Friday, July 08, 2016

Finding balance

The last two days have been very different.

Yesterday I was exhausted. I only slept about 3 hours (combination of a might-be-dying cat, a neighbor mowing his lawn at 6 am, and a little boy with nightmares). The day seemed hard before it even began. I got through the morning--I watched a friend's 3 kids as she was preparing to go on vacation with a new baby. I scrubbed a few floors and supervised kids vacuuming and folding laundry. I helped the girls with some new piano pieces and did my Thursday rest-day-from-running yoga routine. We read a million stories. We ate lunch and everyone pitched in to clean the kitchen. And then I pretty much collapsed. I was so tired. It seemed like every part of my body hurt. I cried six times at different ridiculous things (like Nathan scribbling on the kitchen floor with a crayon, which Isaac then cleaned up when he saw me melt into tears). We had takeout pizza for dinner and I felt like the worst mom in the world condemning my children to a terribly boring summer where all I wanted was for everyone to be asleep so that I didn't have to do anything.

Last night I got enough sleep. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day. Everyone did all their weekend cleaning jobs until the house sparkled. We went to the library, then met up with friends at a local gym for free play/open gym time. We came home, ate lunch, and I read piles and piles of books to the little boys. I ran 8 very speedy miles, then packed up the kids and went to a carnival hosted by our church congregation. We went to two different grocery stores on the way home. We ate a bedtime snack, cleaned up, had a brief bedtime phone call with Neil, and then I tucked everyone into bed and went off to do midterm grades.

Today I felt like a good mother.


I remember that when I very first started parenting that I felt like there was this invisible ledger that I kept in my head with credit and debit columns for Good Mother and Bad Mother. Things like waking up before the kids, reading stories and going to the playground went on the Good Mother side. Things like letting them watch movies, sleeping in too late, and working while the kids are awake went on the Bad Mother side. I wish I could say that I've moved past this ledger, but I haven't. Every day with every action I'm actively ranking myself as to where I stand--yelling at that child is a mark on the debit side, explaining how wind moves over the wings of a plane to give it lift is a credit in the other column.

This summer has been hard because I'm exhausted all the time and I'm usually in pain. This pregnancy has been much better than my last three, but it's still pregnancy with all of its accompanying miseries, and I'm older and my body has done this five times already. I'm still trying to run my 30 miles every week because I know the downturn my mental health takes with each mile subtracted from my weekly total. I'm teaching this summer for the first time since 2007 when I was pregnant with Juliet and had only Abigail. And Nathan has given up his nap!

For years and years I have sat down a month before the children were out of school and mapped out every single day of the summer--what adventures we would go on, what topics we would study. I haven't done that this year, and it's been a huge source of stress. I've tried to tell myself over and over that it's okay, that my kids love the slow-paced days full of Legos and baking and endless popsicles and afternoons at the pool--and they do!!--but I still struggle so much with the guilt of not being perpetually present, engaging, upbeat, and energetic. And at the same time, I know that I simply don't have it in me right now to parent the way I have in past summers.


On the 4th of July I ran 7 miles, prepared a gigantic BBQ spread for my family, gave both of the girls piano lessons, graded an entire class's worth of midterm projects, read to the boys for an hour, cleaned my house, and spent hours lighting & watching fireworks with the children. I can't remember the last time that I was that tired.

The children were radiant. It was, they told me, the best day of their lives.


I read this article earlier this week. Then I read it again, and then again and then a fourth time. Then I read parts of it out loud to Neil. I didn't want to post it on my Facebook wall because it felt so raw and real to me, and I didn't know how to unpack everything that it meant to me into just a few sentences. I have thought about this part over and over and over:

"I have tried to say it to my husband; I have tried to say, “I hate my life.” I have tried to say, “I need help.” I have tried to explain why I am finding being a mother so difficult, but in the face of his questions, my explanations collapse. It isn’t exactly that spending time with the children is so horrible. I mean, sometimes it is, sometimes we have a bad day, but most of the time it is relatively pleasant: we go to the store, we go to the park, everyone is well behaved, the three-year-old says something cute, the baby does something new. The problem is not in what I am doing. The problem is in what I am not doing, which is writing every day, but which is also leading a life of the mind."

Sometimes I think a lot about what my life would be like if I had made different choices. I've thought a lot about that the past two years. I don't feel like I have much control over my life these days; I'm primarily reacting to other people's decisions and actions and the situations in which they place me. That's not a place that I'm comfortable living in. It's very difficult for me to not be the master of my fate/captain of my soul. I don't like feeling powerless.

But when I think about an alternative life, I don't know that it would necessarily bring me more joy either. I have several friends who have made very, very, very drastic life changes lately--the kind of changes I've thought about. I don't envy them their new freedoms when I see what those choices actually look like; instead, I feel overwhelmingly grateful for my current life.


I ran into a friend today. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked how her summer was going. She told me how fit I looked and expressed her admiration for all of the things I do.

"I spent most of the day crying in bed yesterday, " I told her.

I had a long talk this week with another friend whose husband is very ill. They just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. She told me countless stories about their life together and the children that they've raised.

"My former coworkers were so surprised years later when they saw me pregnant with my sixth," she confided to me. "They all told me they never thought I'd have any children because I loved my job so much and I was so good at it. But I knew that being a mother was best. And that's what I told them. And that's what I see in you--I've watched you grow up as a mother and a woman from the day I first saw you with that tiny little blond baby and you've grown more beautiful every year and with every child."


Some nights I fall asleep reading.

Some nights I lie awake worrying for hours. Hours and hours and hours until I finally get up at 3 am and walk around my house and obsessively check the locks on all the doors like I've done for years. I worry about whether Neil will ever graduate. I worry about whether this baby's birth will send me into another depressive spiral. I worry about whether I'm too old to ever meet my athletic goals--will I be able to qualify for Boston? Run a 100-mile race? Has my body taken too much of a beating from years of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and toting around heavy toddlers on my hip, shortening my obliques, damaging my knee, leaching calcium from my bones? Should I sign up for the evening oil painting class Neil's been encouraging me to take, or is that selfish to take precious hours away from his research? Where will we be next year? Am I truly giving the best that I can to my children and my marriage? Why did I give away all my baby clothes?


I don't know how to end this post. I don't have any wonderful answers or relevations or tie-it-up-nicely anecdotes. What I can tell you is that my children are asleep, my husband is at work, I haven't eaten dinner yet, and it's time to do my grading.


Ruth said...

I love how you structured this post--it feels like the beginning of a very good book!! I also really like that article and read it after you liked it on someone's page I think. My one wish is that you don't feel the need to judge yourself so harshly. I can guarantee your kids don't care about so many things that you feel badly about. Love you!

PamDDO said...

My best wishes! You are a wonderful person and a great positive force in the lives of your children--you don't have to be perfect.

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