB

It's also helpful to remember that it does children a disservice to pour your sense of self into them--that kind of enmeshment leads to all sorts of psychological issues later (not that i think they are conscious of it now but would become so if you maintained the same way of living longterm). Your kids will only benefit from seeing that you have an identity separate from and not dependent upon them. Feeling you are your parents reason for living is way too much pressure. Glad to see you fighting your way back. It still seems to me like you suffer from clinical depression and I can only urge you to consider the possibility that if that's true yo will always be at risk for the kind of lows you so often describe--you just can't out think chemical Depression but you can fight it with chemicals of your own....Wishing you continued happiness however you choose to find it.

March 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterE.

I've recently stumbled onto your blog, and was captivated by your story of you and Serge, and then the family, and the marital struggles. I don't know you, but I totally think you guys are lovely. I am really hoping for a positive outcome with you and your best friend and lover. All those little tihngs add up when we don't acknowledge them as they're happening, but it seems that both of you are fighters and lovers. Please fight for your love:) You're such a sweet family.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

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