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Miranda: The vortex of caring for young children

You think I would have figured some of this stuff out by now, seeing as I have a few years of experience in the motherhood department. My oldest is nearly 19 years old (freshman in college) and my youngest is 18 months old. Five kids in total: three teenagers, a preschooler, and a toddler. Many people smack their heads, V8 style, when I tell them I have five kids. As in, who on Earth would be nuts enough to have five kids? I don’t usually give it much thought. Well, obviously I didn’t give it any thought at all, or I never would have had five children. Duh.

Just this past month, I had an epiphany about motherhood — something that helped me understand what fuels the “mommy wars” (mothers working outside the home versus SAHMs). I sort of straddle the two groups, as I work from home 30 hours a week. I have a babysitter here in my house three full days a week, so I’m not on duty during that time, but the kids often run into my workspace and I inevitably interact with them throughout the day. They know I’m here. When I was nursing, my babysitter would bring the baby to me for feeding. But I was fortunate to have that luxury. Without question, I get a significant break from having to prepare food and change diapers and be the one in charge of keeping everyone alive. Oh, and I get to focus on something aside from my kids: my work.

While my work has many stresses — impossible deadlines, panicked clients, difficult personalities, too much to do in too little time — it’s still my own domain. I have clients, not bosses. It’s up to me to prioritize and manage my workload. I’m really only accountable to myself. If my clients aren’t happy, then they won’t  be my clients for very long. (And I have the delicious flexbility of being able to run out for a couple of hours to get my hair done or go to a doctor’s appointment without dragging the little ones with me. That’s huge.)

I find that on my workdays, when I step into my office/library/workspace at 8:30 in the morning, a wave of relief washes over me. I don’t always love my work, and it isn’t my reason for living, but I do love being the master of my own domain, and not having to keep anyone else alive. I’ll be honest. On the days when I don’t work, I often look at the clock and think “My God, it’s only 3:00. What are we going to do until dinnertime?” On my work days, I never look at the clock and wish it read a few hours later than it does. This is why SAHMs are like: “You just don’t understand how hard this is. And the women who are earning paychecks are like: “I work my butt off all day for a difficult boss and THEN I get to come home to my second job — domestic life. You just don’t understand how hard this is.”

I get it. Working fulltime outside the house is extremely challenging. (I’ve never done it, so I can only imagine. It seems like an impossible proposition.) But staying at home with your young kids fulltime requires a very different kind of sacrifice, even if you love being there. I hate to say it, because I’m sure some won’t like me for it, but I think that the sacrifice is you.

I recently had several occasions to spend some time away from my little ones. A handful of long days out of the house, and then earlier this month, I went away with two of my teenagers for three full days to visit the oldest at college. The two little ones stayed at home with dad.

I began to notice something interesting. When I am not with my little guys, I am somehow more myself. I found that the way I parent my teenagers was actually different when we were away from the toddler and preschooler. I had the time to formulate a complete thought; I had the ability to focus and connect with the older kids. I connected with them as me, not as a harried mother. I began to recognize myself again. Oh, right! This is who I am. I felt more emotionally centered; less like I might burst into tears just because two unrelated things happened to go wrong at the same time. I had reserves. There is a French phrase that doesn’t translate very well but described the sensation exactly: I felt good in my skin.

I’m fascinated by this discovery. I am not saying that I don’t love spending time with my young boys, because I do. Yes, there are challenges, but there is a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, and a lot of cuddles. I have always adored the period of infancy. I will admit, however, that during the weeks when I’m short on babysitting or end up spending more time with the boys than usual, it’s not always so much fun. I am coming to understand that I need my three work days to do my thing. Even though my work can be stressful, it is at times satisfying. And, most importantly, it doesn’t involve keeping anyone alive.

There is something about the intensity of caring for very young children — about up to first grade — that is profoundly draining. They need you. It’s not enough just to be there. They want your attention; you need to feed them; you need to change them; you need to read them that Elmo book — the one you can’t stand — 834 times in two days. You need to pluck them off the bookshelves before they kill themselves in an avalanche.  You need to come up with yet another way to entertain them on a rainy day, when at least one of your kids is too little for the craft project but just big enough to wreck it for an older sibling. The sheer noise factor — shouting, crying, screaming, fighting, talking, jumping off the furniture, chasing the dog, electronic toys, “musical” instruments — is often enough to make you want to poke your eye out with a Brio train. They gift you with moments of independent play, and perhaps a decent nap schedule, but there is nothing that you can really count on.

As the kids get older, you can position yourself to take advantage of those gifted moments of opportunity to do something on your own list, but it isn’t until the kids are at least 3 that you can stall them for any length of time when you’re trying to get something done. There are days — and nights — that are utterly filled with pee and poop and vomit. During some stretches it seems like you haven’t had a solid, uninterrupted night of sleep in years. (Because you haven’t.) Your time is largely spent wiping noses, picking the same toys up off the floor over and over again, and finding ways to be cheerful and support your child’s emotional and intellectual development even though you’re dog tired and really just want to go take a nap. Every day seems to be a variation on the same theme, which at time feels more like Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars than anything Raffi might perform.

Then, eventually, the kids start going to sleep at a reasonable, predictable hour — which you’ve been looking forward to for months years — but it turns out you’re still so brain dead by 8:00 p.m. that you can’t carry on a coherent conversation with your spouse or a relative who calls to chat. Forget about working on your novel or starting a new oil painting. Somehow your time is still not your own, even when you’re not technically on duty. And I assert that you cannot be yourself until your time is once again your own, for more than an hour or two at a time. (Although an hour or two is a great place to start.)

When does your time become your own again? Kids grow. They go to school. They become more independent. You no longer have to worry about keeping them alive from moment to moment. Gradually, you come back to life, sort of like a slo-mo version of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future when his parents kiss on the dance floor and he reappears in the snapshot tucked into the neck of his guitar. One day, you are you again. Sure, now you’re driving kids all over town and trying to lure them to the dinner table for family time, but this lacks the intensity of parenting a 2-year-old.

There are lots of wonderful things that happen while you’re taking care of young children, but I don’t think that you can really see the gravity of what that experience is like until you come out the other side. I was actually OUT when I stepped back in. My third child was 10 years old when I had my fourth. Perhaps that’s why this realization has hit me so hard. That, and the fact that I’m 40 now and I feel a little more selfish about “me” time. I’ve spent my entire adult life being a mother. I love being a mother, but I’m ready to also just be me. From my current vantage point, the energy and focus required in caring for young children makes it impossible to also be myself. The two seem like incompatible objectivesa more all-encompassing twist on our discussion of A Divided Heart.

I imagine that there are many mothers out there who simply love every aspect of motherhood and flit through their days like Mary Poppins and would probably tell me that I should never have had so many kids, seeing as I’m not really up for the job. Maybe that’s true. Maybe those mothers already knew who they were before they had kids, so it’s not as difficult for them to stay in touch with that inner anchor.

In the short term, I’d like to brainstorm ways that mothers of young children can stay connected to themselves, their real selves, while their children are young. I firmly believe that maintaining the creative self is absolutely essential. (Of course I do. I’m writing a book about that.) Finding ways to spend a bit of time alone is also vitally important, although often difficult to accomplish.

Oh, and just for the record, I’m going away again this weekend. Three days. Flying away by myself. And I plan to practice being me while I’m away, as much as possible.

What do you think? Does any of this ring true to you, or do I just sound like a cranky mother in need of Prozac?

42 Comments Post a comment
  1. hell yeah, it rings true. i’m writing this on my longest work day (8:30am-8:30pm) of the week, in between classes while I eat an orange and some crackers for dinner.

    You wrote: “And the women who are earning paychecks are like: “I work my butt off all day for a difficult boss and THEN I get to come home to my second job — domestic life. You just don’t understand how hard this is.”” yes. and i truly work one full-time job (student life director) and two part-time jobs (adjunct professor and happy shack business owner) on top of the domestic job.

    And yet i also know full well that being a SAHM isn’t a piece of cake either. i get to do that several times a year when the girls are out of school so i have to take leave to stay home with them. it may not be for months at a time, but it is for a week here, two weeks there.

    i find that i’m getting close to the point where, while the juggle is a major pain in the ass at times and probably always will be, i’m making it work. i am happy in my own skin. i am finding ways to be me. i am finding times to get away. downside of that is that unfortuately my dh ends up on the short side of the stick at times because when it comes to caretaking, i do take care of the girls first. he may not always get as much attention as he’d like but we make it work. he’s always been a bit more needy in the attention category than i am so that’s been a struggle our entire marriage, but after 17 1/2 years together, i think we’ve finally learned to find the middle ground.

    overall, even though those little ones do need that constant attention, when it comes down to it, you can’t truly take care of them until you truly take care of your self. “me” has to come first every now and then. prozac or otherwise. :-)

    November 17, 2009
  2. miranda, like you i have the perspective that a blended family gives a mother, with teen, preteen and toddler. the interaction with each is so different in how I interact with them. k and i rarely have connection time just the two of us, and i relsih it because i can now finally interact with him as myself, not just telling him what to do or how to do it, or whatever. my interactions with s are unique and still often of the order of a younger kid interaction, and it’s a lot of work b/c of his aspergers. so much so that, when he’s at school, i find interacting with a now demanding toddler a relief. for a while.

    i am still burnt out again, like you said, b/c when i finally got s to sleep through the night on his own, then i was having c, 10 years later like you. i’m burnt, she needs, and the rare moment i get out of the house these days – groceries by myself, choir practice for an hour, and finally a writing group that fits for 2 hours 2x a month…that’s when i almost feel human again.

    i know this won’t last forever, except possibly with s in some form. but i sure do miss being out of the house at a job, even when it sucked. it gave ME meaning when it was meaningful work. i definitely am home because i want to be,and other financial considerations, but the adult interaction is so important as sustenance for self beyond exhausted spouses grunting at each other when all the kids are finally to bed.

    there’s another aspect to sahmism that is often overlooked in all these discussions, there is a serious cultural disrespect that i keenly feel when i do finally have a chance to speak with real adults.

    i know i’ll get back to feeling human again. i know c will be in school before i know it. i know someone will want to listening when they ask what do you do and have it not be all about the little people that surround me.

    November 17, 2009
  3. Charlotte #

    Love you, Miranda. God bless Julie for giving us those few precious hours alone to talk and get to know each other.

    I can understand that you may sometimes feel as if you’re dissipating amidst all the demands upon you. But I see you, quite clearly, as YOU – as the amazing person you are, not as “Mom”, despite having got to know you in full-on family situations. My fascinating, intelligent, empathetic, beautiful cousin, with whom I would love to spend more time, if she had any, if I had any, if we even lived on the same continent. Maybe some day soon, when the kids are all are a little older, we will organise it. Keep it in mind. xx

    November 17, 2009
  4. Jen #

    Miranda, I’m reading this in a stolen moment while the 2 year old and 4 year old are quiet (yes, they are eating ice cream!) and so i don’t have time for the most coherent of replies. Something you’d understand. but i did want to say that your post moved me nearly to tears. thank you for your honesty and for your perspective. it was something i really needed to hear on this long day.

    November 17, 2009
  5. agree, jen. i was moved, which i didn’t mention earlier. this post really spoke to me.

    November 17, 2009
  6. Miranda – what a gift you have given to so many other mothers! As an “older” mother (yep, my kids are all older than yours!) I have experienced so much of what you are talking about. There is so much misplaced confusion and guilt among us moms .. . always thinking that we aren’t doing enough, so we do more, then we lose touch with our own souls, then we feel bad about that, so we try harder, until we are so exhausted that we can’t think straight . . . . your observations are absolutely on target!

    When my older children were small, it was right in the middle of the early women’s lib movement – and it was very intimidating, no matter which side of the equation you were on. The “Mommy Wars” were pretty intense back then, as I think they are now, but at least there is now a greater acceptance in society as a whole to women making a choice other than, or in additiion to, the SAHM.

    Sounds to me like you’ve got a pretty good handle on this, even though I know that some days you must be worn out trying to juggle it all. But the greater gift you are bringing to the world of mothers is your honesty and your inspiration to help us all keep moving forward, even on those days when it feels like there is just not enough time or energy to get it all accomplished. And one thing about getting older that is a very GOOD thing. . . . . one day you finally realize that you CAN’T do it all anyway, so stop being so hard on yourself. Kids are pretty resilient, and besides that, if they don’t see us moms respecting and valuing our contributions to the world (besides meeting their needs), they will never truly understand all that moms do and how important our work really is. Trust me on this one . . . . . you’re on the right track. Thanks for your wisdom and insight into this delicate balancing act of motherhood.

    November 17, 2009
  7. ubuntujournal #

    Miranda, I totally get this – the importance of creating to one’s mind and soul, the balancing act, the tears over lack of sleep, the crazy wondering of who you are, of losing yourself completely. I know the feeling of being half-human, of wandering off track and not knowing how I got there, or how to get back, or even where “back” is.

    I feel as if I’m just starting to get my Self back again, after so many years – simply b/c I’m working more and finding, or making, more time for me, as opposed to keeping the wee “others” alive and breathing. It’s incredibly freeing and, as I do it more and more, I’m finding it’s incredibly necessary, as well. I’ve been fortunate to be able to work from home, but don’t have a sitter, so it’s mostly nights when I get anything done. I have a routine down, which will most likely get destroyed now that it’s whirring like a little machine – as routines are wont to do, in my world. But it’s a good routine, and it’s mine. All mine. HA.

    My aunt used to go off by herself for a week every year, just her and a cabin in Pennsylvania. She lived with my uncle in Colorado, and her kids were all grown and out of the house, but she still did her yearly ritual. I think it’s vastly important, the time by oneself – not only for mothers, but for everyone. I contemplate time by myself. Taking a night, going to an inn, eating dinner alone, reading, writing, doing nothing but stare out the window and maybe a walk on the beach. It appeals to me on so many levels, but mostly b/c when I come back I imagine I would be a much better person/mother/wife. I might gain perspective and insight and creative flow.

    And, to get back to the creating aspect. I know for a fact that when I create (write, play/write music), I am a far happier person than when I don’t. If I don’t use this outlet for myself, I’m grumpy, restless, unfocused, and dissatisfied. In truth, I need it. And I think every person does, too – whatever their poison might be. And when I say “poison,” I mean the good kind. The creative kind. So, maybe not poison. Maybe I should say sustenance.

    I’m sure I’m not making any sense at all (Thanks NaNoWriMo), so I’ll just creep back into my hole from whence I came. But I wanted to comment here, b/c I think your post is so very important, and so very pertinent. Thank you for it! xo

    November 17, 2009
  8. i’ll start with, no, i am not mary poppins … but …

    i could so feel what you feel when reading your words, but they don’t ring true for me at all …. i FINALLY felt complete when i had children….. i finally was who i wanted to be … someone’s mom … five years of infertility treatments and finally having twins made it all melt away and i was finally who i wanted to be …. then the joy of another kid and all i wanted was to be a happy mom… and that’s what i did … for years …. eight years of momness….. and never a worry about what else i wanted to be…i never ever felt torn, like i think you must feel torn or incomplete …..

    … and then my youngest was about to to to kindergarten? and i thought i would die …. how could i be a mom when no one was home for me to be a mom to? the thought of the last one in kindergarten horrified me …. i planned on getting a job because i needed to be someone … and mom to children who were out of the house all day wasn’t going to cut it …. skip to the first day of kindergarten, and i had decided to pursue art full time… as my job (dream job!) …. eight months earlier in the midst of my angst i signed up for an art show …. well … i had to make some art to sell! ……so it was only when the needy toddler years were well behind me that i was ready to move onto my next incarnation of artist and mother …

    i still want another baby …. i actually think being a mom is one of the things i do best …. it makes me a little sad to think i’ve finished with my new baby toddler efforts …. my youngest is in third grade … but i am happy with who i am right now …. with what i do to be me …. when people ask what i do, i say i’m an artist …. technically i’m a stay at home mom artist … but i don’t say that ….

    and just to add to the who-am-i-confusion …. i am half way through nanowrimo and i know i am going to be successful in completing a novel …. so then what? edit? publish? y’all can say you knew me when …. and i’ll say, oh, i’m a writer ….

    a girl can dream ….

    November 17, 2009
  9. e, i’ve said it beofre many times now i think: you rock.

    i do love being a mom, but i think you are onto the meat of it so to speak: i need to define me as writer who happens to be mom, but i’m a writer, which is another good ender of the cocktail convo, so i guess that’s me! but not really, since i do love a good conversation.

    again, i know this will get easier when i no longer have toddler in da house.

    November 17, 2009
  10. amy #

    So I have to wait till my little one is 3 to get more time? I will have to remember that. Holy crap that seems like a long time. I was calculating the other night when I might get to sleep through the night regularly again (when one doesn’t wake up from a bad dream and the other doesn’t randomly wake up and cry). I think I calculated another 3 years of this. I always think of working a “regular job” outside the home is the easy thing to do. The most difficult thing to do is to stay home with children I think. When I go out on a rare ocassion alone it feels weird at first and then I just enjoy every moment of being me without two appendages. I remember when I would leave sometimes and physically have to adapt to standing up straight without holding a baby or having one pulling my hair. I haven’t worn necklaces or earrings in a year or more because they get pulled out or off. The gradual reconvening of my former self will happen as my girls get older I know and I guess I am thankful that I still know who i am inside with or without them.
    Thanks for this wonderful post!

    November 17, 2009
  11. Liz #

    Bravo, Miranda! Bravo!

    I am at the “little one isn’t big enough for the craft, yet is big enough to wreck it for the older sibling” phase. Sometimes I feel like I’m not as good of a mom to my older one, because my younger one is a pistol.

    And coherent thought? What is this “coherent thought” you speak of? Let me know when you find the secret.

    My guess? There is no secret, just struggle for awhile. Sometimes good, sometimes bad but mostly days of in-between.

    LOVED this post.

    November 17, 2009
  12. E-J #

    I, too, loved this post, Miranda: it rings completely and utterly true to me.

    I was SAHM until my daughter was 16 months old, since when, we’ve built up gradually the hours/days I work and she goes to daycare. Like you, I now work a three-day week, from home. This means that two workdays each week are spent full-time mummying (we have a 12-hour day while M’s daddy is out at work) and the other three are spent doing my freelance work, but each of those three days bracketed either side by morning and evening mummying. And although there’s a certain amount of work I need to get done in order to make worthwhile money, and although it sometimes feels like a struggle to do that, and although the work I do is (apart from a painting commission I did this summer) NOT related to my art, I have very much come to think of the working day as “me” time – precisely because it does have that flexibility of me being able to just leave the house at any time for a dentist’s appointment, or to browse my lovely local bookshop in my self-designated lunch hour, or to meet a friend for coffee. It’s that breathing space that people who don’t have children experience all the time, however stressful and time-consuming their professional roles, and it is what I find hard to give up on the days when I am “only” M’s mummy. I love being with her; it’s the relentlessness of it, and, as you say, the loss of self, which is really unimaginable before you actually have a child and become their primary carer.

    Unlike you, however, I do not plan to have any more children. Our family feels complete (I’m an only child myself, so that is my norm) and I feel confident that I am learning, just now, how to balance my own needs with that of my little girl. It has not been easy, perhaps because before I had her, I felt I was just flowering into the artist I’d always suspected it was in me to be, and of course, the immediate effect of motherhood on that was crushing.

    I really value this site, for the honesty and mutual support you have encouraged here. Thanks for another great piece.

    November 18, 2009
  13. I wrote a really long, verbose comment and submitted it, but maybe it was lost in the fray…? Anyway, I think the whole gist of what I said in a nutshell, was that I agree. The creative self feeds us in ways we don’t understand until we are away from it for awhile, and then go back. I guess I didn’t realize how much of me I had forgotten or lost for a time, and now that I’m starting to get my groove back, I see how very much I missed me. I think my family did, too, actually.

    Thanks for such a wonderful and pertinent post! I think it speaks to all of us, not only mothers, but anyone who has pushed their inner core away for something or someone else. I guess the absolute key to it all is to keep it all with you, all the time, as much as possible. And to always remember, whatever it is, it’s only temporary.

    November 18, 2009
  14. I did do the V8 thing when I started reading. Not so much because of the sheer number of kids you have but more so because of the vast age differences. You were in the clear, home free! :)

    I’ve always worked outside of the home and struggled with the sometimes oppressive guilt that comes with that. My 2 boys are 9 & 11 now and as I read this post I realized just how dead on you are.

    I had no life, no “me” until my youngest was about 3 years old, just like you said. Prior to that, everything truly did revolve around work and keeping my two little guys alive. Of course there were wonderful moments mixed in there all the time but it was sort of a baby-centric blur of obligations and little sleep.

    It’s definitely not my work that recharges me but I can completely relate anyway. Doing things that we love and being ourselves makes us happier and ultimately, better moms.

    November 18, 2009
  15. Brittany Vandeputte #

    Miranda, your post couldn’t have come at a better time because I am literally seconds away from cracking up and getting myself committed to an asylum.

    Three weeks of near-constant puking and diarrhea, as repetitive and predictable as the toys I pick up daily. My new routine includes running pukey comforters through the wash and whipping up organic carpet cleaner to scrub poo spots from the carpet. Sometimes on an hourly basis.

    That breathing space that you spoke of, already in short supply around here, has been obliterated to nil. Sunday, when both my boys were in gastrointestinal distress, I literally did not move from the couch all day because one or the other was clinging to me like a bonobo. Since the onslaught of the stomach bug, I haven’t been out of the house, have been forced to cancel rare opportunities to hang with friends right and left, haven’t had more than four hours of consectutive sleep in I-don’t-know-how-long, and still have to, as you put it, keep my children alive. All day long. And do it with an air of Mary Poppins-ness that I do not feel.

    Can I even express how angry I am that they aren’t getting better after three weeks? That the doctor thought it was acid reflux on Thursday, but by the following Tuesday it was a sinus infection? Or that now that I’ve got Sam feeling slightly better on his antibiotics/probiotics/vitamin regimen that John wakes up with a 101.5F fever this morning?

    I was not made for this type of mothering. I am an introvert, who likes to slink off and recharge–alone–in quiet. I treasure my Tuesday and Thursday mornings when both boys are at school. It’s the only time I get to control the volume, the noises, the way I spend my time, and can think about the things I want to think about without the constant (tedious) interruptions about sippy cups and lost engine tenders. I haven’t had that in three weeks. The only thing that has preserved my sanity, and kept me from sobbing hysterically in the pediatrician’s office, is my embroidery. The intense concentration required to fill in the pattern allows me to block out the garbage truck video in the background, the wails of protest when John takes Sam’s toy, the dog scratching to come inside, and the deep-seated anger and resentment I feel at being trapped in my own house, by myself, with no back up in sight, with Sir Hurl-A-Lot and his sidekick Pukey Boy.

    This has got to end soon or I am going to run away from home.

    November 18, 2009
  16. What a great post! I have two young kids and I find it extremely challenging to work from home. I was doing it full-time for a while and then part-time and found myself running ragged.
    It’s difficult to juggle between caring for the kids and being able to concentrate on work when the kids are constantly needing attention. But I love the flexibility it provides for me. I can work as early and as late as I like, take my son to school and go to appointments without stress.
    But looking at my four walls all day, and without face-to-face adult interaction, is very challenging.
    Honestly I wish there were more well-paying part-time or job-share opportunities for women.

    November 18, 2009
  17. I nearly cried reading all of your comments. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to know that I’m not alone in my experience. After posting the piece, I had a few moments of blogger’s regret — worrying that I said to much, that the piece was too scattered and repetitive, that it’s too negative. But then I reminded myself that I was strongly compelled to write in total honesty, and that when you come from such a place, connections often result. Thank you, thank you.

    E-J, interestingly, I was an only child too. I used to kindly admonish friends who were thinking of stopping at only one child, because in many ways being an “only” does not prepare you for dealing with the outside world. (Me to my first roommate: “You used my SHAMPOO??”) But now I get it. Many women recognize that having one child is the “right” amount of food on the plate, as it were. None of this staggering around while trying to hold up a hotel tray overflowing with serving platters ;-) My mother knew what she was doing, and so do you.

    Elizabeth, your experience is entirely in keeping with what I “imagined” for you. I do think that wanting to be a mother for a long time — and having some kind of life and self before having a long-awaited family — is in some ways a benefit. You already had a strong sense of self and being a mother just made it all come together. Perhaps this is part of why your artwork has such a strong voice.

    Mary, I only just now discovered that your earlier comment had gone into the approval queue (signed in under different account). It’s published now. FYI everyone else, “ubuntujournal” is Mary.

    The kids are literally tugging at my knees. Must go — more later. Thank you so much for every single one of these comments! xo

    November 18, 2009
  18. brittany, sistah, i feel your pain! it will end…i promise. we just went through a different, seemingly neverending inexplicable illness. minus your fireworks and fountains. thank goodness for small blessings, eh?

    and so happy you are able to vent it with some humor: Sir Hurl-A-Lot and his sidekick Pukey Boy

    November 18, 2009
  19. wow, you guys have been busy since i checked in last night! i find all these comments so interesting and, miranda, i’m so glad you’ve found some peace and affirmation through them. you have built a very supportive community here. yet this is where i honestly feel pretty isolated within this group. i most clearly related to e.beck’s comments. maybe i do have a bit of mary poppins in me, i don’t know, but i’ve almost always been able to find the positive and gravitate towards it, doing my best to push the negative aside.

    like e.beck, i too went through years of infertility treatments and then the misscarriage of twins right after my mom’s suicide, so my role as mother is the one i cherish the most. coming from that angle, like i’ve said here before, i’d love to be a SAHM, or a SAHM artist mom as e.beck described it…just can’t afford it. still, my job is not what defines me….even though i’ve been doing this job for more than 15 years, i still don’t call it a career…odd, i think, but pretty telling of my mindset towards it. to me, it’s what helps put food on the table and clothes on the kids so that i can do all the other things that really matter. like be that mom that i longed to be for so long. sure it’s tough sometimes, and sure, like all of you, i don’t have the time to do all the things that i’d like to do. but i just don’t feel that it has taken anything away from me being “me”. just the opposite, i think it’s enhanced me. maybe you see my situation as easier because i just have the one set of twins, so i don’t have that age gap that some of you are dealing with. maybe it’s because i had my girls later in life because of all those infertility treatments so i had me time before the girls came along, who knows. to me it still comes down to choices and how you approach the cards your been dealt (or heck, the cards you drew off the top of the pile). i try to live my life by the simple principle that i may not be able to control any given situation i may be in, but i CAN control how i react to it. brittany, whether you want to admit it or not, you found the positive simply by currently calling your boys Sir Hurl-A-Lot and his sidekick Pukey Boy. :-) How can you not laugh at that? Puke and sh*t happens, right?

    call me mary poppins if you’d like, but i will almost always choose to search out the positive. you may now throw your darts. :-) i’ll go back to disney world.

    November 18, 2009
  20. Brittany Vandeputte #

    No darts here. :-)

    I’d be curious to know whether those of you who are most content with parenthood align yourselves as introverted or extroverted?

    I love being a mom in the same way that I love going to a party and getting wrapped up in the noise and hubbub and conversation, being “on” as it were, but then coming home to a quiet house, putting on my sweats, and reading a book. When I’m with the boys, I have to be “on” and it’s draining on my energy the same way being at a party is draining on my energy. It’s great fun in short bursts, but I need quiet to recharge.

    I knew this about myself before I had children, and I love my boys with all my heart, and the miscarriage I had prior to Sam almost destroyed my will to try again, so acute was my sense of loss. I wanted to be a mother with every fiber of my being. It never occurred to me that I would have two active, physical, noisy little boys though. I assumed that by nature of mine and Tom’s introversion, my children would be introverted and we could all introvert together… Ha!

    The cards I was dealt are good for me. I need to be drawn out more and trample roughshod through little boy adventures. I love it. But I am chronically emotionally exhausted. And it’s not a matter of my soul not being fed. I manage to continue some artful pursuits and maintain my sense of self around them. True, there is more I’d like to be doing, but I’m happy enough with the boys to put it aside for the time being. The thing I wrestle with most is just letting my soul rest. That’s why I love to slink off to the computer and blog or email or surf CNN. It draws my scattered attention to one place and allows me to tune the rest out. Same with embroidery. Or reading.

    I wonder how it is for extroverted mothers.

    November 18, 2009
  21. I feel the exact same way! I have three boys, 6, 4 and 1. Just while reading this post I was interrupted about ten times between just two of them.

    As a mom of three boys I find myself daydreaming about what it would be like to have a daughter. I would love to try again but I am in so deep with the three kids I have all ready brought into this world, quite frankly, the thought at this moment exhausts me. Can I really handle that many more years of diapers and tantrums? Do I have it in me?

    I also know that it would mean sacrificing myself even more. I mean, by the time I would have another my youngest would start getting into the age of school and then that could ruin my plans for my much needed me time that I am looking forward to when all three of them are finally in school. A day I must admit I long to see come sooner rather than later.

    I really enjoyed your post and could relate on so many levels. Its no wonder on the two times a year I go out with my girlfriends I end up in a drunken stooper – too much me time all at once. I get so excited to feel the excitement I felt in my early twenties that I will tend to overdo it when I am away from the little ones.

    Anyways, bravo – I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    November 18, 2009
  22. i find this whole question of introversion v extraversion extraordinary as i seem compelled by both. i need my own sense of peace and escape more than i need to connect with others, but i sure do gain from connecting to others. i seek approval, but in the end, what matters most is my own sense of approval.

    all those meyers-briggs, etc point me toward introversion with a mix of extraversion. i can just as easily and happily take myself out to lunch or a bookstore, etc as go out to meet someone else. i think just knowing i am amidst the human stream can be enough, which is something i don’t get from being home all the time. having said that, i can stay home for days, not even start the car, and be pretty content, as long as i have my escape time with a book or whatever, so long as no one is clinging onto or calling for me.
    that ‘quiet to recharge’, brittany, is essential. funny i used to get that tromping through rush hour all over boston. best to have my quiet connection seaside, listening/watching/smelling the ocean waves with sand and water between my toes

    November 18, 2009
  23. and brittany, your boys have been mighty sick, and that is completely draining. that sense of constant need of you amplified like spinal tap says, to 11.

    November 18, 2009
  24. i am an extrovert …
    i am the loudest person in my house (by far … sigh)….
    they think i got the dog for them, but she was totally for my company ….
    i’m the second messiest person in the house …. even though i am the one who is getting everyone else to help me clean up when the spirit moves me …..
    i prefer to paint in my studio when there is someone there with me ….
    i started doing my nano writing in quiet and private … but now mostly do it at the bar in the kitchen with chaos and joy and spilled goldfish all around me ….
    my children recharge me after a day without them ….
    i frequently get ” no mom, i can’t play cards with you, i still have too much homework to do” …. sometimes i’m the responsible one … but not always ….
    i am definitively quirky ….
    and just to add another twist … my husband is more introverted (i’d actually say he straddles extro and intro) …. and he’s an analytical finance kind of guy … i haven’t much of any analytical bits in my soul ….
    but we’re very happy … he had no issue with me painting every single room in my house the boldest brightest colors ever …. he needs my quirky … i need his calm and steady ….

    November 18, 2009
  25. Sorry, Miranda! I was (obviously) logged in under my Ubuntu Journal name, hence the confusion. I’ll check next time before I comment.

    Regarding the introvert/extrovert issue, I’m definitely an extrovert, but also have those moments when I need time by myself – pretty much daily. Which is why is has been difficult for me, in terms of these little ones wanting to be with me consistently – especially my younger one. I have to tell them that I need a minute or ten to myself, and typically they let me alone – but usually not longer than that. Of course, when they were younger, this was not possible, and that was when everything was the hardest – probably mostly from lack of sleep, but the needing space factor was also a major player in my discontent.

    I don’t know if being introverted or extraverted has to do with needing the energy it takes to get through an entire day being the sole caretaker for kids, or not. I think part of what got me through in the very early years were friends, and the social aspect there – so maybe that IS an extroverted quality. I think lack of sleep and isolation from other adults were the most difficult parts of being Mom to a little baby, for me. Whenever I had free time, I would sleep. Now, during my free time, I write. It’s a sign of my life changing – it’s a shift in me, and in my children. I like it. I accept it. I miss my babies. But when they were babies, I missed myself. Now i have them, and me.

    I think sometimes about how I’ll feel once they are grown and all moved out on their own. It makes me weepy, but I hope that when the time comes I’ll have enough going on for myself that it won’t be quite so devastating. I think it’s always hard, no matter what, to wave goodbye to those children as they start off on their own, without you. But it might be even worse to return to an empty house with nothing at all to lean on, in terms of one’s personal creative output or work. Here’s when I think it’s wise to hold something, all for yourself. Something just for you, so that it is always there, even when nothing or no one else is there – something that is an intrinsic part of you, and will keep you solid and in balance with your true nature and core.

    November 18, 2009
  26. nutshell: I miss my babies. But when they were babies, I missed myself. Now i have them, and me.

    thanks, mary.

    November 18, 2009
  27. i’m an extrovert, probably no surprise there. a lot of what e.beck said again rings true for me. we have a LOT in common, elizabeth! while i do occasionally need some downtime/quiet time, most times i’m completely happy to be in the thick of things.

    elizabeth, i love your “i am definitely quirky”. i think my avatar says it all. i am definitely kooky. and my friends know that. whenever i’ve tried to change out that kooky avatar on facebook, i get messages to change it back. i think the geico pothole commercial is the funniest thing i’ve ever heard and the girls and i recite the entire thing at least once a day. every day. and roll on the floor laughing each time. i am very easily amused. and i love that i have two little girls who are just as easily amused as i am because my husband thinks i’m nuts.

    and like you cathy, now that my babies are six, i miss my babies. but when they were babies, i didn’t miss myself. i loved who i became with them. and i want more. i’d have a house full if i didn’t have to again go through what i went through to get the two that i have. we could have a whole family of geico pothole lovers.

    November 18, 2009
  28. Kristine #

    It’s been a really rough week emotionally for me, which is making it hard to post everything here in response that I want to, but I want to say, Miranda, that your post was wonderful and really spoke to me as a writer…as a mother…and as a woman. Thank you.

    November 18, 2009
  29. Wow, Miranda. You are a wonderful writer.

    For a girl.

    November 19, 2009
  30. the only comment i read was Eric’s. awesome. just wanted to add my validation.

    so… Yup. i get it. both the working and the not. and everything else. i think the key is to notice that “me” that is found in those quiet moments alone, and hold on to that, tap in to it during the chaos… instead of separating it as a “when i’m away from the kids” thing. not that that’s easy, but that stillness is always there, somewhere.

    excuse my rambling incoherence. i’m writing a novel, you know. ;)

    November 19, 2009
  31. We must be getting at something, because I think this is more comments than we’ve ever had on a post.

    Very interesting question re introversion/extroversion. Brittany, I’m a bit like you. I like to have my social opportunities, but assuming I’ve seen a few friends in the past couple of weeks, I would most likely pick jammies and a book over going to a party.

    I wonder, though, if this issue doesn’t have more to do with the age at which a mother begins having children. I was just barely 21 when I had my first, and had three by the time I was 27. I’m confident that that has something to do with the frustration I experience.

    I used to think that it was easier to have kids so early, because you haven’t become accustomed to adult life of your “own” before having to put that on hold. So you’re less aware of the sacrifices. But I’ve changed my mind about that. I think it’s the opposite. While it may be hard to have found yourself and then have to dilute that self for a time, it’s easier to maintain your center WHEN YOU ALREADY HAVE ONE. I’m not saying that I was a total loser when I started having kids, but obviously, at 21, I hadn’t developed quite the sense of self that one has 10 or 15 years later. So maybe when you have kids starting in your 30s or closer to 40 you actually have less difficulty staying in touch with who you are, because that self was more defined to start with.

    Anyone else see a correlation?

    November 19, 2009
  32. miranda, i think i mentioned before that we both have the interesting perspective of having one set of kids, then a gap then another.

    i def parent much differently now than i did when the boys were little. my take on toddlerhood is very different. i’m not the totally frazzed wreck i was when i would try to *make* the non-sleeping boys sleep at a decent hour. now c stays up til ten, i grumble that it’s ridiculous, but we get more hours in a row with her that way. but my heartrate isn’t in duress like with the boys. an example since sleep dep is such an issue with a little one in the house.

    however, i was 29 when i started, not 21. but i was always slow to develop in certain areas (remember, our college was designed for teens, and i transferred there, and yet it was the perfect school for me at the time, averaging 3-4 yrs older than most of my classmates.)

    November 20, 2009
  33. Kristine #

    I think there is some validity to the age concept. I waited until my early 30s to have my first baby (I had been married 7 years) because I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle motherhood while juggling a stressful full-time job, a husband that traveled 5 out of 7 days a week, and living in a home/area I knew wasn’t very kid friendly. I was also working to define myself as a writer and trying to decide what I wanted out of my professional and personal life. My goal was to wait to have kids until my life was in order.

    When I had my daughter two years ago, my husband had a more stable job (long hours but at least no more traveling), we moved into a better house and better neighborhood, and I was in a position where I could quit my high-stress full-time job and go part-time freelance from home.

    I also spent the years before my baby was born networking with my writing as much as possible: writing groups, workshops, conferences, etc. By the time I was ready to have a baby, I was able to focus solely on my new job as a mom because I felt I accomplished everything I needed and wanted to do up to that point. I could work at home, raise my baby, and write. I was ready, and I truly feel the reason I don’t feel the depression and frustration that other moms do is because I feel I’ve already lived my other life “out there.” I can return to my other life after my daughter is grown. I don’t necessarily miss it because I know I can and will return to it when the time is right. I’m content now to focus on what I need to do at this time in my life.

    I truly understand, however, that not everyone is so lucky or fortunate to be in that position. I really do. And I don’t take my position for granted because I know that in an instant, everything could change. I also just have one child right now as opposed to other moms who juggle more than one (Or in Miranda’s case, FIVE–I don’t know how you do it, girlfriend.)

    Not to say my current situation isn’t challenging some days, especially when I’m working until 2 a.m. because I’m on deadline (like tonight), haven’t written anything on my novel in a week because I am too tired or too busy with the demands of chasing a toddler, and can’t even go out to get a cup of coffee by myself because my husband has to work a stretch of 14-hour days.

    But I try to take it all in stride. There’s a time and place for everything…even if the place you want to be right now is somewhere else. :-)

    November 20, 2009
  34. Charlotte #

    Cathy, your post on introversion/extroversion could equally have been about me. We really do seem to have a lot in common.

    Mary: about the coming back to an empty house – yes, I get that. I’m trying to work out right now what it is I can make for myself that I can hold on to.

    I feel like a bit of an interloper here because, as some of you know, I’m not a mother. So obviously I can’t directly relate to much of what this blog is about; it’s not really “my” place, it’s yours (studio mothers). I wanted to say, though, that from my perspective it’s such a relief for me to hear you all not simply talking proudly about the difficulties of motherhood as if this entitles you to some kind of medal (I’m sure you must all have met mothers who do this), but actually telling it like it is, and saying how frustrated and angry you often feel, that becoming a mother does not automatically turn you into Superwoman.

    I could scream sometimes when people go on to me at length, but *vaguely*, about what hard work it is but it’s the best thing they’ve ever done (and how I really should have children, without asking why I don’t). I’m sure they mean well, but to me it just sounds smug and patronising. What you are all writing here makes so much more sense, and is rather more as I imagine it. It makes it possible for me to relate to you as *people* rather than Mothers (capital M), and to what you’re saying, without feeling like it’s a club I’m not allowed to be part of and cannot possibly understand.

    Also, because you’re all being so honest about it all, and despite the fact that the topic is the sense of loss of self as a result of being a mother, when reading each of your posts I get a VERY strong sense of each of you as an *individual* – someone whose core (yes, Miranda! we can all see yours shining very brightly – maybe it’s easier to see from the outside?) I can relate to. Someone who also happens to be a mother.

    This is of course the way it is with my good friends, who I knew and related to as Real People (winky smiley things here to indicate humour ;-)) first and foremost, before they had their lovely children. I feel very privileged that they make it possible for their children to enrich my life as well as theirs. I get to dip in and out and enjoy the cuteness, then back out while they do all the hard work. ;-)

    I hope none of the above is out of line and that it does have some bearing on the discussion.

    November 20, 2009
  35. charlotte, i really appreciate your peerspective, in general, but esp above. you show us that we’re all not just whining, “it’s soooo haaaaard….what about meeeee?!”

    running, or i’d say more or better than that.

    November 20, 2009
  36. miranda, i think you might have hit the nail on the head when you asked about the age at which we first had children, and if having children later in life did give you a stronger sense of self to begin with. i was nearly 38 and had been married for 8 years (and together with my dh for 11) when our girls were born. i’d already developed a very strong, very independent sense of self. so in my case, finally having children after trying for so long truly did just enhance who i already was. i truly do not feel that i lost any of “me” in that process. interesting angle. i look back at my life and my parents lives. i’ll be 44 in two weeks; my girls are 6. when my parents were 44, i was 24. i know that’s similar to where you are, miranda. it does bring about a totally different perspective.

    and i’m glad charlotte chimes in! one of my best friends chose not to have children and i always appreciate her take on things as well.

    November 20, 2009
  37. Brittany Vandeputte #

    I was 29 when Sam was born, and Tom and I had been married almost 5 years. In that time, we’d purchased 3 homes and moved across the country twice. We would have had children sooner had it not been for the fact that I was drowning underneath school loan debts and it was important to Tom that we get out from under it first. Unlike some of you, who were well-established with your careers or writing before you had children, my “professional” life was a cobbled-together mixmatch of temp jobs, teaching, and paralegaling–I was never at any one job for more than a year and a half. My writing “career” was equally sporadic. I went long periods never writing anything, and then on a whim one day, wrote a play that ended up writing a playwriting contest and a poem that I eventually published (this year). Truthfully, the aimlessness of it all drove me crazy. I wanted that anchor of motherhood to legitimize my life because otherwise, it was a half-assed disaster.

    I finished paying off my school loans before we moved back to SC, and when we moved here, got pregnant right away. In the months before Sam was born, I put my writing life on warp speed, finished a novel with NANOWRIMO, joined critique groups, established a presence among the Greenville writing scene… Was beginning to feel all was grounded and right about my life–and then I had a baby–a very demanding, energetic, inquisitive, darling baby who obliterated the life I’d worked so hard to create for myself.

    I will be very honest here. I have always been VERY ambivalent about having children. And do not much care for infants. In fact, I always told Tom I’d rather adopt a toddler because I didn’t want to deal with a baby. His need to imprint his genes on our offspring won out over my desire to adopt, but the last few years have been hard on me because, in wanting to get the whole infant thing over with, we had two children back to back.

    Only now that John is nearly 18 months old and showing a measure of independence, do I feel at all like I can breathe and parent the children naturally. Parenting infants forces me to go on Auto-Poppins and while I loved my boys at every age and stage, I honestly enjoy mothering them now.

    Which creates a real conundrum because the more distance between me and the writer’s life I created for myself, the harder it will be to reclaim it. I feel like I am lost in that vortex Miranda speaks of, and sadly, Studio Mothers is my last tie to my writing self. I’ve had to sever everything else because without a strong past to anchor myself, or the ability to plan for the future, I’m left adrift.

    I don’t think the age we have our children is as important as the strength of our sense of self. I know I whine and cry and Poor Me a lot because who I wanted to be pre-mother was only a vague outline I needed to fill in and my boys have gone and scribbled all over the page.

    November 20, 2009
  38. Charlotte #

    Kelly, just to clarify: not sure whether you mentioned your friend because it sounded as if I had chosen not to have children. It wasn’t a choice as such – no dramatic reasons either – it just seems to have ended up that way.

    November 20, 2009
  39. This conversation has been so useful — and cathartic — for me. Thank you, everyone, for helping me to make sense of my experience.

    November 22, 2009
  40. Hi Miranda!

    Been a long time. Yeah. I got sucked into that vortex of mothering the little ones, and the 16 year old who decided to rebel to the extreme which involved a psychiatric hospital stay, and I’ve been struggling to resurface for a week or two now. I found myself in a horrible depressed state, called a counselor who said, oh big surprise, “you need to do something for yourself.” And she suggested finding a closet to keep my paint stuff in to pull out when the kids are napping. For real? Painting is messy business and you can’t stuff a wet oil in the closet just like that when the little ones start to shriek. Anyway, I’m trying to be back now, trying not to sound like an old broken record of how I feel sorry for myself, trying not to hate my spouse for his free time and office space, his work time and time out in the sun, but mostly trying to reconnect with the me that I am (?), that I was (?) or who I might want to be (?).

    I recently spent an hour driving with my nineteen year old, she drove, down to our new home in the country, and it was incredibly different than being with the babies (baby girl is now 35 months, baby boy is 20 months), and I found myself feeling like a different me, relaxed, like the “keep everyone alive” mode was switched off. I felt somehow free! And young! (I’m 40 too.) I wanted to run through fields and feel the wind in my hair. Amazing. Unfortunately, those alone moments are few and far between and I am usually trapped in the vacuum of never ending motherhood, being sucked down into some soulless, depressed, mind numbed state where I feel guilty about being too tired to find time for myself. I’m working on it. This week is not too bad.

    December 2, 2009
  41. Kerry, you’ve had a rough run of it. I really hope things are on the upswing.

    Is there anything else you can do that is related to painting or some other creative outlet — a lateral shift — that you can enjoy during short windows of opportunity without worrying about where to stick the wet canvas? Could you work in pastels? Something with minimal set-up and clean-up requirements? I think it’s dangerous to tell yourself “My only creative desire is painting and I’m in a situation where I can’t ever paint.” Don’t lock yourself in a dungeon. Maybe push the boundaries a little bit and explore what’s possible, so that you can invest time in something that informs your painting, which you WILL get back to eventually, but that fits within today’s parameters.

    Although as far as the oils go, so long as you can find a high flat surface for storing your wet canvas, and maybe a jar of terp in the garage where you can store your brushes if you need to stop painting on a dime, you may find that with practice you really CAN paint in windows of small opportunity. Maybe you can paint straight from the tube so you don’t have to worry about wasting mixed colors. Can you brainstorm ways to cut corners — and maybe make a few compromises — but still do what you want to do, essentially?

    To my mind, the problem is when I’m not being regularly creative and I get all worked up about having “a session” and then the moment arrives and turns out to really only be a moment. How depressing! But if you’re in the habit of just getting a bit of paint on the canvas in 10-minute chunks here and there, it doesn’t feel so defeating when you have to pack it in. You are better able to surrender to that moment and just be grateful that you got a few strokes down. And then comes that occasional gift when you’re prepared to only have 10 minutes but you end up with an hour or even two. How exciting to have actually made excellent use of that time, and have something creative to show for it.

    I know this is hard for artists who need hours of planning and solitude for creativity, but the fact is, you don’t have that luxury right now. You will again, one day, but for now, maybe turning your artistic need on its head will actually yield better results than you ever could have imagined!

    December 4, 2009

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