November 10, 2010

Finding a Gentle Trot

Halloween Penguins, in homemade costumes
 As most of you are probably aware, I live in Chicago.  It hosts the annual Chicago Marathon.  This marathon has been fraught with troubles these last few years.  Or rather, global warming has been wreaking havoc on the Chicago Marathon.  For the last three or four years, the organizers have been pushing the date of the Chicago Marathon later and later into the year.  What was once an early September event is now solidly in November, and that hasn't stopped the unseasonable heat from causing all sorts of damage.  Three years ago, many runners were hospitalized and several died.  Nobody could have foreseen the mid-90 degree heat, and as a result there wasn't enough water, or enough water stations, and the runners didn't have the common sense to throw their hands up and say, "This is ridiculous!"

At any rate, it was pushed back another week this year.  If it hadn't, the weather would have been gray and cool, but instead that extra week let the city warm up back to over 80 degrees.  Climate change has not been kind to mid-western marathoners.

And I have been half-heartedly training to run the half-marathon next year.  What that means is that I haven't run since my semester started.  The semester that's a few weeks from ending.  And it has been tormenting me.

DD the penguin
But I don't just want to talk about real marathons.  I want to talk about parenting.  You see, I have been burning out.  Hard.  I didn't realize that was what was happening until a few days ago, but I was losing my damned mind.  I didn't even know myself.  I was having outbursts of genuine rage- shrieking and throwing things at walls.  I was lashing out at M, snapping at my toddlers, and occasionally bursting into tears.  I spent an entire day in bed.  I was having migraines that might have turned lethal.  I couldn't eat.

That this was all happening around my period was enough for me.  I told myself I was having a crazy rush of hormones, and that once that settled down it would get better.

Well, it didn't.

I finally decided that M and I needed a night out.  The night that our sitter started her new weekend job, and none of our friends could cover for her.  We had no sitter, and canceled our dinner reservations and just ordered in some pasta.  It wasn't a particularly relaxing night.

And that was when it occurred to me- when was the last time we HAD a relaxing night?  When was the last time I went to bed wishing I was a little less exhausted so that I could take the time to rub my aching feet, or sweep the living room, or just have a glass of wine?  Since the girls were about two months old and suddenly sleeping through the night.  That was relaxing.  Until I got used to it.

I reflected on what I had wanted while I was going crazy.  The answer wasn't good.  I wanted to have half a bottle of wine before bed.  I wanted to take xanax in the afternoon.  I wanted to smoke a spliff and listen to show tunes in the studio.  I wanted to take a vicodan for my damned feet and let the afternoon disappear.  But I didn't do any of those things.  I have a very important job to do, three of them no less, that I can't do under the influence.

I read an article, Addicted Moms: Everybody Knows Somebody, by Lane DeGregory in Working Mother Magazine.  It seems that more and more working moms (and I do count being a student and an artist as 'working') are turning to drugs and alcohol to get them through the day.  The thing that I found most disturbing is how NOT NEW this is.  How it's essentially anti-news.  It seems that doctors have been prescribing mind altering drugs to housewives since the sixteenth century, when it was opium tinctures.  In the '20s it was cocaine laced Coca Cola, in the '60s it was valium, and now it's pain killers and alcohol.

Motherhood is fucking hard.  I'm not going to sugar coat it.  You've always got to look competent and in control for your kids, you have to take care of the house (because a dirty house becomes dangerous for small children fast), make sure everyone is fed, keep your marriage in working order (if you're married), and manage your work as well.  The working mother isn't new, it's just a different kind of work.  Before our modern ideal housewife existed, the mother was also a partner in the family business, be it farming, milling, shopkeeping...  There is always women's work.  Laundry, cooking, mending, fixing, childcare...

SI the penguin
It's endless.  And while most of it isn't exactly hard, it's CONSTANT.  You reach a point where your idea of a nice night is one where you have the energy and peace of mind to actually clean the whole house now that the kids are in bed.  Maybe cook a few meals in advance.  Do some baking.  And that's your time OFF.

Add to that the fact that, when small children are involved, every task takes three times as long.  It's much harder to put away clean laundry when very small people empty every drawer you leave open, throw the clean laundry onto the floor from the basket, and demand that you play games with them half way through the now very onerous task.

Then there's the guilt.  You see, right now I'm typing and deleting all sorts of excuses about how much I love being a mom, how it's all really worth it, etc.  Which is true.  But you see, as a mom you have a hard time allowing yourself to acknowledge that being a mom is HARD.  That it kind of makes you miserable sometimes.  See?  There's a giant load of guilt right there.

So I've burnt out a bit.  I'm coming up on my finals/final projects, my coursework has picked up, and of course M's coursework is picking up as he nears finals as well.  He can only really do his homework on campus, so this means more and more time without M.  He's looking at a situation for the next few weeks where he won't get to see his children from Sunday night until Friday afternoon.  And while that's very, VERY hard on him, it essentially puts me in the position of a single mom most of the time.  Taking care of all bedtimes, wake-ups, baths, and meals unless I'm at class, feeling miserable about all the money I'm tossing into childcare.

I called my parents for a little sympathy.  After all, who knows how hard it is to be a parent better than your parents?  And my parents had a really rough run of it.  So I figured they'd sympathize.  My father said two things to me, which miraculously made me feel a little better.  The first was that it took me an awful long time to burn out.  That was nice.  The second is that I've been running a sprint, and parenting is a marathon.  The longest marathon there is.

True.  But what to do about it?  I don't know how to run a marathon.  And this brings me back to my goal of the Chicago Half-Marathon and my abysmal training.

Playful Halloween Penguins!
I can't not sprint.  I can jog gently in place, for a long time!  But as soon as I start moving forward, my legs just take off.  I RUN until I can't do it anymore.  I know, this is not good training.  But I can't stop!  I just plain do not know how to jog.  Silly, isn't it?  But that's also what's going on with my kids.

I don't know how to parent any other way.  I can only go full tilt.  If I try to force myself not to do things that must be done, I simply freak out.  Imagine sitting in a chair, staring at the Cheerio strewn dining room and telling yourself, "DO NOT SWEEP THE FLOOR.  DO NOT SWEEP THE FLOOR."  It puts me so on edge that all I can think of is to go grab the Bailey's off the shelf and have one on the rocks.  Or just take some pain killers and pick up the damn broom.  And instead I leave the room to do laundry, thinking all the while about how I'm going to get to the library to work on my final projects.  How I'm going to pack up the girls and get to the DMV to get new plates for the minivan.  How I'm going to get to the toy store before Channukah, or what I'm getting my in-laws for Christmas, or what holiday cookies I'm going to make and if I should plan on letting the girls help.

Why do I worry about these things?  Because they need to happen.  Why do they need to happen?  Because I said so.  Vicious cycle, no?

Being a penguin is exhausting!
So I need to learn to run a marathon.  To find a calm, slow pace, and just keep it up.  Just keep keeping it up.  I need our rhythm to beat a little more slowly.  I need to figure out how to parent differently.

It's sort of like learning how to breathe differently.  But I know, as a singer, that it can be done.

I think that parenting theory is one of those things that can't actually be taught.  I remember as a kid, being lectured about head voice and chest voice, singing from the top of your mouth, not through your nose.  Nobody could point to what I was doing wrong and help me fix it.  All they could do was point out how I sounded, and make vague gestures at different parts of my head and chest.

So much of parenting theory is like that.  There aren't instructions, just... vague gesturing.

I keep coming up with impossible plans.  I don't think that's the answer.  I think I just need to find out what makes us all happy, and do THAT.

And I am part of "us all."  A very important part.

So M and I are going to start taking bi-weekly date nights.  For a start.  I'm going to try to jog, with or without the girls.  I'm going to try to get the girls more involved in meal preparations.   I'm going to try to find the time to clean slowly, as the day progresses, instead of all at once.  Or maybe just let some more things go.  I don't know.

Because I don't know how to run a marathon.


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