Thursday, December 18, 2008

Anonymous Commentors, Start Your Engines

I still am stuck on the statistic I read a while ago that stated the average couple engages in meaningful conversation for only 15 minutes a day. Chats about what’s for dinner and adjective-free recaps and calendar updates don’t count. That is horrifying, yet completely plausible. There is a certain comfort in being able to share space without having to fill it with chatter or small talk, but, at the same time, it is so easy to slide from that comfort zone into relationship distance. That transition from family of two to family of more is difficult. I can totally see how couples can grow apart after raising kids, and divorce after 20 years or more of marriage. As parents we all become a super-sized, overextended version of ourselves. And our focus is immediately divided. What’s best for a family isn’t always what’s best for a couple.

I bought a book once about important questions that every couple should discuss before they marry, and Nicole and I used to read them and answer them over dinner. Questions like “How do you see the division of household duties” and “what kind of retirement do you envision.” It was a great exercise and I really enjoyed it. I wish we could do that more, but dinner these days aren’t conducive to meaningful conversations. That said, I think we do okay with the whole talking thing, maybe better than this 15 minute average. But I think we could do a lot better. Or, more to the point, I wish we could do a lot better. Life always gets in the way.

And it is not just abut talking: It’s about listening too. I have to work hard all the time to be a better listener. Usually, I am the talker and Nicole is the listener in this relationship. I can talk for hours; she can sum up her thoughts in four words or less. This dynamic can implode at times, because sometimes the listener needs to talk and feel like she is being heard. So when Nicole is talking about how sad she is that her sister’s dog just died, I have to literally stop myself from talking about how sad I was when my dogs died; about how I read an article about how pet grief is treated by therapists; etc. Instead, I tried to just listen and not bring it back to me. Novel, no?

About a week ago (maybe more) I had a mini breakdown. I think it was hormonally enhanced, but I just had one of those Future Attacks, when I worry about who I am and where I am going and who I am going to be in five years, ten years and twenty years. It is a familiar refrain for me and I have a feeling I will be struggling with this for the rest of my life.

It is very easy when you are a caretaker to lose sight of who you are and what you want. Yes, I wanted to be a mother, badly, and yes, I want to stay home with my children, and I am happy with all of the choices I have made in my life (with a few notable exceptions) but, at the same time, the me who I thought I was seems like such a distance memory and the me who I thought I would be seems like a pipe dream. Stopping drinking adds a dimension to this too because for years, the bar-hopping drinking girl was imbedded in my identity. Part of me will always be the girl who will drink you under the table. And now I am the girl who cleans up food scraps under the table.

Nicole handled the crying jag really well, and even devised a project for me designed to help me clarify where I want to go, which I should be working on now, instead of writing this. It’s all about balance balance balance. I need time for me and time for us and time for the four of us as a family and time with friends and time with family. I need time to write and create and read and relax. And all of these things need to be smushed in between taking care of the girls and the house.

Writing really is a great barometer as to my mood and disposition. These days I am struggling to write new posts because, once again, I am trying not to write about what I need to be/should be writing about. And a play-by-play of my days is just not interesting. Who am I am? Where am I going? Do I define myself by my relationships, my accomplishments or a combination of those two things? I am really good at burying things inside me and avoiding them. And when I do that, I can’t write; at least, I can’t write anything of meaning. Coming up with sentences that string together in paragraphs that make sense become impossible. But I can still be a mean bullet list!

I have a couple of intenser-than-just update posts that are digging deeper into this issue, but don’t want to get into them now, since it is the holiday season and there is so much to do and so many places to be. And besides, you people are busy with your own lives and I need attention and suggestions and ideas and guidance, which you may not be able to provide since you are wrapping presents and all. But please stand by, because I will be needing the Internet wisdom very soon.

Or, if you feel like it, leave another anonymous comment sharing what you are struggling with in your life or your relationships. I feel like the more people talk about issues, the more we all realize we are not alone and the more chances we have to surmounting said problems. At least that works for me.

Pictured above, a green, earth friendly toy (kind of). I froze a couple of plastic toys from a sorter set in a chunk of ice and let the girls go to town with it the kitchen floor. They played with it for a half hour! It was very cute, watching them explore this ice with most of their senses. They were kicking it back and forth between themselves. And it ended as play sessions usually end: With the toy (ice) in their mouth.


Anonymous said...

Well, I personlly find it hard to have to double think virtually every decision I make. Will my sweetheart like this idea? Will she approve of...fill in the blank...the money I'm spending, the style of clothes I want to pick out for our child etc...

When I was single I had to do a lot of work to take care of everything by myself. If I was going somewhere I actually had to plot my route, drive myself being together with her is easier now because she naturally likes to do that stuff.

I guess my main angst is that I worry that I'm losing my ability to do things on my own and that I find that I am starting to doubt my own taste in things.

This probably doesn't make much sense, but I'm sort of like you in that I need to talk. And my sweetheart is much more introverted. So thanks for this offer to post annonymously.

For the Long Haul said...

A huge part of who I was was defined by my relationship. So when that ended I had a hard time finding out how to identify myself as anything other than a mother. I had to let go of the dream of having a successful relationship (which was deeply embedded due to divorcing parents when I was younger) and redefine myself.

I fought to not give up on ALL of my dreams simply because I lost one of them. One of those dreams was to have two children. So now I am a single, pregnant lesbian who is raising an almost 3 year old.

My angst now comes from the worry of how to teach my child(ren) about family and how to make sure I give enough time for ME and keep ME happy enough to be a great mom to them. It is always a challenge...

Happy Holidays to your beautiful family!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that you wrote again. I was thinking about you.

I guess I have two struggles, uh, 3. Yeah, I'm a talker...

My creativity is a barometer of my overall wellbeing. It was squashed and mauled and taken away during an abusive relationship. I am in such a better situation now, I am really truly happy. I depsperately want to be creative again. I have urges to sew, paint, write, sing. But I can't get myself to do it. I am terrified to attempt it again. Been stuck at this impasse for 6 months. Sigh.

I have been out to my family for a year. Been living with my partner for 8 months. My parents do not agree with my "lifestyle". They love me and treat me well, but don't miss many opportunities to tell me the mistakes they feel I'm making. It hurts. My friends say I'm lucky,that my parents could be so much worse. And I am very aware of that, and so grateful, but it's still not what I hoped for. So I'm trying to learn to give myself the space to feel the disappointment and the pain and to not feel guilty about it.

I'm overweight. Fat, I guess. It's starting to really effect the way I feel, the way I live my life. Yesterday I bought a treadmill. I want to feel better, I need to feel better. But what if I fail?

Thanks for listening. :)

Lyn said...

My constant struggle is always around work, am I doing enough, am I doing too much, am I doing it well enough, should I be doing something else? For a long time this was masked as angst about whether or not I should stay home with our kid, but that was just a front the work struggles.

As far as the talking goes, taking care of the things you wrote about (say, finding some time for yourself so you can actually *think* amidst the toddler scrambling) may help. When I was home full time with our toddler between about months 11 and 14 (and that was just one), conversation went downhill at our house, which is saying a lot, since we talk constantly, about everything.

utRus said...

first of all, that ice block idea is brilliant. will be doing this soon. thinking of freezing my husband's cell phone in there. but i digress.

i loved this post. it was painful to read because i share so many of the same sentiments and have many of the same fears. i especially loved this sentence:

"... the me who I thought I was seems like such a distance [sic] memory and the me who I thought I would be seems like a pipe dream."

Perfectly put. Perfect. And I think one thing to realize here is that these feelings are so totally common. I think because we had kids at the age we did (like, not 22), we're kind of still grieving that free adult life we had before kids... and at the same time, well, we're pretty close to mid-life crisis age, where we all evaluate "what have i done/not done".

Some people answer all this by doing what Harvey Milk did (saw the movie last night). He was turning 40 and radically changed his life and hence the life of so many others. Some people might choose to incorporate philosophies into their lives like Buddhism - which is all about letting go of these attachments and yearnings and living (and being happy in) the now without caring so much about that pipe dream anymore.

And most of us fall somewhere in-between. Trying to accomplish some stuff that makes us feel useful and valued but at the same time really accepting and letting go of the fact that we won't be Attorney General or an NFL player or got to the Olympics or be rich, or whatever your Thing That I Thought Mattered So Much was.

Ok. I"m babbling. But I just wanted to say that one very cool thing about being a writer (and a very good one at that) is that you CAN still publish that novel, you CAN still change people's lives with your writing, you CAN be shortlisted for the Booker. You know? But barring all of that, it's not the end result that matters so much, it's the process of writing, the process of living, of having better balance in life. and do we all need to do things to make our processes easier (like get some babysitting help!) yes. we do.

I try to keep in mind that this is still the really hard part of life - having these young toddlers at home. i bet we will all feel quite different when they are in school 6-8 hours per day. which isn't that long away.

again, i babble.

calliope said...

I get so so so much of where you are within this post. Also being in a full time caregiver role I feel a total loss of sself- but then I totally freak b/c if you asked me to define myself I feel like ALL I am is a caregiver. And then I start thinking about my life in 5 years. Will Grandmother still be alive? Will I still be a caregiver? Will I be something else? WHAT??

I also wrap up 99% of my self worth in taking care of GM and God forbid anyone question my care or what I do all day. The other night I was helping GM back to her room after going to the toilet. After I got her settled back into bed I returned to tv watching in the den with Mother. Mother turns to me and says, "You know if you did such and such instead of so and so it might be easier for her." And I TOTALLY lost it. I mean- seriously. Caring for GM is all I effing do and for her to have any suggestions was just not welcome.

Which of course I know is more about me than it is about her trying to help me.

I really do wonder who I am these days. I used to be defined not just by who I worked for and my job but also by my friends and my social life. Now I feel like I am a robot.

I have huge fears about how I will feel about caregiving for the Snork. Huge.

K J and the kids said...

Do you think it was easier in the old days when our roles were picked for us ?
Do you think that more people were resolved to their tasks and less anxious to discover/rediscover what they feel they were missing ?
I always wonder if it wouldn't be easier if on all of us if we didn't have choices. There wouldn't be the guilt for those who decide to work. There wouldn't be the need to find yourself because there wouldn't be another there would be all sorts of mothers groups and heavy drinking :)

I find it hardest to define my relationship. A balance of sexual partner and friend. It's so easy to fall into a friendship. Who feels sexy when you've done nothing but take care of kids all day. Being a wife takes a backseat a lot of the time.
I also think there is a disconnect with your girlie parts when you work so hard to get pregnant. It becomes part of a machine and not a personal part of yourself.

It keeps coming back to the fact that you need date night.
You need AT LEAST one night a month to go out with your wife. You need to NOT talk about kids or money the ENTIRE time you are out :)
I wish I was closer....I'd offer to take the girls.
They are so stinking cute.

Anonymous said...

I got to 47 without even thinking about it, and then started to wonder what I had done with my life, and what I was going to do with the rest.

Your girls are gorgeous.

Jess said...

I also struggle with bouts of depression and self doubt. I have been having one lately to. Crying, depressed, not sure why. Mere tries to be so good about it all but I don't know if she really gets what it is like for those of us who are chemically imbalanced. At least, that is what I think it is. I'm finally have an appointment to see a therapist and I really hope this helps. It is such a battle to live in the moment and not second guess everything. I look foward to reading your posts.