An Imperfect Heart: The Beginning

I was born with an imperfect heart.

It wasn’t until I was 22, and I mentioned the heaviness I felt across my chest, that a doctor discovered it.  An imperfection so small it had gone unnoticed though I had carried it with me my whole life.  I immediately blamed my mother.  It was one more bullet point on the list I was compiling.

Funny thing is, the heaviness had nothing to do with the structure of my heart.  But everything to do with imperfection.

If we are lucky, the perspective we gain in adulthood helps us to forgive many of the missteps our parents took when we were children.  If we are lucky.  And are willing to put in the time.  Do the work.  That’s where I’ve been the past few years.  Trying to get rid of the laundry list. The bullet points of blame that I would hold up in my mother’s face during our worst moments together.  I’ve been chipping away at it, a little at a time.  The progress is often slower than I would like.  When I am tired, or overwhelmed, I can feel how easy it would be to slide back down to where I began.  Like a never ending game of Chutes and Ladders.

Somewhere, in all that bullet-pointing, I think I lost a lot of memories.  I was so busy keeping track of the pain that I forgot to register the joy.  I can feel the worst moments like I am living them all over again.  But, when I try to conjure up the good, the visions are so foggy that I doubt they were real.  I know we must have shared moments so pure that they were filled with nothing but love.

I know we did…

Because she is a child of the water, my mom baptized us in her lake almost immediately upon birth.  I know this because I‘ve seen it in black and white.  When I look at those images and close my eyes, I can feel the touch of her hands as she gently floats me on the waves.  I can see her clapping with real pride, a few years later, as I completed my first successful solo swim to the deep end.  I basked in her joy.

I was as tiny as a mouse when I was strapped into my first pair of skis.  Majestic Hills. The mountains of Wisconsin.  My mom held me tight between her legs, one arm around my oversized winter jacket and one grasping the rope-tow.  She transferred her entire history on the snow into my small self as we climbed slowly up the hill.  I never felt afraid. I felt magic. I felt freedom.  I loved the cold, and the wind, and the warm apple cider donuts in the lodge. I loved my mom.

She always made sure we had paints, and Playdough, and wax to make candles. We had boxes of pinecones, and beads, and glitter, and glue. And bags of shiny metallic shapes in colors that shouted “groovy”. Sometimes, our crafty enthusiasm spilled onto the white shag carpet that covered our floors.  There was yelling, and we would hide under our bed for awhile.  But the paint was never taken away.  Creativity was always given higher value than cleanliness.

When I was about six or seven, my mom took us to the hardware store.  She bought us each a chisel and a small hammer and told us we were going to the gravel pit.  We spent hours in the pit, way out in the back acres of my grandma’s farm, trying to break rocks in half.  Treasure hunting.  A week later, we dumped our boxes full of rock bits on the desk of the director of our local history museum.  I remember my mom standing back against a dusty shelf in the old museum, smiling as she watched the director pick through our discoveries. She bought us Fossil Finders from the gift shop on the way out.

I ran away to the woods a million times. Often I would return before anyone would know I was gone.  Sometimes, I would boldly stomp out the door proclaiming that I would survive off of the carrot and lettuce seeds that I would plant once I had made my shelter.  My mom never laughed, or scolded, or tried to keep me from leaving. She wished me well and sent me on my way.  When my growling tummy and fear of the dark forced me to creep back inside, she gave me a sandwich and tucked me into bed.

These are the moments I have been trying to string together.  I’ve been trying to make them weigh more than the bullet points.  They speak in a quiet voice and it’s often hard for them to fight their way to the top in the noisy world of my memory.  There are things I am not sure I will ever remember.  I couldn’t hear “I love you,” or “You are good enough.”  I don’t think that arms embraced me when I was scared at night or when my heart felt broken.  Maybe, I’m not sure. But I am done using that as ammunition. All I can do is start where I am standing and write it down so the voice of the good grows louder.

It’s so hard to be a parent, even when you’re a good one.  It’s a gamble.  And a lot of breath holding. I’m learning as I go and that, unfortunately, means my kids are the guinea pigs. I wonder what memories they’re retaining. I say silent prayers every day that my moments of parenting genius outweigh my moments of out-right failure.  When I make a mistake, I try to admit it.  And each time, the weight of those bullet points, and my imperfect heart, grows a little lighter.  Because I know that you can make a million mistakes and it has nothing to do with how much you love.



About melissaamoore

At my best, I try to be a voice for children. At my very best, I help them find their own voice. Somewhere along the way, I've also been discovering my own.
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16 Responses to An Imperfect Heart: The Beginning

  1. luluandphoebe says:

    sigh. I love this piece and I do believe you speak for a lot of daughters, if not sons, out there.

  2. barrybdoyle says:

    Long been one of my favorites of yours Melissa, engendered the affection in fact. That we had some additional connections was a wonderful discovery as well.

  3. You are good enough. You’re better than good enough – you’re great. I’m so glad to see you in your own lovely, peaceful space.

  4. It’s very hard work you’re doing. It’s never easy, is it? I suspect even the Brady Bunch kids would have had to deal with some parent issues, and they aren’t even real. :-S

    You wrote the hell out of this. Beautiful.

  5. Jodi says:

    I’m so glad you’re building a new home! Thanks for sharing this with us again because, like everyone else, I love it. I’m subscribing!

  6. Lisa Kern says:

    One of my best-loved pieces of yours, Melissa. It’s a different perspective that we have on the past once we become parents ourselves. I have a strong feeling that your children will look back on you with nothing but love.

  7. Melissa… lovely. I have the hardest time finding the kind of moments you’ve strung together so elegantly. It’s one of my biggest fears that my kids will remember only the times I lost my cool, and not the times of joy and creativity and fun. You’ve touched on something here that goes to the core of parenting and being parented.

  8. Maria Stuart says:

    Beautiful piece, Melissa, maybe even better the second time around. I like your new home and intend to make myself a frequent guest here!

  9. chuck stetson says:

    Melissa — it’s so good to see this… I wish you writing peace and happiness.

  10. Lorraine Berry says:

    Oh, this is good. I had so many things going through my head as I read it: my relationship with my mother; my relationship with my two girls, who I worry constantly that I’m making mistakes with; that poem that begins, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad, they don’t mean to, but they do….”

    And I’m so glad that you’re writing. I’ll be back. Thank you for inviting me.

  11. Annie says:

    love you ❤

  12. iamsurly says:

    You’re purty.

  13. Thanks you guys – the journey of writing with all of you is what helped me come to the day where I could write this. I’m hoping it really is only the beginning….not sure of what but I guess that doesn’t matter.

  14. marytkelly says:

    Your writing is so vivid and your words are so poignant. It’s not easy to take the time to explore our pasts with the balance of not being too over indulgent, skewing the memories or even remembering them in ways that will be helpful to us in the present. You show us a thoughtful roadmap on how to do that. Thank you.

  15. Beautiful, Melissa. Glad you’re here. I’ve always loved this post.

  16. Bill S. says:

    You can use the gunpowder of memories to make ammunition – or to make fireworks. There are a few lines from an old favorite song that this piece brings to mind:
    “I’ve been trying to get down
    To the heart of the matter
    Because the flesh will get weak
    And the ashes will scatter
    So I’m thinking about

    I’ve discovered that putting the blame aside and accepting your parents for who they are is the greatest gift you can give yourself. I have hopes that my children will learn this lesson too, that parents aren’t perfect and there is no owner’s guide for child-raising.

    You live and you learn. At any rate, you live. 😀

    Sorry to be so late to the party here, but I’m glad you invited me. I sincerely enjoy your writing style, Melissa. And make no mistake, your heart seems perfect to me.

    Bill S.

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