Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas. I have a gift for you...

We were privileged to attend a sah-weet Hannukuh party tonight. The candles were lit, the Macabees were appreciated, the latkes were downed. It was a delight.

At said party my friend, Danielle, who is a senior in high school, asked me as I bounced Rog on my hip: "Do you like this stage of your life?" Good question. I rambled on for five minutes (I'm sure she was thinking 'a simple yes or no would have sufficed') about what a hard adjustment it was from career teacher to career mother. About teaching myself that productivity and checking things off a to-do list are not the only ways to measure hard work, happiness, and success.

Probably the best way I could have answered Danielle would have been to describe my day to her. I woke up at 7 a.m. to Rogie crying upstairs. I ran up the stairs, pulled him out of bed, and sat on the couch in the dark to feed him. I closed my eyes and was dreaming of hopping back into bed in ten minutes when I heard the jingle bells on Blaine's door. Aw, man! Blaine up at 7 a.m. isn't my favorite thing. But he was sweet and cheerful so I couldn't be too upset. After Rog feasted I sat him up to burp. But instead my poor little sickling coughed and coughed. And coughed. And puked up every last drop of that milk that my body had saved up for him all night. (The only thing more sad than wasted breast milk is a baby that can't stop coughing.) Sweet Blaine ran to the top of stairs and yelled (to his Dad, also sick in bed): "Dad! Bring a towel!" And thus our day began.

We drove to Grammy's so I could sew. The house quickly filled with family--those in town for the holidays, plus friends, plus cousins. The day proceeded something like this: cut out fabric, stop Blaine from stealing a toy. Thread the bobbin, nurse the baby. Stitch one side of the project, sit with Blaine for 30 minutes to persuade him to finish his lunch. Stitch the other side, put the baby down for his nap. Cut finger with fabric scissors, change Blaine's stinky diaper. Press pocket for project, comfort Rog (who had coughed himself awake). Pin pocket to rest of project, change another stinky diaper. Hem edges, tell Blaine "that's enough marshmallows." Figure out why sewing machine is stuck, feed Rog lentils. Cut loose threads off project, put baby back down for a nap. Finally by 5 p.m. I had two finished somethings (can't tell 'til the 26th!).

The crazy part, I could have told Danielle, is that today I had a TON of help. I had Aunt Sally to rock Rog back to sleep and make me a deluxe salad for lunch. I had Aunt Melissa to help Blaine decorate a graham cracker house. I had Ami to press the edges of my fabric when I just couldn't bear to do it anymore. And even with all that help it was still hard, still full of distraction, still hard to feel productive or efficient.

I see a lot of me in Danielle. We are super-driven, slightly obsessive, check-list oriented. "Some days," I told her, "I just have to hide my planner from myself and not think about a to-do list. Because I've finally realized that this stage of life is so fleeting and I don't want to waste it. So some days all you do is play trains with your two-year-old and feed your baby and that's it. And that's OK.

What I didn't tell Danielle about was the conversation I started at Grammy's house today. It began with my announcement: "I would just like to say that I have been on the verge of tears all day because I was just sure that you were all judging me for being a negligent mother. Blaine isn't napping--instead he's eating his weight in gum drops. And then I realized that none of you have said or done anything to indicate that you think I am a bad mom and that I am just sad about not meeting my own expectations and I am imposing that judgment on you." And so we talked about expectations and ideals and choosing battles and how what is important to one mother can differ from what is important to another--and they can both be right. I had caught myself doing that same thing with Taylor last week. When I felt frustrated with my performance as career mother I cried, "I'm just not meeting your expectations." And then realized that Taylor hadn't uttered a word of complaint. It was me, and I was pinning it on him.
The most critical thing I realized in all of this is that I assume people are judging me because I am judging them. I think that's something we all struggle with. For me, this vice is right up there with lack of punctuality (that is to say, it has plagued me all my life). So, dear world. For Christmas this year I am giving you the gift of refraining from judgment. I pledge to stop being mentally hard on people--including myself.

So, Danielle. That's the extra long answer. I love this phase of my life. It is the hardest yet (and I imagine the next phase will feel harder still). But it is full of opportunity and laughter and improvement and cuteness and fulfillment and squishy baby cheeks and faith and cuddles and goodness and blessings. My children are growing by leaps and bounds. And, gratefully, so am I.


Vicky said...

Anne, it's interesting that this was the first thing I read this morning after a tearful night of explaining to my husband why I'm a bad mom. And now I realize that he hasn't complained about my performance, so it's just me that I'm disappointing. I suppose I should take your Christmas gift to the world and try to give it to myself. Why is that so hard?

families are forever said...

Thank-you! Danette

Mrs. Cropper said...

Why IS it so hard? I have lots of ideas about that--none of them super concrete. I think being judgemental is part of the "natural man" that we have to overcome. I think we live in a society filled with people who want to do more and be better (which is obviously a good thing) and who are too hard on themselves if they aren't perfect. I think women are particularly plagued by this. I think we compare our individual weaknesses to the collective strengths of others.

Anyway, I hear ya sister. Have a great Christmas!

jeanine said...

Anne this post was perfect. I'm such a check-list person as well! It's hard to get used to the idea that some days can be "productive" even when all we do is play and cuddle.