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Robin: The Hamster Wheel

I have a friend who recently quit her job in retail management because she felt like it was zapping her energy (she might have said something like siphoning her life force — she is very poetic!). She said her immediate response to the new stage in her life (you know, after the thrill of sticking it to your boss) was sheer panic. Did she really decide to take herself off the hamster wheel — the one that tells you where to go, when to go, how fast to go, and how to think about on any given 8-10 hour work day? Quick, we must find another hamster wheel!

If you have ever taken a plunge like that, then you know. It feels like you are drowning in possibility. Problem is, you do not know how to discern anything outside of the schematic of a structured work environment. My panic came in the form of motherhood. I waited several years for the little girl in my arms, but where was the constant ringing in my head coming from? I felt like I was a retired Pavlov’s dog unable to generate anything more than DO NOT GIVE IN to the desires invoked by the bell which is GO BACK TO THE HAMSTER WHEEL. Too much time to fill and no one to tell me how to fill it. Well meaning friends who have heard me “lament” (a pretty word for moaning and groaning) said, “finally Robin you can write like you always talked about.”

But how can one create in a state of panic? I felt forgotten in the world. Forty years old in a play group with a toddler surrounded by the other “20-something” moms. Many of whom were joyfully talking about their “next baby” while the one in front of them is barely a year old. I am college educated and full of life experience, stuck in a world filled with The Wonder Pets anthem playing in my head and not much else. It was getting difficult to get out of bed.

So as I embark on this thing — this facade I still call it even as I make myself write — I have no choice but to wake up in my life and EXPLORE. I see that my panicked friend and I could help each other. She actually has her undergrad in art so she has the foundation to re-imagine a life of openness to love through her creativity; more fully with her heart and mind.

As I continue to journey DAILY, I hope I can inspire and encourage others on the way. I do find from past attempts on this creativity kick that, very similar to my walk with Jesus, that I am “simply A BEGGAR trying to show other beggars where the bread is.”

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. alexsondra #

    Well said. Liam is now 14, and I am 60. I remember those play groups, where after the talk of babies, I felt estranged, except that I could offer tidbits of advice here and there. Very carefully, I might add. I am the age of their mothers. And as such, I’m suspect. Quite the dilemma. Imagine having to listen to their complaints about their own mothers(mine had just passed on). Yes, Jesus did give me a special path, as He does all of us. And even when we feel like we’re on the hamster’s wheel, if we breathe, go a bit more slowly, we’ll find that either our wheel is a bit different, or that we’re spinning for a different audience.

    If you “spin”, spin for an audience of ONE. If you write, write for an audience of ONE. It’s really between you and your creator. When we all do this, we all become ONE.

    Thanks for your exquisite words.

    May 26, 2010
  2. Alexsondra, you MOVE me with your beautiful response. Thank you.

    May 26, 2010
  3. sometimes this older mom thing is a real crux, and we may not have the same energy as the younger moms that surround us, but i think it gives a real and vital different perspective of patience for and with the child and yourself as a parent.

    I think having patience for your creativity is a big part of this, too. we’re not always going to have every ounce of pow when we sit down to write during naptime or at the end of a long day of reading dr. seuss over and over again.

    some days, it just shows up elsewhere, in how you play with your child or negotiate a difficult moment with her.

    but yes, allowing in a life that seems to demand two income families, the ‘choice’ to be home with your children is a huge permission to yourself to really make something of your art, whatever it is. so, go for it, even when it happens in increments.

    May 26, 2010
  4. here, here! i, too, am an older mom. i was 37 when my girls, my first and only, came along. my husband was 44. and alesondra, i totally get the “listening to the complaints about their mothers”. i lost mine before my girls were born, so very hard not to remind them how lucky they are to still have them. 🙂

    we didn’t do the play group thing since i was only able to stay home with them for the first 6 months, but i have that similar experience with their school friends’ mom. i’m definitely the oldest in the group, but that’s okay. it definitely does give you a vastly different perspective and patience level. much needed, i think.

    and as for that hamster wheel, i don’t have the choice of totally getting off of it, but i do hope to at least change to a slower wheel soon. i’m applying for a full-time faculty position that recently opened up at the college, so keep your fingers crossed for me. it would be a sizable paycut, but the payback in time would be well worth it.

    May 26, 2010
  5. sandy #

    I’m an older Mum, too. Our last baby was born 11 years ago after a close to 17 years gap. I’m the oldest Mum in my son’s class mates group, and I love it.

    One thing I knew for sure once I knew I was having another baby, was that work outside the home would have to come second – and sometimes work inside the home as well!

    I now work two days a week, and still feel like I’m on a treadmill. Financially, it’s necessary for me to work at this point in time, and my husband and I both long for the days when we can cut back and take up our creative pursuits again.

    For the time being though, a little at a time sustains me. A few rows of knitting, making a candle or two, planting out some herbs, cooking a Debbie Chocolate Pudding from scratch for my husband, reading a longed-for book, learning to crochet from my 11 year old son, getting out my machine and sewing a couple of simple seams.

    To some this may seem banal, but for me it lifts me over the not so smooth patches, and reminds me that I am capable of having a creative, warm, glowing life if I choose.

    May 26, 2010
  6. Cathy and Kelly, you both touch on a key component that I too have manifested as an older mom: PATIENCE. More and more I see the same type of patience I am able to experience in the midst of tough mommmy situations spills into the writing time and the way in which I am OK with who I am AT THIS MOMENT…

    Kelly, my fingers are crossed for you friend…

    May 26, 2010
  7. I appreciate your post, Robin.

    This reminds me how important it is to connect with people who affirm your values and perspective. Not to the point that you need to insulate yourself from the challenge of people who think differently — because of course that kind of censorship is dangerous — but because it’s important to have community.

    Recently I’ve found it difficult to be around people who are — in my opinion — overly controlling of their children. Maybe this is the “patience” thing that comes with being an older mother. But when I’m at my 2-year-old’s toddler gym class, the other parents are all “go in this direction, don’t do that, be careful, you’ll hurt yourself, be careful, no no you’re getting in that little boy’s way, stop doing that and come over here and do this….” Now, I realize that I shouldn’t let my kid cut in line when others are waiting for their turn, and obviously I should prevent my child from falling off the high beam, but otherwise, we’re in a class where exploration is encouraged. Does it really matter if two pre-school children are at opposite ends of a tunnel and going to pass each other inside? Must we remove one of the children and scold her for going the “wrong way”? Being in this class makes me sad for all of the rules that we heap onto our children; the way in which we mow down their creative instincts in the name of “safety” or “politeness.” Model friendliness, think of others, but for goodness sake, do we have to turn our smallest children into little robots who can’t move for fear of going the wrong way or offending someone? We teach them not to trust themselves.

    I care increasingly less about what people think of me and my parenting style. I want my child to be himself. So long as that doesn’t hurt anyone else, I allow a very wide berth — whether we’re talking about my 2-year-old or my teenagers.

    Anyway, what I WANTED to say was that it is affirming for me to be around other women who parent in a similar style. Mothers who do have a few rules, but whose rules are not born from knee-jerk impulses or a ream of “shoulds.” It is not easy to find these mothers. Everyone I know who has teenagers seems to care a lot about where their children will go to college, for example. Sure, I get the “pride” of having a smart kid who gets into a great college, but so what? Who cares if your child goes to UMass instead of Harvard? Is he going to be happier in life? Have all these wonderful extra opportunities? From my perspective he’ll just have more of a chance to dwell on the very hamster wheel that Robin writes about. If he wants to live on that wheel, then that will be his choice. But I’m certainly not going to push him onto it or pretend that I think it’s some great place to be. If my child wants to earn a 4.0 and develop a long list of extracurricular accomplishments and community service records because he WANTS to go to an Ivy League college, go for it. Otherwise, so long as my teenagers are getting A’s and B’s (as to my mind dropping into C’s or below indicates needing more help or might be a flag for some other issue), I don’t concern myself about their academic output. I want my kids to learn the thrill of really doing their best — spending it all and not holding back — but this isn’t something that I, or anyone else, can really teach them. They will have to come to it on their own. Breathing down their necks over every homework assignment or report card is just not on my radar screen. Sometimes I feel very alone in this parenting choice.

    Oh dear. Now that I’ve ranted on in TWO overly long comments this morning, I’m going to go make myself a second cup of coffee! Hmmm….maybe a second cup of coffee isn’t such a great idea after all! 😉

    May 27, 2010
  8. ok, now that i’m seeing what everyone is talking about here, thanks miranda for so much input, you covered a ton of bases.

    I want to recommend a child dev book that i am currently reading, which addresses ways of looking at how children’s brains function at what ages, etc in a ‘new’ way from the prior 100 years of the field of child development. so much of the ways we have been pushing, esp in the last 30 years, on how to raise kids is actually backfiring for their academic and social success. this book also makes a lot of my own thoughts on kids ‘official’ when for me it was just common sense. it’s also a really easy read, esp considering how many current and past studies on child development it addresses.

    it’s written very clearly for teachers and parents to understand what to do with kids, these days, and whether we really should intervene as much as we do – and how we intervene.

    ‘Nurture Shock’ by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

    May 27, 2010
  9. I was laughing out loud when I read your comment Miranda! That whole thing about intervening at every turn-I actually experienced that again today in the play area where Josey was playing! THE GOOD NEWS is that no parent intervened and the kids – 4 of them and all around the age of 4 – FIGURED IT OUT!

    Cath C, I amgoing to check out the library for that book; sounds like a good read.

    May 27, 2010

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