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The 'Edible' Accident That Changed Everything

Photograph by GettyImages

Kathleen Dennehy, the feisty and passionate writer, actress, professional organizer and mom who will be guest starring as this week’s “mistake maker,” wants you to know something before the big reveal:

“I’m not recommending this rebound. No need to try this one at home.”

Now that we’ve got the disclaimer out of the way, let’s get on with the show.

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I’ve been lucky enough to know Ms. Dennehy since we were in our 20s in New York City, when we were both T-H-E-A-T-E-R actresses. Even then she had a ferocity about her, so it doesn’t surprise me that her initial approach to mothering had the same intensity. She needs us to understand the condition she was in before her mind-altering mistake.

“Andrew and I had only been married for three months when our friend lost our beloved dog Beulah in Griffith Park. A coyote finished her off after being hit by a car and seriously injured. Then our cat promptly died of cancer. Then we were evicted from our house of three years, through no fault of our own — the landlady's daughter wanted to live in the house. Eight days later we were chosen to become parents by a birth mother in Ohio who was due in a month.”

By the time they arrived back in L.A., Clementine was 9 days old and Kathleen was a wreck.

“I lost my wallet four times in four weeks,” she told me. “It was crazy pressure with very little notice. Social workers were constantly checking up on us, and on top of all that, I had four weeks to prepare to become a mother. I didn't have time to read anything like, ‘What To Expect During the First Year’ or ‘The Baby Book’ or anything other than ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell, which was a great distraction from the mounds of paperwork, applications, home study visits, fingerprinting, tax returns and preparation for a baby, but not especially helpful.”

I'd replay my own scary childhood on endless loops in my head, vowing to do exactly the opposite of my parents.

Kathleen, Andrew and Clementine found themselves staying temporarily in her sister’s one room guesthouse. Every peep out of her new baby and her new-mom eyes flew open. She spent her days searching for a new home, fielding visits and phone calls from various sectors of the adoption world, and her nights not sleeping. Dennehy was “beyond exhausted.”

One day when Clementine was about 6 weeks old, with Andrew off working, Kathleen was facing a whole day alone with her infant daughter for the first time. The thought of it nearly paralyzed her.

“I won't even go into the massively humbling feelings of inadequacy that come along with a person giving you their child to raise, but while I was in complete dumbstruck awe of my daughter, I was also terrified of being too exhausted to be alone with her for such a long stretch of time. Even though she was easy-going and happy, I was petrified of what I was going to do wrong, that I might do one little thing like put her someplace and forget, or drop her, or even just look at her wrong, and how that would reverberate far into her unforeseeable future. Or I'd replay my own scary childhood on endless loops in my head, vowing to do exactly the opposite of my parents in the hopes that my little girl would have half a chance of not turning out like me.”

Kathleen seems to have also been managing some post-partum, or at least a brutal outbreak of hormone-infused self-loathing. Nevertheless, she soldiered on.

“I put on a brave face as my husband left and my sister went off with her family. We ate, we played and soon she started nodding off for her first nap of the day. Her naps were legendary, sometimes lasting four hours. As soon as she dropped off this time though, I thought what a great chance for me to nap too.” Except Kathleen’s brain wouldn’t let her. It was in constant emergency high alert mode so, try as she did, she couldn't get her eyes to close. And she wasn’t interested in taking sleeping aids.

“Since Clementine was born I had refused Ambien or even Melatonin, because I couldn't bear to not be available to my child if she needed me.” Alone at naptime, and unable to sleep herself, she did what she always does in this position, she started cleaning, specifically organizing the refrigerator.

“When I got to the freezer, I found (under a pile of frozen donated breast milk) an old ‘edible,’ medical marijuana speak for a pot cookie.” A friend had given her one when she was in the depths of despair over her dog's death, to help her sleep, and she had forgotten about it.

“He promised just a nibble would knock me out. I debated it back and forth and then decided half a nibble might give me just enough mental peace for a deep nap. I went for it and took a very small bite. And I fell asleep, with my baby's bassinette right beside my bed.”

Ah, sweet victory. Or so she thought.

“About 30 minutes later Clementine woke up. Then I woke up. And I was high, almost too high to be terrified. But not high enough that I didn't feel awful about being high. Because I didn't trust myself to do anything with her, I pulled Clementine into my bed with me. And then the most incredible thing happened. I enjoyed my daughter. For the first time, I was relaxed enough to allow myself to be fascinated by her fingers and toes and stroke her flan-soft massive cheeks. I got lost in her luminous deep brown eyes. We stared deeply at each other, with the same expression: pure wonder. It was magnificent.”

Being high with my infant was a big mistake, but I learned something so important: the gift of mere presence.

Poetic, beautiful, life-changing but I need to reiterate here, as Kathleen said in the beginning, getting/being high when you are caring for an infant is a bad idea, don’t do this. It’s too risky and irresponsible and dumb, which is why Kathleen hunkered down with her daughter in bed. And yet the experience was surprisingly sobering.

“I realized what I had been missing out on. I had been so traumatized by all the recent loss, with the deaths of my animals, and then suddenly I was in charge of this completely vulnerable being and I was utterly terrified. I was missing out on being with her, enjoying my baby calmly, lovingly in the moment. Getting/being high with my infant was a big mistake, but fortunately no one was hurt and I learned something so important: the gift of mere presence. We spent six completely blissful, simpatico hours together alone. I finally let myself fall in love with my baby. We took a delicious nap side by side and I slept — at peace at last.”

Clementine is now just over 2 years old. She’s bright and curious and only mentioned the incident once while I was there. To be fair we were eating cookies and drinking tea with her bears at the time. (KIDDING KATHLEEN!)

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Dennehy has not had a nibble of an “edible,” since, but she does take what she learned that day seriously and now practices yoga and mediation to help her stay present, which she believes is the most important parenting lesson she has learned.

“They don't need you to do anything but be with them. Just show up for your kids, be in the room with them, see them, relax, take a deep breath, and love them.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

What’s the “mistake of the week” you bounced back from? Share it in the comments!

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