The perfect thought at the perfectly wrong time

24 March 2014

choosing not to "have it all"

I'm reading Jennifer Senior's All Joy and No Fun and finding it so incredibly relevant. I just finished a section about working from home. Senior writes that on the one hand, there is the camp who says that women are their own worst enemy when it comes to professional and life achievement and they need to stop acting oppressed, and the other camp that believes that society and the system have made things rather impossible for women.

I love what Senior has to say about this: "There's truth to both arguments. They're hardly mutually exclusive. Yet this question tends to get framed, rather tiresomely, as one of how and whether women can 'have it all,' when the fact of the matter is that most women--and men, for that matter--are simply trying to keep body and soul together. The phrase 'having it all' has little to do with what women want. If anything, it's a reflection of a widespread and misplaced cultural belief, shared by men and women alike: that we, as middle-class Americans, have been given infinite promise, and it's our obligation to exploit every ounce of it. 'Having it all' is the phrase of a culture that, as Adam Phillips implies in Missing Out, is tyrannized by the idea of its own potential" (pg. 41).

Senior discusses the unique dilemma of working from home, as well. The flexibility of working from home is undeniably advantageous in many ways, but Senior points out many of the complications that result from trying to parent and work from home concurrently. The everyday minutiae of child care involves both anxiety and boredom, and without a structured environment, one that provides rules, goals, and feedback, it's hard to achieve a sense of success, autonomy, and satisfaction that we find so rewarding. If your job is good at providing the structure for you to succeed, and even if it isn't, then working on its own in a dedicated time and place can be a lot more attractive and pleasant than staying home with your kid in a lot of very real ways. Children have limited attention spans, their needs are always changing, they are always around, and they are completely uncivilized by the standards of adult society. Senior quotes Csikzentmihalyi, who says "Being a parent consists, in large part, of correcting the growth pattern of a person who is not necessarily ready to live in a civilized society."

The non-physical but real borders between work and family life are fundamentally dissolving, and it's stressing us out and putting us on literally endless guilt trips. This is what really spoke to me about Senior's discussion of the trouble with working from home, and ultimately it's why I chose to quit and stay at home with my child. At times when I am feeling the boredom that goes along with spending most of my time in the company of one very inarticulate two-year-old, I think I should be doing more. I should be filling all of my time with productive and important things, no? I think, "Maybe I should be working and earning money right now! If I'm not, I'm worthless!" And I feel bad that I'm not contributing as much to the family economy by bringing in a full-time income. (Although I do feel like I need to justify myself often and at this moment in this discussion by noting that I still do freelance work on the side and am not completely absent of any income or work-life conflict as a result.)

But me working from home, especially as the demands at work seemed ever-increasing, was too much for me and my family. Even though theoretically, my child's needs come first, often work's call was more urgent and essentially easier to respond to. Constant interruptions and multitasking disrupted my sense of accomplishment to the point that I felt like I could never relax and call a day "finished." Work never went away and the boundaries were hard to establish for myself and maintain. I always felt guilty that my work was negatively affected by having a child around with his own set of constant demands. I won't try to lie, either, and say that it wasn't affected. I was a better employee before I had a kid, I think. Maybe the quality of my work was still competent by others' standards once I became a work-from-home mom, and considering how hard I tried (not a little because of my guilt about it), my work was probably very comparable to coworkers' from an objective standpoint. But having a child and trying to work from home at the same time and in the same space does inevitably mean that both pursuits are negatively impacted.

At its core, I believe this arrangement is unsustainable, at least for me and my family. I guess I can't say so about society at large, but it seems like a precarious establishment. I want every mom I know who works from home to join me, because even though we're low-income now, I'm not living with constant guilt and stress hanging over my head all the time. I hope I'm a nicer wife and mom for it. I'm grateful, in a way, for a kid that has been relatively high-needs. His temperament and needs made the conflict between work and parenting even more profound and potent, and ultimately I think it was my sense that I wasn't meeting his needs that prompted me to take the leap and seize any opportunity to remove that conflict.

In our societies, families build financial lives that depend on two incomes, and that doesn't really give us the freedom to make the choice. It's always hard to go from more to less, but if you've never had more, it doesn't seem like a sacrifice. So at least for me (because no matter how you slice the pie, being a parent is tough), here's to living poor and not having it all.


11 March 2014

adventures in breastfeeding

I mentioned in a post on the other blog that I could say a lot about nursing in general. So if you're not into that topic, don't read on. Fair warning.

A couple of weeks ago, we got back from a week-long trip to Seattle to visit family. When we returned, we had so much laundry. I decided I wanted to take it to the laundromat to get through it quicker, so we went to one down the street. It was somewhat late, and there weren't too many people there. A small family with an adolescent girl were among the other patrons. At one point, Shep got tired and wanted to nurse. I nursed him without a cover, and I noticed when he was about to finish that the adolescent girl's phone was pointed in my direction and a light next to the camera was flashing. When I looked over, she quickly moved her phone away from me.

I guess she was taking a picture of me breastfeeding in public without a cover?

Shepherd is 23 months old and still nurses quite a bit. I neither encourage nor discourage it. Sometimes I really wish he'd wean, but other times I really value nursing for the intimacy, quietness, and peace with this crazy toddler who seems to love hitting and throwing things.

I used to be this hyper-modest person, so it's kind of unimaginable to think that I've transformed into this heathen who bares her boobs in public. But when you have a kid latched to your nipple as often as mine has been for two years straight, it kind of just becomes about whatever is most convenient and effective, the shocked audience be damned.

I guess my point here is that I'm not trying to be counter-culture; I'm just trying to do what I think works for my child and for our family, like every parent. I used to be among those who thought it was weird even when a woman was wearing a cover to nurse, and now I'm shocked that women use covers in darkened, private mother's rooms around other nursing moms. Why are we making it so much harder on each other and ourselves to do something that should be a fairly normal part of caring for babies and sometimes toddlers? (No wonder so many people aren't able to breastfeed successfully!) I wish it weren't such a topic of attention. Can we just get over it? I'm nursing my kid still, and I'm doing it in the middle of the grocery store, the laundromat, or wherever my kid wants to nurse. And yes, I usually am doing it these days without a cover. Because I'd rather do that than deal with a tantrum or a whiny, fussy kid, and I'd rather not deal with the hassle and attention-grabbing nature of a cover. So sue me?

27 February 2014

unemployment

I quit my job and my last day was three weeks ago tomorrow. That seems crazy to me because my life has felt like this since then: recovering from the serious disaster that I let our apartment deteriorate into (because I was quitting soon), going to Seattle, and then being sick.

I'm not sure if I feel like I have adjusted to our new normal yet.

I think I should have written about the experience of quitting more when it was actually happening, because it no longer feels like a big deal anymore. The whole process did feel kind of huge when it was happening. I mean, I was at that job for just shy of four and half years (4.38 if we want to be exact). So that's kind of a long time, right? I don't really expect to be missed much, though, partially because I took advantage of organizational transition to peace out. This means that my departure was administrated by a manager who I had virtually no relationship with before quitting. But he was actually really kind about the whole thing, and helped coordinate an effort to get me a zoo pass as a going-away gift. I will remember that.

People have asked me what I will do now that I'm not working. I guess I could have said I'm now doing freelance editing, because I am hoping to have a somewhat regular supply of freelance editing work. But I took a more vague approach (I haven't really gotten many freelance projects yet) and usually said "I don't know" while thinking in my head, "Maybe pay attention to my child?" Because the biggest reason I decided to quit was because it was so stressful to me to feel this pressure to be a good mom and a good employee at the same time, while working from home, and those pressures were converging all too often. Several of my coworkers, and lots of people in general, seem to be able to work it out. I honestly don't know how! I was always wondering "How do they do it?" And kudos to those for whom it works, but for me it seemed unsustainable.

I guess I used to care about accomplishing stuff and doing things and whatever, but the older I get, the more I think that my life philosophy should be to simplify, have less, do less, slow down, and reduce stress.

I've made good headway in this regard by wearing the same clothes every day, never washing my hair, not shaving my legs, not washing my face, not wearing make-up. That's kind of a joke, but it's kind of shamefully true, too.




03 December 2013

people are animals

Do you ever hear the argument in science about humans being animals? I feel like I hear this argument all the time. This morning I read something that said it's unnatural for humans to drink cow's milk  because other animals don't try it. If we're going with that logic, it's also weird that people extract honey from beehives or cook their meat, or any food processing whatsoever.

I don't want to believe this because I refuse to relinquish my (pure) maple syrup. That stuff is liquid gold, I tell you. (In price and in taste. Worth it.)

13 November 2013

the store is my playground

Taking S. to any store is pretty much the worst. This is discouraging, as I am only trying to take ONE child shopping here. (How does one do it with more young children in tow?)

Yesterday I decided I wanted to check out Goodwill. This was clearly a bad idea, but my brain forgot to remind me that I had a toddler in tow. So I carried on in blithe ignorance. I set S. down so I could browse while monitoring him in the corner of my eye, and then he booked it in the other direction, out of my sight. After lingering briefly, I went to follow him and couldn't spot where he'd gone.

Shortly thereafter, I hear over the store intercom, "Could the mother of a toddler with blonde hair and blue eyes please come to Customer Service?"

Hustling a bit, I headed to the front of the store and was greeted by the unmistakable sound of my child's crying. When I got to him, the employees told me he had run out the front doors before they retrieved him.

Cue judgey looks.

I thanked them and made a half-hearted attempt to resume shopping, but S. wasn't having it, so I left.

I felt angry and frustrated with S., but I think what actually made me angry and frustrated was how judged I felt by the employees of Goodwill. I appreciate them saving my kid from self-harm and all (I don't even know if he made it all the way outside, but I sort of doubt he would have gone that far?), but do I need a "Worst Mother of the Year" ribbon, too?

How do I keep my child from running amuck and either destroying property, escaping into the world at large, or otherwise ruining his life (and mine)? When riding in a shopping cart, he cries and wants out and does everything in his power to climb out; when I'm carrying him, he desires to leap to his death.

Do I need to get a child leash? Refuse to take him shopping without backup? Please advise.

The advent of taking S. places without my co-parent is actually a rather novel one, so maybe I just need more practice to perfect it. Until maybe June of this year, I pretty much refused to drive anywhere farther than approximately five minutes away without backup because S. was so hellbent on hating his car seat. If we had errands, I would make Tim drive and I'd sit in the back next to baby and try to distract him. Once I figured out how to do so, my methods usually involved nursing him by leaning over the car seat.

Reminiscing about nursing in the car on a regular basis actually makes me feel a bit better.

11 October 2013

door

Earlier this week, I took off the door handle to our apartment's bathroom door in an effort to make it fit and close better. The handle had been preventing the door from closing all the way, which is kind of awkward if you ever have someone over that needs to use your bathroom. Then somehow, I got stuck inside. Tim and S. were on the outside, and he ended up having to break the door itself in order to free me from my tiny prison. It wasn't so bad being stuck in there, though. I brushed my teeth, did my hair, even plucked my eyebrows a little. I might have showered, too, except there were no towels on my side of the door.

Now the problem I was trying to fix is worse than before, and the lesson I've learned is that trying to fix small things always creates bigger problems and so you should probably just resign yourself to living with lots of small issues and pretend they don't exist as much as possible. Good lesson, right?

10 October 2013

maternity shopping

Confession: I continue to shop for maternity clothes, even though it's been 18 months since I gestated anything in my uterus. Despite not knowing whether there will ever be another occupant in there.

It's kind of weird.

When I was actually pregnant, I was hoping to not need to buy maternity clothes for as long as possible. And if I ended up needing them, I was hoping to buy clothes that could be worn at any stage throughout pregnancy or even when I was no longer pregnant. One size fits all.

I like the one size fits all approach in theory, partially because I feel like a lot of my values are sort of defined by the concept of frugality, which is another topic I'd maybe like to blog about. If my baby doesn't wake up from his nap, I could post 4 times on my blog in a single day potentially. This activity seems excessive, though, and goes against my sense of economy and moderation.

Maybe because I never felt incredibly successful in my maternity shopping pursuits when I was pregnant, I have perpetuated them. I guess I'm thinking that if I find good ones, I could wear them now! And wear them later, if I ever get pregnant again! Win win, right? But am I really fooling anyone? Maybe this stuff is obviously meant for women who are actually pregnant and isn't designed to flatter my current shape, and maybe it just looks silly.

Perhaps my biggest motivation for caring about maternity wear now, despite not actually being pregnant (can I overstate that? I am not pregnant.), is that it's pretty hard to look cute when pregnant. Or at least that was my experience. I felt pretty sickly during almost the entirety of my pregnancy, so feeling gross made it hard to not look gross. Also, I gained A LOT of weight. I still can't explain or account for the 70 pounds that should have been more like 27, but you can bet I looked fat. When I looked in the mirror, I didn't see me and I felt ugly. No one likes to feel ugly.

I guess I'm interested in stocking up the next time around, if there's a next time around, because it gives me a sense of control. Maybe if I have a few cute maternity tops, I'll be able to avoid everything that I wasn't able to avoid the first time. When I think about being pregnant and giving birth now, there's very little that I would not go back and change. I think there might have been genuinely good moments the first time, but all I remember now is feeling nauseous and depressed and helpless. Is it possible to have a really different experience next time? Maybe I'll sport a genuinely cute baby bump that doesn't misshape my face and turn me into a miserable mess. Cross my fingers. If I prepare now by building my maternity wardrobe slowly but surely, maybe I can avoid the failures of my nulliparous prenatal self.

Now let's talk about how to treat pregnancy-induced nausea.


organ art

The other day we went to an organ recital at the Cathedral of the Madeline, which is becoming a tradition or something.



It's pretty cool but not very baby-friendly so we left S. at home unattended. Joke. He actually hung out with his grandmother, who was home and not working for once!

Sometimes I kind of feel bad that we don't pursue the whole babysitting thing more often because I think it's good for all of us in some ways. Call it laziness, or call it not having a bunch of options that are both close and available, or call it helicopter parenting, you could be right. I think S. likes hanging out with other people though. He gets more attention usually and they think of ways to please him that I don't consider when we're hanging out 24/7 and I'm trying to do any number of any other things.

The organ festival is cool, but I have to be honest with you here: I've concluded that I don't understand art. Does that make me less human? Uncultured and unintelligent? I don't know if I fully appreciate the value of standing around museums or listening to an impressive organ player play something impressive on the organ. Maybe there are other things that resonate with me, but I am not sure if  the organ festival is my thing. I'm impressed with it objectively after once taking an organ class and attempting to coordinate my own hands and feet to play something musical, which I never really mastered. But I guess I kind of find it a little boring? I also find it a little enjoyable, at the same time, so it's okay that I've been attending for three years now. But I feel ashamed to admit it! Am I the most uncouth?

Facebook withdrawal

I'm currently Facebook fasting because sometimes Facebook is addictive and I think that I spent more time on Facebook than its true-to-life value. As withdrawals go, I imagine, the thought occurred to me to check Facebook frequently after I first deactivated my account. That thought is gradually decreasing, so maybe someday I'll have the wherewithal to Facebook without being compulsive about it, and also fasting increases your self-control (so I hear). In the meantime, I'm enjoying the freedom. Now if I could just stop working at my job, I would have no reason to ever get on the Internet, practically, and my liberation would be complete.

Why is social media sometimes addictive? Don't make me feel pathetic by telling me that I'm the only one who is somewhat compulsive about Facebook (or instead insert other form of social media here) usage, and let's just humor the possibility that I might be a normal human being for the sake of this blog post. I may actually be pretty normal, only I might be a little more willing to admit that I have issues and describe them to you in minute detail than most normal human beings? That's weird, right? Anyway, this social media addiction: it's a thing, right? Why is it even a thing? Husband, being the great person he is, was willing to honestly entertain the question and said something about an unceasing flow of new content, and I think there's definitely something to that.

Also, I realized that most of the people who I see updates from most often on Facebook are actually people I was only acquainted with back in high school, and these are people who I don't know if I could have called real-life friends, even then. I wish my real-life friends presented me with a constant stream of new content about their lives, but alas, they're probably too busy living their lives.

29 September 2013

women bodies, part 3

As was the inspiration for my last post about modesty, I read an interesting article shared on Facebook: this one's about pornography.


I don't really know much about porn, but I have been seriously wondering: Why isn't there more feminist agitation to change or eliminate pornography? How does pornography help improve equality and opportunity for women? Maybe no one is arguing that it does, and maybe it would be silly to, but it does seem like there is a broad swath of women who think that pornography is a normal, healthy sexual outlet for men, and even boys. Beyond being pernicious for its highly addictive nature, I don't get why so many people think pornography is okay, because disrespect to women seems like a pretty foundational and fundamental component of the industry. Aren't women just generally hurt by pornography?

It is frustrating to me that so many women who claim to be forward-thinking, self-respecting, and independent seem perfectly happy to participate in a very phallo-centric worldview of the nature of sex. I'm not expecting the whole world to agree with my moral code, but it does seem shocking that so many obviously anti-woman values reflected in the media and especially pornography are considered perfectly acceptable.

I'm just confused: can someone tell me why there isn't much of an anti-porn feminist movement? Not to diminish some of the heartfelt and honest movements that exist to improve things for women, but it's strange to me that there is so much emotion and effort going into some issues, and yet there is not a large collective, organized movement to at least combat the way sex is portrayed in the ginormous porn industry. Pornography seems like a much more glaring and obvious feminist problem to me.