Conundrum

A post in which I tell the story of 2012: prioritize, realign, whine, pout, self-chasten, turn to gratitude journaling, feel grateful *and* defeated.

***

December was a month in which I made list upon list of priorities and goals and dreams so that I could begin 2012 realigned, making choices I could fee good about and avoiding the detritus I had been mired in for too long.

Because I chose to stay home to raise my kids, my life got shoved into a closet, where it sat unused, unexamined, and devalued. Each time we moved, my hopes, dreams, goals, and interests got pushed further and further into the dark, cobwebby spots of our lives. Any time the old me called out from the dank recesses of the attic, the utilitarian me shouted her down.

“QUIET back there! You have no right to raise your voice to me! You chose this, so you have to do it really, really well 100% of the time!”

I wasn’t allowing myself time or space for my mind or body because I harbored this secret belief that, if I decided to do my best to raise my kids, there was absolutely no room for doing what I wanted. My job, 24 hours a day, is my little boys. Putting myself first, even for an hour, meant compromising and giving them less.

And it was driving me mad. Seriously. Both the insane and angry connotations applied. I have been losing it and just barely hanging on for almost six years. But this winter has been hard core. I’ve been climbing out of my skin, wasting time berating myself for every poor decision I made pre-kids because now I have nothing to show for my life. Oh, sure, those, but they’ll leave me and hate me and tell their therapist about how I was an empty shell of a zombie Mom. Or, rather, and empty shell of a zombie Mom who’s trying strenuously hard yet seemed to be failing miserably at just about everything, from personhood to motherhood.

So I reevaluated. I decided to find a sitter for the toddler a few hours a week so I could blink. I finished some client work and turned down new projects to focus on my own work. I convinced Spouse to be with the kids at 6am so I could start running again. I made manageable lists of short and long term goals with small steps to get to each one. I put one foot in front of the other. And I ditched facebook.

So far so good. On paper.

But I didn’t find the sitter. I checked out a few home-based daycare centers and read ads for sitters and remembered why we didn’t have anyone stay with Peanut (except my parents, and only a few times a year) until he was 4: I don’t want someone else raising my children. Until the boys can speak for themselves and express their needs and feelings, I don’t think someone else can do the best job with my itty bitty people. That’s just me, but it’s how I feel. Yes, I want to be with them because I want to see and hear everything in their day. Yes, I don’t always sound as though I do want to be with them. Yes, I think being a full time parent is important but I also feel it’s necessary to prove I’m not a freeloader absconding from my other jobs to do this job. I’ve already mentioned, I believe, my borderline insanity and obvious tendencies toward perfectionism that are ill-suited to my current role as Court Jester of Chaos, right? Okay then. Now I can mention that I don’t think I deserve to hire help when this is my job. The battle of the boxed goals and the utilitarian judgement are at it again, deeming who is worthy and who doesn’t deserve.

Good times.

So I’ve been whining about how hard it is to have a toddler and a kindergartener and a Spouse who works long hours. How very, very difficult it is to not blink for 13 hours straight. Boo hoo, big deal, people seem to parent with debilitating diseases and in the midst of trauma and major depressions, so I can take my withering hopes and dreams and shove them up my unfulfilled goals, right?

And someone offered to help me. Sweet Mary, Mother of my Cousins, someone offered to help me.

Normal people might sigh with relief and take a friend up on a sweet offer of help.

Ah, but I’m not normal. Instead, I felt chagrined that I’d complained so loudly. I vowed to start a gratitude journal and practice saying thank you for all the great things in my life. I promised myself I would focus on hopes and dreams and goals in my spare time but would refocus on my current, unpaid, disrespected, thankless, maddening, amazing, exhausting, important job.

And I heard this interview on KQED’s Forum, in which Chip Conley explained that more important than having what you want (oh, how I want and want and want) is wanting what you have. Appreciating all that is rather than longing for what might be.

So I spent the day being present and mindful and grateful. And by 7 p.m. I was in tears because I still don’t like being with my kids all day every day forever and ever amen without cease or break or freaking showers. I don’t want to make or serve or clean up food ever again. Ever. Ever ever ever again.

So I’m torn. I want to be happy with what I have. But I need. I have hopes and dreams and goals that are not well suited to tightly wrapped boxes in the back of the closet.

How do you balance being grateful for your life and still want desperately to change at least 12 things right now?

Blerg.

http://www.kqed.org/assets/flash/kqedplayer.swf

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13 thoughts on “Conundrum

  1. “I don’t think I deserve to hire help when this is my job.” Yup. Exacerbated when you (I) don’t have any actual income stream, and so, no matter how much we may protest that the money earned by the sole earner is for the household, it doesn’t feel like MY money to spend.

    I obviously have no helpful experience or advice here. Good luck achieving the balance, whatever form it takes.

  2. I decided pretty quickly after we had our first that I am not well-suited to the stay-at-home lifestyle. I was suicidal, and I don’t even try half as hard as you.

    Maybe I sound selfish or like a bad mom or like a bitch or like a whatever, but I cannot possibly be happy staying at home with my kids. I fantasized about leaving my family, or disappearing, or killing myself, or something – anything – for years. But I didn’t want to destroy my kids’ lives, so I stuck around. But I was miserable.

    It wasn’t until I let someone else help me on a regular basis that things started to feel better. I, too, thought that I didn’t want someone else raising my kids, but then I realized that I wasn’t doing a good job myself. Why? Because I resented it. I think that’s worse. Having your mom around all the time is great, sure, but having your mom around when she’s angry, resentful, and bitter about her lost life? That fucking sucks. My mom acted like that a lot when I was a kid, and gave us the whole, “The reason why I’m unhappy is because of all the sacrifices I’ve made for you ungrateful sons of bitches.” It made me feel both ungrateful and unloved, despite the fact that these said sacrifices were made “out of love.”

    Do your kids a favor and get some help. They know your secret. They know your secret better than the blogosphere. They know you resent them. I was your kid once upon a time, under the tyranny of my own unhappy mother, and I knew that she hated me and my siblings for ruining her life (keeping in mind that SHE chose her path). As an adult, I can say with certainty — I would rather have had a happy mom instead of one who was around all the time but was coming unglued. Did I mention that the only way she could cope was by being an alcoholic? Don’t let yourself get that far gone. You deserve better. So do your kids.

    And if you are SO concerned with giving your kids a happy life, then DARE TO GIVE THEM A HAPPY MOTHER. My life is not 100% perfect or happy. Far, far from it. But if I were still staying home all the time and 100% responsible for everything? Well, it’s a good thing we don’t believe in owning guns. I’m fairly sure I would have killed myself if we had one.

    Instead, I was killing myself with bitterness and resentment. Maybe a gun would have been better — it takes a lot less time.

  3. I have no idea if this advice will help, but it’s what I did. I joined the YMCA. They have free daycare for family members. I go 4 days a week, drop my baby off to play/socialize with other children while being supervised by someone other than me. While she’s there I spend an hour in the gym or pool, followed by a completely peaceful shower. Alone. It’s less than 90 minutes, but it is like a reset button. I come away refreshed, recharged, and ready to devote the next 22.5 hours solely to my kid. It’s been beneficial for her to be around people other than just me, and having a washed and sane mother is probably good for her too.

  4. This reminds me of the book _I Don’t Know How She Does It_ by Allison Pearson which dealt in a charming but very geniune way with the emotional complexities of the motherhood/work conundrum. (So much that I found myself in tears several times while reading it, even though it is presumably a chick-lit/mommy-lit novel. I sent the novel to a friend instantly after completing it because it just touched, in a very real way, upon what I was/am going through and I know she could relate, too. So if you haven’t read that, though I think I recommended it awhile ago so maybe you have, it’s worth a read.)

    But more to the point: I just watched the film version, and there’s an interview with the author at the end in which she discusses how she got thousands of letters from women thanking her and saying “THIS IS MY LIFE” after the book came out, how men began to read it to “understand their wives” (in fact, she got one letter that something to the effect of “Thank you for writing this book. Now I know why my wife yells at me all the time [because of how she feels overwhelmed].”), and how “the weather of motherhood is guilt” because we always feel like we aren’t giving enough to our own work or to our own children ever. And we feel guilty for not feeling like we are handling things perfectly somehow.

    Which I hear in this post (and which I feel on a daily basis). But here’s the thing: you are allowed to want to do something of your own and it’s OK. You don’t have to start a gratitude journal or tell yourself that you are not saying thank you enough because ***you are allowed to feel whatever you’re feeling.*** (Confession: when you said you were doing the gratitude journal, my first thought was: wow, that sounds like too much work. LOL.) To be honest, I think your blog is a testament to your ability to celebrate the beauties and joys of motherhood while expressing the truly exhausting/frustrating aspects of it in a grateful, appreciative, lovely, entertaining, and *genuine* way. Your writing on this subject is absolutely incredible. So no, you don’t need another gratitude journal (though if you’re enjoying it, keep it up) because this whole blog is evidence of your gratitude! And thank goodness it’s not in a shiny-hearts-and-rainbows kind of way because that would be insufferable. :D

    About the being grateful for what you have instead of what you want, um, no. Sure, if you want to live in a happy, fuzzy pause globe. But NOT if you want to be a maker. But think of the many people who, if they had not longed for things, would not have created art. Writer’s biographies are FULL of indications that first came the unavoidable longing and then came the work. So of course it’s ok to “want and want and want.” That’s called the SPARK.

    One thing that stands out to me is the job you describe…you seem to be of two minds about it, descriptively. It’s amazing and important but also thankless and unpaid. How could you turn it into thank-ing and paid? Because you are way too talented not to be compensated for putting your insightful mind to work on behalf of someone.

    *******hugs**********

    ps: I know your prompt was about how we were going to balance our stuff but I started talking about what you had said, which I found much more interesting than my stuff. The answer to how I am going to balance mine is, I think, in baby steps. Trying to acknowledge that the things I want to do are going to be squeezed into the tiny pockets available after I do everything else…and that’s going to have to be that for now. Oh, and not giving up. That’s the biggest one right now because I find those pockets very difficult to find…and then I think, well, who am I to want something anyway? But I will not let that justification win. I want to want something, apparently, because I want it. And I can’t control THAT.

  5. Oh Nap – this is the fundamental conundrum of mothering, isn’t it? It’s a curse really. You lose yourself to these little creatures. Even when you take the time for yourself (which I believe you absolutely should do) you are left feeling guilty. At least I am. The guilt – oh the guilt. But like my therapist says, you cannot be the best parent if you do not take care of yourself first. Think of the instructions on an airplane – put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then your kid. When I think of it like that, sometimes I’m not left with so much guilt.

  6. I wish we could all get together in real life. Seriously, there’s too many of us mothers who need a little more support than they’re getting. I mean, I can type, “I hear ya, sister!” But a conversation would be so nice. Until then, though? “I hear ya, sister!”

  7. pps: Spending a whole day being present would make me super cranky and would require massive amounts of wine to counter all the mindfulness… ((((Nap))))

  8. The best advice my mother ever gave me was advice her mother (of 11) gave her. “Your children will grow up happiest if YOU do the things that make you happy.”

    My mother got a bachelors and a masters and her teaching credential during my childhood. She was also absolutely present.

    No babysitter ever raised me.

    They played with me, and I spent time with my friends (her friends’ children) and learned about “secret clubs” and baseball and football and other things I would have had no exposure to if I hadn’t had the chance to be watched by other families. All three of us are happy and well adjusted(ish) and self aware, and always pushing to do the things we love, to pursue our passions, because we watched our parents do those things.

    This advice is what allows me to go have drinks with my girlfriends, hire a sitter, work on personal projects, have a job that challenges and fulfills me.

    I also don’t hesitate to tell my kids “I need you to leave me alone. I need some time to myself.” because if I don’t tell them that, how will they ever know that it’s ok to ask for time to THEMSELVES?

    Be the type of adult you want your boys to be.

  9. dear napster. you deserve the good things you got coming to you. they are there and they are coming, you just can’t see them at the moment because your short term is just.so.short.term. there is no distance when your waking (and sometimes semi-unconscious) moments are never your own. it is not possible to see a large picture when all the pictures are small, yelling in your ears and beating on your nose. 2012. this is the year. love your family, they love you, and don’t forget to love yourself. because you are fabulous.

  10. Ms. Black and White,

    I’d like you to meet my friend Gray. I think you can have a lot of fun together. You should give him a call.

    Best,
    Norm

  11. Dang, these are the days I wish wordpress allowed inline comments.

    @Kristin spot on. Can’t justify paying someone to help while I pursue things that might pay, but not for a while. Stay tuned and maybe we’ll figure out a few bits together.

    @Fie you don’t sound like a bad anything. You sound self aware. I completely support your efforts to get what you need so your kids can have what they need. And I’m so sorry for your emotional trauma with your mom. I can assure you I don’t resent my kids, and that they don’t feel unloved or unwanted. They are not an inconvenience to be managed, and I don’t treat them as such. I do feel frustrated at times, but given all I do with them and for them, in fun, playful, respectful, and loving ways, there’s no way they feel resented. I’m very hard on myself, but my zombie mom comment was more about how I feel like I’m not perfect than my actual parenting. I’m a better parent than most of the people I know, and I hang around with those I want to emulate so some of their awesomeness can rub off on me.

    I do think they’d get better parenting if I found some balance, though, which is why I posted.

    @TKW you knew damned well I was just as crazy as you were, Witchy. That’s why you dig me. Crazy is as crazy blogs, baby.

    @mw that does help. Several people have suggested the same. I joined and checked out the child care, but couldn’t do it. I made excuses (he was potty training, he was going through separation anxiety) and then used the kindergym and the bouncy room as a low-rent version of mommy and me and gymnastics classes. But this? “I come away refreshed, recharged, and ready to devote the next 22.5 hours solely to my kid. It’s been beneficial for her to be around people other than just me, and having a washed and sane mother is probably good for her too.” Amen, mw. Amen.

    @Inky, you had me at hello. You’re right, you know, and that’s why I so bristled and got depressed at the “want what you have” line: what would we be if we didn’t want more, want to improve, feel enough to create. The bipolar nature of art is probably my best creative asset. I love that you put right in my sights that which I find anathema: “if you want to live in a happy, fuzzy pause globe” [shrieks and runs the other way] I want nothing less. So thanks for the reminder that drive and spark and desire and passion are not to be aphorismed away.

    @

  12. @Cathy You’re right, of course. I always debate what’s the oxygen and what’s the inflight magazine. I know I can’t starve or avoid the bathroom or eschew jacket in 20 degree weather for them, but it sure seems as though I can forfeit their earliest years so they can feel securely attached to…to what? I guess a homebase of supportive, steady, accessible love. I know it got easier with the first child once he weaned and got enough language to make his needs known. Then I left him and his father to their bonding while I wrote (and wrote and wrote) on weekends. That time is coming. I should focus on how short this time is, but…well, that wouldn’t be me.

    @Jen I know ya do, sister! ;-) I’m glad you’re reading and cooking and finding a bit of time now that she’s three. I’ll bet in a year I’ll wiggle into a similar space. The Me time expands as they age. I just know it does.

    @Inky perceptive as always, I thought about that post-bedtime tear-fest and realized that it was the stress of being ON every second of that day. It’s really hard to actually pay attention to your children and their feelings and needs the whole whole whole whole day. I heard a lot of “two weeks is too long for winter break” from moms and thought, “well, 365 days is too long for a year, too, but you have no idea until you spend every one of them with really small kids.” I’ve decided a little smartphone at the playground is really good detox time.

    @dirtdonthurt you’re exactly right. And I do make sure that they see me doing things that are important to me, and making time for my passions when Spouse is home. He does bath, he spends a lot of time with them on the weekend so I can write or walk or both. I do say no to them and tell them when I need time alone. But the little guy is not old enough yet for that to work. When he’s in school (or at least talking and weaned) it’ll be easier to show them that I’m a person, too. I will be doing, at least part-time, things that earn me respect and money once they’re both in school. For now, I’ll remember your wisdom that time with others brings exposure to entire worlds I can’t offer them.

    @jg I dig you, lady. And I do love love love my family. Love them. As you well know, it’s pretty easy to love and to look mentally toward the studio and think “I love you, now please chill for an hour so I can go be me.” Short term, indeed. Feels like forever, but just before you commented I was doing the math of how much weekend time I got when Peanut was 3, and how my world expanded when he went to preschool. So I only have another year of not blinking before I get some solid writing time, and two more years before I find a room of my own. Not so bad. Two more years. Plus that extra leap year day.

    @Norm Ah, yes, well, way to call a gal on her most adorable personality flaw. Tis true, and you’ve been saying it for, oh, maybe fifteen years? Mmmmm. Gray. It’s the new black. If I knew Picasso, I would buy myself a grey guitar and play.

    Points taken, friends. Points all catalogued and internalized and applied. Thank you, and keep ’em coming.

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