Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Groundhog Day

I woke up this morning and it was Groundhog Day, but not the kind in the movie where one person is subject to the same repeating set of circumstances and trying to change them to escape the monotony, but the kind where I asked for this monotony in the first place. Dreamt about it, in fact. Never believed I would be allowed to have it, fought for it, wished for it with every ounce of my being. I created this monotony. With intention.

Wake up, get teenagers out the door, make smoothies, kiss husband goodbye, engage in a game of twenty questions on the way to middle school, at least half of them generally about my abundant failures as a mother, then the daily conversation with the kid transitioning back to public school about why he's going and why he needs to go every day and why we are doing this and reminding him that he actually likes it, and then finally getting him to get out of the car...and then the real part of groundhog day starts when I attempt to tire the toddler out enough that he will nap so that I can have a moment of time to myself, never knowing if it will be successful or if I will spend three hours this afternoon begging him to sleep because I need him to sleep because I can't take it anymore.

For the love of god, child. Nap.

I'd almost entirely forgotten how isolating being home alone with a toddler all day long is. Almost. I remembered, of course, because I have been here so many times before, but I'd forgotten as a survival technique, one passed down since the beginning of time that allows and encourages us to have more kids when we begin to forget just how bad it was in this stage.

I've forgotten many times. It comes back. It always comes back.

I don't need to be reminded that I'm fortunate to be home. I don't need scolded for complaining about mothering. This isn't some declaration to the world that I resent my child or children or husband or life. I've done away with those who make those accusations because mothers are their own worst enemies. Yes, I'm looking at you. I know with certainty that I will one day miss this age and this time and this smothering and this constant need and I know it because I have been here before time and time again. I know.

And yet, I'd forgotten.

There is tired and there is a soul-leeching kind of tired that goes so far beyond physical exhaustion. There is tired and there is this.

This child, I wonder, is he really more demanding than his siblings were at this age or am I just older now? Did the others push my buttons so constantly and have I just forgotten, or has he discovered novel ways to drain my life force? I can't honestly tell. It's been a while since I have had to endure this isolating constant demand every single day.

There are always people who say things like, "it will be so much easier with just one home", "you'll have so much time with just the baby", "you'll finally have a break". My husband of all people uttered some of those words, and when I looked at him with eyes that could bore a hole through his soul, he immediately understood just how wrong he'd been. Or maybe he did. Maybe he doesn't really understand, but maybe he has learned to trust my judgment better since we are doing this now for the fifth time. Again, I can't really tell.

Briefly for a time there I wasn't "just" a mother. I was a teacher too, but not even just a mother and a teacher. I had a limitless list of goals and standards and resources and materials and I was the administrator and the educator and still the wife and the mother and the chauffeur and the chef and all the other things. And you know what? I was damned good at it almost all of the time.

More than that, it was the first time in my nearly 17 years as a mother when I didn't feel like I was just a mother, and it was the first time when I was treated by everyone around me as just a mother. My husband, my family, my own children. I had some other redeeming societal value beyond serving them.

And then it was gone.

Putting my son back into public school, even with me still working with him on virtually all of the things I had been when he was here full time, has caused a great shift in my identity. Again.

Who am I now? Am I just a mother again? Is that all?

The fact that I actually started working outside the home in this intervening time, by the way, is of no consequence here. I don't even really remember who I used to be anymore, have no idea who I'll one day be, away from all this, and so I go to that job to pretend. To escape from this.

I don't even write very often anymore, though it represents such a huge piece of my identity. The reasons at least as plentiful as the number of children I have. I don't write because I don't have time. I don't write because when I do get a break, literally all I want to do is sleep. I don't write because it frustrates me to live in a world where the work of creators is so arbitrarily rewarded. I don't write because I am not in the best state of mental health and haven't been for a while, and even though I am better than I was doing a few months ago, my absence here is indicative of my overall well-being. I don't write because I am tired of writing about my dead parents, but I know I'm not done writing about my dead parents and will probably never be done writing about my dead parents and maybe that it just part of the shitty reality of having dead parents. I don't write because I don't like to accept these truths. I don't write because I am completely fucking exhausted from arguing with people and having strangers tell me how to live my life and for a long time I tried to keep them around, convincing myself that someday, somehow I could make them understand and gain some empathy, but then I realized that they weren't budging and I was only harming myself, and so I've started to remove them from my life, even if they were only ever part of my virtual life anyway, but also even when they have been real presences in my actual life.

I haven't written about this summer and probably won't write about this summer in detail ever, but suffice to say that it was awful in so many different ways, and I know with absolute certainty that the kids going back to school won't make things better and may create new problems but I'm still relieved sometimes to see them walk out the door for a few hours. And maybe that makes me a horrible mother. I'm sure that some people would categorize me that way, but those people don't know what we've been dealing with, what I've been dealing with either directly or indirectly more than anyone else because it is the mothers who shoulder the bulk of the load for all of this worry. It just is.

I'm not looking for validation or answers or sympathy, either. Instead, I am attempting to demonstrate how motherhood somehow simultaneously came to be the most important responsibility I will ever have and nowhere near enough. For me, for them, for any of us.

How can it be both of those absolutes at the same time? Who did this? Why is our society built this way?

Obviously the answer lies in the patriarchy, but us, the mothers of the past and present, we're complicit in it all. And for what? So that we can feel like successes and failures both constantly?

There has to be a better way. There must. Which direction that path goes, though, and who builds it, I don't know. I'm too fucking busy and exhausted.

Motherhood is exhaustion, love, resentment (yes, it's there in some form) and guilt for all of the above.

Guilt for loving them more than myself, more than my partner, more than my parents; and then living constantly with the consequences of each truth.

Men, fathers, it seems, don't have these choices thrust upon them, or if they do, they're more able, encouraged and expected to compartmentalize everything while we're expected to mesh it all together seamlessly and endlessly in between trips to the gym and healthy dinners until the day our children leave us and we are left here, having forgotten entirely who we are.

I see the effects of this disconnect constantly, as a doula, as a mental health advocate, particularly one working with new mothers, just being introduced to the fresh hell we expect of them.

We don't have a village. We have the people who show up with the pitchforks and tell you how you're doing it wrong, but we don't have a village of people who will ever help you when you need it. We don't. Do it on your own, mom, and do it all perfectly, or we're coming for you. If you haven't learned to question everything you are doing and learned to hate yourself and question why you ever wanted to have children in the first place, give it a few days or weeks or months. It'll come.

It will come and slap you on the face when you're standing in the middle of a grocery store with a screaming toddler, having forgotten why you were there in the first place.

It will come when you are being paged to the daycare room at the gym because that one time you finally managed to combine the self loathing with enough motivation to work out failed epically because your kid won't stop crying.

It will come when you cringe but smile and nod when someone tries to tell you that you'll miss this time someday, makes you feel guilty for not adoring every single second.

It will come the first time your kid shares a class birthday with a mom who has to out-mom you.

It will come when a kid leaves your house with a goody bag full of stuff you didn't want to buy for ungrateful children who ask, "is this all we get?"

It will come when you look around and realize that everything nice you once owned is broken or ruined or sticky or gone.

It will come when someone asks when you're going back to work and you calculate how many years it has been since you worked in that field you were once passionate about but will never get hired into now because you are old and ragged and worn down and have different priorities.

It will come when your last kid goes to school and you stare at the wall wondering what the hell you are supposed to do now.

It will come, because it always does, and sometimes it will come relentlessly and constantly. If you're willing to deal with all of the people shaming you for feeling these feelings and you dare speak it aloud, other mothers will reach out. Quietly. Usually privately.

And they will say, "me too", and you will know that you aren't alone. None of us are, really. We just never managed to construct that village for ourselves and each other until we were already here.

And we will do nothing to fix it because we are too exhausted.

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day.

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