Monday, May 16, 2011

Love and Sacrifice






Since Thanksgiving of last year, we’ve gone from one infectious virus to the next without more than a week’s reprieve. I’m a healthy person—I thought. I workout two to three times a week, we eat ninety percent organic, we eat whole foods almost all the time, we get enough rest, we don’t drink soda, we don’t eat excess sugar. So I don’t know why over the last six months, we’ve hosted several dozen viruses.

I’ve gotten used to cleaning up vomit and diarrhea, wiping noses, administering Tylenol, changing plans, rescheduling appointments, canceling babysitters. This has become our new norm and I’ve tried to take it in stride, role with the punches. But I have to admit, these last few weeks of non-winter, not-quite-spring illnesses have really gotten me down.

At times, the stress of continually being in the process of recovery has been overwhelming and stressful, especially coupled with the daily stresses of normal life: attempting to keep up with the mess caused by kids being home constantly, getting Twila to school on time when she was well, washing load after load of towels and clothes that were thrown up on. Often writing and blogging were completely neglected. But these months of nursing sick kids back to health has been a surprising time of spiritual growth. I’m realizing that every goal is not going to be accomplished. It’s been a time of grieving and letting go, but also a time of maturing and coming to understand what it means to be a mother.

Fully understanding a mom’s job (whether she works in an office or works solely within the confines of her home) is not something that happens overnight. I realized this when Twila was a baby and for the first months after Ryan went back to work, we had to deal with the age old tension between new parents about who was working harder. (If you’re a parent, you know this argument well—it’s one that no new parent has ever avoided as far as I know). It was hard to explain what was so time consuming and mind numbingly tedious about my days at home because each day was so completely different. Some days were indeed wonderful and free. Like in the spring in south Minneapolis when we would walk to the park with our neighbor, nap, start happy hour at three…but some days were maddening and impossible, with appointments to keep and make, laundry that had to be done, dishes building and building as if ghosts were making three course meals when I wasn’t looking, a fussy Velcro baby that was screaming when I tried even to use the bathroom, stress, frustration. Some days went far too fast and nothing got done; some days were long and boring, creeping by without meaning.

But I couldn’t quite make Ryan get what it was I was doing, why some days it was wonderful and other days it felt like the toughest job on earth. But what was lost in all those years of (overtly and covertly) trying to justify my time, defend my position (whatever it was that day) was the fact that I didn’t even fully understand what my job description was.

It’s characteristic of me to defend first and seek full understanding later. When I feel like I am under scrutiny, my survival instinct kicks in and I begin forming rational arguments that will get me out from under scrutiny rather they are completely researched or not. What I learned more than anything else in those first months of motherhood, was that I didn’t like being scrutinized at all—what mother does? I wanted Ryan to “get it” to get what it was I did all day and why it was so hard and unpredictable when in fact, I didn’t even really get it. What was so hard about it? I often asked myself.

That’s been the recent discovery: I don’t know either why it’s so hard to be a mother. Sure we know all the facts: we are expected to be present and emotionally supportive, verbally enthusiastic, cognitively engaging, and physically energetic for more than twelve hours a day while simultaneously cleaning up after our active little scientists, gathering and preparing healthy food and then cleaning up after the activity of preparing food. Often we’re solely responsible for bill paying, vehicle maintenance, social organizing, and errand running. And we’re supposed to be completely emotionally and intellectually fulfilled by this. But there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all this in a way that would be fulfilling.

Sure, I could derive great spiritual and emotional joy from fully investing in an art project with my daughters if I could give it and them my full attention in a clean living room for three hours. But choosing to do that means something else or many things must go undone, like cleaning, cooking or emailing.

A couple of weeks ago, Ryan was doing time entry for work. Each month he has to account for every minute of his time at work that gets billed to clients. It was in the midst of this week that I was actively examining who and what I am as a mother and I got this idea. I was going to account for my time for a whole week. I was going to record how every minute of each day was spent. The point was going to be illuminating me (and perhaps Ryan) about where the time goes. I did this for exactly one day. The results of this exercise are shown at the bottom of the post. But after that first day I realized that the act of jumping on my computer every fifteen minutes was creating even more of a problem where the rare commodity of time is concerned.

And then the coin really dropped in the slot: time is finite. Everyone, not just moms has to face the reality that what we do with each moment is a choice. Time spent is gone and it either fortifies us and our priorities, or it doesn’t. Even now as I write these words, Twila is watching her second movie because Jada is asleep and if I make her entertain herself so I can write, she will inevitably be too noisy and wake up her sister. I could be using this time to have one on one bonding with my older daughter, to play chess or Jack and Annie or even start a conversation about why she’s been so defiant lately, but I’m not. Free time is a fallacy; there is always a cost. I’m trying to not let this fact make me frantic.

As I posted a couple of weeks ago, my weekend away in Pacem in Terris was eye opening in the necessity of slowing down. I realized that I was doing everything—everything, that I wanted to but I was doing it an inch deep and a mile wide. I was racing through each day, flying from one activity to the next, being as efficient as I possibly could and, naturally, getting very crabby with anyone and anything that impeded my progress.

I’ve realized that I can’t do it all. Or rather, I’ve realized that I don’t want to do it all. Now that I’ve stopped defending and started examining, I’ve realized in a new way what the job description of ‘Mom’ entails. Maybe more than anything else, it’s about sacrifice. Many older moms may know this already from the countless sacrifices they’ve made for their children over the years. But I’m still a new mom and I am just beginning to really get it. Being a mom is about choosing to let go of certain aspects of your life, in favor of your kids.

Come to think of it, maybe this is not a realization exclusively bound to motherhood. Maybe letting go is a part of aging. I am going to be thirty at the end of this month. And though I don’t feel old in the slightest, I am seeing life from a new vantage point. A third of the way through my life, maybe more, maybe less, I can see that in order to be successful at a few things, I have to let go of a lot of things. I am seeing with new clarity that in order to be happy doing what I am doing, I have to accept that there are some things I’m never going to do. Some dreams aren’t going to come to fruition.

So it’s been a process of letting go, maturing, embracing a deeper joy of motherhood, and mourning.

I asked a long time ago in a post: “If we really knew what motherhood was like, would any of us become mothers?” Truthfully I think we would. Some days it’s a close call, but the joy of motherhood usually outweighs the pain and sacrifice. Part of the maturing has been to look myself in the face and realize that I am the mom now. I’m in it. New moms rely heavily on their friends and families. But as the years go by, the reality slowly and painfully sets in that the responsibility comes down to you—alone.

We moms are where the buck stops. And we can complain about sickness and the busyness of each day, overwhelming responsibilities and the insensitivities of our husbands as much as we want (and thank God for good friends who are in it with us because we want to a lot) but at the end of the day we just have to do it. We have to do the work that is being a mom. And hopefully we can be happy doing it. Hopefully there can be more moments that make us smile, laugh and our hearts fill with joy and pride than there are moments of sorrow and frustration.

Personally, I have found over these recent weeks, that the more I force myself to let go—because it is at first an act of will to fully enter into my child’s whims in favor of writing a blog post when it’s been too long or cleaning the floors that are mysteriously sticky all the time. It’s an act of will to embrace the constant interruptions instead of resenting them, to say “yes” to playing or finishing my email later instead of constantly reprimanding my kids for nagging. But as I have begun to do this more and more, I have also begun to enjoy my children more.

I am laughing more, watching more, enjoying their humor and hilarity more. I’m playing more. It’s been a good change, but truthfully, a bittersweet one. Easing up on my self-inflicted deadlines for blogging and revising my novel and drafting essays, has been freeing but it also feels like I’m letting go of a small part of my individuality. In that way I am becoming more my family and less my old, independent self. And that, perhaps, is the paradigm of motherhood.

My Time Entry

6:15

6:45

Got up with the baby, fed her a yogurt, went back to sleep

7:25

8:30

Woke up with the baby, changed her diaper, made breakfast

8:30

8:40

Cleaned up the Breakfast dishes, *H, said goodbye to Dad

8:40

9:00

Got myself dressed, *D, got baby dressed

9:00

9:20

Drove to Keys Café for breakfast with my mom and to pick up my four year old from her sleepover

9:20

10:00

Had breakfast, chased the girls around the restaurant, piled the thrashing over-tired children in the car, *P

10:00

10:15

Drove to Target, soothed crying four year old about not getting a chance to hug Dad in the morning

10:15

10:50

Shopped, discussed allowance, helped four year old choose a toy that was less than her saved two dollars, helped count out exact change, *P, *D

10:50

11:00

Drove to the grocery store, talked about the value of pennies, nickels and quarters, broke up cashew pieces for the baby

11:00

11:15

Dropped off the dry cleaning

11:15

11:45

Picked up groceries, explained and re-explained why we couldn't buy a bag of coffee beans for playing with, weathered a tantrum

11:45

12:00

Drove home with a sobbing four year old, re-explained why we couldn't get the coffee beans, tried to change the subject half dozen times

12:00

12:05

Unloaded groceries, set up kids with lunch, threw chicken and a jar of salsa into the slow cooker for dinner

12:05

12:10

cleaned up the spilled and dribbled lunch while chasing the fifteen month old around with her baby food container held high over her head

12:10

12:15

Fixed four year old's hair, explained why we can't skip school, raced around scooping up lunch trash, stopped to help Twila in the bathroom, resumed cleanup

12:15

12:20

Packed the kids back into the car, drove to school, sang, "Stuck Like Glue" together

12:20

12:30

Got to school, chased fifteen month old around the classroom, signed for school photos, gave ten hugs goodbye, dragged screaming baby to the car

12:30

12:35

Drove home, broke up more cashew pieces for the baby, retrieved water bottle from the floor half dozen times

12:35

12:40

Pulled excess toys out of the car, cleaned spilled coffee off the floor mat, *D, pulled baby’s shoes off, locked the doors, washed hands, changed diaper for nap

12:40

12:55

Read for pleasure while walking Jada around her darkened room until she fell asleep on my shoulder

12:55

1:30

Paid Bills, Paid Credit Card, Checked email

1:30

2:15

Started to sort the pile of "what is all this?" in the closet, folded laundry, picked up scattered toys, folded blankets, recycled newspapers, swept the kitchen floor

2:15

2:25

Picked up the baby from her nap, walked around until she fully woke up, looked out the living room window at the ducks, birds and squirrels

2:25

2:35

Filled in the calendar for May, *D, *H

2:35

2:40

Packed the baby into the car, *D, Sang all the way to pick up Twila to keep Jada from screaming her head off, broke up cashew pieces

2:40

2:45

Chased Jada around the halls of school, waiting for the doors to open

2:45

2:55

Chased Twila and Jada around the classroom, corralled the kids into the hall, collected art projects and the snack bag from Twila's basket, piled in the car

2:55

3:15

Broke up cashew pieces on the way to Walgreens for tape, chased the girls around the toy isle, piled into the car, broke up cashew pieces

3:15

3:30

Made everyone wash their hands, pulled jackets and shoes off, made after school snacks *H, *P, *D

3:30

3:45

Finished ten pages of Jada's baby book, *H, *P

3:45

4:30

Continued folding laundry, *H, *D, stopped to settle a squabble,

4:30

4:45

Read books in Twila and Jada's room, picked up, made the bed, played games, reorganized furniture, helped Twila with her puzzle, held Jada

4:45

5:00

Cleaned the kitchen, wiped the counters, swept the floor again, unloaded the dishwasher, reloaded and washed the wine glasses by hand, *P, *D

5:00

5:15

Cut up vegetables, made salad, started cooking veggies, stopped to hold Jada after she "fell" on her back, through no irresponsibility of Twila…so I'm told

5:15

5:30

Continued "helping" the girls clean up their room

5:30

6:00

set the table *D, got dinner on the table, washed the girls' hands

6:00

6:15

Ryan home, put Jada in the high chair, helped Twila in the bathroom, put Jada back in the high chair

6:15

6:45

Ate dinner, wiped Jada's hands off, sent the girls outside with Ryan

6:45

7:15

Washed the table, loaded the dishwasher, cleaned the kitchen, tried to drag the girls back in

7:15

7:45

Worked with Ryan to corral runaway girls, finally carried them inside over shouts of indignation and full-on temper tantrums

7:45

7:50

oversaw the world's shortest bath

7:50

8:15

Chased girls around, herded, corralled and cajoled them into their pajamas

8:15

8:30

Bed time routine

8:30

8:45

said hi to Ryan, talked about our days

8:45

8:50

Put Jada back to bed

8:50

10:00

Watched a show with Ryan, had a glass of wine, went to bed

10:00

12:45

Slept

12:45

1:45

got up and got Jada a drink of water, laid awake trying to fall asleep

1:45

2:45

Slept

2:45

3:30

Got up with Jada, walked her around, held her while she puked, changed my clothes, gave her a bath, got her a drink of water, went back to sleep

*H: indicates activity was interrupted to help Twila in the bathroom or help a child get a snack, open a container or change clothes


*P: indicates activity was interrupted to play a brief imaginative scenario with Twila in which I am usually a wicked witch or evil stepmother


*D: indicates activity was interrupted to distract Jada from stealing Twila's glasses, pulling her hair, putting her toys in the toilet or otherwise frustrating Twila’s plans