Monday, May 25, 2015

Car Talk

I spend a lot of time in the car. Blessing and Curse duke it out for shotgun everyday. Somedays I spend up to three hours cumulatively in the car per day. That's a lot of time to think and play out imagined, though possible, scenarios both in my head and out loud.

I listen to music, which often becomes the soundtrack to the trailer of the movie my life could have been. Sometimes the music acts as an accelerant fanning the flames of any emotional spark. Sometimes the music provides inspiration for my next great idea which turns into reality the aforementioned movie of what my life should be. Sometimes the music is all boring and makes me listen to the news.

My main activity in the car, however is either gaining perspective or distorting proportional response; sometimes in the same ride. Three days a week I have an hour commute to work. This commute begins after I drop Teenager #1 off at school. The quality of that five minute ride usually determines the course of the following hour commute. There are usually two responses once Teenager #1 leaves the car:
  • "Well that went well. Good parenting this morning Mary; he's a great kid."
  • "Have a great day ass hole."
And then the hour begins. 

Minutes 1-5: Play out what I really wanted to say had I been strong enough or foolish enough. Remind Teenager #1 about how he really knows nothing and how dare he talk to me that way, and he should get down on his knees and thank all who can be thanked for all I do for him, and does he have any idea how much I have sacrificed day in and day out, and he better find his own way home today because he doesn't deserve to have me drive him anywhere, and it is not my fault that I didn't anticipate that the breakfast he loved yesterday would be the one he loathed today.

Minute 6: Tear up. Breathe. Tear up. Change radio station.

Minutes 7-9: Listen to traffic report. Find least offensive morning talk/pop station as a distraction.

Minutes 10-14: Call husband in superficial attempt at logistical briefing and clarification: who's picking up who? Did you fill the dog's water dish? Is there any milk left? This line of questioning quickly gives way to the real reason for my call which is to passive aggressively share my morning's stress by reminding him how much easier he has it by getting to drive Teenager #2 to school; because we like to hurt and hate the ones we love rather than feel our own pain. Nine times out of ten he doesn't pick up because he's smart, or his ringer is off, or he is being a responsible driver in contrast to me, and I contemplate leaving a text until the morning DJ introduces the next scintillating segment "five scents that drive a man wild-they're not what you think" inviting us to call or text in our response, but remember "don't text and drive." So I don't, because I'm a good girl.

Minutes 15-28: I plug in my phone and listen to my own music. Depending on how the shuffle goes I either formulate a better response to Teenager #1's behavior this morning which balances empathy, respect and appropriate limits and consequences; or I write my own one-act play of how things will go when I see him later in the day. This play often includes poignant pauses filled with subtext, and, eventually, a contrite child who helps me bring in the groceries without being asked.

Minutes 29-39: My mind moves to work. What am I teaching today? Who am I teaching today? Am I prepared for that meeting? How do I stay positive? What am I doing with my life? Could I earn more working at the Gap? How hard could it be to publish a book? I'm sure I could write a screenplay. What if I turned my blog into a one-woman show? I'll start selling my knitting on Etsy. Yes that will definitely pay the bills and satisfy my soul.

Minutes 40-47: I sit in a long line at the left turn signal and check my emails when traffic isn't moving because I remember that DJ's wise words. I switch back to the radio. Shockingly they are still talking about scent # 4, bacon.

Minute 47-48: I think about what I will eat next. I wish it was bacon. It will probably be my granola bar. Why wait. I eat it now. I resent it for not being bacon.

Minutes 48-54: I hate all other drivers and begin to panic that I will be late for my first class. My panic leads to blaming Teenager #1 for slowing down every time I said I need to get to work by 8:15. 

Minute 54: I marvel at my martyrdom.

Minute 55: I am stopped by diligent suburban crossing guard and watch children crossing street on their way to school. I wish my kids could walk to school. Then life would be idyllic like it was in the 50's. Oh, wait, Mad Men. I watch the innocence of this moment and either get over myself or resent the contrast.

Minutes 56-58: I ask myself again who authorized other drivers to be on the road right now.

Minute 59: I rush back to the parked car to retrieve my Diet Coke because survival tools are survival tools.

Minute 60: Breathe. Tear-up. Breathe. Teach.

And of course the act of action clears my head and reboots my hard drive and all is possible once again.

All this time in the car alone with my head and heart alternates between being therapeutic and being, well, the building blocks to so many bad decisions. I'm sure guided meditation or audiobooks or even NPR is the easy answer to a more consistently successful commute. Ultimately, however, this time gains me the figurative and very literal distance that I sometimes need from all things familial. It is captive time alone that helps me process life. One hour does not always end with a tidy epiphany, it usually evolves into dust settling which makes some things stand out in relief, covers others up and leaves others looking unchanged. It is time that has been bequeathed to my by circumstance. I do not always see it as such, and often squander the opportunity it presents. But it gives me the chance to be every part of me there is; the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, the wise, the deluded and so on. 

And the only guarantee I can offer, is that I always signal before I change lanes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

You're Not A Shitty Parent

Sometimes I don't like being a mother.

Happy Mother's Day, am I right?

It's true though; and saying it stirs an absolute purity of relief and shame. And the very real fear of the ultimate jinx, that I have doomed my family for all eternity. A tiki doll from which there is no escape Greg Brady.

Still, I'm saying it, because I am certain that I am not the only one who feels it. And it doesn't make me a shitty parent.

So let's break this down.

First, there's the logistics. The constant driving, food prep, restocking of supplies, laundry, last minute paperwork (sports' registration, permission slips, school activity t-shirt acquisition, etc.), haircuts, birthday gift for someone who's really more of an acquaintance but holds out the possibility of future social cred, the nose-wiping-butt-wiping-brush-your-teeth-reminding, the day-to-day of it all can eventually wear a person down to the point of blurting out the impotent cry of "I'm not your slave" in response to "Mom, can you pass the salt?" And yet this is what we signed up for and none of the gentle pastel coated books on parenting warn you about. It's the business end of having kids. The necessaries that make the idyllic slo-mo backyard antics with the dog and Dad's old baseball glove immortalized by many a commercial possible. The logistics are the red-tape of parenting. They're not fun, they're not intended to be, you don't have to like doing them every minute of every day. It doesn't make you a shitty parent.

Second, let's talk about the Time-Suck. You have no time, and it sucks. What about the quality time you spend with your family and dog in the backyard? That happens, it is a rare Haley's Comet occurrence when the planets align and everyone is in the same place at the same time and not gripped by hormonal foul moods. Otherwise, your free time comes at a premium that must be paid back in increments of doing the dishes, helping with homework, letting the dog out in the middle of the night, giving your spouse an equal allotment of free time and lavishing the attention on your children that they want but won't tell you about until you do not adequately supply it. It's ok to be pissed that you have no time, it doesn't make you a shitty parent.

Thirdly, let's visit Fear, Anxiety and Panic. No matter how much yoga, meditation, or wine consumption you practice that trio of doom is always present at some level. And that presence is a constant reminder that despite your best intentions and practices, you have no control over your offspring or, more acutely, the world that is bound to inflict mayhem on them in some way. And the realization that that perfect baby who you swore would remain pure and unscathed, will, in fact, become scathed. And all rationality will leave you when your kid is in a full nelson on the wrestling mat and you will vow to have his opponent arrested while your spouse pats you on the back and tells you this is a good character building experience and you vow to undercook his chicken just a little bit and see how his character builds from that. Fear, Anxiety and Panic are not our friends, but they are our companions on this parenting trek, and like the cousin you wish you didn't get stuck talking to at the family reunion, it's okay to wish you were sitting at the cool cousin table. It doesn't make you a shitty parent.

Next, let's crack this Gratitude nut. Raising safe, independent, responsible kind children is it's own reward, parents do not need kids to say thank you. Bullshit. We all want it at some point; that twinkly swelling soundtrack moment when our kids realize all we've done for them and thank us through the magic of skywriting or a tear-stained letter to the Kelly & Michael show. Let's face it, that's what Mother's Day and Father's Day is all about? Do we need it? No. Because of that whole love thing that never goes away but deepens over time, because of tribulation and in partnership with the complexity and inevitability of flawed humans caring for one another. Do we still want it? Yep. And that doesn't make you a shitty parent.

And lastly, let's talk about guilt. I have been consumed by guilt while writing this entire post. How could I possibly admit out loud-ish that I don't like parenting? That must mean that I don't like my kids, which is code for I don't love my kids, which is code for I am a freakish monster.  Well folks, even your dream job isn't a dream all the time. There's still paper work to file, you're going to make mistakes and doubt your abilities and sometimes the jelly donut you thought was going to make the day better is going to squirt out the wrong side and ruin the dress you paid too much for and are wearing for the first time. I love my kids; that is an universal absolute. And the real reason I sometimes don't like being a mother is because I'm afraid I suck at it, and these extraordinary perfectly flawed, scathed and miraculous offspring of mine will suffer as a result. And that doesn't make me a shitty parent. It just makes me a parent.

So, for this mother's day season I wish you forgiveness, fortitude, and the gratitude that does not come in a floral arrangement or Jared jewelry box, but the kind that whispers to you when you least expect it, looks nothing like you imagined and comes not on a prescribed date but at a random moment in the grocery store or passing in a hallway or during spontaneous backyard antics and reminds you that you are not a shitty parent.