It is no secret that I have struggled a lot this year. I have found the second year of motherhood so, so much harder than the first. Mothering two babies is intense, but I managed it by staying in the house a lot and taking on absolutely no extra commitments. This year, that hasn't felt like an option.
I don't know. I find toddlers much harder to handle than babies, but the expectation seems to be that my life should be getting back to 'normal', now. People are asking me to do stuff again, stuff it's impossible to say no to. The expectation seems to be that after having kids for two years, I should be able to manage normal human responsibilities again. I should have hit my stride. And I did, I guess, but this year I feel like my stride sort of hit me back.
This seems to have all started about the time I went back to work (two days a week, people, two days a week). I feel like that was the milestone that meant I had to start carrying my load again - socially, in the extended family, at church and yeah, just in my own head. I feel like I can no longer say 'no, I can't do that totally reasonable thing you've just asked me to because I am TOO OVERWHELMED by my life' when I'm also saying 'please relate to me as a serious, professional woman'.
I feel like I somehow just should be able to manage my life now: get myself places on time; cook for the sick; all the stuff I joked about here. But that doesn't seem to be how things are. This is partly because work - previously an annoying hum in the background of my life - has suddenly gone crazy. I was working hard before, but now I can feel it taking me over. It has never stopped been a significant aspect of my life, obviously, but it feels very front and centre now, even when I'm not physically there. If work is the shark swimming around in my subconscious, it has gone from feeling like this:
|it's there, but I can sort of ignore it when I'm not looking directly at it|
|TRY IGNORING ME NOW, CLAUDIA!|
I'm not doing so well.
Last week, every single minute of every single day was scheduled. I don't mean scheduled activities like Toddler Yoga (don't you know me at all?) but we had friends over every day and we were busy every evening and on Saturday too, and this introvert does not cope well with that much contact with other humans and by the end of it I was pretty much in dissociative fugue.
Speaking of having friends over, can I please digress here? I have no idea how everyone else manages to do friendship at this point in their lives. I get it in my head - theoretically, I can see that having a close-knit group of local friends who are fighting the Poop Wars along with me would be by far the best way to survive with my sanity intact. But how am I supposed to make that work, timewise? This is a non-rhetorical question. I really want to know. We have free time in the morning. We can do stuff between about 10 and 12:30; 1 at the latest. The afternoons are a write-off because of naps and dinner and baths (when they're lucky) and some struggles with evening behaviour. I'm at work Wednesdays and Fridays. We always see my good friend H and her son and go to the library on Thursdays. This leaves me with 5 other hours in the week when I can see people or run errands. I used all 5 of them last week to do friend-y things. The total wall-to-wall scheduling of my days at home nearly killed me, even though I was extremely glad to be able to invest the time in those friendships.
I guess I just kind of wonder - those of you who have that kind of close-knit local support group, how do you make that work, timewise? How do you find the hours in the day to put in that kind of commitment? None of my friends are friends with each other. So I try and I try, but I'm putting things into my diary four weeks in advance because I just can't seem to make the numbers add up to do it any other way. Or is that kind of thing (where you are always at each others' houses, cooking each other meals and putting each others' kids to bed so that you can all have frequent date nights) just an urban (okay, suburban) legend? Because it feel like it is the way motherhood is supposed to workand I feel like the only one who doesn't have it. Do people really have that, or are lots and lots of people just lying about their village? Curious minds want to know. Okay, digression over.
So. Last week. Part of the reason I was so busy was that one of my friends had been scheduled to speak at a church prayer meeting but was sick and asked me to fill in for her. I'm going to be honest - I really didn't want to do it. It wasn't our church, I didn't know anybody and even though it was just a short slot about the school we're trying to start, it was a commitment I didn't really want. When she asked me to do it, I thought straw, meet camel's back. I wrestled and wrestled with my conscience about whether I should just say no way! and in the end I decided that no, I really had to do this, there was no other option. My conscience won.
In the argument with my conscience, what I neglected to do was actually check my diary for that evening. That is how I forgot that we had invited my sister's mother-in-law (henceforth MSMIL, who is visiting the UK at the moment, and whom I like very much) over for dinner on Tuesday night. So. At 10:05 am Tuesday, I was racing around the kitchen, finishing up the breakfast cleanup in preparation for a visit from my new friend F at 10, ie five minutes ago. I then had to race out to the lounge in response to a bellow of rage from Blue that always, always means that Pink has bitten him. Sure enough, his little hand had teeth marks. I drew him into me and he cried and cried next to my ear while I patted him. For thirty seconds, because then the phone rang. I would have left it, except I thought it was probably F, lost and asking for directions. With Blue bellowing in one ear, I was then rather surprised to hear MSMIL's voice asking me 'so, I was wondering what time you are going to come and pick me up this evening'. Indeed.
I felt terrible - terrible. By that stage, I absolutely couldn't cancel the night's engagement. I also couldn't really hear her because of the screaming. I also couldn't ask her to phone back because F was due five minutes ago. So I apologised profusely and... rescheduled. For Thursday.
I enjoyed the time with F and got through the thing in the evening. Wednesday was definitely a shark-attack day at work. All the time there's a nagging voice in my head saying 'you have to make something suitably apologetically nice for dinner tomorrow!' but I mostly ignored it. Got home late. Rummaged through the freezer. Found a box labelled 'pie insides' and I realised that it was this delicious thing - chicken, wine, rosemary, tarragon - just waiting to be put under a pastry lid. (Pastry from the shop, okay? Pastry from the shop). Definitely apologetic enough. I rejoiced.
Thursday morning came, and I took it out of the freezer to thaw before its date with a pie dish and a hot oven. At this point, I thought 'hmmm, I wonder when I made this?' and realised - I don't think I've made this recipe since before the babies. We used to have a regular weekly Thursday Pie Night - not always actually pie, but each week I would try a new recipe and John would attempt to get home before it congealed. This, an actual pie, was the dish for which pie night was named and it was both of our favourites. And I was pretty sure that I hadn't made it once since we became parents. That meant that I was standing and looking at two-and-a-half-year-old pie insides, unable to think of any other options for dinner, torn between potential botulism and a walk of shame to the supermarket chiller cabinet for something ready made. And really, I didn't want either. I just wanted to sit on the sofa and eat Doritos. I looked and looked at it, trying to make up my mind and feeling like a big pile of poo. Iwanted to cry great big heaving sobs at the tragedy of this frozen lump of food.
How did I get to this point? I wondered. How can I be so utterly unable to manage my life that one dinner guest and one unexpected evening engagement is enough to tip me over the edge? I still don't have the answer to that question. I just know that it is enough to tip me over the edge. As I get older, I'm becoming more aware of my own limitations, and losing hope that I will ever become any sort of person than the one I am. What I haven't figured out is how to make it all work, or failing that, how to say 'I'm glad you can cope with preschoolers and work and still have energy left over for other social stuff but I cannot'.
I struggle with understanding my own motivations for saying yes and saying no, too. Am I saying no because I'm lazy? Am I saying yes because I want other people to think that I'm on top of things, even when I'm not? There's a fine line, somewhere, between being real and being lazy. I don't know where that line is, but I always feel like I'm on the wrong side of it, no matter where I fall. Usually it feels like I'm saying yes because I have no other choice, and then I hate myself for not miraculously finding some other way of getting out of stuff while not letting anybody down. Yeah, that's really going to happen.
I do know that the busier I am, the harder it is to just relax and enjoy being with my kids. And the more I enjoy them, the better mother I am. No kidding, Claudia. Toddlers are hard work, obviously, but they are also uniquely delightful. There's something incredible about being there alongside two children while they wake up from the long sleep of infancy, as their gaze starts to turn outwards, as they begin to notice and narrate their strange and fabulous little world. I can finally start to see what is going on in their tiny little heads, see what is important to them, and it's both hilarious and a revelation. Mostly, they are thinking about animals, it seems, or their grandmothers. Pink put three words together for the first time a few months ago, saying bye-bye, big raaaah! to the lion sculpture at our local park. Blue's speech has been a bit slower, and he only did three words together for the first time last week. At first, I thought it was just toddler word salad - he came up with bath cat swimming! But then I looked and realised that he was tummy-down in his bath, thrashing his arms and legs and saying Miaaaoooowww! over and over again. Bath cat swimming, indeed. I love that crazy boy.
I want to spend my time with them. But I've got to live in this world, too, I've got to go to work so that they can see their father on Wednesdays and Fridays, I've got to care about people outside of my own nuclear family even when I don't know how. I'm always glad I did it later, I just never want to do it right now.
So, in the end, I hacked off a bit of the frozen pie insides with a wooden spoon and ate the chunk, ice crystals and all. Food poisoning takes about six to nine hours to kick in, and it was still ten hours until dinner, so I figured that if I was still okay by the time I was pre-heating the oven, well, so was the pie. I was fine. The pie was delicious, and we all cleaned our plates. None of us got so much as a twinge (well, if MSMIL did, she never told me). It made me think: we should really institute Thursday Pie Night again. And we should invite friends. We should do it every week! And then we can swap around to different people's houses! It will be such a great way to get to know people! Okay, I'll start thinking about babysitters - right, who will we invite?
.... Um, yeah. Balance. Not going to find it that way, Claudia. Which is a shame, because it really would be fun; you know, if I was someone utterly different from the person I actually am. Maybe we can do it later. Maybe life won't always feel this busy. Maybe I'll get my work under control. Maybe the tantrums will stop. Maybe I'll suddenly find that I'm sliding along in a groove after all. Maybe things will feel manageable again soon, and we can start it up in what, six months time? Right now, that feels like a great idea. But then I look at everything, and realise that nothing is going to change any time soon. This stage, this second-year-of-motherhood feeling, is already well into my third year. Maybe it's not the stage; maybe it's just me. Which is fine, I guess - if I can work out how to slow down enough to enjoy the wonderful parts of toddler-ing and not be chafing after a different sort of life, after being a different version of myself who would somehow manage all of this better. There is a lot about this time of life that is hard, but I want to enjoy the good parts as much as I can.
So don't take it personally, but I won't be inviting you over for regular group dinners. Or, if I do, pre-book an appointment to see a gastrointestinal specialist. You'll probably be eating two-and-a-half-year-old pie.