thinking makes it so…

We spent last Friday  picking strawberries with a great group of families, and one woman said, “On days like these I think my husband got the raw end of this deal.”

She was, of course, correct. There are some days when screaming and tantrums and hitting and  illogic take place in the sun and fresh air, on which there are more cuddles than screams, more engaging interaction than battles. And then, yes, this job outshines others.

And there are days when fluorescent light and cubicles, steady pay and logical co-workers, and the chance to just think a thought through to completion and urinate when necessary, even when faced with terrible work conditions, lack of respect, a cruel boss, and crappy pay sound a whole lot better than this.

So I’ve been thinking of quitting. Or, rather, shifting careers. Before Peanut, when I worked in corporate America, I evaluated jobs with lists of pros and cons, and made decisions based on whether, in the balance a job offered more than it took from me.

So I took a deep breath and did the same evaluation about staying home to raise a child. Because it’s gotten challenging enough for me to spend more days in tears and screaming than not, and I am really, really talented at my previous, grownup jobs.

I think for my temperment, this job may not be a fit. I think I have too many conflicts with management, and I have too many skills that go unused in this role. But I also think that the boss needs me, the future of the company needs me, and the franchise will stand a better chance of making it in the long term if I keep my job.

So I’m starting each day with the attitude that I’m really lucky to be able to do this job. I may not be the best for the role, and this position may not be even close to what is best for me. I don’t even particularly like the job, though I love the company and believe in it. But the role will shift, the job will grow, and I will be able to say I made the right overall decision to stay instead of go, if only because in the balance, in the sun and fresh air of good days, this does beat shilling for multinational corporations, to whom I’m just a cog. Because to this tiny operation, I am the sun and the moon.

Groundhog month

Since the doctor saw a shadow on my X-ray, I’m due for another six weeks of crutches.

I should be walking normally by June, they chuckled. (Actually, they were really nice and sympathetic, but I’ll go mad if I can’t make someone the villain in this story.)

This is unacceptable. I have a three-year-old hellion who never stops moving, a sick cat, a paper due, four thousand library books due on campus and no way to park within a mile of the drop slot, a novel that’s so close to being done that I can taste it, a potential move, two trips involving air travel, a filthy house, an unbearable urge to go running, and an overdeveloped case of liberal guilt pulling me to volunteer seven days a week to deal with this month.

Can’t you freaking take these feet off and give me stronger models?

And while you’re at it, fit my kid for new hands. He’s been asking and I figure it’ll be like an early birthday present.

Get off thy ass and get to work

You know, I could continue to waste naptime blogging, reading other people’s blogs, and unpacking the eight-freaking-thousand boxes walling me into this new place. But I blog schlock read by an average of 50 people a day; I read awesome blogs that make me regret not doing more academic work, not writing, and not getting my life in perspective; and unpacking boxes just makes me mad that we have so much crap (for the normal triumvirate of wasteful capitalism, depleted savings, and un-zen clutter).

So I’m off to work on one paragraph of a novel, and to find the list of academic articles that showed enough promise to warrant someone to scrawl “work on this and have it published” in the margins.

See you when I have something decent to show for my life.

[are you f@ck*ng kidding me? I was spellchecking and The Tiny Tyrant awoke. So all I have to show for today’s naptime is a clean sink and a resolution to do something productive tomorrow. Godd@mn it.]

Rescue Remedy by the quart

I’m realizing just how many of my posts are angry, bitter rants. I’m trying not to feel guilty about that, because that’s the stuff I need to get out. I bottle it up all day because I don’t think it’s appropriate to be snippy in front of my son. And lucky for Spouse he’s 400 miles away or he’d take the brunt. So blogging has really helped get the vitriol flowing and out. I store up every ounce of courage I have and project peace and thoughtfulness and patience (mostly) during the day. But I’ve got to let the rants out. Leaving them inside blocks up all my mental pores and gives me angry, bitter, negative acne on my brain and in my heart.

So if you’re put off by my anger, please, scan down the archives. There are some lovely, life-affirming bits in here if you dig.

But I am trying to navigate the parenting roller coaster, and just haven’t find the right balance. When it’s good, it’s so eye-closingly, deep sigh infusingy, happy little sigh eruptingly, perma-smile grantingly good. When it’s hard, it’s so white-knuckle infuriatingly, self-esteem wrenchingly, bad-side revealingly, regret inspiringly, soul-leechingly hard that it takes my breath away. I really do, sometimes, wish I could find Rescue Remedy by the quart. The blister packs haven’t worked for me yet, and, in fact, make me a little less grounded because the solvent is alcohol and it just makes me want a pint of liquor.

Talking to working moms, stay-at-home-moms, stay-at-home-dads, and the childfree, I realize that the biggest issue for me about parenting is that the day’s rhythm is not my own. I don’t own one piece of the day, and I don’t control any of it rhythms. As an academic, I wrote when I percolated ideas, I read when I felt responsive to ideas, I rested when I needed rest, and I exercised when I needed a mental escape valve. As a professional, I went to meetings where everyone was ready to jump into one of a few appropriate energies to talk about a specific thing. When I worked independently I drifted into one of a few appropriate energies to think or write or create. When I needed to pee, I did. When I needed to eat, I usually did. Now the day’s schedules and energies and milestones and needs have nothing to do with what my mind or body needs, and it’s very destabilizing. Isolating. Frustrating. Sad.

Because with a child, my needs are subsumed by his. My rhythm is supplanted by his. When he needs to run around, we have to. Not because I feel children should be the center of the universe. I don’t. Because I live with this child and his needs are valid. I understand this child, and when he makes his physical or emotional needs known, I respect them (within reason). And if he is metaphorically swaddled when he needs to wiggle, or is forced to engage when he needs cuddling, all systems fail. He melts down (I still refuse to call this volitilty terrible twos. He’s not terrible. My life is not terrible. Our family is not terrible. He is struggling to control things and get some independence and he’s terrified and frustrated by his incompetence. But almost every vascillation is understandable, predictable, and reasonable. I wouldn’t do the things he does, but putting myself into his shoes and his experience, I know exactly why he does what he does. I sometimes marvel, sometimes balk, sometimes well up with anger, but I understand. And I can anticipate it when I’ve slept and eaten, both of which are rare, since, did I mention, my day is not my own, my timing is not the primary Blackberry by which we run our day, and my needs are secondary because I can meet them all by myself. He can’t, so his needs come first.)

I’m a tired, hungry, cranky parent. Hence, again, the need to spew nastiness into my blog. And I’m not sorry. I’m coping.

Parenting ambivalence

One of my friends expressed great distress at a discussion the other day, wherein many moms detailed their children’s latest adorable moments, and I asked if we could please, please talk about something other than children. Had anybody read a good book or seen a good movie or disagreed with a politician’s stance on something? I got a few muted shrugs and one dirty look. (Yes, I need new friends. We’re moving. I’ll fix that part of my isolation soon enough.)

I’m often the mom at parties and in email volleys who brings up The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart; who warns young couples talking excitedly about becoming parents that they are in for the best and the absolute worst time of their lives. Nobody seems to appreciate the warnings, or the realism, or the honesty. Well, they can go jump off a Hallmark-stacked bridge because the smarmy, simpering, rose-colored glasses crap does not help make you a better parent.

Here’s the thing: the parenting gig can be amazing. I love running, and I have never had more fun running, never felt so completely tickled with head-to-foot silly happiness than when Peanut and I are playing chase. I have never particularly liked the beach (or, more specifically, getting dirty and sandy and salty and seaweedy at the beach), but experienced top-ten delirious HOURS of joy one morning with Peanut and Spouse, running and splashing and wandering the tidepools. I have never felt more moments of pure, warm bliss than I do sprinkled throughout every week with my little family. And I genuinely relish them, bask in them, luxuriate in them. I process every nanosecond of joy with the small person and the large person, because those moments feed me. They have to. The rest of the week is a big bunch of physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting bull puckey. (Hi, grandpa. I miss you.)

Because as intense as the radiant joy can be, I have also never been more frustrated in my life than I am every single day. I’ve never been more angry at a small person than I am each time I gently, calmly, supportively offer two options for the eighth or ninth time. [Time number ten and your head will be forcibly removed, my little friend, so f*#&@g choose.] I have never wanted so badly to hurt a person as I have when Peanut willfully ignores a reasonable request or when Spouse sleeps through Peanut being particularly trying. They both need a good shaking. (I will never, never think it’s okay to strike a child, but I think it’s really very much okay to fantasize about it. If sex experts say it’s healthy to pictures others while with your monogamous partner, parenting experts must think it’s okay to picture throwing screaming your kid against the wall while you try to comfort her.) I never had to give myself timeouts in my professional jobs. I took a deep breath and reasoned with whomever was wrong. But there are often times now that my reaction needs to be managed, and it’s easier to just leave the room and announce that mommy’s in timeout because she needs to think and breathe. “I have to go…or I’ll beat the crap out of you,” I think as I press myself into a tiny corner.

I have never wanted so badly to just do some freaking dishes in peace. I don’t even dream of reading or write or having a job where colleagues respect my contributions. I crave just performing some mindless, productive, useful physical labor. It scares me how low my expectations have become. I find Zen moments of meditative stillness and presence in prepping green beans for the steamer, if there is a safe and self-entertained Peanut in another room.

So ambivalence dominates my parenting. That doesn’t, oh lady who wants to tell me everything about her kid’s funny snot and poop stories, and is horrified to hear that I’m all cute-kid storied out, make me a bad parent. I have given over every moment of my day, every drop of my energy for two years to helping Peanut become a good, decent, responsible, useful member of society. (It hasn’t worked yet, at least not the useful part, but I’m willing to brave the long-term gratification gamble to hope one day the President will call with a Supreme Court nomination. Or that some band will need a drummer. Or that some sweet neighbor lady needs a dog walker. I don’t have parameters within which I define productive member of society. Remember that part about my low expectations.)

If parenting was all playing and tickling and teaching I’d be ALL over it. But it’s not. It’s planning and patience and cleaning and cooking and lovingly getting up several times at night and staying intently focused all day and ignoring impulses to direct energy into personal needs (sleep, bathroom, showering, exercise, quiet, books). And I don’t like that. I just don’t.

And this phase ends, sure. The intense neediness of very smallness is already sunsetting. (That’s tomorrow’s post, unless the house sells.) Eventually children are more self sufficient. I’ve given myself over entirely because that’s what the Peanuts of the world need to be secure, reasonable, well-adjusted adults. But even if all the work pays off, they won’t do stuff my way, so why the heck bother with all the attachment parenting? (Because we wouldn’t have it any other way. Every time I complain about not sleeping, someone tells me I can let my child cry. But that is not a real parenting option for us. Why in the name of all that is nurturing would we do that? When said child can get up to use the bathroom by himself, get himself a cup of water, and use soundly developed coping skills to get back to sleep, he will. Until then, any kid at my house who wakes from a deep slumber screaming in fear and sadness gets his mom. End of story.)

You know, ambivalence isn’t apathy. Maintaining a really passionate stand at two ends of a spectrum does not even slightly resemble meh. And while holding on so tight might be counterproductive, I’d rather struggle fiercely to control the pendulum than let go and founder in the fair-to-middling of just getting by.

Selling in a buyer’s market

If our house ever sells, I’m going to go a week without doing dishes, cleaning countertops, and putting laundry in the basket. In fact, I’m going to leave wet towels on the floor and tell Peanut there’s no need to put away toys. I am so freaking sick of making my house immaculate every morning, noon, and night, that I’m ready to just…well, that’s where my petulance stops. Because what am I going to do? Lose even more on this frickety-fracking house by leaving it in our typical tornado style? Feel vindicated when someone buys it, mess and all…two years from now? Take it off the market and have to clean it for renters? I have no choice but to keep it camera-ready all day everyday. So I tidy when we first get up, I tidy after breakfast, I tidy before nap, I tidy before dinner, Peanut tidies after dinner, and I do a thorough cleaning before bed.

When we first put the house on the market, this whole process was like a gift. Suddenly, we had to keep things in their place, keep counters and horizontal surfaces clear, and maintain the yard with manicure scissors. It was lovely to realize how much less time it takes to put things away right after using them, rather than putting 47 things away at the end of the day. It was glorious to have horizontal surfaces again. It was lovely to see the tile it took us so long to select, and the cork it took several gracious men so long to install.

But now I’m just plain sick of having everything in its place. Just the fact that I have to rather than choose to is making me want to go on a dirt binge. I want to gather sand from all the local playgrounds and beaches, and make piles in the living room. In the kitchen sink. In the master freaking suite, right in the middle of an unmade bed. Ah, how sinfully wonderful it would be to have an unmade bed again. Without all the annoying decorator pillows.

My mom’s friend used to joke that, while she was selling her house, she’d attach a duster to her bum and walk through the house briskly each time she was about to leave the house. Ha freaking ha. I get a toddler ready to go, with the typical 30 minutes of creative games and suggestions for getting clothes, shoes, EWG-approved sunscreen, and hat on (good heavens, just put on your f$%&*@g shoes so we can go!) and then realize I have to tidy seven rooms before I get the kid out the door.

So much for those condescending new-mom articles about how you can’t do everything and might as well relax your housekeeping standards when you have a child, else risk losing your mind. I didn’t have much mind left before the house went on the market, and what little remained has long since been scrubbed away with eco-friendly cleaner. Doesn’t matter whether I’m scrubbing or spouse is scrubbing. It’s a pain, it’s a hassle, it eats into my half hour of sanity time, and it sucks. And I have to do it or we’ll never get out of this house.

And I wonder why I’m not finishing my novels—reading or writing. I’m too busy cleaning, complaining about cleaning, and contemplating not cleaning.

Mmmm. Not cleaning. That sounds lovely right now.