Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tedium, a Watch and Apple Jacks

Let's face it, raising kids is tedious. Oh sure go ahead and be shocked and appalled at my claim. How could I not relish each moment with my children as a joyful definition of life's true worth? How can I not see that all the little tasks involved in child-rearing should be done selflessly and with gratitude for the privilege of watching this person grow and blossom. Don't I realize how much I'll miss all of this necessary minutiae when they are grown and gone?

Not yet.

Right now I am too busy controlling my impulse to scream like a petulant toddler that I've spent 4 hours and 20 minutes driving teenager #1 to various locations today: Dr.'s appointment to school for workout to home to check on teenager #2 so he doesn't feel neglected back to school to get #1 from workout to practice and finally back to home do to what I want to do. Of course I'm too tired to do what I want to do and wind up playing far too much Candy Crush in order to have some sense of accomplishment today.

But, oops, I'm not done. People still need to be fed. And teenager #2 needs me to partition my macbook so he can play some computer game which is only available on Windows. And they both need haircuts. And I need to fill out this form "for this thing that has to be in tomorrow because I forgot it in the bottom of my backpack." And where are the F-ing stamps for that check to the tutor which is weeks late because I keep forgetting to buy stamps. And how come we're already out of juice and cereal when I just bought them yesterday? What? Because that's all teenager #2 ate because I was so busy driving teenager #1 around that I didn't make and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner in a timely fashion.

And: "Mom I have no clean socks."

And: "Mom the bracket on my braces just fell off."

And: "Mom what's this green thing on my toe?"

And: "Mom should I be a Mage or a wizard?'

And: "Mom can you drive me to my friend's house which is 45 minutes away? And by the way I have to be picked up at 8 am for a practice which means I'll be in a terrible mood all day tomorrow and will make you suffer for it."

And: "Honey I know you shouldn't, but have you seen this tiny slip of paper with vital work information on it that I left somewhere in the house and of course it's not your fault, but subliminally it really is your fault if I can't find it because the house is such a god awful mess."

Tedium is boredom magnified. And yet all this magnified boredom is quickly driving me to a breakdown of terrifying or comical proportions depending on who's directing this picture. And yet all this tedium is necessary, because, as it has been embroidered on pillows across time, it's the little things that mean a lot. 

Case in point:

When I was the annoying teenager #6 in my mother's life there was a tedious task I needed her to complete. I needed her to pick up my repaired watch from the jewelers. I couldn't, I did not drive yet. Day after day I kept asking her if she had picked up my watch. She forgot. Until one day I remember sitting on my windowsill looking out to the backyard where some folks were putting in a new tree to replace the gigantic one that had fallen in a recent, ridiculous and rare hurricane/tornado in southeastern PA. I sat there in a pool of self-pity and fumed resentment at my mother as I actually thought "Oh sure, she had time to buy a tree and arrange for it to get planted, but she couldn't stop by and pick up my watch." 

Why I wanted that watch back so badly eludes me at the moment. What I do remember is feeling ignored (which I wasn't). Because, of course the watch wasn't just a watch. It was the receptacle for all my teenage angst and unrealized and misunderstood emotions. The watch was my parent's divorce and the fact that I would never have a boyfriend and that there was no more cereal in the house because I ate it all because my mom was so busy buying a tree that she couldn't make me breakfast, lunch and dinner. To her it was just a watch.

I don't know what my kids' "watch" was is or will be. I'm sure I've failed to see the deeper meaning of much of what I view as tedium. And that's not always a bad thing. It teaches resiliency and self-sufficiency. I don't plan to cater to their every whim. But I will indulge some of them, because there will always be moments when they want to feel like they matter most in someone's eyes. And in those moments of confusion and sadness and bewilderment, sometimes a remembered fresh box of Apple Jacks means a lot.

And now back to my real home, the car, because they're about to wake up and there's no milk for the Apple Jacks.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sick Day

I was sick today. Actually it started yesterday. Nothing major, a head cold but it was the kind where your eyelids ache. Basically I felt like crap.  That was tolerated by my family, even empathized with, for a moment, and then it was back to business as usual.

People wanted food, they needed things found and they needed to convince me how they were infinitely more miserable than I. That’s par for the course for any run of the mill day, but when I’m sick, it only highlights the helpless, narcissistic, overly-entitled realm I have unwittingly created. Yes, I blame myself. Why? Because I have often mistaken making my family happy as part of the fictitious job description I concocted when parenthood seemed like a desirable goal.

Now, as can easily be surmised by past posts, I am not your picture perfect Family Circle mom. I am proud that my kids know how to cook what they like to eat; they’ve been taught how to do the laundry-though they frequently “forget” when they’re down to their last pair of boxers; they know what to do in an emergency, they understand to look for a bargain first, and they can carry on a friendly conversation with someone they just met. Ultimately, I know they can survive in the wild. So, well done to me and to husband, I’ll pat myself on the back for that.

And yet, I am still entirely too concerned with their happiness. So I do too much for them. I look for their lost phone, and make sure the socks they like are clean for the game they’re nervous about, and I make that dish they prefer, and I help them buy that pair of shoes and I make it easier for them to take out the trash.

I do this so that it will be easier for them to be happier in that moment. I do this so they don’t get upset. I do this so I don’t have to deal with them being upset. I do this because it’s what I’ve always done. I do this because there was always an underlying layer of sadness and resignation as I grew up. So I did this because I felt if I could just make everyone happy (and by everyone I mean my mom) then I could relax and be happy. And there it is, my gooey nougat-ey center. Enjoy.

You’d think after 46 years of trying this without lasting success I would maybe try something new. Of course old habits are hard to break. Not so hard when husband and teenagers 1 & 2 are being big stupid jerks. And in those moments, when we hate each other, the way loved ones do, and we all feel like crap because no one likes to feel mad, or sad or shame, I fear and convince myself that that moment could be what makes it all turn to shit. And I am wrong, because that moment is more important than the short-lived happiness that comes from a found phone. That moment when we feel like crap and as if nothing could be worse is just a moment. And then dust begins to settle, the world continues to turn, something else requires our attention or interest and before you know it we’ve bounced back and realized that doom did not prevail. And, more importantly, that we survived and managed to feel happy again.

So on this sick day, I will do my best to do less. I will not fear disquiet in others. I will let the men in my life find their own damn underwear. I will remember that I can’t make my family happy, I can only help them see that they have what they need to survive when they are not happy. And I will make them bring me soup, because I’m sick, damnit.