Friday, October 1, 2021

Fall feelings

 It's a Friday morning and I am taking 15 minutes to write. I don't write that much anymore, unless you count the essays I compose by talking to myself out loud in the car on the way to pick up my kids from daycare. I do count these, kind of. I miss writing, but I also miss a lot of other things. I miss cooking, the real kind, where I can stand in the kitchen for a couple hours with a glass of wine and not have anyone interrupt me. I miss running, not the process of getting good at running, which is terrible, but the part where I'm already good and can jog along in the crisp fall air and just enjoy the time to myself, the satisfying heaviness of my limbs when I'm done. I miss sitting in a very clean, very quiet house with a candle burning and reading a book, quietly. 

I miss being alone. 

We are starting to find our footing as a family of four, and it feels a little more manageable every day, but a 1.5 year old and a 3.5 year old are a lot, even on the most manageable days. This is not my stage, I think, and then I worry that I'll never find my stage, that I'll spend the rest of my life feeling like I'm drowning under everyone else's needs. I don't believe that, really, but the worry is there all the same. 

I knew that having two kids would be more work, but I pictured it as the work of one child, doubled. Two bodies to feed, bathe, clothe, rock. Two sets of knees to bandage, two pairs of hands reaching for me. I didn't realize that when you have a second child there is a third being brought into the world - the relationship between your children occupies a nearly physical space and there are days (many of them) where managing this relationship is more work than taking care of either child. I am exhausted almost all the time. I can't figure out how to stop being exhausted, but I think it has less to do with sleep and more to do with tapping into the parts of myself that have been buried. 

We are 19 months into this pandemic and I am immensely privileged. I'm working from home for a few more months, my kids are in daycare (barring the sick days that seem to pop up every couple weeks lately), we own a home, which I never thought would happen. 

So why do I still feel like I'm under water most of the time? Every day I tell myself that I'll write up a schedule, block out windows for chores and work and myself, I'll maximize my time. And every day the minutes slip away and then I'm not sure what I have to show for it. A pile of work emails sent, too much time scrolling on my phone, the frantic feeling of another day wasted. 

Maybe the problem is the maximizing. The sense that I need to use all these precious minutes in the best way possible. I have spent my whole life trying to maximize my time and all I want to do right now is curl up on the couch without a clock running, reminding me that my hours are limited. 

But honestly my hours are limited so instead I'm making a list of the things that make me feel human, remind me of myself. What matters to me, what do I want to do, what will energize me? How can I fit those things into my life? And should I block out time for lying on the couch, even though that seems like a very bizarre activity to schedule?

This morning I told myself that I would light a candle and sit down for 15 minutes and write something, anything. And here I am (45 minutes later but who's counting?) and I have this shapeless, meandering essay to show for it but I also feel a little lighter and a little more resolved.

Fall is blowing in, which always feels like a fresh start to me. I hate the phrase self care but I'm not sure what else to call it. The hardest part about caring for yourself is knowing how to do it, especially because it changes all the time. I don't think that forcing yourself to muscle through a list of activities is how you care for yourself, but neither is letting go of everything (I have tried both, with mixed success). I think about how I care for my toddlers, how I set a schedule so that they know what to expect, knowing they find comfort in the predictability but also delight when we break the routine, how I have already learned so well how to listen to them, not their words but their expressions, their tears, the motion of their bodies, so that I know when they are hungry or tired or need to be held. Can I learn to listen to myself this way, after all these years of trying to rationally decide what I should need at any given time? Maybe I can. Maybe this is a start.

21 comments:

  1. I love this so much. Thank you for taking time to share with us. I am not sure that the early years are "my stage" either, and I am seriously doubting having a second child. I get this.

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  2. As soon as you posted, I knew I had to read it. I am in 100% the same boat (just with an almost 3 and almost 7 year old). Things were hard and manic before but the endless togetherness but also the limiting of interaction with others, paradoxically, make me feel super lonely and yet craving alone time. Like lots of it. And the maximizing - yes. How can I be even just that much more productive? What if - while I'm downstairs starting the laundry, I remember to grab everything I need from the "pantry" (on a different floor from the kitchen) so that I don't have to make another trip down stairs. I am exhausted by my self.

    So all that said, you're seen. And you're very much not alone (even if you want to be - hahaha).

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  3. Parenting, adulting, emotional laboring - they're all so tough. And add the postscript "during a deadly pandemic" to any of them and they feel insurmountable. I'm thinking good thoughts for you, that you find your footing as an individual within a family, it's no easy feat.

    And for me, there is absolutely couch time scheduled. Resting. My body needs it.

    (And I know that you're not specifically asking for advice, but I was immediately struck by your car conversations - I have a friend who records audio memos that she has a software transcribe for her journal, and she says even knowing it's down and recorded and on paper somewhere helps her feel more settled. Just in case you hadn't heard of this!)

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  4. Rachel, we don't know each other but I've been reading your blog for years. I have a 3 and a 6 year old, and I literally have thought "I would kill to sit down for 30 minutes with a cup of tea and read a book in a cleanish house, is that too much to ask?" (apparently, yes). I have found that it doesn't get easier (some things get easier, like sleep, but then other things get much harder) but that you will get better at it. It's just like any other job or skill -- I feel like there's very little discussion in America about how parenthood is a learned skill; it's like it's assumed we'll all be good at it, or bad at it in the same way.

    But, for time... this summer, on vacation, I was able to sit on the porch of a lakeside vacation rental for one entire hour drinking a lemonade and reading a book. Clearly, this was a big deal as I still remember it. Anyway, I always so appreciate your writing and blog and wish you all the best. As another poster said, you're not alone with these feelings.

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  5. It took until my kids were 5 and 7 to realize and make peace with the fact that two toddlers was NOT my stage. I’m here from the future to tell you 8 and 10 is a gift. You can do this. The underwater feeling will lift and creativity is part of the answer. And shutting down the shoulds.

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  6. Hi Rachel I feel everything you are feeling, and you put it so beautifully. Like you, I had a baby during the pandemic and we also unexpectedly bought a house a few months ago. I am SO privileged in many ways. My wonderful supportive husband gets to work a fairly flexible hybrid schedule and I am home full time with our 5 yo, 3 yo and 12 month old. But…it is all so. much. Every day I feel like I am drowning under everything I have to do, everything I want to do. I am constantly irritated and not the mom I want to be. I appreciate how honest you are about being a parent. I’ve loved your blog for years and even if you think your essay is meandering ;) i hope you know it makes me (and many others!) feel comforted and less alone ❤️ I don’t have answers but am wishing you the very best.

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  7. Oh my goodness. This hits right where I'm at. I feel like someone took how I feel and wrote it all out. How did you manage that ha ha?

    I am about 6 weeks into unofficially fostering a 14 year old. I'm 38 and have been single forever. Occasionally living with roommates but only ever having to take care of myself really. It's all an adjustment. It's wonderful and it's a lot.

    You're not alone in any of this. I'm learning to take care of myself, and to value myself as someone worth intentionally caring for, right alongside you. This morning I woke up for the first time in weeks with no one else in the house - the dog, the cat, the child all elsewhere for about 24 hours. We'll see if this solves all my problems ;)

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  8. I love this so much. I love your writing and look forward to reading every time you post. I am not facing the exact same challenges but you articulate this struggle to be kind to ourselves so powerfully. Thank you.

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  9. Hey, Rachel, I am wandering around my usual youtube videos and happened across a reference to this site self-compassion.org
    In a way, though, when I see your own writing towards clarity on yourself (in this stage), I hesitate to refer anything to you. Your questing and delicate mind is finding wisdom on its own.

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  10. Your writing has always been so insightful. The third being your relationship with your children occupying a physical space so big. Thank you for taking the time to share with us today; I really appreciated the words no matter how big or small. Hope you find more pockets of quiet throughout the days.

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  13. Kids ages 2 and 4 and I feel this all deeply! Happy to get to read your writing even if it's only once or twice a year :)

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