Wednesday, August 22, 2007

fixer upper

I don't know if it's the fact that Hamish is starting preschool in two weeks or the fact that we're still seriously considering leaving Brooklyn for Philadelphia, or the fact that it's getting so cold so soon, or the fact that it's getting to be time to night-wean Stella and transition her into her crib, but I feel like I am freaking out mentally every other minute. I'm cursing under my breath and rushing around even if there's no hurry, dropping my keys and bumping into doorways.

The other day Hamish knocked Lulu's water dish over. I happened to have left a bath towel on the kitchen floor instead of anally rushing it to the hamper like a bleeding soldier to triage, which meant that I had the perfect mop for the water threatening toward my kitchen cabinets at my fingertips. This serendipitous convenience coated my normally frazzled morning brain with a glaze of nonchalance over the mishap.

Hamish said, "Oh, I spilled Lulu's water. That was my fault. I'm sorry Lulu. I'm sorry Lulu that I spilled your water." And at first I kvelled because, how sweet! My child is so conscientious! He's taking responsibility! He's showing compassion! But then the devil wedged his way inside my brain like he always does, in the form of some uber-critical giant, and wondered if it's such a good thing that Hamish feels so badly about something so ordinary as spilled water. After all, hadn't I lost my shit on numerous occasions, not only at him, but at myself for similar clumsy moves?

I put my hand on his small shoulder and said, "It's okay," as I thought about the picnic we'd attended that weekend for Hamish's departing daycare-mates, where after confessing to another mother in my usual tell-all style that my husband's been sleeping on the sofa for waaay too long because he can't sleep with Stella in the bed, the lovely woman paused and replied, "I think I'm going to see what there is to eat." My heart sank and I looked around to see if I'd been caught TMI-ing this woman to death. I felt like I'd done it again, done something really wrong, why can't I keep my life to myself? And the anxiety stayed with me for the rest of the day until Bryan reassured me at my bedside complete with cheek stroking that there is not anything about me that needs serious fixing, which communicated to me loud and clear that I go around this planet, moreso now that I've got kids, as if I'm defective. Which IMHO, needs serious fixing.

And then there's that special magic that happens to you as a mom, where, in all your sleep-deprived madness, in the whorls of chaotic day-to-day survival, it's as if you're constantly on display, inviting the world to critique your parenting style. Which they invariably do. Like the grey-haired neighbor who told me last week that I should really watch Stella in the laundry room because when he opened the door he could have hit her with it and hurt her. I suppose I could have chained her to the dryer, it's true. But I didn't tell him that. Instead I said, "You're right," and gave myself the extra task of distracting my daughter while keeping an eye on Hamish and juggling fifty pounds of laundry, all the while wondering if my neighbor really thinks I'm a shit mother who'd be attending her daughter's funeral if it hadn't been for his glittering wisdom.

Casually uttered remarks like my neighbor's leave me alternately cringing and seething. This insanity goes back to my childhood, but regardless of my personal history, my disproportionate self-criticism expresses to my kids that typical mistakes are marks of erroneous people who need fixing. When I glimpse myself being so mean to myself, which is every day, I feel like, sigh, I need to fix my fixing. I am a rat chasing her tail, muttering to myself like a mental patient, half hoping that Hamish will overhear so that my first outburst of self-criticism ("Silly Mommy, you need to look where you're going...") will be tempered by reason ("Oh well, you're only human, it's okay. People bump into walls all the time.") It's enough to make me dive for the covers and stay there until the Spring thaw.


Amelia Plum said...

the lovely woman paused and replied, "I think I'm going to see what there is to eat." god, I so feel your pain about that and everything else connected to the self-doubt of sahm-ism you so eloquently wrote about. I think for anyone that's at all self critical or tends to question their actions that being a sahm is like a hothouse for making all your negative thinking snowball (to mix two climate related metaphors). Being a Mom you can feel like you've set yourself up for the scrutinity of all mankind, when how your children act or what they are or aren't doing is seen as a reflection of you and your parenting skills. It's enough for anyone but the most megalomaniacal to question whether it's worth it. But it's like the ultimate risktaking sport, putting your heart and soul and time in these people you nuture, love and teach to be compassionate beings in the world AND YOU DO THAT! Look at the joyful smiles on Stella and Hamish in the picture you posted that should make your heart swell with pride, so be kind to yourself.

Paula said...

I am so with you on this today. Ugh.

hubby said...

Ah, my little tail chasing rat. How the mind does wander into the big dark closets where logic and perspective are strictly not allowed.

Somehow still, you remain the light of my life. My lovely electrified rat.

elise said...

amen all of you.

ragan said...

Hey Elise- I always enjoy reading your blog (I check in every once in awhile). I hear you on your self-doubt and all that stuff. Let me just say, we all do the best we can and leave it at that. Sometimes when I spend too much time with my children and not enough time with other adults (like all summer when school is out and I'm not working) I start obsessing about the stupidest things. I start planning ahead about all the kids' shoes I have to buy (there seem to be a lot w/ 3 kids). Should I go to a cheap place and buy them, go to a more expensive "cool" place, order them online--is it fair that I relegate them to just one pair of shoes at a time. Am I scarring my children? Their other friends have more than one pair of shoes-- am I a crazy, stingy bastard of a mother? Or am I teaching them eco-friendly budget-conscious shoe purchasing decision-making skills? I'll think about this all day and when I ask my husband, who has been at glorious work all day, he looks at me like I've finally lost it completely. So--free your mind from its dark, twisted depths and relish in your extraordinary mothering skills. I always knew you'd be a good mom.
P.S. I have a link to your blog on my pathetic blog which I add to every once in awhile (but have never told anyone about--it's just about the books I've been reading).
Love you,

rubyredruca said...

sometimes it's hard to realize that we're not the only ones who feel like like we're going crazy with our kids. stella reminds me a lot of my son who is about a month younger than her. isn't it strange that they seem to go through all the same stages? oh, and my fiance has been sleeping on the couch for almost a week. he says he is sick of being smacked or kicked in the face all night by our son.