Friday, October 14, 2011

The Seven-Year Itch

Seven years ago, I had a one-month old.  I was simultaneously in that state of foggy bliss where every squeak from my child made my heart sing, and feeling like my life had been run over by a freight truck.  It was the beginning of my insomnia; even when the baby slept, I couldn't sleep, so turned-upside-down was my world, which revolved around nursing, cleaning spit-up off of myself, changing blow-out diapers, and holding a baby while she slept.  Annie would not, initially, sleep without being held, and so my days were a circle between the kitchen, the nursery, the bathroom, and the couch, where I watched every single episode of Dawson's Creek in syndication on TBS and Oprah every afternoon.  I'd go out for short walks with the stroller whenever possible and meet the one friend I had made in South Haven at the coffee shop or the tiny indoor pool.  I cried with happiness; I cried because I thought I'd never get my life back.

I was right.  The days after we added Jemma to our family were all the more chaotic:  she was colicky; Annie, despite my guilty encouragement, never wanted to watch television and so would sneak around the house doing who-knows-what while I nursed the baby; there was always a pile of dishes on the kitchen counter and a pile of laundry in every basket; and I went a whole year without really watching a single thing on television, so highly did I prioritize getting to sleep at the earliest moment possible.  Eventually I carved out time for running and began to blog about our life and sneak in time for dates and friends here and there, but other than that, the bulk of my life has been all kids, all the time.

Those frantic days have tapered off, much to my surprise.  I think I thought they would never end.  These days, I can do things like meet a friend for a spontaneous lunch on a Tuesday afternoon, roam Target and get stuck in the throw pillow aisle for half an hour, work out AND shower (both!) before going to school pick-up.  These days, everywhere I go - book club, the gym, the school playground, running, talking on the phone - it's the same conversation between those of us who have been nothing else but somebody's mommy for several years in a row:  What will we do now?

The littlest ones are not napping anymore or wearing diapers or needing us quite so much; they're spending large chunks of the day at school or friends' or some type of sporting event.  There is still plenty of mothering to be done, for sure:  keeping up with the constant influx of papers from school; managing the increasingly-busy calendar; cooking dinner and doing laundry and helping with homework and shuttling from place to place.  That work is not going to end for a long time.

But what has shifted is the fact that it's starting to feel like 99% of my energy goes into support work.  It's the work that nobody notices because they've come to expect it.  The lunch will be packed and inside the backpack, the birthday present will be purchased and wrapped with a card to be signed, the meal will be made and ready to eat in the exact 20-minute segment we have available for dinner, the clothes will be clean and in drawers, the calendar will be full of events, the tickets will have been purchased, the tap shoes will be in the bag with the snack and the water bottle . . . the work is never-ending, and it's sort of thankless, too.  The only time somebody really notices is on those rare occasions when - God forbid - the work didn't get done.  "Mom!" they say indignantly.  "You forgot my ________!" or "Mom!  Where is my ________??!"  The work is invisible, except when you're being noticed for not doing it.

Sometimes I think they notice.  I got Annie her Halloween costume this week and put it on her bed for her to find when she came home from school.  She lit up when she saw it, immediately put it on, and cried, "You're the best mom ever!"  And I know that it's not important that they notice, that it's my job - my lucky, lucky job - to do small things with great love, to build our family's memories, to tell our story, to make our house a home.  But sometimes I see myself as if from outside of my own body, looking down and watching like a ghost:  There I am, getting out the peanut butter.  There I am, settling yet another squabble about tape.  There I am, running a stained shirt under cold water.

Seven years into full-time, at-home parenting, the gig is almost up.  It hasn't been a perfect fit.  I've said before and I'll say again, I'm always jealous of the person who just knows that a certain mode of parenting is right for them.  Some women are made to be at home with their kids, some are always certain that their families are better served by their working outside the home, and some families don't have the luxury of that choice and are making the best of whatever situation they're in.  I've always been uneasy about my decision to be at home, and now I'm equally uneasy thinking about what comes next.

I don't have any illusions that my role as mom is ending.  If anything, I think the next ten years are going to be even more challenging than the last seven have been, and I know there won't be easy answers.  But as more time opens up in my day-to-day and the other people in my family forge their own new paths into bright adventures, I don't think it is wrong of me to want more than to be left behind doing the work of a glorified personal assistant.  I don't think it is wrong to want to do more than get out the peanut butter.

"The future stretches out in front of me.  I see myself making more mistakes, not fewer.  Holding on when I should be letting go.  Letting go when I should be holding on.  The first nine years were the easy ones - when I could, for the most part, protect him from everything; when I was always in the next room when he took a shower, ready to run in and rinse the soap out of his eyes." - Melanie Gideon

1 comment:

  1. I just want to say that I really identify with this. YES to the invisible unappreciated (except when it's forgotten) work. So much of it! Many days I find myself reciting to Geoff all of the chores/tasks I completed that day, just so that somebody besides me knows. I will be excited to find out what your future holds (and my own, too, of course)!