I’m sitting at a desk littered with paperwork. I see two planners here (why two?! We’re in a pandemic. WHAT AM I POSSIBLY PLANNING), plus an old grocery list and a messy meal-planning list I’d scratched out on the back of yet another grocery list. …
The night before last, Quinlan, still recovering from allergies or a cold or something, appeared beside our bed (always my side) and said she could’t sleep because she’d had a bad dream. So she spent the night (again) with us (on my side. Of course). …
I had about five ideas for posts that were about funny things, cute things (Quinlan said to me the other day, “Your boots are UGLY.” And then she must’ve seen the look on my face, and added, “I didn’t say your body was ugly. You are non-ugly.”). But the last couple of days, when I’ve been rocking Cian in his room before bedtime (the child is almost two and still likes to be held before he goes to sleep. Isn’t that awesome?), I’ve found myself in tears like a weirdo, silently sniffling, hoping nobody walks in and notices (and here I go telling you about it. Swift, Leah). See, here’s the thing. I had what I’m fairly certain was an anxiety attack in the car the other night, just driving with the girls in the back seat, preoccupied and worried and scared because I always feel like I’m drowning. Some of you know the drill: heart racing, chest tightening, feeling like I couldn’t breathe. It was fun. Santa Stress, you’ve succeeded.
But there I was, last night, rocking Cian, and thinking about my dad. He’s been gone almost seven years, and yet I sat there, in the glider we’ve had since Saoirse was born, having this surreal moment of disbelief. He can’t be dead, I thought. He can’t be. How can he have missed so much? Look at this, for starters:
Dave’s new job. Our almost-relocation to Connecticut, and last-minute decision to stay here. Our marriage that is so much better and happier and easier than it was when he witnessed it in its fledgling, learning stages.
A novel, written by me. Then an agent. And now a publisher. I can’t even begin to guess what he’d say about that.
Two more grandchildren, each as hilarious as the first one. The older granddaughter he knew as a newborn, now reading chapter books to us like she’s been doing it for years.
A new house. One with a real garage and sensible paint colors and a living room you don’t have to wrap yourself in a blanket to keep warm in.
The marriage of my brother, finally, to a woman Dad knew years ago, finally. His relocation to a place that specializes in bratwurst and cheese, lakes and snow. Dad would’ve liked his visits there. Especially the bratwurst part.
The death of Dave’s dad. The remarriage of Dave’s mom.
The slow demise of my long-held vegetarianism, and all the meals that have risen out of its ashes: stews, chilis, soups. Dad would’ve loved the way I cook for my family now. He’d laugh that I don’t mind it, and that I talk a lot less now about gender roles and the patriarchy and the inherent sexism of societal standards as I’m chopping onions for people I love.
Luca, our husky, turning into an old man. He’s the dog that made me a begrudging dog person, the dog that adored my dad. He’s hanging in there, but uneasily. How odd that he’s still with us, but my father is not.
I used to love this time of year. Cookies and lights and music and love. All of that. It’s still there, but muddled in behind the shopping lists and emails, expectations and budgets. I found a picture recently that David had taken of me in the townhouse we’d rented when we first moved up to PA, before the mortgage and kids and decision to go to one income in a two-income world. I was sitting on the couch handed down to us by my aunt and uncle, surrounded by shopping bags, with a pen in one hand and a list in the other. I was grinning at Dave–I had this big ol’ smile on my face, my posture was relaxed. We’d probably go out for Mexican food that night. I probably had papers to grade later that afternoon. We’d most likely slept in that morning, because back then there was no rush to get out of bed. The gifts I see in the picture had all been hand-purchased, where I could see them and feel them and pay attention to price tags. I didn’t shop online then. There’s a thought for you.
My dad has missed so much. And I can’t help but use his death as a marker in time, a sort of ruler by which to measure my life. I feel like I’m so, so much happier now than I was back then. That anxiety attack I had? That’s the first time I’ve felt like that in probably ten or fifteen years. I feel like a different person than I was when Dad was here. But if he were here, what would he see? What would he notice? Would he see the happiness, and the gratitude, or would that be hidden by complaints, by hurried visits, by days slipping by because, with three little ones and a husband who travels and big responsibilities now outside of the cooking and dishes and child-raising, I haven’t yet learned how to live them?
I used to need to feel like I was in control of everything. I now realize I have no control over anything at all, but the panic of old habits is still there. Maybe in another seven years of missing my dad, I’ll finally complete that 180-degree shift. Hopefully.
But I’m not sure I’m ready to be fourteen years out from him being here. I’m still not quite believing in seven.
A while ago I wrote a long-winded (now that’s a shocker, right?) post about trying to put my phone down more often. I’ll include the link here, but I don’t like to reread that post–basically because it reminds me of just how well I’m failing.
I’m failing to not be so stressed out and anxious all the time (about what? WHAT?!).
I’m failing to interact with my children, as was evidenced this weekend when David took the girls outside to play in the snow while I sat at my computer to write down some cute things they’d said. The irony is obvious, yes? I’m trying to remember my children while they’re still here in front of me.
I still check my phone constantly. Facebook. Twitter. Email. News. I think it’s because I’m at home, so I eel the need to be more connected. And yet, I don’t reply to emails (because I check them on my phone, thinking I’ll respond when I get to a computer, then forget entirely…or get sidetracked again by my phone). I don’t nail down plans with friends (the problem with trying to make plans on your phone at 10:45 at night? You don’t remember who you were texting at 10:45 the next morning). I vow to do a, b, or c, then feel like crap about myself when I fail, fail, fail. There are so many loose ends in my head, my brain looks like a scarf you accidentally washed with the towels (so it’s pretty much a soggy, tangled, knotted hot mess of cotton/poly-blend yarn, yes). I am tired, strained, impatient, and vaguely…unhappy. Almost all the time. It’s not a good spot to be in.
And unfortunately (or fortunately, if I’m going to be all misery-and-company, which I’m not, because that’s just not cool), I’m not the only one. An acquaintance of mine (hi, Dawn!) posted this blog post from Hands Free Mama yesterday on her Facebook page (WHAT. I checked it before I read the post. STOP JUDGING.), and then I shared it, and somebody else shared it, and on it went. Most of my friends had the same reaction as I: Yikes. Holy crap. One friend (hi, Peg!) said that reading this post actually made her sick–if you read it, you’ll understand why. Because too many of us can see fragments of ourselves and our lives in what Rachel says. Too many of us cringed while we read about the effects all that self-imposed pressure and need for perfectionism, mixed with this weird state of being distracted, have on our children–especially our first-borns.
My mom was just saying the other day that she thinks each generation of mothers has a specific reason for being stressed–and that basically one generation of anxious mothers begets another. I look around at the moms my age, and I see a generation that’s climbed educational and professional ladders, and is terrified of letting go, of losing its place once the children come. So those of us who work feel guilty, guilty, guilty. And those of us who stay home feel like we need to be perfect, perfect, perfect, because this is our job, and if we fail at this, well, then, why are we home in the first place? Maybe that’s why we’re glued to our phones. It’s a connection to the world we need to be a part of, validation that we’re all still important, respected, out there.
I dropped Saoirse off at her first Girl Scout Daisy meeting last night. She was so excited. It’s the first one she’s been able to make all year, because I was too disorganized to move her only other activity–gymnastics–to another night so she could make the meetings. I missed the sign-up for her big cookie rally with the other girls, and barely made the deadline for a caroling activity she’s doing this weekend. And as I sit here and think about all those other loose ends I haven’t tied down, I’m getting a tightness in my chest. It’s panic, I know. And there’s no reason for it. I’ve a family of three children. I’m not running a country.
The other morning, we were all running late–all five of us–and scrambling trying to get the girls out the door for school. And all of a sudden Saoirse broke down in tears, toothbrush in her hand, her sparkly headband drooping over her forehead. “Everybody’s screaming at me,” she whispered. And she was right. David was putting on a tie, I was racing back to the girls’ bedroom, Cian on my hip, because Quinn was taking so long to find a pair of socks part of me thought she’d gone to Greenland to gather her own wool for a pair, but it was SK we were reprimanding. It was at SK we were yelling, “hurry, hurry, hurry!” Why is it always Saoirse? She’s only five.
Get it together, Ferguson. And while you’re at it, put down the phone.
Oh, friends. What’s with us? Is it all of us, or are some of you reading this thinking, “Leah, girl, you’re wackadoo. Time to use that phone to dial up a therapist, shall we?” I don’t think it’s me, though–not from the reactions I saw to Hands Free Mama’s blog post. And I know people say the holiday rush exacerbates everything, but if we can’t be focused and even-keeled at this time of year, what’s the point of all those proclamations of joy and peace and merrymerrymerry? Bah.
Only love today. That’s what Rachel suggests we focus on: only love today. No stress, no unnecessary distractions (oh, Twitter, I love you so…), no need to control others just because we can’t get our own selves under control. And most importantly, to stop telling ourselves we’re failing all the time, because seriously, we’re not. Even if it makes us feel special to think we’re failing better than most people are failing so (yay!) we win. Sort of.
I went to pick up Saoirse last night from Girl Scouts, and drove with the radio off. I just wanted to be in my own head for a bit, in a rare space of silence that doesn’t really exist in my world anymore (mainly because 4 p.m. dance parties to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” can get kind of rowdy around here). I pulled into the school lot early, and automatically picked up my phone. But then I remembered Rachel’s post. So I put down the phone, and I went inside a little early to get to know the other parents and watch my daughter sing carols with her friends. I’m so tired of being stressed out about my world, when all I have to do is step back inside to actually live it. So step in, I will. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll stay there this time.
Only love today. It’s not a perfect start…
I used to have, shall we say, control issues. I think I’ve gotten better. I mean, I know I’ve gotten better, though I’m sure you’d have to ask David for validation on that one. But my poor brain was always anxious: I had expectations of how events and pieces …