The story capturing the attention (if not the heart) of the nation is that of Pennsylvanian mother Brenda Heist who “on a whim” decided to leave her divorcing husband and two children, and hitchhike down to Florida to start a new life. It has been eleven years, and thousands of police hours were spent looking for her, not to mention the grief of those children (now in their twenties) but Ms. Heist (her real name) made the decision never to contact her family and tell them she was alive. She lived in homelessness, destitution and poverty… so she wouldn’t have to be a mother.
Oh sure, she was stressed about her upcoming divorce from Mr. Heist, and had just been denied public housing for herself and her two children. But ultimately this woman decided that a life spent living on the streets, scrounging for food, living under bridges with the dangers of being a homeless woman, was preferable to dealing the daily bullshit of two children.
Which one of us hasn’t felt like that?
I too have gazed in wonder at homeless people, at liberty to prowl the world at their own leisure, free from the daily tyranny of baseball practice, PTA fundraisers and piano class. How glorious to be mercifully exempt from the pesky duties of hygiene, proper manners and social mores that demand we not punch the self-serving mother judging our parenting skills in her lightly lip-glossed mouth. How desirable to be free from making our children follow these same constraints of conduct and hygiene! For what parent has not longed for homelessness and death after the fifteenth time repeating, “Put on your shoes?”
And yet… only 5% of women make this choice and there’s a reason why. What Brenda Heist did is unfathomable even to the mother who wants to throttle her children for the tag team crying festival that took place in her house last night (that would be me.) I’m not judging her (I am) but more importantly, I’m going to stop judging myself. I’ve decided that anything I have served up to my kids since they were born, nifty life experiences like maternal rage, inferior culinary skills and the separation with their father, is still way preferable to hitching to Florida with a bunch of nasty hippies to likely get hooked on hard drugs and hang out with lowlifes. In the land of maternal crimes, turns out I’m a lightweight.
I’m stopping the penance for every transgression I’ve ever committed against my person, my family’s person or any other person’s person. That’s right, I’m doffing my hair shirt, climbing down off the cross and quitting my nightly stints on the bed of nails. Any spiritual tradition that involves repentance is over, I ain’t even fasting on Yom Kippur anymore (I’m hypoglycemic anyway, so I don’t have to.) I’ve decided that the Good Lord of the Old Testament (and possibly even the Jewish Jesus of the New Testament) has seen my transgressions and rendered them good. For no matter how awful it all gets, and as bad as I am, I will never be Brenda Heist. And for that I am grateful, Amen.