Sunday, January 31, 2016

"I never feel as if I’m actually succeeding at achieving a balance between art making and motherhood and I struggle with constant low-level anxiety about the choices I make from hour-to-hour and day-to-day. I had a major epiphany when I realized that it is impossible to be both the mother I want to be and the artist I want to be. Both are full-time occupations and if you throw in needing make a living (which really does inhabit third place for me, emotionally) then all bets are off. So the most important ingredient in the balancing act has been to accept and embrace that I will fail. This realization has been incredibly liberating." —Marina Berio

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Burnt Toast

It's past "soon" and I'm still not back. Well I am back in some ways but not others. Is it just the same story? It's strange because since starting my first course in July 2014 I got used to writing in whatever microscopic space of time I had but now I feel like I need a room of my own and quiet to think before I can write the kind of personal essay style writing I used to love to do. Is that just resistance, the way so many of us say we could write a book we just don't have the time. But I honestly feel like I can do other types of immersive writing, scholarly, every creative, but I don't have the distance to write about my life now. The "headspace" I think people sometimes call it? A quiet stretch of a half hour or so...without interruptions, without spilled cranberry juice or lost shoes.

I'm not asking for the empty space from high school that used to drive me to write. The space where where often late at night there was no other choice, if you had something to say, then to write it down for yourself. It might be in a letter, but even then, the recipient would not read what you wrote for a few days at least, or the next day if you were going to pass it along in school. That kind of writing was a pause, a reflection. I'm not asking for that level of separation from the infinite demands of motherhood and the continual hounding urgent nagging pinging present of our hyperconnected age. The two together - motherhood & hyperconnectivity - leave so little space. 

Infinite demands: Petra is now on her third giant bowl of black beans and corn and it's not even 9 o'clock on Sunday morning. But I have to remind myself - this is much easier than breastfeeding! This is much easier than crawling, dust-bunny and penny eating toddler...we finally broke down and accepted my parents' old microwave this fall and so honestly all this means is jumping up from the computer to press a button and heat up another bowl and then make sure it's not too hot before I hand it to her. Each stage you have to remind yourself of other stages. Or you have neighbors and friends and relatives to tell you that it will get much harder. Just wait. This is the easy part, they always say, it will get harder. 

[My friend Vince and I had a early-baby days pact (we were the first in our college group to have kids) that we would not admit that those who said "You'll never sleep again" were in fact right.]

For the past year and a half, every spare minute I plunged into schoolwork. I read articles as I waited for Wally afterschool, I kept a notebook on my lap at dinner and jotted down ideas for papers. I thought for sure that as soon as I didn't have the direct, immediate pressure of a paper or presentation I would be full speed ahead again with my blog or at least my own writing. (And the word "own" is odd there, meaning, I suppose, writing I choose to do not writing someone is asking me to do, even though I asked to do it by applying to Fordham, so more on that later.) Instead every spare minute now I turn instead to hang up a jacket! Corral pieces of plastic broccoli and hand soak a handknit blanket that should never have been brought outside. In the past few weeks I've hauled three massive carts-full of stuff to Goodwill, and criss-crossed around the city various items I borrowed or baby items someone else could use. I welled up bringing down the crib to the bulk garbage. I asked around and posted it online but it has been through four kids (starting with my niece whose nearly twelve) and finally concerns for changing safety regulations convinced me to just throw it out. I hesitated for a few days over the mattress thinking I'd make a cozy reading nook like I'd seen online but finally I just said, no, no, no, out, it has to go out, I'm never going to make that nook, we don't really have nooks in our apartment and the pillows will never stay on it, it will never look like those pictures. (What would you do with an opened package of swim diapers? I've asked about 30 people if they want it and finally someone does but I am just really curious if this would be an automatic, no-guilt garbage chuck for most people.) 

My friend wrote this last summer and said I could post it. 

"So many of your posts are about the stressing of being a woman and raising kids. It is so HARD. I feel like woman always say that but language doesn't fully convey the frantic effort, the lost sleep, the lost opportunities to even be a human distinct from motherhood. But I wanted to tell you that it gets better which I'm sure people have said but it is hard to truly KNOW and FEEL. I found the lack of space to just think one non-kid related thought or to get a full night of sleep so destructive to my sense of well being. Not to say that you are ever fully whole again, but last night I read on the sofa - read the New Yorker and news on austerity in Greece! And then [my husband] and I had a conversion on random things like the racism inherent in how we talk about economics in Europe and my quest for non-fiction books that talk about food. I felt totally happy and totally clear and calm. It was amazing and beautiful. These moments aren't common but they aren't non existent either."

Sometimes I think one of the odd by-products of having a big gap between two kids is that you forget, with the second one, what stage you are in. You think - I'm past the up-all-night, can't take a shower by myself, eat standing up phase - but then you remember when Wally was this age he woke up every day at 4:30 am - up, up, up for the day. Not like some versions of sleep trauma where I hear people say "Yeah it's awful she gets up every day at 6" and I say - "What do you do in the morning? (especially if like me they live in an apartment and there is the problem of noise and neighbors). And they say, "No, she goes back to sleep, but I mean she wakes us up." 

But I've also more and more accepted that there are problems we want to keep (no, I can't say accepted that because I supposedly accepted that here) but I am putting certain sleep issues into that category. More on that in the future, or maybe it's not interesting enough to delve into. 

Is burnt French toast? 

Because that is what I keep thinking about and laughing about right at this moment. It's so typical and so much like my friend wrote how "language doesn't fully convey the frantic effort" and although this looks like an instagram post I might question I also feel like it truly captures the invisible effort. It reminds me of my grandmother Eleanor Riordan who felt "unappreciated" and of a conversation I had with my aunt, mother of three, who said it's not that she doesn't want to do all these things for her children, it's the fact that it's invisible. And that is often how I feel (reading The Second Shift published in 1989 and wondering how far, if at all, we've advanced in the 27 years since then) and wondering why motherhood is seemingly off the table as a discussion in the academy and it's how I feel this morning after spending nearly an hour making French toast for the kids and then finally, finally sitting down to eat one piece myself but when I finally got to (after attending to a million requests), here's what it looked like. 

So do you want someone to say, "Thank you for eating the one little dried up piece of burnt French toast after everyone else has had enough and gone on to do other fun stuff while you eat standing at the sink doing dishes?" No. Not really. 

Do you want to eat it in silence without outside recognition but with some kind of solemn attention (you yourself give it) as symbolic of all the minute sacrifices you make on a daily basis? (Obviously not.)



So what do you want? I guess someone to laugh and say their most elegant breakfast of the week looks like this, too.