How to end National Blog Post Month?
I have tickets to see The Milk Carton Kids tomorrow night at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.
Taking a friend.
How to end National Blog Post Month?
I have tickets to see The Milk Carton Kids tomorrow night at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.
Taking a friend.
This weekend has included several small, delightful moments that I noticed and appreciated. And at least two you can share, too, so I’m here to try to bring some little moments of fun to your day.
First, a friend came over last night, and in addition to our standard bread, cheese, and chocolate, she convinced me to put away my spicy, earthy pinot noir in favor of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. I never like that stuff. It’s too fruity, too hot with new alcohol, too light for me. But not this year. The 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau surprised me with a complexity and calmness I had never associated with this wine style.
Second, I gouged the crap out of my finger yesterday, and when my bandage slipped off during a shower this morning, not only did the wound not hurt, but the bandaid also had a rainbow.
Finally, I don’t believe I’ve ever posted a recommendation for a podcast before, but this weekend I had such a lovely experience with a particularly good episode of a favorite podcast that I want to share.
I subscribe to dozens of podcasts, and one of the first I found, on the urging of a friend, is “Snap Judgement.” I listen every week, because the storytelling is compelling, the voices (metaphorical not technical) are interesting, and the pacing is strong enough for a car ride or brisk walk.
This week’s episode, #630 – Dirty Work is lovely. The premise of people having to do unsavory work is too neat a package into which to cram the episode, which is really about leaps of faith and the detective work fundamental to both journalism and criminal defense. It’s not gross, it’s not dirty. It’s just a genuinely lovely episode that I would argue is a more satisfying, 53-minute version of “Serial.”
If you have podcast recommendations, let me know. I regularly listen to 99% Invisible, Freaconomics, Double X, the Slate agglomeration of gabfests, SciFri, Things Mom Never Told You, How Stuff Works, Stuff to Blow Your Mind, TWiT, Whistlestop, RadioLab, and This American Life. I’m waiting for Invisibility to come back. I dropped Lexicon Valley after the misogyny of the vocal fry episode, but otherwise enjoyed it. What do you listen to?
And have you ever had a bandage rainbow? Seriously, that totally made my weekend.
I haven’t written in days, for one reason: the only things I want to write sound like whining. And I fought that urge to write or post complaints because I know that 1) whining is annoying, 2) so is complaining, 3) so is the carefully reflexive “I know I shouldn’t complain because I’m really lucky, but I still want to complain.” The latter is my favorite, but it’s still annoying.
So this morning, instead of wallowing, I tried to figure out where the whining is coming from. And I think I know.
The list I kept playing in my head agglomerated all the tasks I have to do each day, with the special holiday-season twist of comparing my life to that of my cohabitating friends. All of the tedious chores adulthood brings, I sighed, are better split amongst a couple. All the cooking and cleaning and prep and parenting and sheets and dishes and trash and child-conflict management are so much easier when they’re split in half (which they never are, if we’re honest, in any relationship.) And as my list grew, cartoonishly buring me in “woe is me, I have to do all this alone,” my rational brain reminded me of something: an awful lot of the first world is doing a lot. Work and kids and household b.s. are things we share in common. Very few people have an equitable split of household, workplace, and parenting tasks. Very few people are in happy couples where the chores seem trivial because of the quality of their companionship.
And that’s where I stopped.
I’m not as overworked as I am lonely.
I’m less lonely than I was in an unhappy marriage. But I’m lonely.
I have lots of friends. Coworkers I like, neighbors I like, family I enjoy, plenty of social interaction. Too much, sometimes, for an introvert.
But now recounting conversations I’ve had over that past few months, I remember that I felt a pang of “they have no idea” as friends and family combined efforts to get tasks done. Parents divide and conquer to give their children attention, as partners divide and conquer household duties, and couples commingle funds and can afford houses even in the outrageously priced Bay Area; and in watching these teams of domestic collaboration, I thought I was jealous that they had a helper.
The truth is I’m jealous that they have a helpmate.
I’m not a lazy person, and I don’t shrink back from a heavy workload. I just want someone to talk with while I work.
I’m quite capable, and I don’t need someone to join me as I add the leaf to the dining room table or prep for Thanksgiving or wrap gifts for people I love. But it would be really nice to create memories with someone in whose company the joy of planning and accomplishing is even more enjoyable.
I thrill at the opportunity to read to my boys, to help each with their tasks, to meet their requests for awesome and healthy food. And though I’d like to have a partner doing half the reading, the tasks, and the food (especially as I bounce back and forth between each child, literally telling the other to please be patient as I help the other, teaching them patience and also that there is not enough parent to go around), I realize that what I really miss is not the tasksharing but the companionship. I wanted to raise children with someone who made them laugh one room away as I prepared meals, who brought us delicious snacks while the children and I played games. Who made us a foursome at the library so we could each listen to each child as we lost ourselves in books for half the day.
As always, the toxic nature of comparison, as I watch wistfully this holiday season while my family provides a full team for their household, whatever that household looks like, I think that I’m sad that they have what I don’t. But my real sadness is that I don’t have what I planned. I’m living the dream, but reality has twisted some of the details, and I’m not ready to let go, it seems, of the image of two parents behind the white picket fence.
I have the boys 85% of the month, so the bulk of the childrearing jobs lie with me. All the school lunches, all the homework, drop off and pick up…I miss them one morning a week, two dinners a week, after school two days a week, and two stints of 36-hours a month.
Those numbers have been bouncing around in my head as a blessing and as injustice. Until I realized why they seem so unbalanced. It’s not the burden of all the details.
I love my kids. I really enjoy my job. I like where we live. I’m hopeful, motivated, and Isurrounded by a support network of people I care about.
But I’m lonely.
Doesn’t make me want to date. Doesn’t make me want to reach out more than I already am to friends whose company I love.
It makes me want to blog.
I began this blog more than seven years ago because I was lonely, parenting a toddler in an isolated place with a partner who worked so much of the week I was almost always alone with the marvelous and confusing child whom I tried so hard to understand. I didn’t have my people with me, so I built a community online.
And I am still writing in this space, engaging with friends and strangers, talking about life and books and parenting and all my neuroses…to stave off loneliness.
It still sounds a bit whiny and a bit like complaining. But it’s much more honest than listing the reasons single parenting is overwhelming. Because really, the tasks are manageable. And the emotional well-being I’ve gained from making a healthy choice about a destructive relationship makes everything more relaxing, hopeful, and joyful.
The comparisons I find myself making between my days and others’ days–a tally sheet of the roles of those with kids and not, those with jobs and not, those with pets and not—comes down to a jealousy I now know is both contentment with my life and a dissatisfaction with being more alone than I’d like.
So if nothing else, the blog is free therapy. Because the above revelation would likely have cost me $300 and two hours including travel time and babysitter. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why blogging probably won’t die anytime soon: Free Therapy.
There are times my friends take my breath away. Not just in what they say, but in who they are.
Here. Go see.
We have two transgender kids at our school, and I watch carefully to make sure they’re treated kindly and gently. They are, by teachers, staff, and other children.
And, most of all, by their parents.
Today I’m grateful for parents who live with grace, and allow their children the space, respect, and love to be themselves.
I had a long talk with the dishes this evening, and it seems they flat-out refuse to wash themselves. I tried offering them a ride in the dishwasher if they’d only talk their clean brethren into dismounting the machine and making for the cabinet in an orderly way.
I also stopped by to share my feelings with the laundry. Collectively, they seem resolutely opposed to washing and drying themselves. Folding is out of the question. And though they tend, eventually, to get themselves put back into the basket once they’re worn, I have never once, despite kind reminders, seen them place themselves into closets or drawers.
I don’t know when this mutiny began, but I feel it’s absolute. The floors categorically deny their role in the family’s lives, and refuse to mop themselves. I sweep, often, because I know the stuff that seems to reproduce itself into well-distributed floor decorations is too heavy for the floor to remove itself. But mopping shouldn’t be a big deal. And yet the floors refuse.
What have I done to earn this level of disrespect from the household? I’m thinking of taking the beds to a counselor, based on their seeming inability to change their own sheets.
The fridge openly mocks me in its disdain for either cleaning itself or staying clean once I sigh deeply and take on the task myself, despite knowing full well it’s my job to teach not to do the chores myself.
The bathrooms seem untrainable, too. What’s so hard about spray and wipe? We have eco-friendly bio-enzyme cleaners…you don’t even have to rinse yourselves, sinks and shower!
But no. They’re all engaged in a disrespectful mutiny in which I’m the default cleaner. Kindness hasn’t worked. Training them as though cleaning is fun hasn’t worked. Bribes do nothing. And gentle lectures about how we’re all in this family together and should each do our part has fallen upon seemingly impenetrable ears.
I don’t know what to do. Well, actually, I do. Because it’s what I do after the weekly or biweekly entreaties fail: clean everything myself.
Well, okay, not the floors or fridge. They’re older and I expect more from them.
I’ll keep hoping. And teaching. And communicating. Maybe in 30 years, when the floors are mopping themselves in someone else’s house, and the dishes live by themselves but manage to keep clean, then I’ll know I did my job well.
But until then, I’m frustrated as hell and running out of hope that the house will clean itself.
It’s been a while since I wrote an update to the books I’m reading, and maybe thinking about a few aloud in a post will help…
I’ve read quite a few books this year, which is a remarkable shift from the years since Butterbean was born. While pregnant with him, I joined a group read of Bolano’s 2666. I gave up about 50 pages from the end, when having a newborn and reading skilled but arms-length-remove prose just wore me down. When Butter was two, I participated in the Infinite Zombies group read of Gravity’s Rainbow. But I gave up about 50 pages from the end again, after getting a week behind in that last month. I just ran out of caring. I’ll likely go back to both, some day, from the beginning. But there are too many books calling my name for me to bother with the ends of those novels. They captivated my attention. They’re well written. I’m impressed by the breadth and depth. I simply ran out of you-know-whats to give.
And that’s surprising, since I pushed all the way through Freedom, a book in which the author barely tolerates his characters. I’m surprised I could muster enough interest in their lives, when he couldn’t seem to.
Anyway, I didn’t read much during the first four years of Butter’s life. And this Spring I threw myself into reading, in every form I could: paper, ebook, and audiobook. I posted a bit about books I enjoyed in the first half of the year, when I succumbed to audiobooks and devoured texts weekly. I listened to, and loved No Ordinary Time and Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? I listened to, and had mixed feelings, about A Prayer for Owen Meany. Over the summer I enjoyed (and genuinely recommend) The Martian, The Namesake, The Goldfinch, Neverwhere, and The Bone Clocks. And a string of memoirs amused me slightly–Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Lina Dunham, in order of preference for their books–all kept me company on long runs. But I wouldn’t have read the books on paper. Autobiography narrated by the author, to me, is infinitely more interesting than reading the lives of performers.
I flat out didn’t like The Paying Guests or Go Set a Watchman. I felt that the former just lingered too damned long on every point and couldn’t decide whether it was plot driven or character driven, writhing languorously over both plot and character in such a way that I got tired of paying attention because I was being told that every moment mattered more than the last. The Harper Lee novel was as didactic as one by Franzen, with the added burden of having what felt like 400 pages of lecture posing as dialogue. Ugh. I’m still mad I wasted those hours.
I’m getting to the point in the year when I’m abandoning books left and right because they’re disappointing in comparison with books from the early 2015 months. I quit The Buried Giant last month. I sometimes enjoy Ishiguro and sometimes rankle at the pacing. This time, my impatience won. I quit Bel Canto two months ago. A pox on the unceasing, steady pace that lulled me like the rocking of an ocean liner. And I’m in the middle of, and considering quitting, Middlesex and A Visit from the Goon Squad. The latter is just boring me, in part because I’ve never cared about the music industry. And the Eugenides text is really annoying me. I have several friends who are, or who are close family with, transgendered, and the premise of Middlesex irritates me. It’s positing, I feel, that living in a space between genders, and navigating in a time of transition, can be blamed on a variety of ancestral errors. I feel in reading that the novel suggests that transgendered lives are mutations borne of unsavory history. And that angers me. I don’t know that Eugenides is arguing this point of view, but it’s what I’m inferring. So unless one or both books sways me soon, I’m dropping both.
A friend and mentor just sent me A Naked Singularity, and I’m going to start it soon. But it’s huge, and if I’m going to tackle a huge book this holiday season, it’s going to be Infinite Jest. Again. Because the nostalgia I feel for Wallace’s writing is increasing daily, and I just miss getting lost in the cadence and horror and familiarity and erudition and sadness of that book.
Any recommendations? I have a long list of what to read next, and am right now very happily ensconced in Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. I miss the world of the Rez and Alexie captures the magical and maddening in equal measure.
After I’m done, though, I wouldn’t mind a few books to stave off my Wallace magnet. I do believe there’s still talk of a February group read when the 25th anniversary edition of IJ comes out, so I might wait. We’ll see if I can.
What do you recommend I read to keep myself engaged until February?
I got a card this week from a dear old friend. Hadn’t talked to her in almost two years, though I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately. I wanted to write but didn’t make time. She did, and now I’ll reply.
I received a message from a darling friend I haven’t seen in five years. We’re having lunch next week when he’s in town for the first time in a decade. We’re both already giddy in anticipation.
I saw a text this morning from a genuinely awesome friend. I’ve heard from her here and there over the past few years, but we haven’t talked…really talked…since the kids started kindergarten. They’re in fourth grade now. It’s time for a long email and a cup of cyber cocoa with her.
Blogging again after a long break has brought me messages from good friends, too. I’ve smiled so broadly this week as I get comments and texts from people whose existence I cherish and whose words I welcome.
I don’t know what I sent out to the Universe in the way of distress signal or joy beacon or reconnection magnet. But I’m incredibly grateful to be steeped in engagement with friends who genuinely make my life better.
Hello, friends. Hope you’re well!
My five year old was in the bath tonight, and asked me how people get jobs.
I explained that there were several ways. I fudged the data a lot, and went on a bit too long, Neither of those will shock regular readers.
My synopsis only had three paths to a job…
“After college, when you have lots of things you’re good at, you find a company you want to work for, and you offer to do those things you’re good at, for them.
Or you graduate from college and the professors who know what you’re good at call companies they know and say, ‘this guy is good at stuff you need…can he work for you?’
Or companies who need someone who is good at certain things can post a job, usually online, on the Internet, and ask for people who are good at the things they need done. And you apply to those jobs that match what you do.”
“But I’m not good at applying for jobs,” he sighed.
I looked at him. “Of course not,” I said. “You haven’t practiced it yet. You get good at what you practice, so you’d have to learn to apply, then apply a lot, until you get good. And then, when you practice, I’ll bet you’ll get very good at applying for jobs. And you’ll get a job you like, I hope.”
“Mom, did you forget this morning? When I said I’m not getting a job.”
“Oh, right, when you said you don’t want a job and asked how you could not work.”
“And I said you have to have really rich parents, which you don’t, or you have to start a company and sell it for a lot of money.”
“Yep. And I’m going to do that one.”
“Yep. And we decided two million is better than one thousand.”
“Yep, because one thousand doesn’t even pay rent.”
“Do I have to apply for the part where I start a company, or can I just do it?”
“You just do it, baby.”
“Okay. That’s definitely my choice.”
You know what’s not fun at all?
You know what’s even less fun? Knowing for 24 hours how many someones are going to go, but not which of the someones it’ll be.
You know what’s even less fun? Being, on layoff day, a relatively empathic person who cries very easily. I cry at telephone ads, I cry at diaper ads. I cry when someone wins Top Chef and Project Runway. So each name I’m hearing during today’s mass layoffs has me crying.
I haven’t heard my name. So I’m crying about that, too.
Survivor’s guilt, colleague empathy, and relief.
That’s a lot of tears for one morning.
Good luck to all losing their jobs today. May the new job you find come before the severance ends.
Good luck, too, to everyone out of a job. May your new job come soon.
And to all the people who want a new job. May the right opportunity arrive today.
And to all the people having rough days…
No, no, no. Stop. It’s too easy for me to spiral to all the stuff not going right and wishing those people clean water, indoor plumbing, safety, and shelter. And food. And respect. And…again. Spiraling.
I’m going to focus on the people I know, today, who are suddenly unemployed. Wishing you all the best.
I do, sometimes, wonder if I’m mentally unhinged.
Well, not mentally. Emotionally unhinged. I’m pretty okay mentally.
But on a functional level, I am a professional maker of molehills into sizeable hikes. I am wont to speak in hyperbole, hypothesize in worst case scenarios, and react in outsized proportions.
Even though they’re totally wrong.
Today included a talk with my son about behavior I anticipate will lead to a career in crime. I talked to colleagues about a mass layoff that begins tomorrow. I spoke with a pediatrician who, in filling in for our regular doctor, actually laughed at my concerns and asked me what’s wrong with me. And I talked the babysitter of the ledge when my kids were fighting about the packing material that came in a box delivered (and opened) last week.
I should be exhausted. And grouchy.
I’m not. For now, there a cat on my lap, a book within reach, a cup of hot water, and a quiet house.
So is it a mood disorder that I’m not stressed right now? That I notice the calm and warmth of cat and steaming mug? That I’m willing to forget the day’s roller coaster?
Last night, I received the worst phone call I’ve had, thus far, in my life.
The call telling me about the deaths of my grandparents and my friend were devastating, but expected. Those calls upended me in ways that haven’t righted.
But last night’s call has to be remedied. Fixed.
Not out of anger. Not in retaliation. I’m not yet sure why… he was already sleeping when I heard the awful story. So now I get to hear why he did what he did.
And I have rather low expectations, because what I’ve heard so far is deeply upsetting. From sources I trust. With proof.
There aren’t many posts online when you search “what do I do if my child is a bully?” People are, it seems, terrified to talk about what it means to be the one who harbors the maladjustment that leads to aggressive behavior in children.
Yes, I tend to make mountains out of molehills. But I have several friends whom I call and ask for sanity checks. My parenting sanity check was not willing to place this on the innocent to sociopath scale. But we both understood it’s much closer to the latter.
My preliminary searches suggest low self esteem. I knew that part. Lack of conflict resolution skills. I don’t think so, from what I’ve seen. Role models who coerce or shame or intimidate?
I don’t want to write this post. I don’t want anyone to read this post. I sure as hell don’t want anyone to talk to me about this post.
I barely slept last night, my churning stomach nauseating me awake every time I managed to relax and forget.
I have to go have the talk soon. His dad is coming over so we can present a united front.
I might throw up.
Early morning run.
Write client web copy.
Drive to the ocean.
Large plate of fresh fruit, pumpkin scone with spiced pepitas. Mimosa. Decaf mocha. Write client ad campaign.
Kale, garbanzo bean salad with fig balsamic vinaigrette. Heirloom tomato greek salad. Mimosa. Homemade pistachio toffee. Write more web copy.
Walk on the beach at sunset.
Pear and brie in phyllo, asparagus with roasted red pepper sauce, ricotta blackberry tart, strawberries in balsamic glaze, and zinfandel.
And then another.
Full night of sleep.
In August, I kept telling myself to make it through until school started, and things would be simpler.
When school started, and logistics got harder, I told myself to just make it through the two big September work projects, and things would get easier.
When the first week of October brought big challenges at work, I told myself to make it through one big project.
Before that project ended, there were three new projects.
And so this week, I told myself to make it to Friday. To put my head down and push hard, because this weekend I’m going away with a friend. Without kids. With big projects looming, but time carved out for no work. The beach. A massage. A nice dinner.
When the kids were little, and there were no breaks after the milestones, I longed for the project-based rhythms of work. When those projects came back, both freelance and staff, I longed for a time with downtime between projects.
I’m going to have to stop waiting for breaks, and start making them myself.
And I will. Starting about four hours ago.
Day off school? Cool! I’ll rearrange my week so we can hang out together. Have crepes and play video games and read and play soccer and go to a movie. At the theater! With snacks and everything!
So, how about you help get the day started…by fighting non-stop with your brother. Not just about important things. Scream at him for breathing too loud. Punch him while you think I’m not looking just because you want to see what happens. Tell him how bad he is at the video game I’m going to take from you in three….two….one, just for being nasty.
And you, little follower. Give it right back to him. There’s nothing I’d like better on a day where I’ve planned to focus on you and make life awesome. Pick on him. Stick your tongue out. Make sure to trip him each time he walks by. When he reacts, pinch him. Tell him he’s a princess and tell him that you’re going to break his toys if he goes to the bathroom.
That’s it. Now wrestle! Not the fun kind, where everyone is laughing and panting and exhausted. Wrestle as though gouging out his eyes were your job. Yes. That’s the way.
That’s the way the first two hours of our day went. Then, screaming and crying when I said it was time to walk to the theater. Then, grabbing each other in the lobby while I was trying to show tickets.
Listening? No. Heeding requests for modified behavior? Nope. Crazy, jerk-ish, rude behavior all morning.
I thought by evening it would be better. I made their favorite dinner, I paid close attention to their stories, I laughed at their jokes. When kids act like jerks, according to the hippie attachment parenting books I’m now totally throwing out, means children need more attention. Need connection. I have it all I had.
When they asked for a joint bath, I reminded them that they can’t take baths together anymore. It doesn’t work. Tub’s not big enough, nobody seems capable of keeping their hands to themselves. Take baths alone, I urged, and cuddle up together for stories later.
They swore they’d be kind. They coached each other, in front of me, on what to say to convince me.
So they started a bath together. And three minutes is this one snapped at that one, and the other grabbed painful parts in retaliation for the sharp tone. I talked gently and reminded them of the rules. I was patient, I was kind. And they kept pushing and grabbing and shrieking. And one, then the other was told to get out. Ignored me, fought with each other.
I’d had it. I yelled that everyone had to get out of the tub. I told them this isn’t the way this family is supposed to work. I said that I demand that when I’m asking for attention about a safety and kindness issue, like hitting, that they heed me. Both reacted rudely to my own rude behavior.
And then I quit. I went to the living room and started a project. I decided I wasn’t going to make meals anymore. I wasn’t doing laundry or helping with homework. I won’t remind anyone about library day or music day or any other day. Forget to brush your teeth or wear a jacket or do a book report? I don’t care. Not my job.
I’ll buy groceries, pay the rent, and ignore them. Forever. Because all I have to do is survive 15 more years. They’re not hearing what I say, they don’t care whether my points are valid or not. This is Lord of the Flies, and I’m Piggy.
The little one stomped down the stairs and started an art project. He was supposed to be sorting laundry, and I seethed but ignored him. Not my job anymore.
The big one stomped up the stairs and started an art project. He was supposed to be doing homework, and I ground my teeth. That kept me quiet, though, which is fine since they don’t plan on hearing me ever again, anyway.
And first one, then the other handed me an apology note. The little guy sounded out all the words himself.
The big guy went winter-themed with his contrition. And multicultural, it seems from the punctuation.
And I decided that I could maybe try being their mom again. As much as I enjoyed my 20 minutes of full abdication, reinstatement as matriarch does have perks. I get all the handmade art I want. I get to read stories. And despite feeling, when they’re fighting, as though I have no influence, role, or value, I’m pretty sure that they at least get enough fiber, protein, and long explanations in answer to their questions when I’m on the job.
I wish the dynamics were different. It’s intensely hard on me that they’ve been fighting for four years, almost without pause. But life has been getting better. They read each other books last week. And played a duet, unprompted. I hope tomorrow is like last week.
The most challenging part of regular blogging is all the things I can’t say in this space. I write to be honest, to share, to ask questions.
But I don’t write to shame or embarrass other people. So I’m sometimes stuck fighting the urge to write everything I’ve experienced and how I feel about it.
In consideration of the public forum, of readers both known and unknown, of future lights in which these words will appear, of parties relictant to have their lives discussed in my blog…there’s a lot I can’t say.
Four bits from today I simply can’t tell you. One silence is a legality, two are rooted in decorum to protect asshats who wronged me, and one silence is because I don’t want to reread in five years and feel like a jerk.
So here is a photo of twinkly lights. Consolation prize.
Twinkle lights, like right now, in my living room. On the bookcase.
Maybe tomorrow will have content for public consumption.
Or more lights.
That’s lights and books and microscope. That’s pretty good, y’all. Pretty good day.