* Editor’s Note * We began this project one year ago in July 2011, in order to show the strength and diversity of today’s families, mothers and fathers. Through the stories contributed here we have learned a powerful and universal truth: parenthood will bring out the best — and the worst — in you.
This week we present, in four parts, the story of California mother and teacher, Benita Scheckel. We found Benita’s frank assessment of herself and her relationship truly compelling. In her story we witness the highs and lows of a vulnerable young mother and wife. We watch breathlessly as she moves from her Worst parenting moment to her Best. In her story, we live the unexpected days and heartbreaking nights that is parenthood and marriage. In her story, we see ourselves.
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* PART THREE*
NAME Benita Scheckel
HOMETOWN Pasadena, CA
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Two
DAY JOB Teacher/Actress
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Married 22 years this summer!
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HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
When we became pregnant, people said, “Well say goodbye to sleeping for the rest of your lives!” We interpreted this to mean the obvious, infant stage when babies don’t sleep through the night. But it was more than that. Once you become a parent, your mind, body, soul is never just yours again. There is always a part of your psyche focused outside of yourself on your children. You worry they will not make it past infancy, and then toddler-hood, and then pre-school and so on and so on. There is a real sacrificing of yourself. It is done gradually and with love but every decision you make after having children is colored with how will it affect your children. You’re never again just you.
HOW HAS PARENTING AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
I never understood divorce. I mean I figured, you fall in love, you get married. It’s not like we are forced to marry our spouse so what’s the problem? (Both my parents have been married and divorced 4 times). And then we had children and I understood exactly why people get divorced.
Children make it very hard to have any romantic, glossy images of yourself and life once they come on to the scene. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of beautiful, romantic moments of gazing at your children, playing in the park, and musing over their great beauty and intelligence. But, there are a lot more poop covered, lice infested, chicken pox scratching, howling all night, vomiting and crying moments than soft, romantic perfect family vignettes.
The first misery as a woman, is saying goodbye to your unmarred, pre-pregnancy body.
Now I know that there are plenty of young mothers, little happy vegans with their daily pilates classes and wheat grass shots who went right back to their size two jeans just weeks after giving birth. More power to you! But that was definitely not me. I mean, I continued to exercise and worry about my body and by the way, I still do. But the truth is that it just didn’t seem as important anymore. I mean, I wanted to be healthy but I no longer wanted to rush out of the house at dinner time to take that jazzercise class. (For you young moms that was Zumba in the ‘80’s.) Or wake up at 5 a.m. to go exercise and miss the morning feeding or cuddle time in bed.
I didn’t have any post-partum depression but I definitely felt a shift in power once the babies came. I think I felt a little trapped. I relied quite a bit on being attractive and having options. Once I had babies, I felt very tied to my husband in a way that was vulnerable and a bit scary. I needed him emotionally, financially and physically. Would he be reliable? I was a bit scared.
He retreated a bit too. I think becoming a father was terrifying for him. He loved it but it brought up all sorts of emotions. He told me that becoming a parent was a trip because it was the first time that you experience something from three different angles all at once. You remember yourself as a child, you see things through your own parents’ eyes for the first time and then you experience yourself as the parent. It is a lot coming at you at once. It is very emotionally draining.
I remember that he had just taken a new job when our first child was born and he completely shut off from me emotionally. I needed him so much and he just went to work, came home, ate dinner and went to sleep. I wanted to make love and talk and he would turn his back to me, shut off the light and go to sleep. I became very lonely and angry.
I was working in a musical at that time and I became friends with my leading man. He was very handsome and kind. He loved to talk with me and seemed fascinated by everything I had to say. We started hanging out after rehearsals and I thought, “Well this is great. I mean, I have my husband at home and he doesn’t want to deal with me. He thinks I’m a nuisance. So I have a male friend who will fill my need to talk and that’s all good.” I was extremely naïve.
It was all a wonderful solution until he reached over one night while sitting in my car talking, and kissed me. I was completely unprepared for that and yet helpless to object because we’d already formed an emotional bond. I didn’t even know this was possible.
We started an affair and I thought I had married the wrong person.
I went home and announced to my husband that I was leaving him. It was awful. My husband graciously helped me find and pay for an apartment and I moved out. My gentle, taciturn husband fell apart. He cried and screamed and accused me of ruining our lives. I felt nothing. I just coolly moved out and we began sharing visitation with our baby daughter who was 2 at the time.
Now I know this sounds a bit corny but I promise this is true. I had been out of our home for about three weeks. I was living in my own place, seeing my new boyfriend and feeling like I was on the right track. One afternoon I was sitting on the floor of my apartment, just thinking and I had this sort of vision or dream or something. I don’t think I was asleep.
I saw two paths. One was well lit and the signage said, “Your mother.” The other was dark and I could not read the sign.
I understood in that moment that I was simply following my mother’s path. I felt sorry for her and I felt compassion. I now understood why she left so many marriages. She must have felt so lonely and emotionally abandoned as I did. I knew what I had to do. I had to take the road less traveled. I had to see what happened to the woman who stayed in the marriage.
I called my husband immediately and asked him if I could come home. He said, “of course” and picked me up and moved me back into our home. I never looked back. I only looked forward. It took a lot of strength for us to move on. My husband was hurt and angry. If I forgot to pick up coffee at the store he would scream at me uncontrollably about how I left our marriage. I sought counseling at the time and the therapist told me that my husband needed to get it out. For about a year, I just kept quiet. I apologized to him over and over again until he felt safe and healed.
But he also learned that I needed him to be emotionally available to me. We were married young, I was 24 and he was 22. We grew up together. We learned a lot from that horrific experience and it made our relationship much stronger. This July we celebrate 22 years of marriage and I am so glad I took the path unknown.
Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of Benita’s story.