Shock and Awe

I’ve saved every blank book I ever filled – from the first hardbound, mottled watercolor cover to the psychedelic smiley faces.  All but the most recent sit high upon a shelf, my own little archive of embarrassing moments.

Every so often – when I have to move my collection from point a to point b, when I’m feeling nostalgic, or looking for a particular passage – I’ll skim the pages and revisit my words, my state of being at that point in time.  Sometimes the words are merely confessional, the quintessential catharsis for which we all count on ‘dear diary’.  Sometimes the paragraphs give way to great insight.  Sometimes, I read a passage that takes my breath away, that makes me flush with the way the words are crafted, the beauty and power of their make-up.  I crafted such quality?  My God, I really can write.  And then I find the author’s attribute, my little indent and dash noting the actual author’s name.  Drat.  Foiled again.

Though even in that moment just before I discover the author’s name, as I still unbelievingly read ‘my words’, it’s not a self-congratulatory moment.  There’s always a shock and awe involved.  A pinch-myself moment where I get a glimpse of the holy grail of writing.  Is it really possible?  For me?  By me?

But then, a few months ago, out of the blue, my aunt asked me what were some of the favorite things I’d written on this blog.  A few irreverent attempts at humor came to mind; the inaugural post explaining what all these potatoes are, of course.  When I actually dove into the blog to review, I realized just how much writing I’ve done on here.  Lots to sift through!  And lots to reorganize, I realized (so I – and hopefully you – can find it all).

A day or so later, I received an email from that same aunt with a link to a video.  A marketing and public relations professional by trade, she’d been working with a new platform and wanted to share it with me.  I clicked, eager to see what she’d created.  Striking images flowed across the screen, dovetailing each other seamlessly.  Sentences strung together over them told a story.

It wasn’t until nearly halfway through the video that I realized they were my words.

The same shock and awe that usually came over me as I read evocative passages in my journals occurred – only this time, it was I who had penned the words.  The shock and awe were accompanied by gratification.  And a little disbelief.  My journal dreams may yet come true.

 

The video that started it all . . .

 

Thanks to Janet Crook for helping me visualize in more ways than one.

Sleep Training for the Old and Infirm

Is it possible to simultaneously feel as if your heart has been ripped out and you’re being played?

By a lover – yes, I suppose.

By a baby?  Definitely.

The baby is question is baby number four.  This is not our first rodeo, people.  We’ve fed, bathed, and put babies to sleep countless times.  But this one?  This number four of four has broken the good sleeper trend.

There are a number of circumstances that fuel this insomniac insanity.  She sleeps in our room; as in, crib in corner of our room because we’ve yet to blow the roof out over our garage so we can reconfigure sleeping arrangements.  Then, she sleeps in our room; as in, she wakes and can sense our presence and won’t let us lay until she’s with us.  Again, she sleeps in our room; as in, she cries in the middle of the night and my husband and I – who are not as young and energetic as we were with baby number one – grab her and bring her into bed so we can collapse back into sleep as soon as possible because neither one of us has the will to walk her or soothe her to sleep in her own crib.

And, apparently, the kid just doesn’t like sleep.

Well, she does when she is glommed onto my or my husband’s physical self.

Yes, we created the monster.  Well, sort of.  She’s a tactile kid.  She could not be soothed as an infant unless she was close – tightly swaddled, firmly held, bounced.  She couldn’t put herself to sleep in the vast wide-open of her crib.  I got that early on.  But that paired with my exhaustion-thin resolve did not help me help her.

Bringing her to bed was fine when she quieted right down and settled into the crook of one of our bodies.  But recently, she’s begun thrashing, rolling, sleeping horizontally.  Ask my husband about skull-on-skull contact around 4 AM the other day.  We all obviously need our own bed.

Which led me to attempting to sleep train an almost two-year-old last night.

Which is awesome when they’re that much more stubborn.  And set in their ways.  And can scream your name.

I remember the heartbreak when my first wailed from her crib as an infant.  I remember standing in the downstairs hallway staring at the calendar where I marked down the minutes.  Now, there was only a comforter over my head separating me from the wails – and they carried my name.  She could voice the cause of her heartbreak.  It was Momma, Mommy, Mommmmmmmmmmm.

My husband had abandoned ship, opting for the couch and somewhat muffled screams, maybe sleep.  I didn’t have to go to work in the morning and I’d had a late-in-the-day mocha so I rode the train.  I prayed a manic mental rosary, pleading with God and the Virgin Mother to just let her sleep.  I heard William Sears and every other attachment expert tell me I was breaking her spirit, crushing her soul.  I heard Ferber telling me I was buckling and needed to stay strong.

I tried the initial cuddle, which sent her to sleep almost instantaneously.  Popped awake as soon as her head hit the crib.  I let her cry for ten minutes, then comforted.  More screams.  I let her cry for twenty minutes, then comforted.  More screams.  I let her cry for thirty minutes.  More.  Screams.  There were two instances of a minute or two where I thought perhaps she’d stopped, when the silence was so deafening in its abject oppositeness; where my breathing began to slow, my body able to unclench – and then it began again.

I gave up after an hour and a half.

I know I’ve probably created a worse situation than if I’d not tried at all.  I’ve probably taught her that she just needs to keep up the crying – for longer and longer intervals if necessary – to bring Mom to her.

As much as I dreaded I was breaking her little heart, her almost instant silence when I lifted her made me feel the rube.

She was sprawled across my bed surrounded by pillows when I snuck away this morning to write this.  She sweetly said, “Hi Momma” when her sister brought her to me a little later.  Instead of being glad she didn’t harbor any resentment against me for last night, I couldn’t help but think she was turning on the charm and rubbing it in that she’d won.

How many more Café Mocha nights will it take?

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So Much Blah

For such a bland, nonspecific word, blah actually does a lot.

At the end of last month, I started a mood tracker to get a closer look at and more specific language for my moods.  I’d been using blah too much and too widely.

Now that I’ve been pinning my days and moods to – what I thought were – more specific descriptors, I realize just how evocative blah is for me.

Blah is not wanting to get off the couch – either from physical exhaustion or lack of motivation – or both.  Blah is not knowing where to start when faced with a day’s plan or duties.  Blah is not knowing how to structure a day with no plan or duties.  Blah is feeling off.  Blah is not wanting to get dressed because you haven’t had the time to shower or because nothing would feel as comfortable against your skin as pjs.  Blah is worrying about an unnamed idea.  Blah is not wanting to interface with people.  Blah is not eating because nothing seems appealing.  Blah is eating candy or snacks that will bring on more blah for sure – but perhaps will be a happy treat.  Blah answers the question, ‘How are you?’ with a shrug because blah really isn’t sure – even if things aren’t that bad.

Blah is a lot of ‘not wanting to’.  Blah must be a toddler.  Or a moody teenager.

Blah comes to visit me a lot – and not because I have all of those in my house.

I wanted to get away from using blah to describe my state of mind because I wanted something more specific.  I don’t know that I realized how many versions of blah there were.

In my mood tracker, I opted for descriptors like ‘not focused’, ‘not productive’, ‘unsettled’.  According to those little squares of color on my chart, there’s been a lot of unsettled lately.  I think I just switched blah for unsettled.  I need to unpack the feelings in that paragraph above and figure out the different shades of blah or unsettled or whatever I want to call it.

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from sillyoldsod.com

 

The Push and Pull of Motherhood

It all starts with a push.  It is through a woman’s labor, a forceful push, that a baby – and her mother – is birthed.

From that point on, it is all about pulling.  A woman, now a mother, pulled in eight thousand different directions a day.  Literally, she is – calls for food, cries for comfort – but that’s not even of what I speak.  I’m speaking of expectation vs. reality; perfection vs. attainability; manic striving vs. sanity.

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From that first push, and from that first pull forward, the unwitting conditioning of our ideas and carrying out of motherhood shape our every decision, every day, our very psyches.

The other day, I kicked my kids out of the kitchen while I made the cupcakes they requested for Easter.  My second oldest had requested red velvet, which we’d never made before.  Why, suddenly, did she want this new and different flavor?  Could we not keep it simple, especially surrounding a busy holiday?  But then, I could’ve kept it simple by redirecting her to a different flavor or even buying a ready-made mix.  Instead, I half-kiddingly offered the metaphor of red for Christ’s blood.  She was sold.  And I began research on homemade recipes with less artificial ingredients than the mixes.  Again, could’ve kept this simple, but looked for the simplest one I could find that was sort of in line with the husband’s and my new trying-to-be-healthy-ish regimen.

 

That morning, the second oldest and I participated in an impromptu Girl Scout cookie booth.  I came home to prep appetizers for a dinner party at a friends’ that night.  Then I set in on the cupcakes.  The cupcake-requester was nowhere to be found, most likely buried eyeball-deep in her iPad after a morning of social interaction.  Her next youngest sister saw me gathering supplies and asked to help.  At this point, I was up to my eyeballs in a messy kitchen and bad humor.

“NO,” I replied far too emphatically.

When I saw her sad little face, I almost reconsidered, but held my ground, knowing that with limited time and remaining fuse I’d do far more damage than that to her poor little soul.

By way of a conciliatory carrot, I said, “You can help decorate them when they’ve cooled.”

As I prepped the rest of the recipe, I felt guilty.  These were cupcakes for a family celebration of Easter, requested by the kids most excited about the holiday.  Yet, the kid who’d started this whole evolution was MIA and I’d sequestered the rest.  Was I not sucking the joy out of this?  Was it about having a finished batch of red velvet cupcakes or letting my daughters participate in a fun activity?

When describing the frenetic events of the weekend to my therapist today, but before I got the part about my guilt, she congratulated me for sensing my limit and taking steps to keep from flying right over it.  When I told her how I perceived it, she said that I had been well within my rights for self-preservation by prepping the cupcakes myself.  She pointed out that I welcomed them in decorating the cupcakes, which is all kids really want to do anyway.

It did occur to me that, had I removed that fail-safe for myself that day, it wouldn’t have been a June Cleaver moment even if mother and child had made cupcakes together.  It almost certainly would’ve ended badly.  Just the night before, I’d dropped the f-bomb as we all made Resurrection cookies together.  Jesus would’ve been proud.

Looking back, I can see how it would’ve ended.  I would’ve needed multiple ‘come to Jesus’ moments afterwards to recoup.  And yet, the guilt still came in the moment.

And that is the pull modern mothers have.  We have been conditioned to do all manner of June Cleaver, Martha Stewart, Mother Earth type of things for our children, our families – even to the exclusion of our sanity.

Motherhood, parenthood, by its very essence, is sacrifice.  But there is no sense giving all of ourselves if everyone involved is miserable.  Even cupcakes are bitter to the taste buds when made with resentment and frustration.

The journey of motherhood started with a push.  That doesn’t mean we have to be pulled apart from that point forward.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  And no, I’m not saying we should push our kids around.  We mustn’t remain static in the face of our conditioning.   There has to be movement both towards our children and our own self care.

After all, my homemade version of red velvet cupcakes were vegan – with store bought cream cheese frosting.

How Much I Learned from One Day of Mood Tracking

This past Sunday afternoon, I finally sat down with my thirteen year-old to create a mood tracker bullet-journal style.

It was an activity months in the making.  Once I expressed an interest, she would bring it up from time to time, asking me when we’d actually sit down and bu-jo together, as she says.  Eventually the questioning took on an annoyed tone as she began to wonder when and if it would actually happen.

Initially, it really was just a matter of scheduling.  When did we actually have an afternoon off to spend together with markers and blank books?  Looking back, I now realize there were other factors at play – none of which had to do with this lovely little being who wanted to spend time with me on the cusp of not wanting to spend time with me.  So I shoved those aside, or at least down enough for the day, so she wouldn’t begin to take things personally.  Those factors, however, say a lot about where I’m at right now.

First, I was unsure where to start.  I’ve never bullet journaled before and haven’t sketched or doodled just for the joy of it in decades.  Ain’t no mom got time for that.  And I certainly couldn’t let go enough to enjoy it.  If I was going to do this, it had to be done right and in an aesthetically pleasing manner.  And if I was going to invest time and blank page space, the information I collected had to be useful.  I wanted facts and indicators I could bring back to my practitioners to prove my case and plan of treatment.  When I finally sank into the couch with her, I realized I hadn’t started because I didn’t know which layout to use to best serve my needs.  Bless her thirteen year-old technologically saavy heart, she launched you-tube and pinterest searches in conjunction, showing me what she found.

Of course, I had to create my own hybrid version of a few I’d found.  I also think I let go of the idea of perfection for this month, figuring I won’t know what exactly works for me until I actually interface with it and can adjust as needed going forward.

After I created a grid with just over two weeks’ worth of dates running down its side, I set about choosing mood indicators to list across the top.  Five manner of emojis was not going to do it for me.  I was seeking language to differentiate blah from ennh to my physician.  I needed specific descriptors.  But choosing those descriptors was another story.  I broke out a pencil and began a list on a separate page.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

In a very short time, I realized how many more negative descriptors I had than positive ones.  Why did I have so many words appropriate for shitty ways of being than good ones?  The easy answer is that I’ve had lots of practice, apparently, with low moods.  The more difficult answer I’m still unpacking is how my mind tends to the negative.  Is my brain wired to a pessimistic program?  Or is it stuck in a rutted road of negativity since it’s been travelling in that direction for so long?  Does it need a reprogram?  Is that possible?

My final list, which I’m still not completely sold should be absolutely final, has one more negative descriptor than positive, but I forced myself to beef up the positive side so it wasn’t totally lopsided.  I also find my negative words so much more specific, evocative.  I find the positive descriptors more vague and general.  Again, I’ve been living in the land of low moods so apparently I know them better.

Writing such a raw, vulnerable list with my daughter at my elbow was unsettling to say the least.  The fact that she aided my progress both makes me proud that she’s so creative; that she’s so willing to accept me as I am.  It also makes me hopeful that perhaps an idea like tracking moods will become so commonplace to her generation that dialogue surrounding mental health will be like breathing air.  But I’m also terrified.  I’m afraid she’ll see what a broken person I am.   And not due to some ‘I’m so strong and perfect’ façade I’m trying to portray.  Just, I don’t know, that I struggle.  As in, how can I take care of her if I haven’t perfected how to care for myself?  But even as I write that, I know that’s all a part of being human and she’ll figure it out sooner or later no matter what.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

The reason I wanted a mood tracker was to turn a highly subjective entity – moods and feelings – into a quantifiable collection of data.  For some reason, I think I actually expected that by putting it into a grid would miraculously turn it from one thing to the other.  Perhaps I knew that was wishful thinking and why I postponed it for so long.  I also realized how much my procrastination is fueled by my perfectionism.  I also learned that, whatever its origin, I need to check my negativity so that it doesn’t rule my life.

So before I’ve even collected more than a day’s worth of data, my mood tracker has already proved to be an illustrative tool – in ways I may have never even imagined.

 

Keeping It Neat

I was a slob as a kid.  There, I said it.

I mean, I went to school washed and neat in appearance, but my room?  I could not keep a clean room to save my life.

I remember pulling up the lid of the old-school seat-and-writing-surface-all-connected student desk my parents refurbished for me, sweeping out the pencil shavings, stacking and organizing, placing everything just so; the pride that came from having a clean space – and then getting to the pile of stuff that still sat on the floor.  Where am I going to put that?  That won’t fit in a nice, neat pile.  That will mess everything up.  But I can’t get rid of it. I might use that Hello Kitty notepad someday.  That half-used activity book still has some good pages.  And, thus, my neat little pocket of organization burst at the seams.

My adult life is much the same.  Hellen Buttigieg of the now defunct home organization series, Neat, helped me realize my inner ‘pile-r’ (as opposed to file-r), but that doesn’t mean I’ve applied any sort of order to it.  Well, that’s not true.  I know the order of it.  But it looks atrocious and the system only works if no one touches it.  Being married with four little sets of hands roaming around does not help the system.  The dining room table is repeatedly the epicenter of all conflict surrounding this organizational system.

As in, clear the table for dinner.  Kids throw school papers and mail off the table.  Husband does final sweep of things they’ve missed (75% of original table matter), shoving it onto the hutch, the sideboard, the overflowing desk, a pile on the floor next to the recycling basket where it will taunt me for several days while I wonder if it fell out of the recycling, never made it in, or actually needs to be kept.  In the last five minutes before bus stop departure the next morning, three of the four awake parties sift through these piles agitatedly looking for the paper that I can still see in my mind’s eye in the third layer of stationery detritus I created, but which now quite possibly could be 53rd thanks to others’ piling. 

 Again, not ideal.

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image via Pinterest

Ever the optimist, I pile things thinking I’ll get to them.  I’ll read them, process them, do something with them – other than leave them in a pile to rot.  And then the next layer comes in.  Ever the perfectionist, I leave them until I find a system that works, until I can sort through them properly, give each task the attention it deserves.  And then it’s time for dinner and another backpack full of school forms comes home.

I’m not recounting my organizational failures this morning to depress us all.  My question now is: how does this transmit to my children?  When I went to wake my eight year-old in the second wave of morning preparations today, I had to follow a booby-trapped path to her bed.  She and her sister share a room that is too small for the two of them.  They both have too much stuff.  And they both tend toward slobbishness.  BUT did they learn their organization – or lack thereof – from me?  Is inability to organize – or at least maintain – a genetic trait?  It has to be learned.  I know they must see the desk and subconsciously or not think that’s an okay way to handle printed matter.  Am I subconsciously teaching my children to be slobs?

I don’t want the habit of holding onto things and putting off dealing with them till later to become part of their life-long regimen at the ages of eight and ten.  Right now, it’s probably still about the stuff for them.  The special rocks.  The twisted bit of glittery pipe cleaner.  The free reflecting flashlights.  But at what point does it become about the psychological burden that comes with?  When they think about who gave them that, or what they were doing when they collected it, or how someone asked them to read this and get back to them.  I want to break their attachments to things before their sentimentality and expectation suffocate them.  Am I fighting a battle that isn’t mine?  Am I fighting a losing battle?  Am I projecting my own psychological hang-ups on them?

Yes.

I just know it would’ve been a whole lot easier for me if I’d started years ago.  But then, when I pulled up the lid to that old-school desk, I was already excited by the idea of perfect little piles, containing things in a neat, little box.  And I was already overwhelmed by the stuff I couldn’t fit into it.

2018, 500, 1

In years past, WordPress has provided a neat little summary of the past year’s writing accomplishments on my blog.  I didn’t receive one this year.  Whether that’s because it’s no longer their practice or because my level of writing activity dipped below their radar remains to be seen.  I did, however, receive this neat little notification the other day.

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500 posts.  That’s a lot of writing.  In my six years (wo)manning this blog, I have written many posts.  My aunt recently asked me which post or posts were my favorite(s).  A few came to mind instantaneously, of course, but once I started digging through, I realized just how many there are –

which helps provide balance to the writer’s remorse that I haven’t done more lately.

Once upon a time, Tuesday and Thursday were sacred posting days, with Fridays as an occasional musing on craft (my weekend write-off).  I’m still unpacking the irony that my writing on mental health paused or ceased when things got really crazy last spring and by the end of the summer/fall when I’d ceased my medication.  It didn’t help that I had another small human pulling at my pant leg.  I’ve also tried to reignite a dedicated writing regimen for my young adult fiction and personal memoir.  Something’s gotta give, I suppose, in my anxiety-ridden, mom-of-four, only-24-hours-in-a-day world.

Still, when I didn’t receive the adorable fireworks animation comparing my readership to the size of small countries, the writer’s remorse kicked in big time.  What were my dedicated readers doing whilst I whiled time away with laundry and survival?  How were my fellow bloggers doing since I’d checked in last?  While the schedule of blogging can be daunting, especially in the midst of daily overwhelm, the process of crafting and posting and interacting is therapeutic for my writing and mental muscles.  I miss the community – and the potential that the blog has.

I have chopped lots of potatoes over the years.  I’m going to keep chopping.  Some days may produce uniform little cubes; others hackneyed hunks.  But it’s good to be back – even in a smashed capacity.

Decluttering’s Demise

Starting this past Sunday, I embarked on a five-day quest to rid my life of clutter.  Okay, even I knew the hook was way too shiny and easy to be for real, but I actually thought the short time span would make it more manageable and therefore, my efforts, more successful.

I had seen Jen Riday’s teaser on Facebook.  (Thank you, user activity logarithms.)  I didn’t follow her, hadn’t heard of her, but if she could give me practical, doable tips, I was in.  I needed baby bites because my house had become more than I could chew.

Sunday, the first day of the challenge, I was actually disappointed.  ‘Shut off notifications on your phone’ – that’s way too easy –  and I want to slay physical clutter!  Five days later and I’m still figuring out how to shut off those pesky Facebook and Twitter notifications.  Neither in-app or phone settings are getting it done.  I hadn’t realized how mouse/cheese I was with the stupid phone.

Monday, I had to clean out my toiletries, make-up, etc. in the bathroom (and top of the dresser if you’re me).  Make-up was easy; I have little to none.  I did finally throw away the measly remains of the tube of lipstick I wore on my wedding day.  I figure if I haven’t even purchased the lip brush to dab out the dregs in the last sixteen years, it’s a safe bet I won’t.  Plus, my pale skin just doesn’t have the dewy glow that matched the shade anymore anyway.  As always, I hit that point in organization that makes things look worse before better.  I still have three piles on my dresser of things awaiting new homes.

So while Day Two isn’t completely complete, there are at least plans.  Then, came Day Three.

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from Jen Riday’s 5-Day Vibrant Happy Declutter Challenge

As soon as I read this, my heart dropped into my stomach.  Or my psyche’s shoulders slumped.  Clutter, while harbored in my bedroom, is not what’s keeping my room from being a sacred haven.  It simply cannot be a space to “collect your thoughts [that] will help you be more patient and calm with those you love.”  I cannot shut the door to the chaos whirling outside to regroup.  Even my room is not my own!

I share a room with my baby.

I know, the horror.  A first-world problem is ever there was one.  A cozy crib tucked into a recessed nook in the corner of my room.  I could have no roof over her head.  I could have all four children in my bed while my husband and I sleep on the floor.  There are worse things.

But, psychologically, sharing physical space with the lovely little parasite who feeds off me all day, all through the night, is demoralizing.  Even in the quiet, supposedly restful hours of sweet, dark night, I am not alone.  I do not get to recharge.  Hell, I don’t even get to sleep alone.  Every night, she wakes and senses our presence and will only sleep once we’ve nestled her in with us.

So a few minutes of shuttered peace in the middle of day to regroup in my bedroom oasis, ha!  “A list so you can work methodically through it in days to come”, ha!  It’s going to take major construction and socialization to make that happen.

At the baby’s 18-month appointment, the doctor asked about her sleeping habits and arrangements.  ‘Does that work for you?’ she asked.  No, doc, what would work for me would be snapping my fingers and making the uber-expensive and logistical-nightmare of a house addition appear so I could get said baby in her own encased block of darkness each night, but yes, that’s what our reality is right now.

I wish I could say that our babe is still in our room due to my deep-seated philosophical belief in supporting her best self.  But the fact that I can’t read anymore in the dim light of my bedside table kills me.  I can’t journal my swirling thoughts into a sleepy stupor.  I can’t even roll over in bed without worrying about a squeak waking her.  Hell, if it weren’t for the laundry baskets I haven’t yet put away littering the rest of the house, I wouldn’t be able to get dressed early in the morning.

Jen Riday’s Day Three Challenge totally took the wind out of my sails.  Not because she asked unreasonable things.  Because I’m not in a space where I can have them right now.

I did clean out some clothes I don’t wear anymore.  I have plans for a smart little tray to hold less items on my dresser than the big dust-collecting basket.  It crossed my mind that this should be the impetus to find an architect or follow up on that builder I’ve been meaning to call.

But it just seems so daunting.  After all, the sign on my door says it all:

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Jennifer Butler Basile

 

 

Dialogue 101

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin9781250093851

My most recent read, devoured well into the wee hours of the morning because I haven’t yet gotten off my holiday schedule and accepted the fact that I have to be up soon in the morning.  And because it was that compelling.

Rabbit.  Johnny.  Juliet.  There is so much that’s good about this heartbreaking and hilarious book, but it’s a particular scene of dialogue I want to shine the spotlight on today.

So tight, so fluid, so funny.  One of those scenes you read and instantly know it’s gold.  The kind of writing you strive to achieve.  The fact that it’s got some great Irish wit just endears it to me even more.

Grace walked through the front door with her suitcase.  Before she had her coat off, Lenny was halfway down the stairs.  When she saw his face, she covered her eyes with her hands.  ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said.  ‘I have no idea what happened.’

He held her close and kissed the top of her head.  ‘You lost it.’

‘I hurt you.’

‘It was an accident.’

‘I threw a mug at your face on purpose.’

‘I should have ducked quicker.’

‘If this conversation was the other way around, you apologizing for hurting me and me making excuses for you, people would call it domestic violence.’

He laughed.  ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, Grace.  We’ve been together for twenty years and this is the first mug-in-the-face incident we’ve had.  I think I’m safe enough.’

‘I’m so, so, so sorry.’

They walked together into the kitchen.

‘I know,’ he said.  ‘Now can we forget it?’  He put on the kettle and she sat down on a stool facing him.  ‘Toast?’

‘Yes, please.  I’m starving.’

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes, Anna McPartlin, 2014

New Year’s Anxiety

I don’t like New Year’s. There I said it.  Bah humbug on me.

I can’t quite put my finger on it.  There are many reasons, actually; perhaps that’s why I can’t choose just one.

It could be because, for years, it signaled the end of vacation.  One day left to recover from a whole week’s worth of revelry, never mind one night of staying up late.  But also, the start of a new cycle of anxiety.  First, back to school as a student after no routine, no work, no peer pressure.  Then, back to school as a teacher after no lessons to plan, papers to correct, or kids to sass me and throw my class off course.

I never even knew exactly what I dreaded.  And I guess that was precisely the point.  The unknown.  I was out of my groove and didn’t know what to expect upon jumping back into it.  That was what terrified me.

And then I had kids.  Little babies at home who depended on me and only me when Daddy went back to work after the holidays.  Where I’d been easy breezy and in control with him home, the thought of doing the same things without him under the same roof made my muscles clench.  Not because I couldn’t or hadn’t before or wouldn’t now, but because of the unknown.  What if something happened I couldn’t handle?

On December 31st, I shovel enough calories to counteract the headache-inducing powers of the bubbly I’m sipping and learn just how out-of-touch I am and how sad the state of popular music is by the broadcast performances.  I eat and sip and flip channels to force myself awake till the magic hour when all I’d like to do is curl up and go to sleep.  And for all that build-up, all that empty effort, all that’s left after a sweet kiss with my hubby – is a void.

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Outside my house, barely lit by the moon.  Lack of light fits the theme. Taken December 30.

The absence of a year past, the new one not yet started.  The hole where merry holidays once were.  A cold, dark, silent winter stretching before me.  Exhaustion.  Let-down.  The unknown.

 

 To say I ponder the absolute unknow-ability of an entire upcoming year in one night would be false.  At least not consciously.  But perhaps that’s part of why I hate New Years.  Each year, with December 31st, I’ve closed an expected chapter in that point of my life.  I’ve made it through the holidays, with all the tradition and routine that comes with.  I’ve made it to the end of the calendar year.  Even if I’ve not completed all the to-dos, I can rip that page out of my proverbial planner because that time has passed.

To what? Is the question.

To a person with anxiety, a new beginning, a new chapter is not a fresh start.  It is a worrisome reworking of the same fears and uncertainties that plague her at the outset of any unfamiliar venture.

When these same feelings return at the end of each holiday break, I wonder if I’ve ever grown up or grown past the fears I had as younger versions of myself.  I haven’t taught for ten years – why should I still fear returning to work!?  Well, I do and I don’t.  A nightmare classroom doesn’t await me.  But as one of the highest stress times of my life, that scenario is my psyche’s go-to when it fantasizes fear.  And in that all too familiar low after the holidays, it’s easy to build the set for the familiar script.

Now, both consciously and subconsciously, I get to ponder what I want from this portion of my life.  I get to question my worth as a mother, why naptime may be the favorite part of my day, why I don’t get down on the floor and play blocks anymore.  Why I swear, why I say things I judge fictional mothers for saying, things that make me sure I’m killing their spirit but utter anyway.  I get to think about how much I want to write, and what, and how I don’t have time for that.  I get to choose how to mete out my volunteer time and what I feel I have to do, not what makes my soul sing because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I get to think about how the days fly but are often filled with crap.

This has been a New Year’s tradition for so long, it’s hard to separate out what is holiday ennui and true anxiety.  I’m beginning to think the anxiety is the one sure thing that isn’t going to change from year to year.

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