Friday, June 8, 2012

That Which Does Not Kill Us ...

Tonight's cocktail is a lavender/blueberry julep.  I apologize profusely to my friends from Kentucky, but I like lavender and bourbon even better than mint and bourbon.  The flavors just mesh well.  So, muddle a sprig of fresh lavender (I grow it on the back porch) with some sugar, toss in a handful of blueberries, mash those up, too, put in a shot of bourbon, shake, pour over ice.  I put the sprig of lavender flowers in there just to be fancy, y'all.

I feel that I should fill in a bit of plot and character development at this point.  Most of the people reading know me to varying degrees, but some I haven't seen for decades, and it's my hope that if I come up with a really good post, someone might think to share it with someone else, and I could be all viral up in here.  So I might as well explain where I got the perspective from which I'm trying to write.

In 2007, I about lost my damn mind, and nobody seemed to notice. I say this not in a self-pitying sense, because I didn't notice, either - I was too busy.  I had 2 babies very close together and went from working full-time in a job I liked to staying home full-time with a toddler and an infant.  Many days I wore the same pair of ratty black yoga pants and didn't get a chance to shower, and I still have body damage on the side of my minivan that I can't account for because I was driving around on virtually no sleep.  My husband had just switched law firms and was trying to pay his dues all over again, so he was never home on any reliable basis.  I was sleep deprived, Tweak had just started to shift from being an easygoing baby to being a high-maintenance toddler with sensory issues, and Tink never slept ever ever ever.  My husband and I drifted apart slowly and didn't realize it for a very long time, and by the time it all came crashing down, I was simply done.  When I think back on that time of my life, it's a grainy photo with all the color and hope drained out.  I felt angry and exhausted all the time.  I knew it was bad when I couldn't even take joy in the cute things my babies did because I felt so hopeless, which made me feel horribly guilty, which only made things worse.

I want to go to this website and order everything.
This is not the kind of thing they talk about in feminist studies classes in college, but they should.  I stayed home because it would have cost more than I made after taxes and childcare to work.  Also, I harbored an unrealistic vision of what parenting is actually like.  There are moments of incredible transcendence, when you can't believe how much you love these amazing little beings, but there are also extreme moments of darkest suck, and a lot of it is just drudgery, a fact which doesn't figure prominently in those Johnson & Johnson ads that still have the power to make me cry.  And yes, I put on my big-girl panties and came to terms with the fact that this was the price of getting to have two children whom I loved beyond all reason, but it was a disproportionate burden.  My then-husband and I had gone to the same kinds of fancy schools, gotten the same grades, and clerked for the same federal judge after law school, started working for identical salaries at similar law firms, and suddenly I was the one picking up poop off the carpet and not getting paid for it.  Not that going off to work long hours every day was fun for him, but the fact remained that his job description didn't involve handling someone else's feces or listening to the same damned Elmo CD on a continuous loop, and I couldn't leave my job at the end of the day.

I knew I needed mental stimulation, so I tried to pull myself out by my fingernails by seeking some part-time work: a little teaching, a little web development.  I liked the work but felt like I'd gone from doing one job badly to doing two jobs extremely badly. Working part-time with small children is much harder than working full time.  You frequently have to pay for full-time childcare, but you don't get any sick days, and kids in daycare are often sick because it's a petri dish.  So, in addition to bleeding money and feeling guilty that your child is a perpetual green snotball, you're stressed out that you're letting people down at work, and by the way, there is no more milk or bread or clean underwear in the house, and preschool is calling to tell you that the babysitter is late picking up your non-sick child again, so have fun with that.

It could happen ...
I wish I could describe in some concise, easily-digestible way why all of this buried me so badly, because if I could, maybe I could turn it into a screenplay and make a bajillion dollars and get Keri Russell (my celebrity doppelganger) to play me.  But anyone who has been there knows it isn't that simple when the wheels fall off.  Bottom line, I came to a crystal-clear realization that if I didn't make some drastic changes in my life, I was going to end up in a very bad place.  Nobody was coming to save me; I had to save myself.  It wasn't always pretty or rational or noble, but I came through to the other side, and it's much better here.

When everything you thought was true about your life and your goals goes up in a giant firestorm, you gain a lot of freedom and grace. You learn to forgive yourself and others.  You learn how to tell people what you need and let go of people and situations that suck the life out of you.  You enjoy the little moments; you stay calm(er) when things are going pear-shaped; you are a source of strength for others as well as for yourself.  Moreover, you don't feel any more pressure to make your life conform to some vision that you or others might have had for it, nor do you feel any shame or guilt about the fact that you haven't ended up where you planned.  The situation simply is what it is, and you can either exhaust yourself with the futility of swimming against the stream, or you can see where it takes you.

The whole experience has been an amazing epiphany, and I am happier, more forgiving, more empathetic, more honest, and more assertive as a result of having gone through it.  Most importantly, these things make me a better mother, friend, employee, boss, and all-around person.  Life has joy and color again, and I don't (usually) feel like punching anyone in the throat.  Progress all around.

I wouldn't go back to those dark days for anything, but I also have to say that I'm oddly grateful for what I learned from them.  Perhaps a smarter or less obstinate person might have learned these lessons in a less drastic way, and perhaps God or the universe or my subconscious had been trying to teach me those lessons for years before there was finally no choice but to hit me upside the head with a shovel.  But I needed to learn them, and I'm glad that I did.  And, hopefully, that which did not kill me has also made me funnier.

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