Hard is hard.
Anne Lamott is amazing.
She is amazing because she is real and funny and speaks to my heart in a way that makes her a kindred spirit, even though I have never met her and can only read her books in wonder and gratitude.
She is also amazing because she posted this as her Facebook status. This is my favorite part:
I said, “Stop! That is crazy talk. Suffering is suffering.”
How did we get so brainwashed that we can’t even say, “I am climbing out of my skin; and I hate this, and I need extreme comfort right now, even though that may not be convenient for everyone else in this family?” And how do we get back the right and ability to care for ourselves when we are very down and uncomfortable, the way we would for a friend–the way you would take care of me–even though 90% of the world may be in worse shape?”
Somehow we–you know who you are–have become conditioned to comparative suffering. Stiff-upper-lip it, kid. Keep calm and carry on. You think YOU got problems?
We have become conditioned to expect, not empathy and support, but the rebuke of gratitude (one of the worst reverse-psychology tricks ever): You should be thankful for what you do have. Having a rough day? A rough year? Think of all the people who suffer more than you, and shut your trap. Squirrel those problems away till you really have something to complain about.
Perspective is good. Periodically we need to lift ourselves out of our bodies and see our problems in a greater context. This is healing. And healthy.
But not ALL THE TIME. It’s okay to feel crabby. Or exhausted. Or fed up. Or enraged at futility and inefficiency and inconsiderateness.
We don’t have to stiff-upper-lip it.
Hard is hard, peeps. At the end of her status, Anne invited people to share their complaints. Here’s mine:
I went away for the weekend with my amazing husband to a glorious and beautiful–and QUIET–lodge in the Cascades.
My children went to my in-laws’ house.
We came back refreshed. Rested (as in, we actually slept). Restored to our grown-up selves, the ones who can eat when they want, take a bath or a nap in the afternoon, and get out of the house in less than 20 minutes.
My children, the in-laws promised, were angelic. No fussing. No crying. (No napping either, which makes the first two minor miracles.)
My son proceeded to have two meltdowns in 90 minutes, thrashing and wailing and fighting us for…first trying to change his diaper and then for taking him out of the bathtub.
By the second meltdown, I yelled. “KNOCK IT OFF.”
Which produced a fantastic result: he cried harder; my daughter started crying, and I then had to apologize and calm him down, and spent the rest of the evening hating my impatient mom-self.
Yesterday, Jamie had a couple of near-meltdowns–I managed to help him defuse the emotions–and Audrey had a mega-meltdown, which resulted in us not even being able to leave the house.
The problem with two-year-olds is that they lack consistency (they say they want something, then behave as if the opposite is true–or protest violently when offered it), logic, reason, and volume control.
The problem with parenting is that kids seem to be great for everyone else. Nearly every meltdown, tantrum, fit of hysteria seems to need to happen in my presence.
Lest you, dear reader, think I exaggerate, I have testimonials from nannies, grandparents, and others who have spent significant time with my children both with and without me, that support the above statement.
This is karmically unfair. It is also completely exhausting.
I’m sure many of you are thinking, “It’s just a phase.” Or, “Kids are always worse for their parents.” Or, “You should try [insert parenting strategy].”
First of all, I know it’s a phase. Everything is a phase, right? But when the “every time I transition (out of the bathtub, into the bathroom to wash hands before meals, into the stroller after time at a playground, etc.) it is a complete surprise and I must throw an epic tantrum” goes on for FIVE MONTHS–consider how many transitions per day that accounts for–I start wondering when the phase will end. Freshman year of college?
Secondly, the fact that other kids are also worse for their own parents does nothing to make me feel better. In fact, I apologize on behalf of kids everywhere to their parents, and especially to my own parents, because God knows I never would have talked back to my own Nana, Grampy, Grandma, or Grandpa, but you guys were fair game. I am so, so, so sorry.
Thirdly, and I don’t mean to sound snotty here, but when I encounter a problem or conflict, my default strategy is research. I read forums, books, articles, blogs. If I’m venting to you about some behavior my kid has, chances are I’ve already tried a gazillion (approximate) strategies and NONE OF THEM WORK. Otherwise I wouldn’t still be venting.
I’m having one of those moments when I am OVER IT, friends. Over the cajoling and the calming voice and the talking to my kids about their Big Feelings. It’s exhausting. It’s also exhausting to have to do this when there are two other kids who are pulling on my pant leg, asking me to help or fetch or lift or read or payattentionpayattentionpayattention. Last week I wondered if I would ever exercise or blog again. (This blog brought to you courtesy of staying up way past bedtime.)
And one two-year-old’s sensitivity and insecurity and attachment to us result in crying out for Mama or Daddy sometimes six or seven times before this child goes to sleep. And we count to as many as we can stand before we head up the stairs again, to tuck in and unearth the stuffed animal that is now buried under blankets because the child runs laps in the crib and then can’t find the special toy. We try to ignore. We tried the gradual, “I’ll stand in the doorway and you can tuck yourself in.” But that has ceased to work, and the wailing continues until we tuck in for the umpteenth time.
I have read enough parenting advice to know this is partly our fault. We have enabled this behavior, so to bemoan its existence seems hypocritical. Still, it is so hard to balance the frustration and uncertainty of where this phase will end with the image of my two-year-old standing in footie pjs and calling into the dark, wondering if this is the time Mama or Daddy don’t come.
And on top of all of this, whenever I try to be actually organized and stage something for use later, it inevitably gets moved by a child to a completely unexpected location, rendering my attempt at efficiency actually detrimental to moving things along. (Tonight it was getting the pjs ready. By pj time, one beloved set had disappeared and that child had to make do with not-first-choice pjs. I eventually found them buried in the sweatshirt bin.)
Anne Lamott, I want to take care of myself. I really do. I even bristle when well-meaning people in my life tell me, “Take care of yourself,” as though I had forgotten and all I needed was a reminder to get back on track. I am trying, day by day and hour by hour, to take care of myself. To balance my kids’ needs, my husband’s needs, my friends’ and families’ needs, my students’ needs, my volunteering needs, and my needs. I don’t need to be reminded. I need a break.
Don’t we all need to do this for each other?
We all need the breaks, and we all need to give each other breaks. Maybe it looks like a dance, or subbing in for a game. I’m rested and okay for the moment; you look a little haggard and the ends of your hair are on fire. SUB! We’ll switch again later, when I’m crying on my couch and even basic errands get me down.
Can we put ourselves back on the To-Do list, as you suggest? Can we make time for exercise, for quilting, for baking, for meditating, for reading, for writing, for doing for ourselves what we are quick to do for others?
Can we also stop feeling bad about feeling bad? Rating our struggles against someone else’s demeans our experiences. It also unfairly characterizes others as superhuman, when really, we all shuffle and misstep and fall, and get up, and keep moving.
May we (and feel free to remind me of this later, when I’m all martyred and tired and wondering when this phase will end) link arms, and be as kind to ourselves as we are to our dearest friends. May we hold up our hands and say, “No thank you, it’s my turn,” like I tell my toddlers, and engage in radical self-care.
Step 1: Ending this ridiculously long post and going to bed.