Worth the co-pay

My first visit to the therapist this weekend resulted in this bit of wisdom:

All parents find that to be good—really good—at raising a child, some part of them needs to go underground. Some people let their hobbies go, some let their careers go, some let their marriages go. But something needs to give. Just be careful what you sacrifice because the stuff that gets pushed underground may never come back up.

Damn. That was totally worth the $20.

Because for the first three years of Peanut’s life, I thought that I had closed all the doors to my future. Instead of choosing what went subterranean while I made the sacrifice to parent full time, I shovelled everything under. I was not willing to choose a few thing to die so the other bits could thrive. I just jammed it all in a box labeled: Do Not Open until 2011.

But framing the choice I’ve made in terms of pushing a few priorities to the back burner and shoving some effectively off the stove and into the trash is enlightening. I knew I wanted to fill each hole that arose as my family grew less and less needy with bits of me that I had stuffed in that box. But I didn’t (and don’t yet) have a plan for what comes out when. Just bringing dribbles of *everything* whenever there’s a spare moment will not work. I need to make room in the fridge and bring myself back a gallon at a time.

So I’m going to spend the next few weeks thinking about what I’m willing to toss, what I want to keep on hold, and what could slip back into my life, in one gulp not tiny sips, so I’m more of a person than I’ve been for a while.

What are you letting go underground while you do your most important work, and what are you carefully guarding and tending so it won’t get buried as you do your “have to” and “should”s?

17 thoughts on “Worth the co-pay

  1. I’m so right there with you. With my daughter on the cusp of six and my son a little over 3, I’m finally feeling like I can pay attention to some of the other things that fulfill me (hence lit blogging). After Ulysses, I think I’m going to let lit blogging (at least the ongoing set of projects) go for a while so that I can do more creative writing than (if it can really be called this) critical reading and writing. I’ve got so many things I want to write. I had forgotten until the last year that there could be more to life than working, watching the kids, and slumping resigned and beat down in front of the TV at the end of the day.

  2. I half want to laugh and hug you and half want to hide away and cry after reading this. To answer your questions: I have no f—ing idea!

    I guess trying to answer this should be the first gallon I can put in my fridge…after I find where that rotten fish smell is coming from and scrub it out.

  3. You are brave to be able to face the fact that some important parts of you might necessarily go underground forever. The idea terrifies me!

    What’s slipping away from me lately are my hobbies. I tend to be someone who will obsessively focus on obtaining a particular skill for a short period of time and then be done with it, but the fact that there are so many less frivolous things I should be doing keeps me from devoting myself to anything that I know will take huge chunks of time. Instead I do things that are severable into small pieces, like writing a blog entry or watching an episode of a TV show. But now that I think of it, the sum of the small things is really just as time-consuming as the large things would be, so I am going to try to work on those. Today I am going to start actual physical work on my piece of interactive fiction, it is your job to keep me focused!

  4. I’ve let go of adult-acquired hobbies — like knitting. I learned how to knit about eight years ago, and I really loved it. But since having kids, I have not had time to give to sitting still with long, pointy things. Every now and then I’ll start a project, and then it languishes for a year. Oh well. Since it was an adult-acquired hobby, I’m not so tied to it that I can’t let it go.

    But things I’ve been doing my whole life — reading, writing, and doing music stuff (singing; playing guitar, clarinet, and piano) — those are things I really want to get back to. Lately, I’ve been reading any chance I get, and it’s been so great. I haven’t been writing, though — except for blogging. (And blogging is great for me, but it’s not like I’m trying to publish my blog.) I miss writing creatively, but again, it’s about finding time. I just have to make it a priority.

  5. You understand how much this speaks to me, don’t you? What a choice nugget of advice. And now I have some thinking of my own to do. I cannot wait to talk with you about it this weekend. (this weekend! Did you just feel my !!!)?

  6. gotta have it:
    painting got packed up during the pregnancy, but once babies were born, it started seeping out of the basement and into various other people’s extra garages, basements, what have you. can’t stop painting. lose mind if i try, so can’t risk losing what little is left. painting and photography.

    wrapped up, but frequently escapes, which is a good thing:
    afraid marriage is something that sometimes falls by the wayside due to emotional and physical exhaustion and inability to put up with even more bullshit than i already put up with from toddler children. issue frequently under discussion.

    items boxed up but still come out sometimes to see if i’m still interested:
    – video making
    – music making

  7. It is really interesting that you bring this up. I too shoved everything into a box and maybe in a couple of years I’ll bring it out. I want to do things but it always means I’ll be sacrificing time with my kids if I choose to do A, B, or C for myself. I don’t have alot of me stuff, and to be honest I don’t really want it right now. I want my time with them. I need to know for me that I gave them the best parts of me…and a little of the not so great parts. I just found different things to do, that included them. And really, If I hear one more time that doing things for me makes me a better mom, I may just burst. Yes I feel good when I have an hour to myself, but I’m bursting to get home to see thing one and thing two. And really, how much better do I *need* to be? ;)

  8. This is a great topic. Something I dealt with since I went from being a married gal doing her thing to a mom of 2 kids aged 22 months apart. I, too, shoved everything into The To Be Opened Later box, but without anything ‘me’ I was a horribly cranky version of me. I wasn’t the person my husband married, or the friend that my friends signed up to hang with.
    Before my 2nd kid was born, I realized I needed little things like: daily showers, to get ‘dressed’ in the morning, and a social life. Even if that meant only other new-mom friends could appreciate my combed hair while we met for lunch, so be it.
    As my kids got out of infancy, I insisted on Sleep. When they STTN regularly, then I got caught up on sleep and felt up to doing another love of mine: seeing movies in the theater. Later I found a trustworthy babysitter, and began dating my husband again.
    Last year I started a book club, since I love to read and discuss books. Having grown-up time with intelligent conversation after a day of potty training and demanding she eat one more chicken nugget and doing dishes/laundry/mopping/etc and playing Planet Heroes was so, so refreshing.
    Now my kids are 3 & 5, and I am looking forward to this fall when the 2 are in school 5 mornings a week. I am now ready to focus on my writing, trying to be a writer (thus the blog, keeping me actively writing even when my book/stories feel stalled).
    I am seeing a therapist now too, and am truly enjoying how having her ask me questions helps me find the answers and some peace with the sacrifices I have made. She helps me see The Big Picture, reminding me that The Box will eventually be empty.
    A few things I haven’t done since the kids that I’m not sure when I’ll be able to take out of The Box are painting and rock climbing/hiking. But I have been able to release a lot over the past 5 years, so all the good I’ve experienced with my kids has dulled any loss I’d feel over those things, which used to be a big part of me. Change happens, and I guess that’s ok, right?

  9. Wow! Just wow! I never, ever thought about it that way before. What *I’ve* been missing. I suppose that’s why I started to blog. I felt I was missing a piece of myself. Blogging was a way to get it back. Powerful stuff!

  10. I’m mulling over this idea of what goes into the box in the interest of nurturing our young from the perspective of being now the parent of adult children, and a grandma of two. I remember vividly the struggle and the pain of letting parts of myself go dormant (my professional ambitions) and the worry that some things would never re-emerge. I couldn’t say right now if they did or they didn’t.

    But I am aware that new parts emerged– In addition to the huge transformation of personality involved in becoming a parent, other strangers came to call. I learned to sew. The children needed clothes. We didn’t have a lot of money.
    I learned to swim really well, and only because the Y offered free babysitting for members taking classes.
    I learned how to work in a darkroom so I could develop pictures of my babies–this to relieve boredom more than anything else.

    Maybe the box has door doors.

  11. Brilliant post. Brilliant, amazing, crazy, scary idea and question. I packed away creative writing, day dreaming, and my future. The Husband and my mom are on my case to go back to school in the fall, but I freak out over leaving Aidan five nights a week. I can’t do it. I can’t think about getting a new degree and getting a carreer. I refuse to talk about the marriage sacrifice.

  12. Everything has not only been packed up but also donated to Goodwill.

    Right now I’m just trying to get the teaching and parenting done each day.

    If something opens up down the road, I hope it’s in the form of novel-writing.

  13. This is such GREAT perspective. A few months ago I listed everything in my life that was important to me and then put them in order of importance. (Can it get any more type-A? probably not.) But I found that freeing because every time I felt stress, or life claustrophobia, or depression creeping in, I’d revisit my mental list and if it didn’t fall into the first three categories, it got dropped.

    I still miss my photo work and books and sleeping in. Someday I’ll get them back…or who knows, maybe I’ll be content without them.

  14. “All parents find that to be good—really good—at raising a child, some part of them needs to go underground. Some people let their hobbies go, some let their careers go, some let their marriages go. But something needs to give. Just be careful what you sacrifice because the stuff that gets pushed underground may never come back up.” Did you really get this from the therapist? If so, it is indeed way worth more than the copay. I have been thinking about this ever since I read your post… I am afraid to respond since I am afraid of opening up a flood gate…

  15. It is so hard to be where you are right now, when your children require so much of you that there isn’t much left for just you.

    I will tell you that, with time, it will get easier. But there should be some things that are just for you, a retreat, if you will, where you can be you, even if for only a little while.

    It helps keep some balance within your person, so that you are not lost under the huge label of motherhood.

    Sending you hugs!

  16. What a great post, how true and devastating. Quilting and sewing is my love and I am not sure who makes me feel guiltier leaving for a day, once a month, to partake in my passion – the husband or the kids. But thanks for saying it out loud.

  17. This is a great post and so very very true. I’m pretty obsessive, and so whatever I do, I do it wholeheartedly. When I was dancing, I was a salsa diva extraordinaire performing on TV and live all around Chicago. (Hard for me to even believe that now.) When I became obsessed with making paper mache animals, my house became overtaken with them and even my family began to think I had become the crazy paper mache lady. When I became a mom, I pushed everything underground (to steal a phrase from you) and just did that.

    It was wonderful to focus on the kids in a real concerted way with all my attention. They are amazing and have taught me things about life and about myself that I would have never learned without them.

    But after a while I began to miss me. The me that did more than change diapers and play with play dough and pretend to be a psychotropic mutated dragon with purple hair and vampire teeth. For 82 hours a day.

    It wasn’t until last year that I started writing again. It was amazing how good it felt to do something that brought back a little bit of me. And I wrote a book and blogged parts of it as I went. In the fall I started looking for an agent and actually did find one this spring. We’ve gotten six rejections so far from publishers and it’s a little discouraging of course.

    But what I realized this week is that even if my book never gets published (though I am still hopeful that it will) just doing it was important to me. Writing it brought back some of the parts of me that went underground. And though finding a balance has been hard (because I hate it when I have to work on deadlines for stuff and can’t devote myself to the kids completely) overall it’s been good for me.

    And hopefully it will be good for my kids too. At least in the long run. To see me try to be a writer (or whatever else I try to do in the future) even if I fail. Because otherwise, I think I might have begun to slowly slowly float away.

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