Well, hello! It’s good to see you again! It’s a gorgeous day here in my tiny part of Pennsylvania. It truly feels like fall: the air is quiet now that the birds have moved on. The sun is low. I’m sitting on the front porch …
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). It’s become a pattern that, frankly, I’m too tired to break. Judge not unless you’ve heard a weeping child say that the shadows in her room give her nightmares.
Last night, Quinlan slept through the night, in her own bed (well, not her own bed. She was in the bottom bunk in Saoirse’s room. Because this child has some issues with being alone that we should probably work on, if we weren’t so tired to do so). Cian, though, was up at 3:17, fussing because of a wet diaper and a chilly room. David went in to get him. Fastest one out of bed wins. Or loses. Whichever.
My alarm went off at 5:30. I was going to get up and work on Book #2 (a new project is finally, finally, starting to bloom), but when your eyelids don’t open it’s hard to type. So I hit snooze. The alarm went off again at 5:45. (yes, I set it twice, because I know me). I hit snooze again. Dave’s alarm went off at 6. I think he got up. I don’t remember. My eyelids were closed.
We got Saoirse ready for school (Quinlan and Cian are both home with me today. Book #2, where art thou?). Quinlan and I were talking about how happy I was that she got a good night’s sleep, and I mentioned to Saoirse that her little brother was up during the night. Saoirse was in the middle of putting on her shoes for school, and she stopped and looked up at me. “Mom?” she said. “You don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever sleep, do you?”
I try, I wanted to say. I try.
This past Tuesday, I chaperoned a field trip with Saoirse’s class while my mom watched the two little ones at home. She took them to their parent-and-me music class, and when I asked her later how it went, she mentioned how friendly my friends in class were, and then laughed. “Everybody looks so tired,” she said. She was shaking her head.
I don’t want to be the mom who’s tired all the time. I don’t want to be the one who, as I’m about to do right now, lets her kids watch TV inside on a gorgeous spring day so that she can work on her writing even though she was supposed to get up early enough to get it done so that she could concentrate on the rest of her life when her life is awake and asking for snacks and trips to the playground. There’s such a guilt now in being the full-time mom: if I’m not being “mom,” then I’m failing. Everywhere I look, there are moms who are Super Volunteers, and Playdate Pros, and Get-It-Done Gurus. What I do feels like it’s never enough, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Our mothers didn’t have this pressure, so what’s wrong with us? I’m still, and have always been, trudging through, from one week where everything falls into place to the next, when I’m so overwhelmed that when David and I have dinner with my literary agent and her husband one night (possibly recently), and said agent asks me how Book #2 is going (could have happened, because it’s her job), I burst into completely unprofessional tears (not going to admit that in a million years). My mom’s offered childcare so that I can concentrate on building a new career before the opportunity evaporates (my fear, my fear, my constant fear). I want to write. I want to be somebody with a paycheck again. I’m about to finally take her up on it, but. But.
We’re so tired on the time. Are we all? Or is it just some of us? All the tiny pieces of our lives, floating around our heads while we try to catch them and reign them in into some sort of order. It’s wonderful, these pieces–beautiful, even. But my goodness. If we can’t get our eyelids open in time to see them, what a pity that’s going to be.
My brother just happened to mention the other day how absolutely annoying it is to open up Facebook and see a bunch of statuses written by people complaining about how hard it is to be a parent. Paul–he is my favorite brother, him–was, as Paul is wont to be when people complain about how hard it is to be parents, massively exasperated. “Of COURSE it’s hard!” he said, as calmly as his boiling rage would allow. “You have a kid. What did you EXPECT?!”
He’s right, you know. We all do it. We read blogs written by people venting about hard it is to be a parent. We share supportive letters written to stay-at-home moms who in turn write supportive letters to working moms. We read articles directed to parents of multiples, of adopted children, of spirited children, of children who punched their kid in the face on his way out of the playground and is lucky that parent didn’t make him eat a knuckle sandwich, too. Every time we open up social media, turn to Huffington Post, get a forward from a friend, we see them: words written by the hordes of parents in shock and trying to process the reality that this job is stinking HARD. And I think there’s really just one reason why these rants and posts and memes are so prevalent:
We–fellow parents, that is–need to know we’re not the only ones hanging off the ledge by our fingernails, desperately hoping nobody noticed that we fell out of the damned window in the first place. Because hello: we’re supposed to know how to be perfectly balanced, at all times. Shhh. Don’t tell anybody I screw up on the regular. I’m a parent.
I was thinking about this tonight when I sat down beside another mom in SK’s classroom while our daughters were finishing up their Daisy scout meeting. And I don’t know what started it–oh, yes, I do: she didn’t know I have three kids, and I made a joke about how could she not by the circles under my eyes harharhar I am so FUNNY–but all of a sudden we were just talking about how we both feel like we’re always sort of drowning, but–BUT–that’s how we all feel, each of us. All of the moms. She was so calm as she spoke, and I respected her so much for it: I feel like I’m never on top of anything, she said, but I know I’m not the only one, so at least there’s that (I’m paraphrasing. She was way more articulate than I am right now at 9:25 p.m. with my glasses covered with Cian fingerprints, sitting on what I think might be a Matchbox car on the couch).
Is my brother right? Does our generation complain way more about how hard it is compared to the ones before us? Or do we just have access to more outlets, and can share our feelings more, to a larger audience, without fear of being judged face-to-face–and actually, with more of a hope of feeling validated (says the mom writing her blog post…)?
Want to know what I think (if not, I can redirect you to this or this)? I think we are a generation of people who do not necessarily work in fields, nor factories, nor anything else involving consistent, thankless labor (unless you’re a teacher, of course. Hey-oh! Nah, I’m kidding. The occasional thank-you note from a student totally makes up for the lack of livable salary and Common Core). We don’t work with our hands. We’re not used to working every day solely on the grounds that it’s our job and no one else is going to do it for us and so what if no one is patting us on the back or giving us a raise, the work has to be done. No. We are not that generation. We, oh spoiled post-economic crash 30-somethings that we are, are a generation that, yes, teaches, and works in offices, and argues in front of judges, and works with numbers. We sell pharmaceuticals and perform surgeries and spend our days on numbing wastes of time called “conference calls.” In a nutshell (I know, finally, right?), we are a generation who went to college, and maybe college after college, and have degrees that tell us what a good job we did. We get raises if we do well, we have periodic reviews, we dress up every day (or used to), and put on our ties and our heels and we work not because the work is there, but because we’re working for the next goal, or promotion, or that coveted pat on the back.
And then you become a parent and find yourself scrubbing boogers off the wainscoting and telling the kids to stop complaining about what they’re having for dinner, because that’s what we’re having and if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it and stop asking me if we’re having dessert. It all screeches to a stop. You find yourself parenting because you have to parent and the job of parenting doesn’t end and you can’t stop parenting because the rest of your team is heading out to lunch. You’re parenting, but no one mentored you, no one gave you a tour of the office, no one told you where you can find the bathroom because even if you do have to go you won’t be able to without a toddler crawling in after you to stick his head in the trash can. You’re parenting, but there’s no review, there’s no raise, and you’re going to work every day but you have no idea what the hell you’re doing and dear God when are they going to find out and why haven’t they fired me because I seriously SUCK at this.
It doesn’t matter if you work outside the home, at an actual paying job (what’s that like again? Because…you know. Paychecks are nice, right?). Once you’re a parent, you’re basically in one of those perpetual dreams where you keep screaming for help but no sound is coming out of your mouth. Of course it’s still awesome. Anybody who’s had a three-year-old throw her arms around your knees, or walks into a room to see a baby laugh with relief at the very sight of you, or gets to hear, in detail, the 12-minute telling over breakfast of what the six-year-old dreamt about last night, knows that. There is so much joy in being a parent it bubbles up and out of your heart every time you check on your kids before you go to bed.
Actually, that’s it. That, right there, is why we complain so much about how hard this is. It’s not that we didn’t expect it. It’s not that we weren’t prepared (well, maybe a little, but bear with me). It’s that we love our kids so danged much. And we’re so used to getting feedback, so used to suggestions, and guidelines, and merit raises, that we just…it’s too much without a guide. We’re so used to doing our professional jobs well, but parenting–PARENTING–is the most important task we have, and dear God, we don’t want to screw it up. Please, please, we’re asking each other, tell me what to do. I have this, this child in my care, and I want to raise her right and I love her so much and can somebody please tell me if I’m doing a good job? Anybody?
So. I think that’s it. I hope that’s it, anyway, or my brother’s right and we really are the most narcissistic, navel-gazing group of numbnuts on the planet (and in that case, seriously do pray for the children, because we’re in troooooouuble. I need at least one of our kids to respect us enough to put us into a decent nursing home one day). But I’ll stick to my theory. Because in my theory, we’re ill-prepared, yes–and that’s our own fault–but at least we love our children so much it validates the Xanax prescriptions half of our generation is getting filled at this moment (not me. I type 2,000-word blog posts instead. HAHAHA.). We’re just trying our best, trying to stay afloat, trying to work, work, work, when we have no idea how to do it without someone making notes. But you have me, and the mom at the Girl Scouts meeting, and your friend who just forwarded you that funny article from some mommy blog. We’re all hanging from the ledge by our fingernails, together. So it doesn’t matter if no one’s supposed to know you’re not perfect.
You’re not. But you’re also not alone.