Have you ever watched yourself doing something really dumb as if you were an outside observer? Like a bird perched on a branch in that tree outside your house casually staring into the window of your lame existence? And in the midst of your idiocy you have an out-of-body moment of clarity that is both humbling and infuriating.
That happened to me the other day. I was half way up the stairs, heaving a smallish, but heavy and unwieldy armchair on my back like a turtle shell. For reasons I can only attribute to laziness, I was wearing Brad's sneakers. Untied, of course.
At one point about two-thirds of the way up the staircase, I visualized one of two scenarios playing out. Neither of those scenarios involved me successfully making it to the second floor. Both of them would've involved uncomfortable conversations with other grownups and would've only served to further illustrate my utter lack of competence in being a fellow grownup.
In the first scenario, I lost my grip on the chair and it went tumbling down the steps, crashing through the window on the landing before rolling to a stop somewhere on the front lawn. I have to emphasize that in my brain the amount of force required to launch the chair out of the window like a cartoon version of reality would've defied the laws of physics. I imagined having to explain to Brad, like a repentant child, how the window broke. That imagined conversation was as painful as ...
In the second scenario, somehow both the chair and I rolled backward down the stairs like a snowball in an avalanche. Except instead of snow, we amassed cat fur and crumbs. Jovie's friend's mom would've come to the house to pick up her daughter and found me at the bottom of the steps crushed underneath the armchair (which somehow grew exponentially in size and weight in its journey down the stairs). My limbs would've been akimbo. My neck, possibly broken. Maybe I'd be conscious enough to offer up an explanation. More than likely I would've just been dead. The fodder for neighborhood tall tales for years to come.
Fortunately, neither of these things happened. I swore to myself repeatedly. Tried to shimmy the chair into a more secure position on my back and decided the only way to escape my own stupidity was to trudge through it.
I had to finish the job.
Which, by some small miracle or large amounts of dumb luck or maybe the spirit of Rosalinda, who was watching the whole episode play out from her perch at the top of the stairs, I managed to hoist the chair up the final steps.
|Rosalinda, judging me for my poor decision making.|
A job I had no business doing by myself while wearing someone else's untied, oversized sneakers.
I could've waited for Brad to move the chair. Should've waited for him. But I just wanted to be done with the job of setting up Annie's room. And I wanted a cozy place to sit. I wanted to be able to open the door and show evidence of time spent productively.
Nevermind that I would tell any other woman that the job of raising their children is all the job they need to focus on.
Moms always say, "do as I say, not as I do."
The days just go like this. Lily's shoes have spent the last three of the last four nights tumbling around the dryer. There was mud at the farm, mud at the park and they became sopping wet after an impromptu night-time scooter ride with friends in the pouring rain. Yesterday morning one of the first things I had to do was clean fresh cat poop out of my bathroom sink. I went on to clean lukewarm cat puke off the laundry room floor and fresh baby spit-up off the living room floor. (For those who are wondering, the cat normally does not poop in the sink. He was locked in our room and the sink, I suppose, was the best option).
On any given morning I've washed the first round of dishes, styled Jovie's hair, fed the baby, listened to Lily recite 30 or 40 facts about prehistoric life, cleaned the litter box, changed a diaper, wiped mud off the dog's paws and taken out the recycling before I've even had a cup of tea.
It's the same motherhood I've been experiencing for years. The same and brand new all over again I guess. The older two are both so independent- more or less getting themselves ready for school each day. Entertaining themselves at home. They have grown so much. But they still bicker with each other. Still often don't want to eat the dinner they're served.
Lily still panics when the cat gets outside.
Jovie still leaves her crumpled napkins on the table.
Annie is so little. So very sweet. Requests no less than all my time, energy and the entirety of my heart- which I give to her willingly day after day.
I soak in this motherhood like a bubble bath I know will cool too quickly. But I also pace around in it like a captive wildcat, crazed by zoochosis.
It feels as if there is no room for me anymore. Or that I'm here, buried underneath a pile of mismatched socks and library books.
One of my co-workers at the Daily Record retired recently. Brad told me that apparently at her party, there were readings of old inter-office emails, several of which I'd written. I smiled, remembering how often I'd send obnoxious group emails at work for my own amusement. How I'd bait certain people with annoying requests or off-key observations in order to stir things up on stressful days. I miss working in a newsroom and being the weird coworker. Having a work family to rant and laugh with.
I know I could bring some of that silliness home. But being the "fun mom" feels like just another assignment. Another job to get done. And anyway, there doesn't seem to be room in my brain to squeeze that in. Not when I also have to think about what to make for dinner, when the next Girl Scout meeting is, whether I volunteered to make something for the staff breakfast at school, when I should sign Jovie up for gymnastics, where I should take the van to get the oil changed, and the logistics of a long overdue date night with Brad.
One of my friends told me recently that she was having trouble remembering words- that her mind felt so overstuffed it was affecting her basic vocabulary. Yes! I told her. I know this feeling intimately. The days your cerebellum just starts jettisoning random information to make room for more input. Like the memory dump on "In and Out" in overdrive.
We talked about the demands on a woman's brain. How it feels as if we're never afforded the time for high-level, meaningful, problem-solving thought, because we're so busy on ground-level, day-to-day doing and planning. It's maddening. Because we know we can do more but that it feels as if there are barriers thrown up at every turn.
I'm scrolling through Facebook and see advertisements for shape wear and I think to myself, "we're still doing this?" Still asking that woman deprive themselves of oxygen and comfort so that they can be squeezed into clothing that was never meant to be worn by the bodies of actual, real-life women. Like we're Victorian ladies suffocating ourselves with the laces of a corset. And then there's another ad for how to give yourself "boy brows," which, if I'm watching right, is using makeup to create eyebrows that look like unkempt men's eyebrows. Because bold brows are in right now. Because heaven forbid you just walk out of your house with your god-given eyebrows.
Because in addition to making sure no one can tell you've used your body to bear life the way your body was intended to do, you're also supposed to make your face look like someone else's face. But what's most infuriating isn't that our bodies aren't the right shape or that our faces aren't "on trend", it's that we're barraged all day long with these messages that distract us from thinking about the things that are actually meaningful and soul-filling.
Our brains are being stuffed so full of trivial, inconsequential bullshit in the name of "looking and feeling our best" that we're completely prevented from actually living better lives.
I reached peak rant earlier today. I texted my sister, Laura:
I went for that walk, my brain churning in that unproductive way it gets when I'm frustrated or anxious about a dozen different things and can't find the one thing to land on. Much like the wind whipping up the leaves scattering the street.
I got to the pond hoping to see the ducks and geese that are normally milling about, but it was empty. The only thing rippling its surface was the breeze. So I kept walking. Just as I'd rounded the corner past the water, I heard honking in the distance. Lots of honking. The geese were coming. I waited as they grew louder and louder, eventually flying over the tree line. Dozens and dozens of Canada geese. They flew toward the pond. I thought I'd wait to watch them land, remembering the magical whisper of outstretched wings alighting on the water from Blue Hound Farm. They were flying right overhead like an M.C. Escher illustration projected on the sky.
But instead of landing, they passed by then circled back. Once, twice, five times. I think they wanted to land, but the wind was tossing them around too much. They maybe couldn't get the right angle. Or I guess it could've been me standing there with the dog and the baby looking kind of creepy and predatorish. Whatever their reasoning, they gave up and flew away.
We kept walking. The wind caused the tree tops to sway and creek. I listened to the wind. And to the trees. Listened to the robins and jays and woodpeckers. Listened to the water gurgling in the stream. I felt the racing thoughts slow. Felt like I could breathe again.
I kept walking and walking. Instead of heading back into the neighborhood to complete my normal loop, I turned around and walked back the way I came. Through the woods, past the pond. I thought how funny it was that I feel more productive when I'm walking in a loop. I guess because there's no back-tracking. But that actually walking back the way I came was much prettier. And it gave me the chance to see the world from the opposite direction. It reminded me that retracing my steps wasn't a sign that I hadn't made progress.That repetition doesn't have to be tedious. That what I could change was my perspective.
I thought about how whether I completed a loop or walked back the same way I'd come, I always ended up at home.
I'd hoped the geese might be at the pond by now. They weren't. But there were four or five turkey vultures picking away at the remains of what appeared to be a duck. So, in a way I got to see some water fowl.
As we neared the house, I felt Annie's hand on my finger. Asserting firm, but reassuring pressure. Like she was staunching a wound I couldn't see.
I went inside.
Taking stock of loudest thoughts rattling in my head, I think the following:
1. The Armchair Lesson: Despite all of our discoveries and inventions- you know, using fire; coming up with the wheel and the printing press (my personal favorite); harnessing electricity, the internet, et al. Humans still engage in plenty of foolishness (see internet). Laura told me when she was driving her bus route the other day she got to witness a grown man trying to stuff a full-sized mattress into a garbage can in order to avoid paying a fee for mattress disposal. As if the trash collectors wouldn't know that the gigantic fabric rectangle in the can was a mattress. And had she been at my house this week, she would've witnessed a grown woman trying to heave an armchair up the stairs while wearing her husband's too-big shoes. Maybe there's no big lesson here. Other than I'm not alone in my idiocy. And that's somehow comforting. Oh, and also, don't try to do all the things in one day. It is impossible. Wait for backup. And always use appropriate footwear when moving heavy objects.
2. The Geese in the Wind Lesson: We don't get to control the wind. In fact, often it controls us. On the windiest days, if you can't land on the pond after a few attempts, move on. Instead of tiring yourself out, go on with the wind. Just as with all things in life- it will settle.
3. The Back-Tracking Lesson: Sometimes we walk in circles and sometimes we walk back the way we came. And either way is fine. Really, the takeaway is to take a walk- especially when you are feeling ragey and like existence is futile. When possible, bring along a dog to scare off the vultures and a baby to hold your hand. Remember that this is just as much the meat of your life as the chores and the jobs and the fun stuff and the not so fun stuff.
4. The Gratitude Lesson: This is the least original lesson. Which just means that it's the most important. Be grateful for your days. For warm baby hands and cold dog noses. For the fact that you have been wearing on-trend "boy brows" for your entire life and now is your moment in the sun. For Lily's giggles and Jovie's series of illustrated nonfiction essays devoted to each of her fingers (pinky's are for promises, pointer fingers are for pointing, the middle fingers have two fingers on each side, etc.) it reminds me of Winnie the Pool and how sweet her soul is. For sisters who know exactly what you mean and for husbands who know you are at your wit's end and tell you to go see your sister.
P.S. Brad: No OnBeing reference. No "that book I'm reading right now" reference. Boom.