A couple of years ago, a friend explained that she watched movies, gamed and smoked weed because "Why not? I am under lockdown at eight pm." Her kids, all a year apart, were pre-schoolers. It was that stage of parenting. Staying at home with toddlers and pre-schoolers, even working part time, foments an ennui that makes me want to read -finally- Betty Freidan's The Feminine Mystique.
Having a newborn and infant is introductory parenting. It is easing into the hard part, even if that beautiful bundle is waking up to feed every ninety minutes. Babies allow for a kind of balance. There is permissible interludes of staring, admiring, jiggling, and dolling up. There are daytime naps, during mom and dad can sleep, get to know each again, wash dishes, or read books. I could balance a book and nurse a baby, even nurse and type with the help of a good sling. When my babies were awake, I created couch or floor blocks and they could skooch or roll a bit without injury, while I 'free-lanced' or studied.
Once these tykes go mobile, though, we mothers lose our lives, and nearly our wits. I may not have toked up while my daughter was toddling, but I took up any number of ridiculous hobbies: candle-making, gardening, canning & preserving, painting, fragrance making, Bible studies, volunteering, sewing, home redecoration. The cost of my hobbying should never be counted. It would ruin my marriage. I think I nickel and dimed us into a few thousand dollars of credit card debt, not to mention the psychological harm to my daughter in the time I left her in that living room pen. After I started making candles, I waxed my countertop so many times I spent hours chipping, boiling, ironing off the mess. Canning twenty-five pints of spiced cherry jelly for a couple and toddler makes no sense. Have you ever pitted that many cherries?
The truth was, I was bored. I make a terrible stay-at-home mom. When my son arrived five years later, he was the surprise of my graduating year of college. I put him in a bouncy chair and wrote endless literary analyses of English literature through the feminist theoretic viewpoints.
This week, I have been corresponding with a mom of teens; I have older kids, a tween and teen. She wrote about feelings of 'getting her teens graduated' of struggling with a despondancy and sense of lacking purpose. "They" say that teens needs us as much as pre-schoolers, and having one, I believe 'em. Not only do they need us as much, they bleed us as much. Okay, that latter statement is just an alliterative way to say, we may experience similar emotions, a sense of being in lockdown. We must be ready to sacrifice sleep for a late night heart-to-heart with a weepy daughter, or adjust our calendar to accommodate a living room full of texting teens. Who knew texting was a group effort?
My friend wondered if she was alone in this feeling. Since I teach high-school full time, am starting grad school, running 15 miles a day, blogging, and volunteering here and there, it would seem I have escaped adolescent stage of waxed countertops. My life requires focus, organization, priorities, lists. It is inanely busy.
Which is why I shared a great piece from the NY Times' called "The Busy Trap" on my Facebook page. - Facebook is my TV, by the way. I don't watch much Telly and even fewer films. Instead I snoop around on friends and family, and share loads of 'treasures' I stumble into on-line, like this NY Times article, or the NPR Tiny Desk Concerts, or the latest Google Earth feature, or National Geographic's Interactive photos of the Titanic Crash site. Most of what I do is make myself uselessly busy. I do it for all the 'right' reasons: to learn, to be a better educator, to share my enthusiasm with others. Those 'right' reasons are not right at all. They are manifestations of listlessness and acedia. I see myself in the same cycle as me in the pre-school parenting years, or as my friend. I appear to have a sense of purpose, as the article suggests, but I think it is a hoax. I am 'sexing' up my days to feel fulfilled, important, busy.
Warning, parents, mothers, anyone filling up their days, or struggling against the urge to do so, read this article and consider the value of silence, what Krieder calls 'idleness.' Then go out and enjoy break-cation, just for a few minutes or so. Lord knows, if I don't take one soon too, I'll be beating down your door, because you appear to have something I don't.