I’d say this has been one of those days, but I fear it’s been one of those weeks. Or months. Or worse. It just feels like I can’t get ahead. I realize some of this is chronic caregiver stuff: laundry, cleaning, cooking that are just completed when it’s time to do them again. I try to think of these things not as goals to be attained but as the background activities of my life, the patterns of the everyday. But it’s hard when I’m so tired some days that getting dinner on the table IS in fact a major achievement. What’s troubling me most, anyway, isn’t the dismal routine of maintenance but instead the strange psychological adaptations that are happening. The onslaught of winter isn’t helping, with its corollary SAD and Vitamin D deficiency, and maybe that can account for what’s going on. But I’m somewhere between agoraphobia and hibernation, and anyone will tell you that’s a tricky place to be. I’m CRAVING time at an office, with tasks and challenges that need my brain and expertise. I’m lusting after adult conversation, preferably not about children. Most of all, I want blessed quiet and my body, my space, my environs to myself. This feels ungrateful but it’s truly not: it’s just that I, like almost everyone, am too complex to do just one thing or be just one way. I love parenting and I love the other things I’ve done with my life, and I’m headed toward a new kind of balancing, I hope. In the meantime: I do the strange and crazy dance a friend in college termed “full body flail” and try not to act out in public.
Because the last one, though brilliant and witty and full of incisive critique, was lost by WordPress, and because I couldn’t duplicate the jaunty late-night feel of it, I offer only this:
How is it that we started out with a powerful, strategic leader (M) and a capable, daring field agent (Eve) and we ended up with a dead mother/grandmother and a secretary? I’m all for fourth wave feminism and the power of the administrative pen, but this is the MOVIES. M dies of a wound to the HIP? At least she was shot, I suppose, instead of falling and breaking it. And we did get to see a cinematic first: grandma making dirty bombs from household objects. But the movie did such great and unprecedented things with sexuality (clearly, the director spent some time working out how best to use Daniel Craig’s thighs — and we’re glad he did). You’d expect something more novel than M’s “at least I raised one good son” sentiment and Eve’s transformation from ass-kicker to note-taker.
Maybe this was the audience-development Bond, wherein new structures and conventions are pioneered even as old ones (like sleeping with the battered woman he purports to try and rescue) are maintained. Maybe the next one will rock the planet.
One last note: what was up with the macro-lessons about technology? Q lays a bread-crumb trail that either fails (since Silva shows up at Skyfall) or leads him there without the requisite corollary ambush. Since Silva clearly uses technology (and psychology, that useful tool of field agents everywhere) to find Bond, I’m not sure the much-touted argument over Techwork v. Fieldwork really goes anywhere. Your thoughts?
A list of the things I’m craving today:
- Long phone calls with good friends in which any and all topics are fair game and support is unconditional.
- A cup of coffee with a good friend.
- A long walk in the woods with a good friend.
- Cheese, preferably toasted on good fresh bread.
- Snuggly quiet time with small people who are not trying to eat rocks, balloons, or each other.
- World peace, at least around the issue of toy-sharing and space-sharing (which about covers it, wouldn’t you say?).
I’m heartily tired of that “supermom” line of discussion, but I bring it up because I actually know one. Or rather, I know a superwoman who is also a mom, and I think that’s part of what we’re talking about here. She posted on fb today:
In the last few minutes, while taking a break to pump, I edited a book review first proof, consulted with a colleague through the door about an e-mail, responded to my book editor about a change in an illustration, posted on Facebook to a friend, AND corresponded with Kevin about missing the deadline for Xavier’s chess tournament this Saturday (crap! he’s going to be disappointed). No wonder I feel pulled in a million directions! Just keep swimming…
The comments are even more fascinating — “I am wholly inadequate. Thanks for that”; “If you have a few extra minutes, can you solve the Israeli/Palestinian issue?”; “You are my hero. I went to the bathroom and played Angry Birds for 15 minutes.” It would seem that most of us don’t come close to achieving this remarkable synthesis (or at least synchronicity) of work and family life. I wonder: do we want to? Is there some satisfaction in keeping things cordoned off a little better? What are, in fact, the pros and cons of doing so much at once? I mean, of course we all THINK we want to — it would seem fabulous to have the skill, the ambition, the caring, the capacity to do and be so fully all the many things we are. But as my friend says, there’s swimming involved.
On my “About” page I offer the age-old image of a river as a way of thinking about the forces that carry us through our lives. This friend is among the most thoughtful, intentional, capable people I know; she has made conscious choices that take her well outside the conventions of social and professional expectations, and not in easy ways. The idea that even SHE is working hard to “just keep swimming,” well, that has me worried.
See, I envision a point of balance, or rather an act of balancing, as do we all. And of course there’s that juggling metaphor, too, that has us perpetually in motion, arms sore and eyes strained, working not only to keep the balls in the air but to remember which, when dropped, will bounce and which will shatter. The trouble with all of these images is, as Anne-Marie Slaughter suggests in “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” that they assume surplus. But there’s only so much of each of us, in reality, and while great professional and family lives make MORE of us (Gail Godwin’s beautiful novel “Evensong” posits this as one definition of vocation), there’s still just us.
There are choices to be made. I am in awe of people who make these choices with open hearts and curious minds. Every choice to be somewhere is a choice NOT to be somewhere else, and I for one get a little stuck on where I’m not, where I should maybe really be. People who center themselves in the many aspects of their lives do so not by some magical process of equidistancing but by embracing each aspect in its turn, or (as in my friend’s case), several at once. I picture my niece, who is blind, in a story her mother told me — she had an exciting activity at school, for which she had spent days preparing, and from which she brought home a series of artifacts. She arranged the objects in a circle on the floor around herself and lay down, touching them one by one, reveling in their presence and the experience that they recalled. Her mother told me that the “Happiness Project” describes joy as deriving not just from an experience, but from anticipation of and reflection on it…which makes that model of devoted time for centered celebration vital. To me, this means that doing fewer things more deeply, with more whole-hearted preparation, presence, and appreciation, seems a surer way to happiness. And yet, and yet…if I could be working with my book editor while I pumped, wouldn’t I? You betcha.
So maybe what we’re saying, again, forever, is that it’s not out there — it’s in here. If we can bring the joy and attention to what we’re doing, that matters far more than what we are in fact doing. The trick, it seems, is to feel okay about merely pumping, or changing diapers, or bathing a small person, when that is what we have chosen to do, instead of absently running our fingers over the rows of what’s missing. We can do as much or as little as we can do; what we deserve is to honor our own choices by showing up while we do it.
For so many things.
I watched my rotund eleven-month-old fall asleep in my arms today, punch-drunk on applesauce, oatmeal, banana chunks and breastmilk, and I thought about mothers the world over who hold too-light children and too-heavy worries.
I keep picking at the irritating scab of a search committee that doesn’t respond…and then remember how good it feels to even HAVE interviews, in this climate, and to have warm, supportive ones at that.
I am frustrated to not have more time to write, and I am reminded of the years when writing was work. This, then, is play.
In one of my gardens I grow roses, all carefully chosen for cold-hardiness and disease resistance; it’s every plant for himself at our house. When I think of the winterkill that mauled them last year and of my half-assed attempts to prune, heal, transplant, and protect them anew, I must also remember this: come June, whether I deserve it or not, there is usually grace. Come to think of it, I depend on grace. I build it into my strategy. The flowers, though, are a glorious bonus.
I once had to write down, every day, ten things that were beautiful or inspiring or somehow positive, and by god it was a struggle. But, as Thich Nhat Hahn says, “peace is every step” and compassion (with self, with world) is a habit. In these dark days, it’s a habit worth cultivating.
I’ve liberated the last of the root crops from the frozen ground. They did not want to come.
It was a chilly endeavor, but a rewarding one.
Plus, I can’t think of the last time I was in the garden without someone “helping” and someone else crawling off into the shrubbery or gagging up leaves. I just hope my little helper isn’t furiously pissed that I didn’t wait for him to uproot all those carrots. He has a point: digging up brightly colored food from the earth is pretty well the awesomest.
As I’m trying to feed C, who slept too late and seems not hungry, Len is in the living room changing E’s diaper.
“I hate these wipes,” says Len. As do I: they are environmentally responsible, but the pouch they come in is persistently reluctant to give them up, leading to much shaking-of-pouch with one hand while you try to hold the boy’s bottom out of his poopy diaper with the other. And then when they do come free, they’re all stretched out like damp ribbons, which vastly increases the chance of cleaning said bottom with your bare hand.
“I know,” I say. “They are the worst wipes in the world.” Len accuses me of hyperbole, which is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. But at least we’re both amused by it.
“There is nothing worse, in the entire world, than these wipes,” he says.
After a pause, he adds, “Well, maybe the Republican party.”
“The situation in the Middle East,” I contribute.
We both chew on this.
Fine. But the wipes are really annoying.
Every year I start thinking about Christmas gifts in June. Every year I SWEAR that I will start making them in June. And this year I did! I did. I made one small scarf. But summer is just so, well, summery, so perfectly designed for other things, like helping a very naked young man make a river habitat for his wild animals on the edge of the driveway. Crocheting fuzzy things just seems so pointless under those circumstances. And thus we arrive here, in early December, at a state suspended halfway between panic and bliss: the crafting imperative.
And so I spent my Sunday afternoon: felting old wool sweaters; upsizing a hat pattern I like; making experimental fleece hats (one of which my sweet partner has been wearing ever since). I am one of those crafters who takes such pleasure in the planning and anticipation that I spend very little time actually MAKING things. But now it’s all about the making, and that brings a whole new kind of satisfaction. Put differently, it actually brings satisfaction rather than its promise. Pam Houston: “In graduate school you learned that men desire the satisfaction of their desire. Women desire the condition of desiring” (from Cowboys Are My Weakness, probably “How to Talk to a Hunter). I hate to be so gender-conformist, but hell, I’m a stay-at-home mom making Christmas presents. I’ll just own that.
Back to the Making of Things and the Overwhelmingness of Creative Energy: I’ve got plans. They are good plans. The trick now is to get enough done fast enough that it still feels like generous gifting rather than crazed production. It’s a bear trying to live this whole mindful approach. But it has been beautiful to look back at the last few years and realize that most or all of our gifting is now either a) donation (Heifer, Kiva, local home energy assistance, or recipient’s favorite charity); b) handmade; and/or c) purchased from local crafters. That feels good on all levels — an appropriate way to honor a holiday I tend to think of as the birth of hope. And boy do we need it. In these dark months we need all the warmth, fellowship, and generosity we can get.
And hey — if you are interested in details of what I’m making, check out my Pinterest boards or just leave a comment here. I want to use the pages for that kind of info, but I’m not quite there yet. Prompt as needed.
We had a few friends over to decorate the tree this evening, and conversation turned, as it will, to the kinds of traditions we create, now that we’re grownups. Tree-trimming is the big one, for us; we’ve been doing it since back in the day when we had lots of friends, lots of energy, and the funds to throw an actual party. Times do change. We’re not sure how the rest of it will turn out, now that we have kids — there’s the whole Santa fiasco, the hiding of gifts, the efforts to secure the tree from small grasping hands. There are things we’d like from the season, but those seem elusive at best: music. Time with friends and loved ones. A sense of peace, perhaps even of joy. But where the hell are we supposed to find all that in the chaos we’re swimming in? We seem to end up instead with a short occasional visit, a panicked rush on making gifts that we’ve been planning since June, and a general sense of seasonal affective disorder. This is no real surprise, but it is a disappointment. I suspect my real problem is not the holidays at all, though there’s obviously enough trouble there. I suspect my real problem is the looming prospect of February. I may need to seriously consider moving to where there’s more light.