It's not that I forgot about my blog, exactly. But a couple of things happened.
I did get the garden in, for the most part, and we did, for a while, spend some significant time outside.
I started working a LOT more, saved up a bunch of money, and took the family to Disney World, because, A., Maeryn would be overcome with the magic of it all at this age and B., we've had a lot of people die recently, and I wanted to make some memories with some people. That's the short version.
We had a terrific time.
Then we got back and the month of car trouble began, culminating in our purchasing not one but TWO new-to-us cars, which has changed our financial situation a little (nothing we can't handle, but yeah. Have to work now, it's no longer gravy like it was before), but being able to leave the house whenever I want is, let's face it, AWESOME. Well, except for this week, because ice.
Then it was the winter holidays--the Hanukkah, the Solstice, the Christmas, and it all went reasonably well, but I once again discovered that if you pour yourself too much into something, and then it either works out but has worn you to the bone or doesn't work out for some reason that matters to no one but you, you are still going to be despised and rejected by yourself even if other magical holiday things happen. I am still warring with myself whether to get started on Christmas 2015, like, now so I'll be incredibly ready and not stressed in December, or if I should actually scale everything back. I feel like the right choice is to scale everything back, but I think what that "choice" is actually going to result in is me deciding at the last minute I can't stand it and going into high gear all over again, but it being way, way worse. What's that? Just change, you say?
And then it was time to get ready for Maeryn's birthday, and I did scale back, I did. It was still out of control, and resulted in a huge wooden castle now being part of her room decor/play equipment, but I was happy with it, and not bowled over and wrung out like last year. Still, next year, EVEN MORE scaled back. It finally occurred to me that even though my child, because she's a child, THINKS she wants big parties, they actually completely overwhelm and drain her, because she is an introvert. So yeah. Never again, for real. It was still adorable, though. Princess theme, of course.
Finally, the dust has settled. And this past week, as we were all forced to stay at home because our part of the country is not equipped to deal with ice storms followed by snow followed by ice storms followed by a little light flooding, I realized some things.
Do you want to hear them (read them, whatever)? Why else are you here?
1. We are, of course, still finishing the renovation on our downstairs bathroom and our electrical system (five years, guys. Five. Years.), and in the interim, there have been only interim systems of organization and decor and all of free time having to be a choice between living life or getting the house done so we can live life. I have been incredibly angry about this for at least four of the five years, probably more like 4.5 (and that's generous). Yes, there has been progress. I have to think back to when there were holes in the ceiling of the downstairs hall and ALL of the walls in the whole house, ALL OF THEM, and that is certainly no longer the case. Of course, now that the bathroom really is (and this is relatively speaking) almost done, we are already talking about sprucing up the living room, and the kitchen, in addition to all of the mucking out of just stuff that we're supposedly going to do. The mess, the waiting, the delays, the tripping over tools, the feeling gross and unsettled in my own environment because I can't really deep clean or express myself through my space with furnishings I really love...this is all very first-world-white-girl crap, I know. I have moments of perspective on that, and then I have moments of finding yet ANOTHER hacksaw blade in the living room or being told that, actually, no, we won't be plumbing this weekend, again, and I want to scream at someone, and I do occasionally grumble in earshot, which leads to yelling. I stew, and I resent, and I get headaches, and I have paralyzing frustration and anxiety.
And what I realized is, I'm torturing myself.
Should The Husband be busting his ass to finish this and stop the insanity? Well, sure, but the thing is, he is, in between the job, and the general maintenance of the house that I don't do, and yes, the hobbies, but is it really okay for me to be like, "You can't do anything for yourself until you finish all your chores?" I mean, not really. He gets to have a life, too. My being angry doesn't make it happen faster--it just puts a wedge between us and makes me crazy. I'm not saying I've decided to be silent and compliant and long-suffering. (Guffaw) I did take a more active role in the finishing of the bathroom, and we've been able to share our joint frustrations with each other more easily, and, most importantly, I'm prioritizing. Slowly but surely, I'm trying to put my emotional energy where it will serve me, not just where it automatically wants to flow. Anger has always been my default, but just being in anger all the time is pointless, and harmful. It's a dead-end. If it doesn't prompt action, change, what's the point? What it came down to was that I was feeling powerless, I was waiting. So I stopped waiting and got involved with doing. I guess I could have before, but it didn't feel like I could. So now it is.
2. The first thing to go when "things" (i.e. life) are going on is anything creative that I just feel driven to do just because--presents for people do not fall into that category, but are the main thing that derails everything else, actually--like my writing, like spinning yarn, or creating something for myself or my own house, or even my own immediate family. And the second thing to go is my spiritual/Witchcraft practice. And after that, any type of exercise regime whatsoever. And the real bummer about all that is, those are the things that make me sane, and functional, and pleasant to be around, and I have known this for YEARS, and I continue to kick them to the curb. What I really realized about this is that it's popular now, in society, to say, "Take care of yourself, take time for yourself," but what the people who say this mostly mean is, "Get your shit together so you can do what I need you to do when I need you to do it." I love my family, but they are way more worried about their own convenience and their own agendas than they are about my needs and well being, and I have enabled that for, well, ever. It is so hard for me to justify time for myself and things that are important to me, and the hardest part is admitting that I AM THE PROBLEM. Do others demand my time? Yes. Do I need to take care of my child and pay attention to my spouse and attend to basic sanitation around here? Yes. But do I have to meet every demand, even from my kid?
The biggest fear I have about pursuing what I want to do when I want to do it (and of course compromise is always necessary if you're going to live in a family unit, but there's compromise, where BOTH PARTIES GIVE SOMETHING, and then there's just me making everything possible for everyone ELSE and picking up the scraps for myself) is being judged and not loved. Everyone will judge me--bad wife, bad mother, selfish, self-centered, etc. And not just the vague "them" and "they" we use when we mean society at large, but people I care about, who are important in my life, who I've spent years in some cases setting up this dynamic of what-can-I-do-for-you, and who I am now planning on slowly but surely pulling the rug out from under. Will it end my marriage if I say, "I am doing work, too. If you think she needs to eat lunch, then go make her lunch. I shouldn't have to ask you to help with this stuff. She's your kid. Otherwise, get off my case. I'm going to finish this first. She had a snack an hour ago." Not so far, but I do not have unshaken confidence, because it's me.
3. I want my child to be her best self so that everyone will love her and think she is amazing, and that's probably pretty harmful and I'm probably the most controlling mother ever. But I'm working on it. Maeryn is increasingly stubborn, and willful, and defiant, and it makes me understand why people snap and beat their children. I haven't--but I get it. And well-meaning people are like, "choose your battles, don't die in every ditch, try to relax." And I'm like, "ask me how you feel about it when I let her say something rude to YOU, or pitch a fit in the restaurant YOU are trying to eat in, or throw things on YOUR airplane." I want Maeryn to express herself. I want her to realize herself fully. I want her to have adventures and to have boundaries and to stand up for herself and to have her own standards of beauty and to get great at whatever she chooses to do and rest when she needs to and love others and be loved. I want her to have a rich life.
But I'll be goddamned if she's going to turn out to be an asshole, or get herself killed doing something stupid. And I get to decide what constitutes assholery, and I get to decide what's safe and what isn't, because I'm the mom. Am I controlling and anxious and paranoid and all that jazz? Yeah. I try not to let it leak out too much. I let her wear whatever she wants, as long as it's weather appropriate. When she does art, I am supportive of everything--it is all wonderful to me. I let her play however, and I ask her questions, and I let her sing songs she's making up in real time for hours and hours. But when she asks for something, she'd better say please. If we're practicing reading and writing, she has to learn to make the actual sounds and the actual letters look like actual letters, because English. If I say no, she can't do something, it's not a negotiation. And if she fights with me...she's not going to win.
I feel like a bitch most of the time, and I can hear all of the sweet, compassionate, gentle mommies out there who take all this time to talk things through and help their preschoolers make good choices and just let go of some things sucking in their breath in horror. I don't disagree with that kind of parenting--I often envy it. But it's not who I am. You can wear your orange leggings with your red and green plaid dress and your tiara with your boots and you can draw eight lines out of a circle and call it a dog and you can play for an hour in your room and make a huge mess and sing songs about how the caterpillar is your best friend until the end because he's fuzzy, but if you are rude to me, or anyone, I will end you. And if I have to speak to you about your behavior more than once or twice, I'm going to yell at you. Loud. If you fight me, I will win. Because I'm not trying to win an argument with a four-year-old. I'm not trying to be in charge just to be in charge. What I'm winning is my daughter's future. Effective interpersonal skills. Appropriate forms of communication. Consideration for others--others including not just human people, but animal people, the earth and all of her plants and sacred spaces. The knowledge that things are not going to be how you want them to be all the time, and if you can't find a healthy way to deal with that, your life is going to be really, really unhappy. How am I serving her if I just make everything okay all the time? If I make her think that she's always okay? I impress upon her that she is always loved, no matter what, that she has worth, no matter what, but that if she behaves in horrible ways, other people are going to react negatively to that. You can go ahead and alienate everyone, that's your choice to make...when you don't live here anymore. Until then...
It's going to be a long 14 more years.
At the same time, if I don't take time to enjoy Maeryn, if I'm just relentlessly shaping her day and night, we will hate each other. We'll just hate each other. I made a list of things I want to do with her--outings, little projects, things I want to share, make-believe I want to play with her. What's stopping me so far is not wanting to get into it and have it all be spoiled by my needing to control it, or by her wanting to control it and acting out when we have to compromise (case in point: I took her to a Chinese restaurant on Chinese New Year, and she was horrible because she wished we could go to Olive Garden, WHERE WE HAVE NEVER EATEN. WTF?). Expectations are such killers of joy, so I'm trying to find a way to mediate both mine and hers. Some are okay, how much is too much, when should you be meeting someone's expectations and making them happy, and when should you draw the line?
One minute I feel like I'm spoiling Maeryn, the next I feel like the headmistress of the school they sent Jane Eyre to. And it's not all hard. Not all. Just most.
4. So the message within all of this is, time to live. Things aren't done, and they may never be. You can't do all of the things. There won't ever be perfect days. Not all of the plans will be realized. The to-do list will never be fully checked. So it is time to stop waiting for that day of glory when I will wake up and think, what should I do today? I can stop waiting for it because it is here now.
Just because there are always 100 things I need to/should/have to be doing doesn't mean I don't have the power of choice. Do I need to scale back, prioritize, use the word "no" more? Indeed. And not someday, when I've completed all the things I promised to do and everything is clean and tidy everywhere. Today. Now. What I wanted to do today was write this blog post. There is laundry to be folded, and a dishwasher to be unloaded. There is sewing, and knitting, and reading, and there are obligations coming out of every crack in the floor and blowing in through the drafty-ass windows of our mid-century home, and I can choose some or none of them to meet, today, tomorrow, the next day. The world will not fall apart. The sky will not fall. I am not trapped by anything unless I've allowed myself to be.
I've come up with a list of new priorities:
#1 - Enjoy what and who I have and where I am right now. Watch my daughter dance, do art with her, watch movies with The Husband, work on getting the house together, knit my yarn, spin my roving, sew my fabric, dig in my yard, snuggle everyone in the house, read, drink tea, rinse, repeat.
#2 - Stand up for myself and my time. Choose to stay home when I want to, don't offer to make or do things I am going to have to stress to fit in, ask other people to do things sometimes instead of doing everything myself.
#3 - Let go of the I'm-a-terrible-mother mantra. I yelled at her, she stayed up late, I made her go away and play by herself, I fed her mac and cheese and chicken nuggets, I let her watch too much tv, I scolded her, I wasn't really paying attention when she was blathering on in the back seat, she has all of the Disney princess dolls I swore I'd never let in the house. The fact is, I love her. I don't hurt her. She's fed, clothed, warm, clean, vaccinated, acknowledged, safe. She has opportunities to learn, to play, to exercise, to interact with peers. She has a network of family and friends. And then there's all the frosting: she has a bajillion toys, bins full of art supplies, shelves full of books, a savings account, and an investment fund. She's pretty much light years ahead of most kids on the planet in terms of privilege, and I'm working really hard to not let her be an asshole about that. And she's four. I am not a terrible mother. Not perfect does not equal terrible.
#4 - Embrace my power. If I'm worried about something, I need to do something about it. If I'm angry about something, I need to do something about it. If I want something, I need to do something about it. Time to get to work and stop waiting, stewing, marinating.
Right now I am going to go unload the dishwasher. I'm going to skip folding the laundry, again, probably. I'm going to listen to podcasts about objects in the British Museum, and knit, and try to keep my feet from freezing off, and we'll probably have leftovers for dinner. And I hope to keep you updated on how it goes, because sometimes you just need to say it out loud.
Or maybe I'll just go get in on this action.