Category Archives: Emotional Labor

The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

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The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

Parenting kids in middle and high school is such a complicated and lonely space to be in. When our kids are little we tend to share a lot about them. Holiday cards, social media posts, small playgroups, sports teams and parent clubs. The little cherubs happily pose for the camera without a whiff of self consciousness.

Somewhere around 5th grade things start to shift. The kids no longer want you to go public with what you think is cute. Concerns about privacy, social status and damage control start to creep into your thoughts. The kids disappear from your social media feed and you keep things under lock and key. The difficult stuff is whispered to your closest friends, a very limited set of eyes and ears. Even with those confidants the experiences are exhausting and isolating at times.

I’ve had days this past month that have absolutely gutted me. Pain for my child which housed a kaleidoscope of emotions; profound sadness, love, pit of my stomach fear, impatience and resignation. Fortunately the low points have been transient, replaced with more hopeful experiences, it goes in and out like the tide. I can only imagine the despair of families that reside in the muck for extended periods of time. I’m sure those parents are around me, they just aren’t talking about it.

The why of the reasons for not discussing things openly are a complicated stew of ego, protection, shame and insecurity. Shame that maybe we failed as a parent somehow – gave too much or too little. We were too involved or not vigilant enough. We haven’t properly adjusted the sails, we hit the gas when we should have braked and now we are spinning out of control.

The first inclination is protection. Protect the child at all costs from labels, embarrassment, bullies, the boogeyman, mistakes or misunderstandings that can negatively impact their future. That’s a tall order and some days I feel so small, minuscule, a speck of dust, insignificant. At this phase in their lives, your kids generally care more about friendships than family, at least temporarily. Another jagged pill to swallow, the person you want to help most in the world doesn’t necessarily want your assistance or your opinion. They will however, happily relieve you of $20. or the car keys when they start to drive.

Insecurity is the ghost that haunts us all whether we care to admit it or not. Insecurity is married to shame maybe not officially but they are at a minimum shacked up together. If I’m honest, this is the piece of parenthood I feared the most before we had kids. Knowing that I would make mistakes as all humans do. I also knew that making mistakes as a parent would cause me intense pain. Mind you I haven’t had colossal failures, just the usual varieties; having a more impatient tone than intended (this is called yelling), being a few months behind on the dental check up, and not being a constant shadow on their social media.

I’m sure some parents and kids skate through this phase without a pimple or a tear shed, I think those are the unicorns. Most of us take a deep breath and remind ourselves to have a friendly tone when we knock on our child’s bedroom door. We worry about over/under scheduling, setting reasonable expectations that neither diminish goals nor create neurotic overachievers. I’m still searching for that sweet spot of challenging my kids so they can bend without breaking.

 

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Welcome Aboard!

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Welcome Aboard!

Hey there blogging friends, there has been a recent uptick in followers here lately and I have no idea why. The newbies could be Russian bots, marketing peeps or spies for Jeff Bezos, complete mystery. For the authentic, in the flesh real people, hello and welcome aboard. Thanks for joining this weird ride of mine. Here’s a snapshot into my life via a description of yesterday’s events so you have an idea of what you’re in for, buckle up.

Nut Butter Log – Thursday

OH FFS there is another school delay! The sleeping in bit is great until it derails the remainder of your day. I needed to be in three places at 9:30am – 1) Work 2) Shoveling my mother’s driveway 3)Driving kids to school. The kids still come first around here followed by mom and then the clients. Calls were made and expectations were appropriately lowered, what I refer to as adjusting the sails.

Getting middle school and high school kids to school on time has a set of variables that I didn’t really anticipate when they were little. I thought preschoolers were a tough bunch – lack of focus, poor bowel movement control and a struggle to tie shoes, sometimes I long for those days. I can’t get into specifics because teens have very intense rules about what can and can’t be posted…let’s just say that some mornings it feels like I am walking a tight rope over lava…in a wind storm.

I dropped my son off first then offered to take my daughter to Wawa for some snacks because she had ski club after school. She was very happy about that (parents of littles – food bribes still work in middle school). We were driving out of the busy parking lot with no expletives and zero honking which, is a minor miracle because that place is the stuff of nightmares. Then it happened, a massive hot chocolate spill directly into my daughter’s crotch.

DD: Mom! Oh no, look!! I look like I peed myself.

Me: You smell good though…you went with the S’mores variety didn’t you (exaggerated sniff)…now that is the smell of summer in February.

DD: Oh My God! I can’t go to school like this.

Me: Nope, you can’t. I’ll take you home (smirking). You can go to work with me. Rob & Laura would love you. (They’re in their 90s)

DD: MOOOOOOOOM.

Me: Relax honey, just think about which pants you will change into and be super fast when we get home. Sometimes the universe sends us a sign to not take ourselves too seriously. We will now refer to this as “The Great Hot Cocoa Incident of 2019”.

DD: I’m sorry you’ll be even later for work. (Side eye and a smirk, she has perfected both)

After I got my daughter to school, I was on my way to my mother’s house to drop off the milk which, I forgot to drop off at 8:30 when I shoveled out her car and walkways. I got to my clients house an hour later then scheduled and then shoveled out their car, driveway and walkway. Lots of shoveling which was good since the gym got sidelined with the delayed opening.

I have a small business which fills in the gaps for people when life gets complicated. Many of my clients are elderly and need assistance with errands, household chores and rides to the doctor. Rob and Laura are clients that I visit twice a week and I adore them. They’re both in their 90s and have some mobility issues. Yesterday our errands included two grocery stores, a diner, the butcher and the post office.

The first grocery store was a hive of activity. Our slow moving somewhat decrepit parade was getting passed by like fighter jets buzzing the tower. I had to suppress the urge to stand in the center of each aisle and assume the starfish stance in an effort to create a safe zone for my clients. Shopping with them is always interesting, they bring a list which is organized by aisle. Things were going well until we got to the beans. Butter beans and Lima beans were both MIA. I can’t really tell the difference between the two but Rob can and he has a recipe that doesn’t allow for bean substitutes. This necessitated a trip to a second food store.

I offered to do the bean run into the second store and have my clients wait in the car. They obliged and I soon found myself in another aisle of beans stumped by the options. There were Butter beans (yes!)..then there were two types Lima beans. One can advertised “Butter Beans, Lima Beans in Sauce” they were white and looked suspiciously like the plain butter beans. The other can of Lima beans were the familiar detested green Limas of my youth. This was a bit of a dilemma, which Limas should I get? When I was putting myself through college, working full time busting my ass, I never imagined this would be my breaking point. In my mind I could hear the overhead store announcement,  “Existential life crisis brought on by beans, aisle 15”.

I could not consult my nonagenarian friends (I went to college so I could use that word), they don’t text so, I made an executive decision and put those nasty green Limas back on the shelf. I found out later that I made the wrong choice because of course I did! I was blinded by my longstanding hatred of green Lima beans. You never know when a food you hated in your childhood will come back and bite you on the ass. Yesterday the green Lima beans did just that, the bastards.

After the beans were tucked into the car I asked my clients where to next – those party animals wanted to go to the diner. I guess they rested up while I was having a mental breakdown over beans and they were hungry. I was hungry too in fact, I treated myself to an Almond Joy while I was checking out with the beans. I had to cleanse the putrid memory of green Lima beans with something equally powerful from my childhood palate.

The diner we went to is their version of Cheers, everyone knows their name here. I walked in the middle of our slow moving parade with Rob in front and Laura behind me. This is a typical conversation:

Me: Rob we have the table in the back corner. Remember if you fall, fall backwards, I’ll catch you.

Rob: (Grunts) It’s crowded.

Me: Yup, we’re threading the needle here, threading the needle, almost there.

When we get to the table I ask them each where they want to sit. Then I sit, taking a mental note of where the canes are resting so, they don’t become tripping hazards for the waitress.

Laura: I love Ann (the waitress), she seems like an interesting person. I wish I knew her better. Check out her feet when you get a chance.

Sure enough Ann is sporting some bold striped socks. Laura knows this because at 92, her head is in a permanent downward tilt. At the first grocery store I saw a dime on the floor which I quickly stepped on to hide from her view. I didn’t want her to bend down and pick it up. Not on my watch Laura, the activity of bending down to pick something up can be a game changer at her age.

After lunch Rob wanted me to stop at the butcher to buy bacon. The store is a throwback to what I can only assume would be 1957. This is one of Rob’s happy places and I marveled at the number of deer heads on the wall (7 and one was wearing an Eagles hat). One more stop at the post office to clear their box and we were back at their house. I helped put groceries away and noticed that there was another pound of bacon in the meat drawer. I informed Rob that he has a significant bacon supply and then remind him we are going to see his Cardiologist next week, we both chuckle at that.

When I get in my car to leave my clients, I get a text from my husband that a family friend is sick and we may need to watch their twins (6 years old). I text the twins mom and offer to help.  She takes me up on it because I’m the friend you call when sh*t goes sideways. I won’t hold your hair back if you’re drunk in a club vomiting into a public toilet but I will drive you home, my friends know this.

Once again I found myself in the position of needing to be in two places at once – picking up my son who stayed after school for robotics and fetching the twins off the bus. I texted my son to hasten his pace and broke several traffic laws to get to the bus on time. For the next 5 1/2 hours I had twins who are equal parts adorable and exhausting. At 9pm I took them home and at 9:30 I picked my daughter up from ski club. Within an hour, I was falling asleep in bed sitting up not watching the news.

Like so many of us, child-rearing competes with caring for aging parents, self-care, and running a household while managing a job.  I’d say this is what it’s like to be the meat in the middle of a generation sandwich but nut butter seems more appropriate. Thanks for visiting :).

 

Making Space for Forgiveness

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Making Space for Forgiveness

I told her it was OK as my mother sobbed on my shoulder. I turned out fine, my life is far better than anything I could have dreamed. I told her that I forgave her and I understood that she just did what she had been taught, modeled patriarchal behavior. The same shit that her parents did that tore her down. Now she feels regret for repeating those awful behaviors.

Women are so eager to take on the blame. She’s crying over the bad wiring in her brain. The structure and synapses which were created by her own traumas, one by one, they formed a new way of thinking; alcoholism, rationalization, self-preservation, victim-hood, depression and decades of regret, at 73 the guilt is smacking her in the face, hard.

It’s sad and predictable, I remain calm and reassuring, while simultaneously hoping I can get home before the ice cream melts in my car. I know that sounds callous but I’ve been living with this drama my ENTIRE life. My head wanders in several directions: my recently deceased father and the damage he inflicted on all of us, groceries in the car, company coming over and being a witness to my mother dissolving in front of me, again. It’s almost too much to take but I’ve taken so much more than this when I was little.

She laments about her mental illness and the limitations it has caused. Her brilliant mind is her best worst enemy. She talks about her long ago marriage to my father and how brutal he was…he’s been dead less than 5 months. She begins to tell me about the rapes, the beatings, how awful he was and I don’t want the details. She holds the worst of it back and I am grateful for that. I already know too many terrible things about my parents, I don’t need more. I do ask for clarification on a few things, the answers surprise me.

I asked her why she left me in Florida when I was 9 while she and my brother went back to New Jersey for a visit. She has a puzzled look on her face and says that I wanted to stay. I was 9 and calling the shots apparently, I stayed with friends that we barely knew for those two weeks. She asked me if anything bad happened during my weeks with Kay and her family. I tell her no, remembering that is when I started smoking and I kissed a boy for the first time. I don’t mention these things, she has enough on her mind. She didn’t want me to stay with Frank, her then live-in boyfriend. She asks me if Frank ever made a pass at me. He didn’t, I was never assaulted by any of her boyfriends which, in retrospect, is sadly miraculous.

Then she confessed one of her biggest regrets as I stood there. She regrets how she handled it when she found out that 16 year old me was in a relationship with a 32 year old man. A man who 6 months prior, had been my counselor. So predictable, the textbook definition of a vulnerable girl and a predatory male. She’s mad at herself for not lashing out at this man 34 years ago. Instead she gave me the anger and disgust because that is what she was taught. It’s the females fault, it always is, men are the way they are. It’s OK mom, you reacted the way you were taught, I forgive you. She seemed to calm down a bit and I told her I loved her and left to go home.

A few hours later, I’m in my kitchen making a damn good tomato sauce with sausage, eggplant and roasted garlic. I have the echo blasting 70’s music, I’m in my happy place. Then I have one of those ah-ha moments. My mother doesn’t hate me, she hates herself for all the ways she’s failed me. Somehow this awareness removes a burden and I have more space for forgiveness.