April 28, 2014 by Julia
I am so very tired in this moment. I have been staring at an empty screen while Dennis chases the hooligans into their beds upstairs. He just came down and saw what I was doing, so I started to type “All work and no play makes…” which he scoffed at.
He commented a few weeks ago after reading a blog post that he didn’t know how I came up with so much stuff to write about. My response was that everyone thinks about these things to some extent, we just don’t pin them down into ideas or stories and then they float away. Okay, I can’t remember exactly how I said it, but that is basically what I believe. You could lead the most normal, healthy life, and still be able to write about it in a way that is relevant to someone else, maybe someone who fears there is something wrong with them because they never actually went through a phase of teen angst, for example – someone who thinks they are empty because they lack certain experiences or thoughts. But the fact that they’re worried about this at all means they are not empty; they are searching for meaning, and they are fascinating.
The point is, we all have material to work with. I am interested in the feelings you have throughout the day, in the particulars of how you interact with your family or coworkers, in how you decided what to wear this morning. When I get the impulse to write, but I have nothing to write about, I come back to the particulars of my own day. There is always an inner life, full of obsessions and half-truths and self-esteem mixed with self-doubt and observations. I don’t know about you, but I got a big ol’ overgrown garden of weeds and wildflowers and stones and tall grasses rustling in the wind, all inside. At least, I hope I’ve got those tall grasses, because that is one of my favorite sounds in the world.
So here’s a weed for you: I feel discouraged. I feel like I have lofty ambitions of being a good person, friend, wife, mother, blogger – and then sometimes, despite my best intentions, I am not good. I’m not talking about major betrayal or anything here. I’m just talking about the average human flaws: the self-serving behavior we try to disguise as something else, the manipulations we don’t see ourselves doing, the utter failure to act by our own values because we are just so confused or exhausted or angry.
And sometimes I get so caught up in trying to see things from another person’s point of view I can’t tell what’s right or wrong anymore. It kind of scares me how differently people can percieve the same events, even a shared conversation. I’ve been on both sides of this – the position of feeling hurt or worried while the other person is oblivious to any tension, and vice-versa. Sometimes I feel like we are all just balls of fear, rolling around and bumping into one another. One person gets accidentally bumped, and then they bump someone else, and we are all so anxious and hurt and self-protective after a while. I know we are more to each other than that, but some days it’s hard to stop the rolling and start reaching out beyond it. Humanity, am I right?!? Jeez.
So yeah, there are some weeds that need to be pulled, I think – I just don’t want to pull out any of the flowers while I’m at it. I care a lot about people, and I pretty naturally give strangers and friends alike the benefit of the doubt. I believe most people are good at heart, and just need to be loved for this goodness to flourish. And I try to be helpful or at least a decent listener. But the dark side of that is, I don’t want anything reflected back at me that shows how I may have failed to be this caring, kind person. That is extremely painful to me, because I’ve been trying, you know? And then I worry that maybe I’m developing a martyr complex and I need to get over myself and blah blah blah and SCENE.
Another struggle of late is Jack’s wildness.
He is about two and three-quarters of a year old now, and hoo-boy is he a lot of work. And a piece of work. The boy just doesn’t quit. I wrote about this when he was a one-year-old, too. But now he’s more powerful, and vengeful, and he TALKS. So there are some real battles. With hitting and scratching and kicking. I’ve gotten super mad and scared him and Fiona to the point of tears. Although, sometimes he just smiles at me with that grin, which I am totally over in these situations. I’ve put him in time out. I’ve told him and Fiona a million times through the day, “NO HITTING,” in hopes that eventually the repetition will wear them down. I cross my fingers and hope that gentleness and serious reasoning will win the day, along with the natural consequences of being a violent spaz – no one will play with you. You cannot be around others having fun outside. You cannot be in the same room with me. It wears me down, though.
And Jack is just so good at thwarting my best efforts at cleanliness and organization. He will take the pieces of different puzzles and mix them up, and then throw them randomly in the air, like popcorn, until they’re hidden behind the TV and under the couch, and then he’ll run away, having never intended to actually put the puzzles together. He insists that he’s just “being funny” or “just pretending” to dump his food all over the floor…which, yeah – it used to be funny, sometimes, and I am prone to laughter at impish behavior, which has probably reinforced a lot of this. But I LAUGH NO MORE. He will ask to wear a bright yellow button down shirt, which he looks extra handsome in, on loan to us from a friend, and then he will proceed to stick his entire hand into his jello cup and splatter it everywhere. After I’ve already told him I will remove the beloved yellow shirt if he doesn’t use his spoon. He just doesn’t care. The mess is better to him than actually tasting the jello or wearing his new favorite shirt. If I let him go onto our front patio with Fiona for a few minutes while I listen at the open door, packing up our bag for the park, he will come back literally covered in mud – new shoes, hands dripping, etc., and I just can’t. And then I will have to wrestle him inside and into new clothes while he screams like I’m torturing him. Ohhhh, Jack.
I won’t even get into the whining. The “I want a hot dog but I don’t want to wait for you to cook it,” crying. I swear to you on my first guinea pig’s grave, I make these children food all day long, and Jack eats about a third of it, and Fiona eats all of it, and it’s always needing to be made and cleaned up and made, and what are you supposed to say, “No, you can’t have food! Not even fruits and vegetables or whole grains, because I can’t DO it all over again!” I mean, you could say that, but how long until the whining wins out, and you can no longer justify withholding blackberries and carrots from apparently starving children? Not long. You can’t hold out.
Or maybe I could, but I’m just a doormat. I’m working on not compromising with the kids because of a simple fear of a tantrum. I mean, the tantrum will end. So you are going to bed on time whether you want to or not. I don’t know. Sometimes you can have one more book. We’re just doing the best we can here.
To continue with this brilliant “inner overgrown garden” metaphor, let me share with you some of the more cultivated parts, the blooms. I feel like I am up for this challenge of loving and teaching and sharing with my family, day in, day out, even if it just shows in the minutiae of making doctor’s appointments, and getting the kids outside to play, and folding towels for the linen closet. It’s intricate work, and it can be repetitious, but it’s also flexible, and I can infuse meaning into the smallest servitudes I perform, if I remain mindful of them. I can congratulate myself for getting Fiona to the bus stop on time. I can remain calm in the face of chaos. I can look at our photo album and see that we’ve taken the kids to so many wonderful places and given them good lives already, and I use that as fuel on the days of discouragement, like this one.
We’ve always got material to work with, in writing, in finding gratitude, in making a home. Always.