I’m sure at least some of you out there will be able to relate to this post.
You have that one person in your family who just pushes all your buttons. That person for whom your history together is so fraught with…oh, who knows what. Tension. Anger. Fear, maybe. Frustration. Disappointment. It doesn’t seem to matter how many years or miles pass between you but those issues remain unresolved, like they’ve embedded themselves into your very cell structures and no amount of scrubbing or cleansing or purging can entirely remove them.
Every little thing this person does can set you on edge, make you grind your teeth in aggravation or frustration. You spend time with them because they’re family, because you do, in fact, love them, in spite of the pins and needles feeling you sometimes get in your brain as you struggle to keep the comments bubbling up to yourself. It’s pretty obvious, to you at least, that you are not yourself when this person is around. You’re sure it must be obvious to them, even though they may pretend not to notice. Its even worse when that person seems to love you anyway, in spite of yourself.
What is it? What is it that you just can’t let go? It’s so hard to put a finger on. It’s nothing blatantly obvious. Oh sure, you can go on about this or that event from your childhood, this or that failure or fault. But move on already! Right? Why can’t you just move on? No one else seems to see or share your frustrations with this person…you hear about how wonderful they are from everyone. And really, if you look at it, they are a pretty remarkable person, considering where things were. And most people who know them today don’t know about where things were, how they used to be. But it’s sometimes those very things that others love about them, those very things that make them other people’s favorite person, that drive you the most crazy.
Spending time with this person brings out some sort of horrible monster-person inside you. It’s exhausting trying to keep that person in check and you can’t do it entirely. You’re short and snappy with people you love. You’re overly critical. So you go off by yourself a lot and keep visits short if possible. For your own mental health and the mental health of those around you.
You know it should be different. And sometimes, you get a crystalline vision of what “normal” looks and feels like with this person. You’re able to just be and laugh and you think “wouldn’t it be nice if it could be like this all the time.” And then it goes away and you’re back to being miserable and frustrated.
The worst part is that while feeling miserable and frustrated you also feel guilty and feel like the world’s worst person. How can I be like this, you think? I’m a rational, intelligent person. Why do I let these stupid things control me? So every moment is doubly agonizing because not only are you frustrated with this family member, you are supremely frustrated with yourself. It’s like a dog chewing its own leg off.
Every visit brings up these same questions and you’ve just resigned yourself to the fact that this person is not going to change who they are, and you probably aren’t either. You just hope that maybe next time you can be a little bit better, a little more tolerant, and beat yourself up a little less.
Just do your best
It’s the only way to keep that last bit of sanity
Maybe I don’t have to be good but I can try to be
At least a little better than I’ve been so far
(The Avett Brothers, “When I Drink”)
*this entire piece is intentionally vague.
I spent most of the last 12 years as a stay at home mom. I feel very lucky to have had that opportunity. But the life of a stay at home mom is a topic for another post. Today I want to talk about the working mom…and yes, duh I know moms who stay home work. Didn’t I just say I stayed home for 12 years???
When Xavier started preschool a few years ago, I picked up a job in the athletic ticket office at UW. It was easy, flexible, and not entirely necessary. I didn’t really need to work, but I certainly didn’t need to be home all the time either. Bill had been the ticket manager at one point…I knew most of the people in there, so it was kind of a nice, easy fit. When I could work, I did, when I couldn’t–I didn’t. But it was really good to get out of the house and use the “non-mom” part of my brain. It was far from strenuous, but it was a good fit for my life and our needs at the time.
Fast forward to now…we’ve moved to Maryland and our house in Wyoming still hasn’t sold (don’t even get me started on that one…). Life is a little more stressful financially, so me working is more of a have-to thing right now. Which is fine, because its also a want-to thing–now Xavier is in kindergarten and so all the kids are in school and I certainly don’t need to be home all day. But this new situation has gotten me thinking a lot about working moms and the difficult situations they find themselves in.
I must say I’m not really talking about like say, CEO moms. Moms who have well-paying, kind of high-powered professional jobs. I’m sure they have their own challenges. I have absolutely no way to relate to those people. I’m talking about the blue-collar, minimum wage working moms. Moms who have to work long, hard hours to help their families make ends meet. I can’t say I can 100% relate to those moms either but its a lot closer to my situation.
We’ve had already one snow day, 2 delayed openings and 1 early dismissal because of weather. What is a working parent to do on those days??? I already have come to dread getting that phone call, and the threat of snow makes me tense and anxious. Because I have to find somewhere for the kids to go or else call out. Thankfully I have always had people who I could count on to help thus far. But what about if you don’t have those people in your life? How do you deal with that? Same thing with sick days. Thankfully my kids have been healthy so far this year, but there are 3 of them–someone’s bound to get sick. I find myself worrying about what I will do if they get sick and how I will deal with that.
I have very understanding boss. I’m sure that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I called in. But the thing is…I don’t want to call in. That’s money I’m not making. That’s someone who has to pick up the slack for me. How does a parent of a chronically ill child handle this? What do you do? I’m sure if it’s something I worry about, it must be a constant concern for some other parents who are even more dependent on their jobs than I am. Would you get fired if you called in too many times? Of course you would.
It gets to the point where your job almost feels more important in your mind than your kids. Because money is a worry. And your family needs to be taken care of. But you just want your kids to get out of the house and go to school so you can make money so you can take care of your family. It seems like a really vicious circle and I feel like I’m only getting a small taste of what millions of families must go through every day.
But all that aside…I really, really like working. I think part of it is the job–honestly, what better job for a mom than being a server??? Hell, that’s all I’ve done for the last 12 years! And now you’re going to pay me to take someone’s order, feed them, and then clean up after them? I’m like perfect for this! I also think multi-tasking is one of my “gifts”–is that a gift??– and so I feel like my brain is working at its highest level when its busy and I’m running around doing like 5 things at once. (That has got to be some sort of record for pathetic…that my brain is functioning at its highest level as a waitress. Not a brain surgeon or cancer researcher. A waitress. Geesh.)
But I like it for other reasons too…I like it because there I’m not someone’s mom or someone’s wife…I’m just Jen. Just me. I don’t feel like I have to be or do anything other than what I am doing right at that very moment…honestly when its busy I’m not thinking about anyone or anything other than the task at hand. And that is so very good for me. I like working because its just mine. It’s just for me. It’s hard to explain. But I feel some sort of freedom that I haven’t felt in a long time. (Note to those who think women should only stay home and not work–this will make most women crazy.) I like the people, I like the atmosphere. I worked 10 hours today and I was honestly kind of sad to get cut. I feel a weird sense of purpose even if that purpose is only taking orders, serving food, and cleaning up. I think that is probably really sad. But it is really true. And I just feel so good at the end of a day when I’ve been working. Most people would probably just shake their heads at me. Who knows. But who says you can’t find purpose and meaning even in kind of drudgerous (is that a word?? I don’t think so.) jobs?? Why would that be bad that I should feel good about what I’m doing, even if I’m not saving the world doing it?
I just know that getting back to work, even on a small level, after so many years at home is, well, it’s kind of awesome. And stressful. But I get it. I get why some moms don’t want to stay home at all. I get it that it is hard to juggle kids and work. I don’t know if there’ll ever be a way to rectify that entirely. But I’m awfully thankful for this season in my life, for the fact that our financial situation has kind of forced me to get out there and jump back into “work life”. It’s kind of making me want more…but in the meantime I’ve still got those three nutty kids who rely on me, so I’ll keep working to balance things between the two, because they both are highly enriching to my life. And not just financially either.
Ah friends…when you’re a kid, nothing is easier than making friends. I’ve got some amazing pictures of my kids with friends they’ve known since they were little, just the joy of another little person around to play with. I watched my kids this weekend as they jumped right in with new friends, and friends they’ve only met a couple of other times. It seems like when you get kids together, even if they don’t know one another, its like they all are speaking the same language. The language of fun. Of joy. Of spontaneity. Of play. They don’t have to know one another at all, they’re just all there on the same page. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Even though friendships in middle and high school can be fraught with all the uncertainty and insecurities that go along with those ages, there’s still the beauty of being around all those people your own age and rather than just being play partners, you start to forge those bonds with people who will be soul mates…even if just for a season. You start to learn to share the deep parts of yourself with others, to take risks and learn to really love people as friends. This becomes more intense at college, when you’re pretty much living with your friends, for better or worse. You learn to navigate the ups and downs and frailties of humanity. To show grace. To learn patience and forgiveness. To find people who make you better than you were before.
All of this happening in oblivion to the fact that its all going to come to a screeching halt once the real world hits. Life starts. Work life. Married life. Parent life. Its hard, its work to maintain those friendships. Where you once were able to just spend every night sitting and talking and pondering and hashing things out…now you do it for an hour or two over coffee. Or a brief face time on the iPhone. Or a weekend visit. Or a dinner once every few months.
Its hard work being friends as adults.
And I mean it…you have to work at it. I haven’t always been good at the work part of it. I think I’ve spent too many years missing the times when your friend-life just happened organically, just unfolded as a natural part of your existence. When your friends were as essential to you as oxygen. Suddenly there are other things vying for your attention and you really have to push to make friendships–on your own, as a couple–a priority.
When I was in Laramie I’m afraid I wasn’t great at making this a priority. Sometimes that was my own fault for being lazy. I would just get in a busy rut and kind of “forget” that I had a life outside of my own self-absorbed circle. Other times I would get frustrated, when you’d feel like you were the only person in the friendship making the effort. Its hard to keep persisting when it feels like you’re getting nowhere with a person. When it worked though, when you and your friend were able to put aside your life for a couple of hours to sit and have a margarita or coffee or whatever, with no kids, no job, no husband, no distractions–gosh, it was always so energizing.
When we moved back here to Maryland, I was very much aware that, even though we were moving back to familiarity, to old friends, to lots of family, these people had had their own lives while we spent our 7 years out west. They weren’t just going to drop everything out of the sheer joy of having the Hamiltons back in town. So I came in to this knowing that I needed to work. I needed to put forth the effort. So I have. I’ve pursued old friends and family…and miraculously, somehow we’ve managed to make it work. We meet for coffee. We share dinners and lunches. We just hang out and enjoy being together. And I never fail to be amazed at how life-giving those times are. Even if they’re not the hours of angst-ridden conversation of my college years, or the unfettered joy of a day playing outside from childhood. The amazing thing is that, even at 40, I’m still even able to make new friends, and that has been a real treat as well. Perhaps now those times are even more precious because of the pull of the rest of adult life. More necessary. I’m finding myself newly amazed at the joy of friends and the richness they bring to my life. I think sometimes, in my frustrations, in my depression, in my dark days, I think, “I can do this myself. I don’t need anyone else.” Perhaps because many things about this move have been harder than I’d anticipated, I’m being more proactive in reaching out, and its really making a difference in my days and my outlook on life. Friends are good. I’m very, very blessed to have so many. Both near and far.
“…sorry friends for the times I desert you most days I feel like I don’t deserve you and I wonder why you’re all still around…sometimes its hard for me to remember I couldn’t do this on my own…the life I chose isn’t straight and narrow it wanders around like a drunken fellow, sometimes its hard for me to follow but if you’ve got my back I’ll go on–if you’ve got my back I’ll go on.” (Frank Turner)
You’re a new mom. You stay at home with your little munchkin. You’re trying to fill those long, empty days. 6 am comes and there’s a little person ready to go so you’d better be too. Up with your coffee, sitting on the floor. Kids songs on the tape player, reading board books over and over, playing Little People. Got to get out of the house, where everything with an 18 month old is an adventure. Taking countless walks around the neighborhood. Always at the park, talking to the other parents, your girl afraid of new kids but loves the swings. Remember when you let her jump in that mud puddle? Go to the mall, wander through the Disney store, spend hours climbing on those rides that take quarters but no one needs the quarters because they’re just fun to climb in. Pretend to order burgers and fries from the one that’s a hot dog cart, her favorite. Home you play with play doh, even though you’re the one making everything, molding the dough into people, snowmen, snakes, that she smashes in her tiny fist. Fingerpainting. Crafts. More books to read. Watch a Baby Einstein video or Dragon Tales or Sagwa on PBS. Maybe a shower in there for you somewhere…go to Music Together and Mommy and Me gymnastics where you sing and dance and beat on drums and shake maracas and learn new songs to sing at bedtime. Go on playdates where the real draw is for mom to have another adult to talk to because the kids are too shy to play together and if they have a dog forget it, she won’t leave your side. Days are full. Even with a good nap and an early bedtime, the hours are full of teaching, learning–everything is fun when you are 1 1/2. Mom can’t wait for you to be more independent, to do more things, to have some more time to herself, to not have to be planning something to fill such a long day.
Then suddenly…off at school, gone for hours. Time is spent playing with brother and sister, friends, at dance class. Doing homework. Your time is occupied and now mom has time. Time to make dinner without having to cover the floor with Tupperware for you to play with. Time to run on the treadmill and not worry that someone is getting hurt. Time to have some sort of job, some sort of life. To go for coffee with a friend and not have to bring something to entertain a small person. To go grocery shopping by yourself. To carry a small purse. Don’t have to watch anyone in the tub, sing and play and splash. Everyone showers now, brushes their own teeth. Sure…there are things you’re needed for. You still make lunches. Make dinner. Clean the house. Laundry. Chauffeur. But…not much longer, right?
It feels like I’m still trying to find ways to fill the day but they’re not nearly as much fun as they were with that 18 month old. Those hours sometimes feel longer and emptier than ever.