Parenting is a relay race
Let me start with a disclaimer--If you are a single parent--especially if your child's other parent is not in the picture at all, especially if you have no other family or community to help you out--this post is gonna sound utopian to you. So I just want to say--I see you, I honor you, I don't know how you are doing this, but I know I would be doing it worse.
And secondly, this is not my usual funny post, and it discusses suicide ideation at one point. If you have thoughts of harming yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988.
OK, now for the regularly scheduled post.
The early years of my kids' lives are receding in my memory. If it weren't for Facebook reminding me of them, the adorable outfit they wore and hysterical things they said, I am not sure if I'd have much memory at all.
What I do remember is that those years were hard. I can see glimpses of it in oblique references in those Facebook posts and between the laugh lines of this blog. Which I started fourteen years ago, when my oldest was one, and my youngest was yet to be. I started this blog out of desperation, really, as a way to find humor in a role in which I found myself and to which I felt very ill-suited. As a way to keep a grasp on my own hand. I didn't want to lose this part of myself.
And out of crushing boredom. What I remember most about those years was on the one hand physical exhaustion and on the other mental tedium. I recall sitting on the floor trying to play something with my kids, dolls, dinosaurs, trains, like good moms are supposed to do, and feeling my brain rebel. THIS IS SO BORING, it would scream, GET ME OUT OF HERE. I AM DYING. It would scream so loud, it would kick my poor, tired body into gear, compelling us to go somewhere or do something. At that point, my body would rebel. I AM SO TIRED, it would scream, I JUST WANT TO LAY ON THE COUCH. Then my brain would chime back in, THIS ISN'T INTERESTING EITHER AND NOW YOU WANT ME TO MANAGE LOGISTICS. I DON'T DO LOGISTICS. OK, NOW I'M GOING TO MELT DOWN BECAUSE THERE IS TOO MUCH MULTITASKING GOING ON RIGHT NOW. GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK.
We would try to hang out with other moms, because maybe then everyone would be happy. My kids would have playmates, my body could ideally lounge on a couch, my brain could talk to an adult. But the other moms seemed like another species to me, a species that truly enjoyed making homemade baby food and playing peek-a-boo and planning out their toddler's wardrobes. Their brains cooperated. Their bodies were tired, but their brains were brawny enough to drag them along. I felt more alone in a group of moms than I did, well, alone.
My job was only part-refuge. On the one hand, I have never in my life enjoyed urinating so much. I would sit on the toilet, luxuriating in the silence, the closes door, without interruption. On the other hand, my performance was being evaluated, and both body and mind felt they were operating at half-speed. Then there was the stress of the millions of unanticipated sick days that are part and parcel of having kids in daycare. During the three months from the time my son started daycare until he got tubes in his ears, I worked one full week of work. ONE. And my weeks were already short because I was working part-time, in a vain attempt to keep myself sane.
Every day was a marathon. I would get three people ready for work/daycare in the morning, first myself, quickly, before the children woke up. I would get myself all clean and presentable, then put my bathrobe over my clothes to try to spare them from the diaper-and-baby-food onslaught. I took it off as I went out the door, trying to corral two kids, bags, mine, theirs, car seat, coats, hats, shoes, keys. Nope, go back in, girl, you are barefoot, sister. Drive to daycare. Two kids, car seat, bags, out, in, coats, teachers, hi, bye, back in the car, drive, park, walk. Finally land at my desk, exhausted at 8 am. Sweating. Try to settle that b*tch Brain, who simply will never cooperate with anything, get her focused on the task at hand. Try to speak, or worse, write, intelligible English, what I longed to do when I was at home debating the finer points of Thomas the Train with my preschooler but what now seemed like a very, very far cry. I was playing with half a deck. Eight hours later--on the dot! if you are the daycare parent, you can't stay late, I don't care what isn't done--Do the whole thing backwards and in heels, Ginger Rogers style. Walking in the door once home is just the beginning. Play, dinner, brush teeth, read, sing bed (other foolish parents added a nightly bath to the routine, something I considered absolutely insane and also just completely unattainable for me. That's why God made baby wipes).
Then I would have a few hours to myself, which I often stretched far too late into the night, as I both longed for sleep and did not want to give into the temptation, for then another day would dawn, and the whole relentless death march would start again. I began to feel hopeless, like this was my life from now on, forever, without end. I had lost myself, and I wouldn't find her again. She was gone, swallowed whole, being digested slowly, like being thrown in that pit-monster-alien-thing in Return of the Jedi. I remember laying in the bathtub one night, tears leaking out of my eyes, no energy to summon an actual sob, thinking I would like to let go, to sink down into the water and slip away.
The good news is I got help after that. I went into therapy and got on medication. But my kids' "little years" continued to be so very difficult.
During all of this, from my defeated, consumed optic in the fog of my daily life, my husband did not seem very present. As I experienced it at the time, which is no doubt not the whole truth, it felt like he had abandoned me, like I was running this whole race alone. If he had abandoned me, I could understand why--he was under terrible professional strain, he also had two small kids, and a spouse who was floundering. He was also overwhelmed. But he wasn't trapped. He could leave every day without two kids hanging on his body, and he could work as late as he wanted. He could work nights and weekends, and if he felt he needed a break during the day to just walk the block and decompress, or if he wanted to surf the internet instead, he could do that. He still owned himself. He did what I would have done, were I in his position. I seethed with resentment, and it was a difficult time in our marriage.
But we made it through. We survived. We arrived at another stage.
We got to a point in our race where I could pass the baton.
It's an average night in our house. I am here in my special room, a room that used to be a full-time guest room, because we had not quite a full-time guest, but an extended and repeated part-time one, my mother-in-law, because we needed her. Desperately. These days, she comes on an occasional weekend to see a kid's play or something or just because she wants to. I got a Murphy bed, and most of the time, it is folded up to make room for my sewing, my art, my research and writing, my parody-video-making. In the last few years, I have been possessed by some kind of relentless, creative force. What she lacks in talent she makes up for with energy, joy, and absolute fearlessness. Who cares if that post/painting/video/dress isn't good? It was fun to make. It was fun to try. There is nothing to lose.
Kevin is in the other room, telling Lawson, now 12, to go to bed. Miraculously, Lawson walks upstairs on his own two feet and just...goes to bed, like a grown, actual person. He can even shower by himself and everything. It's amazing. But also, if he resists, Kevin is dealing with it. Kevin is also patiently and painstakingly explaining math that I don't even remember I ever took to him while he melts down. Kevin is reading the emails from the schools and looking on ParentVue, whatever the hell that is, at grades and putting parental controls on devices and figuring out what classes the kids should take next year and planning college and family vacations. Kevin also still has a demanding job, although he can now make out retirement in the distance. There's more of an ease about him now.
And, as always, Charlotte, now 15, is basically 40 years old in spirit. She completely handles all of her own biz. She tells us when and where to pick her up, that's about it. Occasionally we have a heart-to-heart about something she is wrestling with. Or something I am wrestling with. I've got some wisdom borne of age, but she's got a much better natural head on her shoulders than I do.
The truth is, I am pretty much checked out around here, beyond meeting some basic needs. I honestly don't know when and how we got here. I think COVID kind of pushed things over the edge. But I don't know.
All I know is that I am living my very best life.
It's not that I don't care anymore, I do, about them as people anyway, and if either kid really needed me, I would drop everything to be there for them. But they seem to be doing fine. They seem to be able to figure out and do and be quite a few things on their own. And I'm just kind of done. I'm tapped out, but it's more than that. I am hearing a voice in my heart that is telling me it's OK to start to let go. It's time.
And then I'm seeing someone else around here who seems to care more and have something left in the tank. He seems to be hearing a voice telling him it's his time to engage more and do more and be more. And I'm like, THAT IS FANTASTIC NEWS, here's the baton. Run it to the tape. I'm not sure if I'm passing it to him or throwing it at him, but he's taking it and running.
I feel guilty about it, a little, because, hello, I am a formerly evangelical woman. Guilt is my lifeblood. But then I remember sitting in that tub and wanting to die.
So I've decided I'm just going to be grateful. Grateful to have come this far. Grateful my kids can wipe their own butts, among many other things. Grateful I've not only held on to myself, I've reinvented myself as someone even better. Grateful I am still a person of my own.
And so very grateful for this true partner, this teammate, this anchor of mine. I'm so grateful he is still here. I am so grateful he loves our kids so much. I'm so grateful he has gifts that I don't. I'm so grateful he is letting me fully use mine now. I sense no resentment in him. He is cheering me on all the way, even as he pounds the road with this feet, his arms pumping, rounding the last tight corners of this route.
I wish that poor mom could have seen just a few minutes of the future. She might have given both herself and her partner a little more grace and a lot more hope.
|Kevin bringing it home for us.|