wash, dry, rinse, repeat. try not to drink too much.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that when I can articulate a problem – often here in this journal in writing, but sometimes in person to another live human being or several live persons – the problem is almost always facilitated, solved, or changed in terms of importance and urgency.  And I do mean pretty much every time. So let’s be honest, I need to own a problem I’m having which is:

I’ve been feeling utterly defeated by my responsibilities in life. Very suppressed.

Because the fact is my kids need me right now (and so do, to varying degrees, my husband, my cats, my chickens, and my mother’s dog who is our ward at the moment and also ill from a possible allergy and confirmed infection). They need me and for about a week I’ve been suffering, because I haven’t wanted to give what they need. Reluctantly, reality has won out, and I’ve shifted. The last several days my sewing room lay fallow as I’ve spent my days looking to all our needs – the care for, feeding of, cleaning, administration of medicine and attention and affection. This has always been a lot of work – and it is necessary work. Right now my family is relatively high-need, as far as my family goes. I wish I would have tuned into their needs a wee bit sooner as the last week or so I’ve suffered a lot as I’ve tried to avoid my small dilemma.

Honestly?  With two children aged five and seven, there was a part of me that had been behaving as if life should be easier than when they were, say, one and three. I should have been considering the time I had to myself in my sewing room as blessed, fortunate, wonderful, and definitely not a given – not any more than anything else in life. I should not have allowed myself the envy and despair that reading the handful of craft and sew-blogs I do inspired in me. These assholes with their one-to-one income ratio! Their lack of mouths to feed! Their ability to buy fabric and go into a room and listen to music – not listen to their kids tear apart the house! Yes, these last few weeks I’ve been pining to sew; yet in the few minutes I’ve had to do so I’ve felt crushed with the sense of responsibilities elsewhere: I need to spend more “quality time” with the kids, wash the dishes, put away the laundry, plan for, shop for, prepare the meals – but especially, spend time with the kids.

What I know about my family life is things change, evolve. There have always been times of sweet solace and rest since I’ve had my children. In fact, since we’ve become a family on one income, I would venture to say rest and respite have been there for us – albeit in unexpected ways – more than when Ralph and I both worked. But there have been times like now: where the needs of my children are pressing and it is foolish to pretend otherwise or to spend time wishing it wasn’t so. As babies, their needs were physical and intimate. Breastfeed a baby and you are more or less forced to sit or lay down; you cannot also scrub the bathtub or drive to the store while changing a diaper (even if, sadly, you allow yourself to feel intense pressure to somehow have resources you do not). These physical needs were so intense in my childrens infancies. I have come to believe these requirements were both a boot camp-style lesson in the rigor and hard work I would find inherent in caring for my children – but also, they were opportunities for me to see my life changed for a number of years. I know it was wrong and foolish for me to expect my children not to need so much from me – just because they are toilet-trained and can read and take walks to the grocery store. I stand corrected, and now that I’ve altered my perception, I expect to suffer less; I also expect that soon enough time will open up, and I will be back in my little sewing room crafting from wool and cotton and lovingly folding yardage. As it was, so it shall be, all in good time.

Today the children and I sat on the floor of their room and played a rather involved game of Legos. I had to accept that sitting on the floor with my kids was good for all of us: it wasn’t “less than” my long chore list in the day. It was so hard not to jump up after a few minutes to do the dishes, or IM my husband, or knit on the hat I’m still making. Over a period of an hour and a half I grew to enjoy our time together; my kids liked it even more still. They are so incredibly creative and clearly loving; I even found myself interested in the construction of a small ship and the character of an Intergalactic Horse Thief. I don’t know if I’ll ever reclaim my long-buried (or lost?) sense of Play; but I know it is in there, somewhere. The important thing for me in sitting on my kids’ room floor and playing wasn’t that I try to be someone I’m not; it’s that I show up for my kids with who I am, and really be that person with them.

back slowly away from the crazy woman

It’s just before six and I’m kneading dough for pita while my son helps clean the dough bowl. This is the third meal from scratch I’ve made today and normally this is doable but today, it’s not. And yesterday, Saturday, stretches out behind me of a day of cooking and having just a few dollars for groceries. The lack of money is only a problem in that I’m forced to be more creative, but I’m just tired in some elemental way that makes me exhausted tenfold to think on what to feed the family. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow I get to get up and do it again, amen.

This weekend I didn’t get things done I wanted to: printing out my finished zine, making more headway on my brother’s coat I’m sewing (I’m currently angry about some bound pockets that didn’t quite work), enjoying the family, relaxing. We did do a lot of chores and Ralph’s loft bed is finished and painted with the kids’ room all set up for them and I freeycled two things and got a buyer for Sophie’s old bed frame. But no amount of “getting done” helps me now because with my hands on the dough at the table it just seems all I do is cook and clean and clean the refrigerator and work for other people and when I take time to myself I’m too tired to do anything worthwhile. It’s a horrible feeling. It’s no one’s fault. It feels like being first trimester pregnant again. Wretched and uninspired.

At least today I got to tell my mother, remember that part in that Ya Ya Sisterhood book (we both read it) where the mom goes crazy and just leaves her family for month? I keep telling them I’m going to do it but they don’t realize I mean it. I think because to the outside world and to them it looks like I’m functioning the same, functioning well. My mom told me to take a job. I’m not sure that will help; I’m not sure what will help, really. And I don’t want help; I want to learn how to take care of myself so I can take care of my Others. And I want to be able to tell people I might be needing a Crazy Person Vacation, even if it doesn’t end up happening quite that way.

“Are you OK?” Yes, I’m OK. Just not every minute of every day.

blarfing doesn’t work for me

I can’t believe how hard it is for me to be sick. If I’m “cute” sick, like for a day or so (which is the normal routine for me), it’s a minor inconvenience I get to bitch about. But this time, as it would happen, I got sick bad. Sick where I’m prone for an evening, then the next afternoon and evening, then a day, then another day, then I’m worried, and I can’t do much anything without feeling mighty dizzy afterwards. On my back with a throbbing headache and a stiff throat, reading interminably, unable to do more than one minor physical task (maybe take a bath, then lay back down on the couch still in a towel with wet hair), not well enough to cook, let alone care for my kids. My husband stays home, we shuffle the kids’ to my mom, and yeah, some of the time I have them while I’m dizzy with fever. P.S. this wasn’t as bad as the bout of strep and you will hear me give a prayer of thanks I am not that sick again.

Being thusly compromised if ANYthing else goes wrong, it feels like a crushing blow. I’m trying not to feel hurt, overwhelmed, upset, devastated. What with moving recently, and some of my FOO’s garbage (my parents each seem unsympathetic and disbelieving that I am actually rather ill; they seem to view this as a voluntary vacation I’m taking) and some other hurtful mini-drama here or there (I’m considering hipmama-cide but can’t figure out how to do it), it just fucking sucks.

And with that I’m done with my 15 self-allotted computer-time minutes and am going to try to get some coma sleep.

like a bad string of johns

Two blocks away from where I sit, a house is emptying of its current tenants. A house with shag carpets swaying in two small bedrooms and a bathroom just as small as the one we left, but without benefit of a second one in the house. The house was that of a girlhood friend and her single Mama. My father, oldest child, and I visited it yesterday. In this case the owner was a calm, friendly person who seemed on good terms with his tenants. A kitchen larger than the one I left (that’s good!) but wait, with too small of a dining area for our table (that’s bad!) A fenced yard (that’s good!). A cyclone fence (that’s bad!). I hope to never live in a place with a cyclone fence. “At least it’s a fence,” says my mom. She’s right. P.S. cyclone fences around here usually surround yards peppered with dog turd landmines half the size of my child.

A few hours later and my mom and I cruise a house on Stewart Avenue. A lovely, lovely house that ultimately is too large and yes, in Aberdeen, which my husband is dead-set against and I’m OK with his preference. Why did I look, then? Good question. One minute I’m desperate enough to consider anything including places you need eighteen locks and a shotgun to live in; the next I’m sensibly holding out for my requirements, of which I have a half-dozen that are a bit rare to find overnight.

My point is for every house you look at your mind instantly moves in, you think, what would it be like to live next to that condemned, falling apart shack next door? or, hey look, there’s a picnic table in the backyard!, you juggle the type of heat and the power bill estimation and the neighborhood and the distance from school and the jagged tears in the kitchen linoleum and the size of the yard. After days and days of this – the first installment a few weeks ago, now another installment thrust upon us – I start to feel I’m somehow being screwed over by these places. Exhausted. My friends email and tell me not to settle. I am already “settling” in some way. I look forward to and hope for, quite sincerely, a home.

respite

I was up late last night. Anxious, upset, possibly my choice of a post-dinner cappucino wasn’t a good choice. Who knows? I couldn’t sleep and there was no one to keep me company. Eventually, yes, I even DID CHORES. Chores, hey – what I do every day, most of the day. And even late – 2 AM – I wasn’t tired. I had two glasses of red wine and read and finally fell asleep in the bed next to my children at about 3:30. Only to wake up four hours later and get up, get the kids ready, cook breakfast, make up some food for a preschool party, blah blah, you get the drill.

Today I (sadly, very sadly) gave up coffee after 2 PM. I am now trying not to think about a drink. Instead I need water, natural, deep sleep, a calm book. I need to quit running my ass ragged. For now: a hot shower with Sophie, pajamas, blankets.

"6:57 PM: God, Kelly. Update your damn blog."

I have decided we either need to, Plan A, have one more blond and perfect baby – then sell it. Or, Plan B (because I think Plan A is illegal and I know it’s problematic due to my husband’s lack of fertility), find a way to downsize our life. And by “downsize our life” I mean get rid of a vehicle (my husband’s job requires him to travel so we probably will keep one for now), move into something smaller and out of town (perhaps the family vehicle!), this more modest abode maybe even requiring us to crap in a bucket and collect rainwater (Thanks K and T for your great ideas the other night!), and live like hippie scum.

My reasons are too myriad and tiresome (to me at least) to list here, and are not entirely financial. Although I wonder what it is about us Hogabooms that we can neither spend and live “within our means” like so many virtuous folk seem to do (or at least, like I’m led to believe they do), nor accept a high level of credit card debt like so many less virtuous (but arguably more typical) folk seem to do.

I can do it, though. I can do anything. If I can squat on the floor of my home and push out a baby, if I can convert my toddler and new baby to cloth diapers and be soaked in piss for two weeks as I figure it all out, if I can stop feeling sad I have crappy secondhand clothes and stinky four-year-old dyke martens, if I can accept the transition of working professional engineer to Houswife Nobody, if I can live with going from two incomes and no kids to two kids and one income, than I can surely go through all my stuff, cry real tears to let it go, and move into some goddamn shack. Can I live without a daily shower, without clean laundry, and without, dear God, without my Mac? I don’t really see how. But perhaps it is my fate.

I don’t know how to do it. I only know I (we) can. Except for thinking of living without my Mac. Anyway, I am this close to outfitting our van as a half-assed camper and parking somewhere.

Tonight my husband and I were gifted with tickets (ala his workplace) for “Dinner and A Murder” – the first annual – a $50 per plate benefit that, yes, involved a murder play “whodunit”. Which I’m proud to say I cracked the code for and came up with half the theory, and was only led astray because a member of the cast fucked up and LIED to our sleuthing group, but that’s another story. Unfortunately – in front of respected members of my husband’s employer, I said something about Ralph’s butt looking good in his pants – please understand I had not a drop of alcohol – and although I got some shocked looks, then uproarious laughter, and although I apologized for my random sexual harassment, I couldn’t help feeling like the girl I was several years ago had channelled herself through me but at least my tablemates seemed to like her.

poor, poor, pitiful me

I’m sick today. Only a slight sore throat, but a lot more debilitating is the accompanying depression / tiredness. I did several hours of paperwork / bill-paying today and it seems like that was an unfortunate choice as it only made me more weary. As I write this my husband and children are at our friends’ place – friends whose loveliness and graceful hospitality I feel too wretched to sully with my appearance and demeanor.

I put in a call to a girlfriend tonight to see if she wanted to sit on my couch and watch a movie or something equally as low-key. She hasn’t called back yet, and as I sit here I become less and less interested in doing anything, speaking with a fellow member of the human race, or even putting pants on.

I’ve had this picture up in one of my Firefox tabs for the last few hours. A friend of mine said she thinks my husband looks like him (it’s Martin Freeman as Tim in the BBC’s “The Office”). I keep accidentally clicking on it and getting this quasi-serious staredown from a cute British Ralph doppleganger.

it’s funny because it’s TRUE

Sometimes my standards are pretty low. Like, this morning at about 10:25 AM. My standard of life was: keep fecal matter off of clothes and face (hands were out of the picture since I was changing a diaper and unfortunately you still have to use your hands for that). Five seconds later, as I tried to steady the boy and pull his pants up, even my modest boundary had to go. In case you, dear reader, are wondering how I could retain human feces on my hands or clothes let me just say that changing a shitty diaper on the shitty floor of a shitty rec center without a fucking changing table – on a 18-month old child who thrashes like a wolverine and screams like a torture victim whenver I lay him flat – is one of the worst things you get to do as a parent (so far, in my four years). If anyone needs a diagram or further exposition, email me and I’ll fill you in.

But you know, I had to keep going with my day. What would I like to have done? I would like to leave my children, go home, strip down, take a hot shower, dress in PJs, crawl into bed, and cry. God, I don’t even know what I’d like. It’s been a while since I had it, whatever it is.

This afternoon my husband doesn’t bother calling to let me know he’s going to be an hour late. He calls about fifteen minutes before he’s due home. While I’m cleaning Horrendous Fecal Event #3 of the day (the first being abovementioned incident; event Number Two was a delightful Hey-Why-Don’t-I-Shit-In-The-Tub incident from this afternoon – by the way, shitting in a tub which was also full of newly-sanitized bath toys) – as I said, while I’m cleaning up shit just to maintain a safe household – my son finds a full pound of rice and dumps it on the floor.

But then I realize this is perfect. My husband was supposed to be home five minutes before the rice got dumped. So, I’m not going to clean it. In fact, I’m not going to go in the room at all. This wasn’t the plan. Right now, I should be in the kitchen making dinner as The Boy and Babydaddy are tidying up the living room. Yeah. I’m not cleaning it up. In fact, I’m not leaving this room unless I hear breaking glass or my husband’s voice when he gets here. And then I’m not speaking to him for a while, either.

Some days are just like that.

debunking the myth of Supermom

I never thought I’d be seen as the woman who “did it all”. I hate that phrase. Annoyingly enough, I have had more than a few friends and family pay glowing homage to what they think are my supernatural abilities to manage a home, create art, and raise beautiful children. In reality things had a darker side than they were seeing. I had become so performance-based I had lost the ability to enjoy myself. Here’s the real story of a SuperMom.

Last Monday at the tail end of a dinner party, a friend of mine hiked her cranky 6–month old baby up on her hip and said with genuine exasperation, “Well Kelly, I don’t know how you do it.” I was floored by her comment and it took me a moment to get my bearings. I knew, of course, what she was referring to – a humble but homey dinner party in a modest but tidy home, my recent success in putting out a zine, my sewing, my volunteer work for the Health Department, and my recent switch to cloth diapering my two children. In short, all of the items I struggle with and share with my friends. The fact that my friend would look at me and see a series of successes, a seamless life fully-lived and easily enjoyed, surprised me. I was being elevated to the title of SuperMom.

This episode was easily recognizable because it has been happening to me more and more in the last year. This almost makes sense considering the circumstances of my life lately. About the time my firstborn approached a year and a half, I found I had built a solid base of resources allowing me to enjoy and succeed at life as a housemom – to prepare meals, keep my home ordered, sew for my children and friends, enjoy my child, and tune into my husband. Not surprisingly, this latter development soon got me pregnant. Going through pregnancy and having a newborn while caring for a toddler certainly threw me a curveball in my routine, but with focus and help from friends and family I bounced back rather quickly into the busy life I’d come to enjoy. Referring to becoming a second-time parent, I told people, “I want to enjoy this time, not just survive it.” I asked friends and family for help, embraced my labor and birth, and enlisted my husband’s help in creating time for myself.

All of this has a dark side however. My second labor, birth, and early months with my new baby seemed almost too good to be true. They were. About six weeks into my son’s life I realized I had arrived in a dark place. To the outside observer, I probably seemed a relatively successful and capable woman. I felt a wreck inside. The most minor glitches in my day would seem insurmountable.

It took a few breakdowns before I realized no one was going to help me, and I needed to figure out a way to get the inner struggle, whatever it was, out into the open. I tentatively, oh so tentatively, suggested to my husband I might need a counselor. It was a tough call to make. What would happen? Would I find out? Or worse, that there was more wrong with me than I’d even imagined? The thing that made me determined to go was the realization that the only thing keeping me willing to survive was my love for my children. And if things got bad, really bad – and I lost my love for them – what then?

At about the time I started seeing a counselor, the fog began to lift. I began to see my moments of despair as being unreasonable. Life didn’t need to be so overwhelming.

And now I am wondering about my friends and acquaintances who appear to have a solid face to the outside world. I wonder what secret pain they hold, and how easy it would be for them to say to someone, “I am really faltering here. I need help.” For some reason, all the stories about women who need and get help seem to be about someone else. They can’t be about us. And maybe that self-imposed pressure is why it’s so hard for our friends to admit to one another that, for the now, it’s their story.