I was a wild one when I was in my thirties. I had a sign in my office above my desk that said, “I type like I live. Fast, with lots of misteaks.” (There were no computers way back then—we used electric typewriters.) The sign always got a laugh from first-time viewers. They laughed, but it was true. I drank a lot, I rode around in fast cars, I partied, I stayed out all night and dragged in late to work.
I was making lots and lots of misteaks. I lost a couple of jobs. I got new ones right away, though, which kept me from facing up to the need to straighten up and fly right. Jobs grew on trees in young Silicon Valley forty years ago. I drove drunk and got DUIs. One night stands out because I did NOT get a DUI. I quietly drove off-road after leaving a restaurant on the edge of a San Francisco Bay inlet, and ended up on the bottom with my car completely submerged in salt water. I don’t remember how I got out of the car but I did, and stumbled into a Mercedes showroom. They summoned the police and I was transported to a hospital for overnight observation. I wasn’t given a DUI or even cited because no one saw the accident. They just saw a dripping wet, muddy, bedraggled young woman.
Don’t worry. All this gets better, just hang in with me a bit.
After my Bay swim, as if the misteaks I’d already made weren’t enough, I made a DOOZIE. I got pregnant, by a man I’d been dating for a few months. Finally, I was scared. Petrified. I did all right financially as a corporate writer and editor but I didn’t have a steady job with a lot of security. I had no extended family for support. I didn’t know if Mike was going to help me and his child. I didn’t know anything about being a mother. I went to Planned Parenthood, and spoke with a woman who definitely favored the abortion route. She frightened me, more than I was already, with her tales of how difficult it would be to bring up a child by myself.
But by that time I deeply loved the baby—him or her. Back then we didn’t know the gender until the baby was born. I decided to have the baby and keep it rather than put it up for adoption.
That was thirty-six years ago. I still remember the day Michele was born. I wasn’t ready for how much I loved her. It was like an emotional earthquake and tsunami and Category 5 storm all at once. I loved her so much it scared me. Mike and I lived together for five years but never married. He did support his daughter, always, and we actually shared custody when she was small. But as time went on things got more complicated. When she reached the science-project stage of grade school we practically had to rent a U-Haul to get the projects back and forth. From then on she stayed with me and spent every other weekend with her dad.
I made lots of misteaks as a mother. I continued to drink alcoholically until she was three. But one morning I woke up and had my Moment of Clarity, a phenomenon well-known in AA circles. I realized without a shred of doubt that if I continued drinking I would lose Michele, either physically or emotionally or both. There was a county alcoholism treatment center close to where we lived, and I got out of bed that morning and called about their services. I went to a group meeting that very night and haven’t had a drink since. I went from the county treatment center to lifelong membership in AA. Five years after that I quit smoking. Michele absolutely hated smoking—a filthy habit, for sure—and I finally got to the point where I couldn’t stand her nagging anymore. I paid for five sessions with a licensed hypnotherapist and haven’t smoked since.
Michele and I have had some rocky times but she’s brought more love into my life than I ever thought possible before she was born. And pain, too. She graduated from college and is married and working now, and lives in a nearby town, but a few years ago she estranged herself from me for two years. That was more pain in my life that I ever thought possible. I had quit drinking but I still had a lot of stinking thinking, and ghosts from my childhood, lots of anger, rejection, the shock and sadness of my father’s suicide, and other traumas. I’ve worked through a lot of it but even now much remains. My work is cut out for me. Recently I joined the Religious Science church. It involves constant study and there are frequent classes and discussions about basically seeing the deeper side of things, beyond appearances. It helps me stay positive—and keeps me busy.
I’m far from a perfect mother, but I always do my best. And I realize that getting pregnant and having Michele was the best thing I ever did. She might be the main reason I’m still alive. My drinking was becoming more and more destructive, as continued drinking always does. Thank God I didn’t injure anyone, or worse, while I was driving around drunk. Michele in my life has made me such a better person. I’m much more honest about myself now, and see my flaws, and do my best to change them, and have learned to apologize when it’s called for. I’ve been to anger management classes and forgiveness classes and all kinds of other classes, I meditate, I read spiritual books constantly, I volunteer… I do these things because I want to be the best person, and the best mother of a 36-year-old, that I can be.
Getting pregnant seemed like a misteak at the time but it wasn’t. Even my drive into the bay no longer seems like a misteak. When I’m discouraged, it’s one of the things on my cheer-up list because it shows me how much God loves me. I have absolutely no memory of getting out of the car and swimming to shore. I was guided by an invisible force that has always been there to protect me. The police said my car was deeply submerged and far out in the water. They were amazed that I made it to shore. They figured I was on the swim team in school. But I wasn’t on the swim team. I dog-paddled, that’s the only stroke I knew. And nevertheless here I am, thirty-some years later, alive and blogging about it.
It does me more good to look at what I used to think of as misteaks in a different light. Now I call them learning experiences. I examine them and draw all the wisdom and understanding and guidance that I can squeeze out of them. Instead of feeling ashamed, I profit from them. I learn. In fact, I no longer believe there are any misteaks. Everything happens for a reason, one which isn’t always apparent.
Well, there is one thing I consider a misteak. A real one. It’s meowing at me now. A ragtag, scroungy feral cat used to run through my yard a lot and one time I broke down and fed it. That’s all it takes. One time. They never stop hounding you after that. Now, a small fortune later, he’s neutered, immunized, and deflead. He has a heated bed and gets Fancy Feast. He considers all this his divine right, no way a misteak.
The Power of Chocolate: “If there’s no chocolate in heaven, I’m not going.”