Thursday, April 28, 2016

Parenting, Panic, and the Boredom That Never Came

Twenty years ago at a summer work get-together, a woman made an announcement in the middle of our circle of lawn chairs. She had just had a baby, and I watched her get up from her chair, sweating glass of hard lemonade in her hand, without clearing her throat she stood and said, "I am so freakin' bored with this staying at home business that I cannot wait for my six weeks to end!"

Glasses clinked all around, and I, I pushed my chair a leeeeeeeeeeetle bit out of the circle because my reaction was this:

This is so hard
I can't be bored in between the panic and terror of keeping my baby alive
I want to cry because I'm not bored

I never took to parenting like that, with my feet hitting the floor. It's been so hard for me, all of it, from the first second of the labor and delivery through bringing them home and seeing that I was the ultimate guard at the gate of life and death for them.

My kids couldn't do anything without me. The weight, the fear, the responsibility, I would cry in between blow-out diaper changes, screaming baby baths (from both of us), health-mandated stroller walks, and trembling moments that I had not secured my infants into their baby bucket Graco car seat the way the free clinic at the police station had shown me.

I was a wreck. I prayed for boredom. Boredom would mean that I had this. When would it come? That feeling of being on automatic pilot and looking around for something to do. Because, for me, there was never not anything to do. Piles of laundry there, dishes spilling out of the dish rack, a refrigerator filled with expired foods but empty of fresh and healthy.

A friend at the time told me that I would learn about planning out my time and become more efficient at home if I worked part-time. So I applied at a garden center. It was 15 minutes from my house and I went in, filled out an application (no online 20 years ago... knotty-veined hands up if you remember applying for a job in person), and believe it or not I WAS HIRED before I put the cap back on their pen.

I could begin right away because they needed workers during the day. My mother was thrilled to watch our (hers and mine, as she saw it) new baby, and on a morning later that week, I went in to work at a warm, domed indoor garden center.

It was easy to get used to the meditative sounds of automatic sprinklers turning on at intervals. Every time I heard the soft hiss of spray, I breathed out sweet relaxation. The mist together with the sun-warmed air was a free oxygen facial. I liked it, I liked this job. Bonus would be a paycheck and I felt pretty damn good that day.

After I put in my four hour shift, I drove home, smiling. Happy. Feeling good. Parking the car and running up the stairs back home, I unlocked the door to a baby wailing for me. How long was he crying like that, so hard? I could see the lie on my mother's face despite her answer of, "He just started." His eyes were too puffy, too red, for "just now." To calm him down took a block of time. And soon it would be 4:00 and we had to eat, and the baths and laundry and groceries and mail and all of it had to be done. And I couldn't. It was too much.

My mother told me we would adjust, we could try again.

But I knew, no. I was already breathless in anticipation of another afternoon like this tomorrow. I called the garden center and told them I had made a mistake.

Next year might be better for me. They told me they'd keep my application on file.

That was 20 years ago. I never went back.

The boredom I wished for? It's never come.

I would blame myself for not being able to get a hang of this parenting thing. Wondering why some could do what I couldn't do. My therapist at the time told me to I could ask myself that question until I was blue in the face because the only answer that mattered is that I needed to do what kept me from losing my mind.

Since then, I've worked from home and have taken jobs with hours in the evening or weekends so my spouse can be home with our three. This is what helped me keep a grip on the spinning planet that surrounds me.

I know now that my personality is one where this role of mothering threw me into high alert. I've been hanging from the ceiling ever since that 1-2-3 push and this is my way. I can't scale back and I can't ohmmm my way into serene sighs. I'm a panter, a rabbit's-rate heart beater. I know that I'm fortunate that I've been able to patch together jobs enough to allow me to contribute. I know how lucky I am.

But realizing how statistically many women can't do what I'm able to do with snatching part time hours here and there, doesn't erase the negative self talk of thinking that not working is a reflection of inability or lack of competence.

I am proud of all of us, all that we do while mothering: the ones who work and take care of home and children. The ones who handle all that running a home requires. I am proud of all of us, because we get 24 hours and somehow we do 36 hours worth of work inside that timeframe.

We are amazing. And we need to look away from the scenarios that threaten to tell us otherwise. We are doing what is not easy. In the 20 years of parenting, I have not mastered anything. The boredom I sought, thinking it would show I had this thing figured out, has yet to show up at my door.

Every morning I wake up, and I know, today will be nothing like the one before, and the only boredom I've felt was this past summer when we rented Noah.

And it was then that I understood that woman from the party years ago. Because though I didn't have a hard lemonade in my hand I did have a Miller, and I felt that compulsion she must have had to confess the irrepressible. I stood up from my Costco lounger and without warning, had an announcement of my own to make:

"Jesus Mary Joseph I am so freakin' bored with this snake-slinging while trapped on a boat that I cannot wait for these two hours to end!"

I get you, Ms. Hard Lemonade. I get you.

* * *


  1. I've never, ever been bored with mothering. It's all been a giant, fascinating lab experiment. Best science project I've ever done. But yeah, that movie was a snoozer. :-)

    1. Never bored, always playing beat the clock!!

  2. I completely understand. While I've been teaching for most of my children's lives, when they were small I was able to work part time so they could stay home with their dad - then he would go to work. It was the only way I could manage that stomach sinking feeling I've always had when I was worried they weren't being taken care of because I was taking care of someone else's children.



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