Today is my fortieth birthday, which is all momentous and milestoney and stuff, but what I REALLY want to talk about today is the thing that pisses me off most about 40th birthdays, which is not the aging, or the “over-the-hill” party hats, or the mid-life crisis, or the pure physical decrepitude. No. The thing that pisses me off most about 40th birthdays is how many people still think that this is the birthday where women stop telling people how old they are. Like, this isn’t my 40th birthday, it’s the second anniversary of my 39th birthday! Or, I’m not 40, I’m 18 with 22 years experience! HAHAHAHAHAHA no.
Look, I know that a lot of people in my age cohort who make these kinds of statements are doing it in a jokey way. Or maybe it’s a post-hipster-ironic way, or something, but whatever, I don’t care, I still hate it, because FOR REAL, it’s 2011 and I’m STILL supposed to be ASHAMED of my AGE????!! I mean, let’s be honest, even if most of the people I know are saying it as a joke, it’s a funny-because-it’s true kind of joke, only I’m not sure what’s so funny about a culture that still sends the message that at a certain age you are less valuable/desirable/beautiful/vital/important/loveable/cool/etc. And of course when I say “you” I really mean “women,” since it’s still OK for men to get older, it’s just us ladeez whose value apparently starts dripping out of our vaginas covered in XX chromosomes once we hit the big 4-0.
So anyway, everybody’s gotta do their own thing, I get it, and if feigning shame about your age (or actually being ashamed of your age) is what helps you get through the day, then … you do that. But personally, I have earned every goddamn one of these years, and I’m not going to shortchange myself by so much as a single month. I am FORTY, motherfuckers. Happy birthday to ME.
A friend of mine posted a link to an old Anna Quindlen column about different stages of motherhood. It’s a lovely essay, all about Quindlen looking back on previous incarnations as an Anxious Mother, a Frustrated Mother, an Inexperienced Mother, an Angry Mother, etc. She talks about the various parenting books she looked to in her search for how to do it right, and the mistakes she made along the way, and how the only thing she really regrets about the early years is not being in the moment enough, not appreciating each phase along the way. It’s poignant without being sappy, wise without being sanctimonious, and lots of commenters talked about how it made them cry.
It made me cry, too, but not, I’m guessing, for quite the same reasons as most readers. This was the paragraph that did me in:
I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like. Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves.
I’ve talked here before about my unfortunate talent for projecting horrible futures for myself and my loved ones. It’s a hallmark of the anxiety-prone, and I have it in spades. I have a hard enough time controlling it even when there’s absolutely nothing going wrong, so you can imagine the vicious thought-circles I’ve been spinning since the Hatchling got diagnosed with a language disorder. Which in my mind always looks more like A LANGUAGE DISORDER. Some things we’ve learned about the disorder since the initial diagnosis:
- The specific disorder is called Mixed Receptive/Expressive Language Disorder. Some people can understand language just fine, but have a hard time using it themselves; some people can speak language normally, but have a hard time understanding what other people say to them. The Hatchling has problems with both.
- Nobody knows what causes this type of disorder in its developmental form (which is to say that in some cases it can be the result of brain injury or severe neglect, but in the absence of those factors nobody knows)
- The disorder is NOT typically associated with lower-than-average intelligence
- The disorder IS typically associated with all kinds of academic problems, from reading and math disorders to ADHD, not to mention depression and other psychological problems stemming from the social effects of not being able to use language very well.
- Sometimes, with early intervention, the disorder can be remediated. Sometimes, despite early intervention, it can’t.
So basically this is just super fun and full of rainbows and unicorns, except for how it totally is the opposite of that. As is often the case with issues like this, since the diagnosis we’re much more aware of the extent of the disorder. It’s like getting the diagnosis allowed us to recognize it where before we were just shoving it under the carpet, so to speak. A few weeks ago we were looking at some old family videos of the Hatchling when she was about two, and – now that we know what to look for – we could hear so clearly how apparent it was even then. The non-verbal babble, the searching for words, was all there. And now that she’s five, the difference between her language and her peers’ is getting really noticeable. She can manage simple sentences and basic exchanges back and forth, but add in any level of abstraction or more than, say, three ideas at one go and she’s pretty much lost. What makes it even trickier is that her sociability and confidence are still above normal, so she naturally tries to lead play activities and reach out to new friends wherever she meets them … friends who respond to her sunny nature positively, but are already beginning to back off a little when they realize that they can’t always understand what she’s saying.
It’s killing me, y’all. Seeing her struggle or shut down when the words are too overwhelming, seeing the changing social dynamic with her friends, it’s KILLING me. I’ve been having a hard time doing the necessary research on the disorder and treatment possibilities because I practically have a panic attack every time I think about it for too long. I find myself getting horribly jealous when friends post stories or videos about their kids learning to read or write, or doing anything advanced for their age. I fucking HATE that kind of jealousy. It’s such an ugly response to anything. And I get so paranoid about helping the Hatchling to use language appropriately that I sometimes go a little overboard. This morning I actually told her that she couldn’t pretend to be a dog because she’s a little girl and she needs to talk like a little girl. No, really. I TOLD MY KID SHE COULDN’T PRETEND TO BE A DOG. What the hell? Not to mention, how can I even spend any time whining about this when I should be focusing on helping my daughter? You know, the person who actually has the language disorder? Gah.
So what does all this have to do with me crying at one of the more innocuous sections of the Quindlen column? I think what it comes down to is the loss of my imagined future – both immediate and distant – with my oldest daughter. For all that I attempt to live in the present moment and practice detachment, I’m only human. Just like anyone, I dream about possible futures for me and my family, and just like anyone, I base those dreams on what I know of the past and the present. You know, like I was a gifted reader so maybe my kids will be. My family is good with languages so maybe my kids will be. Given my kids heritage, I don’t imagine they’ll grow up to be Olympic athletes, for example, or accountants. Given their backgrounds, I thought, it was reasonable to expect that they’d be outgoing, do well in school, have a flair for the artistic. It’s not that I’m wedded to a certain specific future for my kids, but I thought I had a good sense of the range of possibilities, both the potential positives (honors society!) and the potential negatives (drugs!) A language disorder was, frankly, nowhere on the horizon, and I just can’t seem to orient myself to this new reality.
I wish that I could leap into the future and, like Quindlen, look back on decades of parenting foibles with an affectionate smile for my former self, and the assurance that everything turns out OK. Maybe the Hatchling will be one of the lucky ones, and we’ll be able to laugh at posts like this. Maybe someone will develop a new treatment that works wonders. Maybe living with a lifelong language disorder won’t be as awful as I think. I’d give a lot to know that it all ends well. But of course I don’t get to do that, anymore than parents of typically developing kids do. And it may be that I never get to do that. What I do get to do, what I have to work on after all, is the same thing that Quindlen advises: be in the moment. Don’t be in such a hurry. Treasure the doing it a little more, and the getting it done a little less.
And when all else fails, there’s always bourbon.
- The waking-up-early-to-meditate thing? Is not going well. Possibly because the staying-up-too-late-reading thing is still in full force. Turns out that lack of sleep makes me a raging bitch mama! Who could have foretold?
- Possible TMI warning: I don’t know if I’m going through peri-menopause or if my IUD isn’t working or what the hell is the matter, but I have been going through mega-crazy PMS this last week and it is getting really old. I hate how even knowing that your responses are purely irrational and hormone-overload-based does not actually help you calm the fuck down. Also, why does it have to be that the older I get, the more completely psycho my monthly cycle makes me? WHO IS THIS HELPING?
- One of the awesome things about having both girls obsessed with knock-knock jokes is being able to listen to them tell said jokes to each other over the nursery monitor after they’ve been put to bed. The Hatchling knows some actual knock-knock jokes, but the Sprout basically tells one “joke,” which goes like this: Knock Knock. (Who’s There?) Banana. (Banana Who?) (pause) … PUT IT IN YOUR EYE! (cackling laughter). Surreal, yet satisfying.
- In case there was any doubt that an academic nerd still lurks underneath this stay-at-home-mama façade, I spent approximately two hours this afternoon composing a carefully worded email explaining why I think essentialist feminism is a bunch of bunk. (Actually, pretty much essentialism full stop.) On the plus side, it’s nice that I know people with whom I can have such exchanges. On the minus side, this is time that could perhaps have been spent more profitably cleaning my incredibly dirty floors. June Cleaver, I am not.
To say that I am not a morning person would be an understatement approximately equivalent to saying that Voldemort has some anger issues. I’m the kid who never took an 8am class in college or grad school, because I knew I’d never pass it. When we were looking at kindergarten options for the Hatchling, I immediately ruled out any school with a start time earlier than 8:30, because we would be tardy Every. Single. Day. My natural schedule would see me going to bed around 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning, and sleeping until 10:30. I yearn for the days when I have surly teenagers who sleep until 1 pm so I can go back to sleeping in myself. I’m also a person who a) needs a lot of sleep and b) looooooves sleeping. Some people can function on 5-6 hours of sleep per day; I am not one of those people. If I don’t get 7 or 8 hours a night, I’m an irritable, edgy, semi-functioning mess. I find sleep almost perfectly satisfying, whether it’s in the form of a mid-morning catnap or a luxurious weekend lie-in.
However. I am thinking that I may need to start getting up … argh … before my children do, ack, because I have not been finding regular meditation time, and it is making me cranky.
Meditation is a key element of Buddhism, some would say THE key element. The Buddha said, “Meditate. Live purely. Be quiet. Do your work with mastery. Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds! Shine.” Buddha taught that meditation leads to both serenity and insight, which are the “swift pair of messengers” that bring nirvana. I dunno about you, but I certainly could use more serenity and insight in my life. At a practical level, meditation makes me a much more patient parent, makes it far easier for me to weather the ups and downs of life, and dramatically reduces my urgent desire for mood-altering substances like cocktails and all-expenses-paid cruises to the Mediterranean. So, for many reasons, I need to find regular time to do it. During the school year, I was managing to meditate while the Hatchling was in school and the Sprout was napping, but that’s no longer our schedule. I could do it after the girls go to bed, but y’all: I am fucking TIRED at the end of the day. All I wanna do after the girls go to bed is sit on the sofa and watch Glee. (While checking on my online class and surfing Facebook. Ahem.) So I think mornings are going to have to be the time.
At any rate, for the next two weeks I’m going to try to get up before anyone else and do some zazen. Surely even *I* can do two weeks of early rising, right? I’ll keep you posted.
1. Dear student,
Contrary to popular belief, it is not actually my problem that you haven’t gotten your textbook yet. Having ordered the books for the school bookstore, posted direct links to three different online vendors, and provided you with copies of the first two weeks’ readings, I really feel like my job with respect to your acquisition of the (single, reasonably priced, REQUIRED) text is completely done. I mean, really.
Best wishes, the Squab
2. Dear Other Student,
You registered two weeks late. You didn’t contact me until I noticed you on the roster and emailed to see why you hadn’t logged in. You said you needed to talk with me on the phone to “discuss expectations,” but the number you provided was non-functioning and though I gave you my number you never called. We’re now in week five and you still have not logged in … to this exclusively online course. Can you please just cut me some freaking slack and drop already?
For real, the Squab
3. Dear Language Disorder,
Please back the FUCK OFF my kid.
Incredibly sincerely, the Squab
4. Dear State of MN,
Thank you for finally stopping the sociopathic weather and granting us several delightful June days. Now can you please hold off with the 90s and high humidity until we get the new patio in? I’m not joking. YOU OWE ME.
Much obliged, the Squab
… I went and got hitched to a man who not only took my last name but also does all the laundry and gets up in the middle of the night with the kids. I totally win. Here’s a wee retrospective of the day (note: I’ve been married so long these are scans of actual film photos. If you can imagine.)
It was a beautiful afternoon in June
Look at how cute my attendants were!
That's the smile of a woman who knows she's caught a keeper.
The Happy Couple, post-vows
Anyone who’s been a parent for any time at all will tell you that it’s not like you expected it to be. I’m sure this is exactly the kind of statement that drives non-breeders crazy, but I can’t help it: some things in life require experiential knowledge, and parenting is one of them. As the oldest of six kids and a regular babysitter, I figured I had a pretty good general idea of what I was getting into with the parenting thing. I wasn’t naive enough to think I didn’t have anything to learn, but I thought I had the basics down. This, of course, is kind of like assuming you’ve nailed the basics of oil painting because you majored in art history. It’s not a totally irrational assumption, but it does happen to be a wrong one. Which is just my super smooth way of saying that if I had to condense my experience of parenting into a single sentence it would be something like, “I didn’t know it would be like this!”
The constant unexpectedness of parenting comes in all kinds of forms: positive, negative and everything in between. Some things you embrace, some you brush off, and some you run smack into like a two-foot-thick brick wall. We’re currently having a brick wall moment around these parts, because the Hatchling – my reason for starting this here blog – has recently been diagnosed with a language disorder. “What the hell is a language disorder?” you are no doubt asking. I know I sure was. There’s no pithy answer, but basically what it means for the Hatchling is that in a lot of situations, she finds it difficult or impossible to use language to communicate. Lemme just take a moment to recover from the nausea that writing that sentence produced. Okay.
So, like most impairments of this type, the diagnosis has been a long time coming. Language has never been the Hatchling’s strong suit; she babbled charmingly as a toddler, but it took a while for her to convert the babble into actual words and sentences. I worried about it in a vague way, but her pediatrician seemed to think she was fine and there was nothing I could put my finger on. We assumed it was just her way of developing and it would work itself out. When she was three (in 2009) she started preschool, and about 1/2 way through the year her teacher pulled me aside to ask if the Hatchling had done her pre-K screening yet, because she was acting kind of weird sometimes in the classroom. Again, it was nothing she could really put a finger on, but it seemed like sometimes the Hatchling didn’t understand what you were saying when you gave her instructions, or she would sort of go vacant in the middle of an activity. So we took her in for the early childhood screening session, and she passed with flying colors. I even told them ahead of time that I had some concerns about her language development, but they didn’t see anything, so whew, right? No worries. All good … except I would still occasionally have interactions with the Hatchling that would leave me vaguely anxious, feelings that I dismissed because, let’s face it, it’s not exactly unusual for me to feel vaguely anxious and mostly it’s a mountains out of molehills situation.
Then, this last winter, her completely different preschool teacher at her completely different preschool ALSO pulled me aside to express some concerns about the Hatchling. And just like everyone else, she couldn’t quite put a finger on it, there just seemed to be something a little “off” about her and had I noticed anything like that at home? And of course I had, here and there, so we agreed to get the Special Ed. teacher who serves the school to do some observations and then we’d go from there. And thus began the months-long process of observations and reports and needing further testing and doing the testing and waiting for the results and meeting about the results and the results are: Language Disorder. Significant Language Disorder. In other words, to quote the 12 page single-spaced report we got this morning, “Her language samples provided evidence of significant difficulties producing meaningful, accurate and organized language.”
I recognize that things could be a lot worse. The Hatchling could have a terminal disease, or a more severe impairment, or we could not be catching this so early, leaving her to struggle through school without knowing why. We’re fortunate to live in a state that will provide some support for the Hatchling once she starts Kindergarten, to live in a metro area where there are resources available to us we might not have elsewhere. All of this is true. But let me tell you: it still sucks a metric fuck-ton of suckage to sit in a meeting at 8:00 in the goddamn morning and be told that your kid has a level of disability which – at the very least – will make it really hard to be successful in school, not to mention any social or emotional effects it will have or might already be having. The thought that this language disorder could make the Hatchling lose her sunny outgoing friendliness … well, I’ll start crying again if I think too long about it.
If I’m honest, though, I think what I’m most worried about in this whole scenario is that I won’t come up to snuff in the parenting department. This is not my subtle way of asking for compliments on my fortitude or excellent mothering capabilities – I’m really fucking scared about it. I mean, this is the kind of situation where I’m supposed to draw on all my reserves of strength and be a pillar of support for my kid and my family, right? Only I’m not at all sure that I have any reserves, and god knows I’m plumb out of patience and temper has never really been my strong suit. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I’m EXTREMELY verbal. Me and language are, like, super BFFs. So not only do I know bupkiss about dealing with language disorders, but I also can’t imagine a task I’m less temperamentally suited to handle. I can’t imagine anything more frustrating than having thoughts and feelings and ideas and not being able to speak them. It kills me to think this might be a life sentence for the Hatchling. I don’t want to fuck this up.
I’m trying to take a Buddhist approach. I’m trying to stay in the moment, to “expect nothing.” Buddha taught that the practice of mindfulness not only allows us to fully experience our lives, but it also enables us to respond effectively to the curveballs that life seems to enjoy throwing at our heads. This is one of the Buddhist paradoxes that really hits me where I live. All evidence to the contrary, I tend to convince myself that dwelling on past issues or trying to project into the future will somehow help me be better prepared for whatever shit comes down the pike. What it really does, of course, is just cloud my judgment and perceptions so that I’m too freaked out and preoccupied to respond to anything. Focusing on the here and now allows me to see clearly what a sweet and loving child the Hatchling is, how willing she is to embrace new experiences, how easily and quickly she makes friends, and how far she’s come with her language in the past year. It reminds me that I don’t have to climb the whole fucking mountain right this very minute – I just have to take this particular step. I find some hope in the present moment. Yeah, I didn’t know it would be like this. But then none of us ever really does.
Soooo … it’s Memorial Day Weekend, and nothing says appreciation for the military like a damn good chocolate chip cookie recipe, amirite? That and plus also, I don’t have any other burning issue to blog about. Anyhoodle, I know everyone and their granny has a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but please trust me when I tell you, you need to try this one. I have had numerous people bite into one of these cookies, pause, look me in the eyes and go, “Wow. That is a GOOD cookie.” The keys to making these are the dash of cinnamon – you want just enough to bring out the flavor of the cookie, not enough to really taste – and the baking time. To achieve the perfect blend of crispy edges and soft chewy center, you have to watch them like a hawk and take them out of the oven as soon as you see brown around the edges. This started out as a Betty Crocker recipe, from a 1970s era cookbook, but has been tweaked over the years by my mom and by me until it has reached cookie perfection. It also makes more cookies than most chocolate chip cookie recipes, which is good, because these go pretty damn fast.
Dammit These Are Good Chocolate Chip Cookies
2//3 cup shortening
2/3 cup butter, softened (salted butter makes it better)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
12 oz. semisweet chocolate pieces.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cream shortening, butter, and sugars together until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Mix in dry ingredients. Slowly stir in chocolate chips.
Use a medium cookie scoop, or drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookie are light brown. DO NOT OVERBAKE. The tops should still be very pale – only the bottoms should be brown. You’ll think they’re not done yet, but trust me. They’re perfect. Cool slightly before removing from baking sheet. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
If you make these, let me know how they turn out!
On Sunday a major tornado came through Minneapolis and devastated several blocks in North Minneapolis neighborhoods. Our south Minneapolis home was blessedly spared, but the pictures and stories have been all over Facebook and the news, and we have friends within blocks of the destruction. At my ECFE class this morning, we were talking about disaster preparedness and how to talk to your kids about these kinds of events. I shared this list of things to do to prepare for a major disaster, and we all nodded our heads and murmured about what a good idea that was and how we all really needed to put some of that stuff in place. And then we talked about how we never had any awareness of stuff like this when we were kids, and was that because there weren’t as many disasters (hi, global warming!) or because our parents were less paranoid than we were or what? And it got me to thinking about how so much of what I think of as good parenting is finding a way to walk the line between anxiety and neglect. I mean, do you have yearly fire drills with your family, because: Safety! Or do you just install smoke alarms and assume that everything will be all right? Because, statistically speaking, of course, it probably WILL be all right. But, you know, I still make my kids wear seat belts and hold my hand when they cross the street.
Of course, this sense of walking a line isn’t limited to safety issues. I have the same sense of precarious balance when it comes to, say, gender issues with my two girls. For a long time, the Hatchling was completely uninterested in all things pink and princessy, for example. I mean, this is the kid who has been, respectively, a ladybug, Yoda, a cowboy, and a tornado for the last four Halloweens. But then she went to preschool. Or maybe it was just turning four, or maybe I let her listen to too many Broadway soundtracks – anyway, whatever the reason, she is now TOTALLY into the whole glitterlicious girl complex. Asked what she wanted for decorations on her 5th birthday cake this year, she said, and I quote, “ponies, unicorns, dolphins, and rainbows,” which also happens to be a comprehensive list of the contents of my 5th grade puffy-sticker album. I’ve talked with friends of mine who have girls the same age, and we’re all in the same quandary. On the one hand: Feminism! Woman power! Realistic body images! Fuck the patriarchy! Etc. But on the other hand, Choice! Support kids for who they are! Embrace multiplicity! Etc. Which is to say, yes, dammit, Barbie makes me fucking uncomfortable on every level, but if that’s where my kid is right now who am I to say that’s wrong?
That strangled sound you’re hearing right about now would be my mother choking on the words “You’re her PARENT, that’s who!” See, when I was growing up, there were lots of things that were off limits in our house for specifically feminist reasons. We weren’t allowed to watch The Flintstones or The Jetsons, for example, because of the problematic way they represented the role of women. (TV in general was both rationed and heavily weighted toward PBS.) And Barbies were RIGHT. OUT. Dolls were OK, and we could – and did – play dress-up Queens and Princesses to our hearts content. Hell, the first book I ever memorized was a little golden book version of Disney’s Cinderella, which ain’t exactly the most feminist story in existence. But the closest I ever got to a Barbie was a Princess Leia doll, who, while pretty stacked, was acceptable because a) she had flat feet like a normal person, and b) hello! Princess Leia is the shit! And I loved that Leia doll, don’t get me wrong, but I also yearned – YEARNED – for a Barbie doll. So while I totally and completely get why they were off limits, and my mom was really good about explaining exactly why she wouldn’t let me get one, I’m also pretty sure that they were way more important to me because they were off limits than they would have been if they hadn’t been forbidden fruit.
I guess what it all comes down to is that we all draw our lines where we’re comfortable drawing them, and if we’re conscientious about morals but also sensitive to cultural pressures, that can result in some arbitrary-ass line-drawings. So in our house, barbies are a non-starter, but the Disney Princess dolls are OK. (I know. Totally irrational.) I’ll let the girls watch Tangled and The Little Mermaid until they have the complete score memorized (with gestures!), but The Biggest Loser will air in my house over my dead, fat body. I’ll talk with them about feminism and self-respect and kindness and empowerment until their eyes roll back in their heads. I will strongly encourage them to read Louisa May Alcott, and I will pitch the mother of all fits if they want to read Ayn Rand. (Or at least if they want to read her uncritically.) I will happily embrace life partners of any race, color, creed, gender or ethnicity, but if they vote Republican I might have an aneurysm. And, of course, I reserve the right to redraw those lines whenever I see fit, because I’m still figuring this parenting tightrope out, dammit, and I might need to reroute myself occasionally.
So how about you? Where do you draw your lines? Does it feel like a tightrope to everyone, or just to those of us with a tendency toward neuroses? Lay it on me, y’all.
OK, so you’re caught up on my blossoming interest in all things Buddhesque. The reason I made you sit through all that was … well, I’m not going to lie to you, part of it was because I’ve just been THINKING so much about it and I wanted to have someone to talk to. But also it was because the thinking about the Buddhism has – in particular – got me rethinking my relationship to multitasking.
Here’s the thing: I kind of hate it when parent-bloggers write from the assumption that having kids is some kind of holy experience that fundamentally differentiates them from non-parents, because I actually think that parents and non-parents have a lot more in common than not. BUT, having said that, it is also true that having kids has given me a completely different relationship to time. Before kids, when I was working full time, there were certainly times when I felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that I wanted to do. Especially when I was, say, in tech rehearsals for a show, or finishing a really big project. After having a kid, and even more so after having two kids, OMFG THE TIME – There isn’t – I mean – Are you kidding me with the no time thing? And I’m not claiming that this is some essential quality of parenthood. I have high-powered lawyer friends without kids who get this, for example. And conversely, I’m sure there’s a person out there for whom parenting was the beginning of a whole new world of happiness and a sense that they were finally doing what they were meant to do. I’m just saying that A) that has not been *my* experience, and B) if I ever meet that person, I will punch them in the neck.
It’s just that lately, by which I mean for the last five years, I’m so goddamned worn out by the end of the day from taking care of my adored, demanding, lovely, exasperating children, that it’s all I can do to figure out what we’re having for dinner and *maybe* make it, before ceding all power for the rest of the evening to Mr. Squab – who is, of course, wiped out himself from working at the office all day. But at the same time, I’m craving time for myself like a heroin addict craves a hit. I mean, taking care of kids is eminently worthy and important work (DUH), but it’s not exactly the most mentally stimulating activity you could ever engage in. In fact, most of the time, and I say this with love, it’s boring as fuck. So once the kids are in bed, my brain switches into hyperdrive and suddenly I have an urgent desire to dive headfirst into every single self-centered grown-up activity I can think of in the 4 hours I have before my own bedtime. It’s like somehow I have to make up for all the lost time I wasted grooming the next generation when I could have been catching up on the latest season of Mad Men. NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW, since I don’t have time to watch that show even though literally everyone I know has told me that I would love it and I’m sure they’re all right. So every evening, I cram in as many of my favorite selfish activities as I can get into the brief time available to me, often doing three or four things at once just so I can cross them off my list. You remember that episode of Seinfeld where George works out a way to have sex, listen to a ball game, and eat a hoagie all at the same time? Well, add knitting a sweater, reading a murder mystery, drinking a bourbon-and-coke and obsessively refreshing my Facebook feed and you have my ultimate fantasy night.
It’s ridiculous, and the stupid thing is that I’m not even enjoying it. Somehow, I’ve convinced myself that my self-worth and sanity are predicated on maintaining all my pre-parenting interests and activities even as I engage in one of the most intense and time-consuming periods of being a parent. Now, there’s a part of that that’s right on the money: Every parent – every caretaker of any kind, for that matter – needs a healthy dose of caring for themselves on a regular basis, and lord knows those post-kid-bedtime hours are precious as gold. But I also recognize that I’ve gotten distinctly grabby with my “off” hours, in the sense that I collect activities around me and then hold them close with the single-mindedness of a born hoarder. I HAVE to read at least a chapter of my book every night. I HAVE to keep up with all the weekly shows on my DVR. I HAVE to knit-or-bake-or-sew-or-draw at least once a week. I HAVE to read every single Facebook post from every single friend and family member. I HAVE to skim Newsweek. And The New Yorker. And Entertainment Weekly. And Vanity Fair. Have to, have to, have to, because … well, because I ENJOY all those things, dammit! And I should be able to do things I enjoy! Haven’t I paid my dues? Don’t I deserve this time for myself? DON’T YOU TRY TO TELL ME I DON’T DESERVE IT!
Sigh. So then I’m reading my various Buddhist books, and they talk about mindfulness, and being in the moment, and letting your chaotic thoughts, your “monkey mind,” settle into a calm and spacious perspective, and I think, Gee. That sounds awfully nice. Maybe what I really want isn’t more hours in the day. Maybe what would make me happy isn’t being grabby and angry about getting more “me time.” Perhaps, if I allowed myself, even occasionally, to stop multi-tasking and really focus on what I’m doing right now … maybe then I could stop being afraid of losing myself in parenthood, and remember that Walt Whitman was right: I am large, I contain multitudes. And life is too short not to enjoy the hell out of it as much as you can.
So I’m trying. Not all the time, but occasionally, to just do what I’m doing when I’m doing it. If I want to read a book, I can just read it. If I want to watch TV, I can just watch it. I don’t have to check my email while I’m talking on the phone. I don’t have to knit AND surf the web AND drink a glass of wine to make it “count.” I don’t have to stay up until two in the morning to squeeze everything in. I can let stuff go. I can do things more slowly. And though my house will be dirty and my magazines unread, I think I will be a happier, squabbier, better, mother-and-daughter-and-wife-and-self. Which is really what it’s all about.