Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Step 4: Our Naughty and Nice Lists

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Step 4: We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

After giving myself to God, I'm on to Step Four, immediately, while I still have some faith. I pocket my pride and fear, so maybe I can see myself. We all know how to take inventory of our stuff: our books, our clothes, our pantries. Inventory of the self is similar, a check to see what we've got in us, what's still good and what's rotten, what's expired or forgotten. We get it down in black and white on the page, only what we can see at the time, knowing that more will be revealed.

I wrote my first fourth step in rehab. It read like a sordid drama, but I still recall the relief of getting the good, the bad, and the ugly down in print in one sitting. Patterns emerged. I was writing the same thing over and over again, blaming the same people, choosing the same behaviors. My resentments then were never-ending, fears were just as lengthy, and the sexual issues that go along with being a drunken girl were many. Since then, I've followed the three lists suggested by our textbook: resentments, fears, and sex. For resentments, I use the four-column format. I'm resentful at. The cause. The result. The all-important fourth column is the kicker: Where were we to blame? For fears and sexual issues, I simply list them.

Inventorying myself as a mother seems easier now that I have some insight into my heavy hitters and have felt the many benefits that come from this discipline. My sins nowadays consist of the same defects that I first named over 20 years ago: pride, anger, and fear. I secretly think my child is as brilliant as I once thought I was when Sister sequestered me in fourth grade to tutor a slower student at our private school. The anger is for my estranged sister who does not remember Daniel on his birthday or holidays. Behind it all is the self-centered fear that I'll lose something I have or not get what I want. Fear that he's not brilliant? That he is? Fear that he must be to survive? That he'll take the same wrong low road that I went down? Fear that I haven't done enough or that I've done too much? The only thing to do is realize what fear is, that my son belongs to God, that his successes and failures are his own. I pray, remove my fear and direct my attention to what You would have me be.


Yesterday, Daniel's first kindergarten report card came, his very own inventory of learning skills. He "mastered" one skill and "meets expectations" on the rest, and his behavior is all good. I was so excited to see this inventory of sorts -- he is average, behaving well. He fits in. Someone once said that the most honest and accurate inventory of self would be done by others -- our neighbors, family, friends, co-workers. Then how would we measure up? My son measures up normal (though the one high mark reminds me of how being singled out as the gifted one did me no favors in the end, as my ego grew larger than its container).

If Daniel were to do a fourth step, I think it would be clean on the resentment list. He does not hold grudges. He easily forgives my rushing him along to get in the car at 7:30 every school morning. And he is proud, in the right child-like way, to master a new skill. But the fear. At the tender age of five, it abounds in him. He wakes up frequently in the middle of the night from bad dreams, what he used to call "the night of the mare." He tells me his animals have fallen out of his bed, that they need tucking in. We've tried nightlights, monster spray, a magic quilt, and reading fear-of-the-dark books. His room and bed are heavily fortified. He thuds on the floor and runs when he awakens. I hope he outgrows it, or that we will start going to church so that he'll understand my belief in God, that love dispels fear.

Last week Daniel was disappointed (okay, on the verge of a tantrum) that he hadn't gotten "treasure box" but twice in three months. I asked his teacher about his behavior, and she replied that most days his name goes in the "good manners jar." Seriously, my ulterior motive in asking her goes on my resentments list. Of course. I wanted her to know that my beautiful boy had only been picked twice (versus a friend's six times). How could she not gift this "sweet, energetic, a-joy-to-teach child" of mine? Doesn't she just want to pet him? Isn't she moved to tears by his wet eyes, his smirk? Don't I volunteer enough and send generous amounts of snacks and supplies? The self-pity oozes out of my resentment. I'm re-feeling this twitch of anger at her, but it's quickly replaced with -- she has a difficult job, and she does it well from what I've seen. He learns there, and he is happy and safe all day away from me. I miss him, and she has him. That's the root.

Without treasure-box bribes, Daniel asked, "So why should I be good?"

I recited the parent's creed, sure that he was only half-listening: "Good behavior is its own reward." It's like the promises of the inventory: We feel at home in the world, right in the skins we're in, one among many. We feel happy for our friends who find treasure, and sad for those who do not. It may feel random at times, but then we remember God, and expect good things from him.

When I mention God again, and prayer, he says, "I don't talk to God much."

Another major failing of mine comes to light.


It's Christmastime. I've been naughty and nice, perfectly human like you. I have a list with names of my defects and those to whom I owe amends. I'm left with all I need -- a desire to stay sober, God, a 20-year sobriety chip, a family, and friends. I am grateful for what remains in my closet, the stuff with the light of truth shining on it. We don't make New Year's resolutions in recovery. What we hope for is to see the light of this day through clear eyes, realizing that defect lists are necessary but treasures abound, and that, armed with God, there are no bogeymen in the dark.

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