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OH, MARRIAGE!!!

This morning Mr. Bunny was reading the paper and ostensibly caring for our child. I passed by and pointed out that she had lifted up the rug and was merrily scavenging under it for things to eat. (I mean, not food–I’m talking bits of lint and tiny particles of mystery stuff that are invisible to any eye but a baby’s ohmygod I swear we’re clean.) He retorted that he was supervising, and that according to the Latin roots (super + video), to supervise is to overlook. AH HAHAHAHAHA. It was our mutual fondness for Latin that first brought us together, and a good Latin joke always reminds me why I love him.

And yet, mere hours later, I am refusing to speak to him.

It started yesterday. I’d found us some babysitters so we could spend time together. I hear it’s good for a marriage. When you don’t know anyone, it’s actually rather hard to find babysitters, but I’d managed, and even had them over to play with Bun Bun to make sure they were not psychotic. And then we’d finally gotten around to actually booking one. And we were going out to dinner which I enjoy, and I’d been looking forward to it all week, but somehow the evening got entangled in this awkward thing where it wasn’t clear whether we were going out to dinner or meeting a new friend of Mr. Bunny’s, so no reservation for dinner was made. And despite the fact that we live in a city where it’s never hard to find a table, every restaurant we like was booked, so we had to settle for a place I don’t like, and I was PISSED. I got over it so as not to ruin the whole night, but not before I spent a lot of time yelling at Mr. Bunny in my head. (Things like, you don’t care about our marriage at aaall! Waaaaaahhh!) And I guess there was Festering Resentment. And then today he snapped at me and I became furious, but because I had to make dinner, I transformed the fury into more Festering Resentment, and then during dinner, we had a fight we seem to have now and again about food. Briefly, he is less on board with the BLW method of feeding our child because he has concerns about her choking, even though she’s never choked, and when I give her something more challenging to eat, and she gags, he gets really upset, and then so do I, and then we squabble in a very suppressed fashion. And the whole thing makes me feel like an incompetent parent, and it ruins dinner, which is often something it took me actual time to make and that I was looking forward to enjoying as a family.

Being angry at your spouse, particularly when he’s a very good spouse, is so damn boring. But I feel like that’s one of two modes for me these days. The other being, like I said last time, totally non-present.

A few months ago we had some mildly rough patches. Just grumpy and tense. And then things got better, and I’d started to feel like we were almost our old selves, and then…I got pregnant. And now I don’t have any energy to put into our marriage. And particularly not when my efforts to make sure we stay solid go like they did last night.

Hard on a marriage

Five years ago today I was in a Trader Joe’s in Boston, choosing some flowers to decorate my wedding cake. It took me about an hour, dithering over the same three or four limp bouquets, while rabid shoppers elbowed past me. It felt like a massively important decision, but I think my brain was simply overwhelmed by the knowledge that I was getting MARRIED in a few HOURS.

A year ago today I was being inseminated, then musing to you all about how cool it would be to conceive a child on my wedding anniversary. Well, friends, I did. And this morning, we told her the story of how Daddy went to the room to look at some pictures of women who were not mama, and how mama went in an hour later to get her cervix poked.

This focus on Bun Bun on a day that should be about US is a microcosmic version of what’s been going on generally. I feel a million miles away from my husband. In some ways it’s not unlike my wedding day–all the Other Shit is so noisy, I can’t really focus on him at all.

When people repeatedly advised me to make time for the two of us, I didn’t see what the issue was. Mr. Bunny and I are homebodies with a minuscule social circle, so having a baby would change little about the day-to-day. Why would we need to do anything special? But now I see. A baby really IS hard on a marriage.

I’m going to be as honest about this as I can, in case there are others feeling this way, even though I’ll probably get some reactions that make me feel pitied and pathetic.

In some ways I feel closer to my husband than ever before, but much of the time he barely exists for me. I don’t WANT to make time for the two of us. I’d rather be with Bun Bun, or hey, ALONE. If pressed, I’d be willing to make time for him to pick up his fucking socks.

For the first few months, I was so grateful for everything he did, and we had such fun cocooning and enjoying our new life. I loved the way he made me laugh and took care of us. That shit is OVAH. Now I just go about my day hoping he’ll leave me alone until I can hand childcare over to him.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about this. I think it’s pretty normal, though not necessarily universal. Instead, I decided to take my mind off the whole thing by making blueberry pie.

It sits out for a few hours to collect itself, so I had to make it early. And I can promise you, it’s going to be a winner.

I’m just not going to tell him that I’ll be thinking: stick this in yer pie hole, and leave me alone. So yeah. Happy anniversary to us.

Weeding the forest

Yesterday I went down to my local National Park to help remove invasive species. Here’s a forest full of weeds, said Ranger John. Pull ’em. He made it clear that we weren’t eliminating the species, just controlling it. As I pulled, I battled the sense of futility and helplessness that I feel a lot these days. What does it matter whether I get all of it. I’m just making it easier for next year’s seeds to sprout or for this other invasive species to survive. And then the feeling of tiny actions having some down-the-road, unseen impact would resurface. I may not see the value of this now, but if I came back five years from now… and I’d try to just enjoy the beauty of the forest.

As Ranger John said in a followup email: “Garlic mustard eradication may seem like a daunting task, but your efforts helped us immensely towards reaching our goal of restoring native plants to the area.” There’s a lot of garlic mustard in my life right now. My research garlic mustard, the garlic of mustard of having the same struggles over and over in my marriage, of course the garlic mustard of my fears for the future of my country and, well, life on earth.

I took the family down to my state capitol for a local People’s Climate March. Since January I’ve learned that I am very picky about which things I will and won’t chant. Like someone started up with NO PIPES! And I was all, uh, nope, definitely need pipes. I’ve lived without plumbing, and it’s a drag. Not chanting that. There were only a few hundred people there–I guess people are tired of hearing about climate change. We already worried about that shit. Being upset about the destruction of life on earth is so 2010! I highly encourage you to read this paper, which details all the ways we convince ourselves we don’t need to act. Let me know if you can’t access a pdf.

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Whatever your garlic mustard of the day, I wish you luck with it. Ultimately, I really do believe that small actions matter. You know what they say: Whatever you can contribute, do that. And it will help. Bloom where you’re planted. Unless you’re garlic mustard in the national forest.

It’s obvious, you idiot

A long time ago, I wrote about a challenge we were having with sleeping arrangements. The toddlers had been sharing a room successfully for a while, but were suddenly tearing shit up and not sleeping. I asked for advice and y’all were like well, you could try x and y and z, but probably best to separate them. Which we did. It took a lot of work and led to a giant hole in the yard, but our lives became happy again. Some of you gently suggested afterward that it was pretty obvious they needed to be in separate rooms.

Well, not surprisingly given that we have yet another child, sleeping arrangements are an issue again. Bunter is currently in her crib in our bedroom. The spouse sleeps in the guest room. She does not require me to do anything for her in the middle of the night, but I would like my room back at some point so I can engage in luxurious behaviors like reading with a light on. And she does wake me up with her rolling around and squeaking. I am about done with it.

(I suppose having my spouse back in our room is a plus, though that doesn’t carry much weight for me. We are not into the notion that sharing a bed is important for a marriage. We go to bed at different times, and sharing a bed, or not, will have zero impact on our sex life. I read on the internet that there are couples that wake up in the middle of the night for sex? Or that cuddle when they wake up? That does not mesh with my anyone who wakes me up for any reason had better be prepared to be yelled at, and that includes you, toddler with the “I’m afraid of the dark” bullshit experience, though of course I understand that it is a reality for other people. I guess. Though is there really anyone who is not straining every nerve just to heave her reluctant, groggy carcass out the bed in the morning? Cuddling? ANYWAY.)

So I guess the obvious choice is to give up our guest room. And you will be gently telling me that it’s obvious. But we really like having that room. Not just to put guests in (because while we do have yet another guest room, it’s on the 3rd floor, and when we put people there we have to tidy the third floor, which would be fine except it’s Mr. Bunny’s territory so it actually gets quite GROSS because he’s a slob), but also so that one of us can escape there when the other is snoring or sick or whatever. Which is nigh on constant. We like it so much that we just can’t pull the trigger, but are instead going around in circles of indecision.

We are not putting Bun Bun and Bunlet together again. NO. But we could put Bunter in with Bun Bun. Bun Bun stays up reading with a light on, but in theory Bunter could learn to sleep with that going on. And Bun Bun doesn’t nap during the day anymore, so Bunter would have a place to sleep for naps. And Bun Bun is pretty rule-followy, so we could probably get her to make some small changes for the sake of her roomie. But of course, Bunter would wake her up, because babies cry at night, and Bunter wakes up at 6am.

Or we could put Bunter in with Bunlet. Bunlet stays up singing and looking at what’s happening on the street in a creepy peepin’ on the neighbors way, but in theory Bunter could learn to sleep with that going on. And they both wake up at 6, whereas Bun Bun tends to sleep till 7. (They all stay where they are until 6:45, when mama and daddy start the day, so it’s just a question of noise.) And Bunlet is very fond of his baby sister and very interested in keeping her happy.

There’s also the rustic 3rd floor guest room where Bunter could go…but that’s where Mr. Bunny naps during the day. (I know. FUCK HIM). And it’s where his office is, so it really needs to be off limits during the day. So she could go just there at night. But that just seems silly.

I have a spreadsheet with all the pros and cons. I keep thinking that children should be able to share a room. If we had one room, they’d share a room, end of story. And I remind myself that we have to sacrifice something, whether it’s the luxury of a guest room or the  luxury of fairly uninterrupted sleep. And I remind myself that whatever we do is temporary, because things change, so I should just do what’s easiest. But I can’t. So I go around and around. And so does Mr. Bunny. So help us.

 

The whole-meal bread of life

My festiveness was utterly crushed by a bout of stomach flu (this on top of the colds we already had), which though mercifully brief, was violent, and then was followed by another cold, this one all CHESTY and PHLEGMY. Poor Bunlet is having a particularly rough time of it, some days just dragging himself around wailing and then falling asleep somewhere pathetic. Having my mother in law and sister in law and dog in law around didn’t help, though at least they could choose to attribute my total lack of enthusiasm over their visit to illness and not loathing, which made me feel slightly less rude. And when they left, it was a relief to ONLY be sick.

I’m at work today because I’m terribly behind. But I am not working, I am writing this. I’m suffering from a shortage of intellectual energy that has some obvious explanations (I’ve been sick for a MONTH now!) but I fear I will never feel vital again. Ever.

I am out of library books* so am rereading what I’ve got lying around**, and recently came upon this passage, which made a much stronger impression on me now than ten years ago. The character is talking about how happy her life is, how much she has to find joy in.

“And yet, when I consider my life, day by day, hour by hour, it seems to be composed of a series of pin-pricks. Nannies, cooks, the endless drudgery of housekeeping, the nerve-racking noise and boring repetitive conversation of small children (boring in the sense that it bores into one’s brain), their absolute incapacity to amuse themselves, their sudden terrifying illnesses, Alfred’s not infrequent bouts of moodiness, his invariable complaints at meals about the pudding, the way he will always use my tooth-paste and will always squeeze the tube in the middle. These are the components of marriage, the whole-meal bread of life, rough, ordinary but sustaining” –The Pursuit of Love.

That’s about the size of it. Contemplating another year of whole meal.

Happy new year.

*Got any favorite not-in-any-way-GRIM books for dark days? I love all the genres, just can’t handle books that will make me want to be DEAD.

**Wow, Anna Karenina after having children is very different from Anna Karenina before having children.

Siblings: Part 1

I have two brothers, and would characterize my relationship with both as good. My little brother and I don’t have a ton of common ground because I moved away when he was five (and I was fifteen), but I still feel close to him. Maybe only because he’s the nicest person. My older brother was a constant in a turbulent childhood, and I feel like I could take pretty much any problem to him. In general, I feel that they know and like me and I know and like them, and that’s what I’d shoot for with sibling relationships.

Now I am raising siblings. I yearn to see them feel about each other the way I feel about my brothers. In fact, it’s so important to me that I fear I will ruin their chances by being all obfuckingsessed about it.

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I also fear that if things keep on the way they are now, my children’s lives will be comfortable and secure, and maybe it was only difficult circumstances that built my strong sibling bonds. (For example, a shared astonishment at the craziness of our mother.) Would the same us-es in different circumstances have grown up to be distant, selfish, hostile? Mr. Bunny and his sister had a comfortable childhood and hated each other growing up…Can siblings who don’t have to band together against common terrors still be close? Should I get a TIGER to make things a little more stressful for the babies?

As I watch my children squabble over toys, I find that I am excessively concerned about the role that my parenting plays in their relationship. WHAT AM I DOING AT THIS VERY MOMENT THAT IS RUINING THEIR CHANCES OF BEING CLOSE AND LOVING, I ask myself. I’ve become a bit paralyzed.

The good news is that with my many, many years of experience as a parent, I KNOW that I have a general trajectory with these things. Something will emerge as a Parenting Dilemma. I’ll worry about it for a while. Then I’ll do RESEARCH. Then I’ll feel better. (For anyone who hasn’t been through one of these cycles with me, I will NOT read parenting books. They undermine my confidence, contradict each other, represent fads that quickly replace each other [see they contradict each other], and the idea that someone is making money by undermining my confidence infuriates me. So it’s awesome if you have the best book ever about siblings. I’m glad you found it useful. But I’m NOT going to read it.)

Once the semester was over, I fired up my library databases and got to lookin’. I was hoping to find some research that answers the basic question: WHAT AM I DOING AT THIS VERY MOMENT THAT IS RUINING THEIR CHANCES OF BEING CLOSE AND LOVING? More specifically, I’ve been wondering whether intervening in conflicts makes them more likely to occur. I feel like there’s some free-floating parenting wisdom to the effect that more intervention leads to more conflict. But where does that come from? Is there any research behind it? When is such a strategy appropriate, if it is? How exactly does it work?

I won’t be providing any kind of comprehensive review of what I found, nor will I be citing all my sources like a proper researcher (though I will provide some references). If I put that much time into the project, well, I might as well turn it into a parenting book and make buckets of money by undermining your confidence. I’m all about pulling out some random things to share while glossing over the vast complexity of these interactive, multi-dimensional spaces.

My sense is that the findings fall into three categories: The NO SHIT category, the CAN’T DO SHIT ABOUT IT category, and the Oh! That’s actually rather comforting category.

Selections from the NO SHIT category

Physical punishment or excessive maternal control or intrusiveness is not good for sibling relationships, because the babies model what you show them. NO SHIT. Of course…what exactly counts as excessive maternal control and intrusiveness? But at least I’m on the right track with my whole not hitting my children plan.

“…several recent studies suggest that mothers’ encouragement of curiosity and openness (Brody, Stoneman, & MacKinnon, 1986), their reference to social rules and the feelings of others (Dunn & Kendrick, 1982), and their sensitivity in responding to their children’s needs (Bryant & Crockenberg, 1980) predict cooperative and friendly sibling relationships.” (Volling & Belsky, 1992, p. 1210). NO SHIT. It’s sort of like: Be this amazing, awesome, perfect mother and your kids will turn out great. Got it.

Selections from the CAN’T DO SHIT category:

A depressed mama is bad for sibling relationships. Happily for me, I’m not depressed. But if a mama is, it’s not like she can just NOT BE, so it’s kind of…shitty. On the side of encouraging, here’s one more reason why a depressed mama should ask for help. Which I hear is super easy to do when you’re depressed. Can I just stick in a quick shout-out to the women I know who have sought help for depression? You guys are rock stars. Also, my mother was depressed and I love my brothers.

In one study, being attentive and involved with a firstborn daughter was correlated with that daughter being hostile to her sibling. So…be inattentive to and uninvolved with your daughter until you know whether or not she will have a sibling? It’s a PLAN.

Temperament (which can be assessed in various ways, but we’re talking about general things like how frequently a kid gets upset, how shy she is, how active she is, etc.) plays a role. While parenting style and temperament can interact for good or ill, temperament is out of our control.

Biological sex and age gap have effects. The nice thing is that they tend to have both positive and negative effects, like increased competitiveness with a smaller age gap, but also increased closeness.

Selections from the Oh! That’s actually rather comforting category

A secure attachment relationship at one year predicted sibling affection and closeness. (Note: Attachment relationships are not the same as really anything to do with attachment parenting. I can get ranty and angry about this, so will just refer you to this article. My babies are maaaaad securely attached. We Strange Situation them on a daily basis just to be sure. So I’ve achieved something major already.

Having an organized household was correlated with positive sibling relationships. CHECK.

Having a good relationship with a co-parent as correlated with positive sibling relationships. FUCKS YEAH. Turns out all that energy I put into my marriage was good for something. (Though I’d also like to note that there’s a study showing no differences between single mother households and two-parent families. It’s not that you need a co-parent, it’s that if you have one, you are constantly modeling how to have a relationship with another person…so you’d better get along.

Treating your kids exactly the same all the time is not necessary. The trick is to get your children to think differential treatment makes sense. In which case it doesn’t negatively affect their relationship.

So what are my conclusions so far?

There’s a lot to be proud of. Some of the things I’m doing well I can only do well because my life is relatively low-stress and because I am fortunate in various ways. But I can still be proud. Some things are beyond my control. Some things I could perhaps work on.

But what about the more specific question? What should I do about the SQUABBLING? This will be the focus of Part 2.

References: Of the things I read, these two provide the best global, contemporary picture and starting point for following up with other sources.

Pike, A., Kretschmer, T., Dunn, J. F.. (2009). Siblings—friends or foes? The Psychologist,  22(6), 494-496.

Volling, B. L., & Belsky, J. (1992). The contribution of mother-child and father-child relationships to the quality of sibling interaction: A longitudinal study.  Child Development, 63(5), 1209-1222.*

*Contains the following gem from a description of how shared positive affect was coded: “…reflecting very intense affectionate exchanges and/or enthusiasm between the siblings (e.g., high-pitched excitement during joint play).” Oh yeah. Loves me some high-pitched excitement during joint play. I have to say, reading about that makes me want to go home to my children.

The therapeutic sofa, part 5

Bucket #3. Have sex with your partner. This is something I brought up, because I knew the situation was not good. It’s not so much that I miss sex and want to have more of it. It’s that when we’re not having sex, we don’t touch at all aside from a couple of chaste kisses per day. There’s a decrease in emotional intimacy with a decrease in physical intimacy.

As you guys and the therapist both confirm, this is typical for hetero married couples with young kids. (Which doesn’t mean it’s universal, by any means, but just keep your fucking trap shut if you’re in that category and have tons and tons of blissful sex.) Regardless of the normalcy, it still makes me feel bad. So I wanted to change it. But just telling myself to have sex with my husband more often did not work. Mysteriously. Here’s what she told me that helped.

1.Buckets 1 and 2. Time for self, time to reconnect with partner.

2. Accept that getting in The Mood takes time and work. It’s not that I’m never in the mood. It’s that I’m never in the mood at 7pm, after a long day, the only time when there’s really an opportunity. So don’t expect The Mood to just magically appear, find some ways of bringing The Mood on. Find the things that make me feel sexy (at which point I laughed like a hyena. You think there are things that make me feel SEXY? I shrieked. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!) and do them. For me, it’s a fairly simple combo that takes about an hour. Because I am all about the details: After the babies are down, I do a 15 minute workout. Exercise is one of those things that’s supposed to make you feel better about yourself or some shit? Seems to work. Then I take a shower. Then I look at/read some light porn. I found a couple of websites with free erotica that doesn’t have too many spelling errors and can be quickly brought up on a phone. This usually brings enough of The Mood on that when we actually start making out, I find I’m into it.

4. Tell your partner that you care, that are making the effort. She pointed out that all he sees is me not having sex with him, he doesn’t know I feel bad, or that I do sometimes want to. I was like, Won’t he feel bad when I tell him that it takes me so much effort to want to sleep with him? She was like, He already knows that. So I told him. And as embarrassing as it was, I told him that I have a process that requires time. He was very positive about the whole thing. I think he probably heard blah blah blah more sex blah blah.

3. This was my OWN brain wave, and I’ve very proud. If I commit to sex ahead of time, it will be vastly more likely to happen. Because my normal approach is to be all Yes, I will totally do it tonight! And then tonight comes and, uh, NO THANKS. So now I email my husband to tell him he’s getting laid, unless he has some objection. So far, no objection. And since he knows I have a Process, he gives me some time and space to prepare.

Are we having a great deal of passionate sex now? ABSOLUTELY NOT. But we’re getting closer to a reasonable place.

Bucket #4. Deal with some of your long-standing bullshit problems. We have a few perennial sources of stress in our marriage. While I think we are pretty good at talking things out, somehow these issues never get all the way resolved. We agreed that it’s effective to communicate about some contentious shit via email rather than in person, because then we can have our angry reactions offline and a more reasonable conversation later. As long as the email communication is respectful and diplomatic, of course. This decision has allowed us to have faster, more productive conversations about some of the shit we just go round and round about, and I think, to make some real progress. We’ll see.

And them’s the marriage buckets! And I’d say that things are considerably better.

Next up…well, a request for parenting wisdom. And then Career = hard.

The therapeutic sofa, part 4

The dimension: Marriage = hard.

After one of our many Tense Discussions, Mr. Bunny said, I feel like there’s not much good will between us right now. That was  accurate. Not much patience with each other, both quick to anger, quick to assume the worst intentions.

No mystery. Children are priority number one, work is number 2, basic household maintenance is number 3, and then there’s a fierce competition for slot number 4. Self or spouse? Self or spouse? And, like, 2% of one’s total energy is available for this slot. So maybe we give the spouse 1%. And then we both get COMPLETELY FERAL any time anything threatens the 1% that belongs to us.

Therapist had no quarrel with my explanation, but she a) confirmed that things were Not Good and that I was right to Take It Seriously. This was helpful because sometimes we downplay this crap because it IS normal. She also compassionately noted that when two people only have a two hour window each day (after the babies are asleep but before I am myself needing to get to bed), it’s incredibly hard to want to spend that time on anything other than putting their feet up. So yeah. FIX it, but don’t waste energy feeling bad about it. And then came the buckets! There are four.

Bucket #1. Replenish the personal well. Carve out time for yourself. Do the things that make you happy, that make you feel good about yourself. Easy to say, hard to do, yeah? But she said something that I, as a parent, found highly motivating. She pointed out that parents are models for their children, and that I am teaching mine to make themselves the last priority, to not take their self-care seriously. I was like OH SHIT. I don’t care about me, but I certainly don’t want to teach my children not to pay attention to their needs (the way that, ahem, I was most certainly taught…) and I certainly don’t want to teach them that women, or mothers, or parents don’t deserve to have their needs met. And non-parents are models for others, too. For partners, for friends, for family… This is a SERIOUS POINT, people!

What have I done about this? WELL!

1. We changed how we handle weekends. Mr. Bunny both dreaded asking each other for time to ourselves on the weekends, even though we’d always done it in a quid pro quo fashion. So we decided to just split the damn weekend. Now I’m in charge of them on Saturdays and he’s got them on Sundays. We still do things as a family, but only if the OFF duty parent feels like joining the ON duty parent. I’d heard about people doing this and it never appealed to me, but he suggested it and I agreed to try it and…I like it. It’s easier to just be in charge of the kids all day rather than not having a routine and having to negotiate everything, and having a whole day I can spend as I like is pretty sweet.

I made a banana cream pie!

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OMG. So totally delicious. Even if it ain’t so purty.

I did some sewing FOR MYSELF!

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World’s most boring a-line navy linen skirt. But spiced up with a facing in a cute liberty print. I liked liberty before it was cool.

We do spend less time together as a family. But we still have dinner every night, and I’m not sure the weekend time together was of a quality that made it worth preserving, frankly.

2. I know the coming semester is going to be haaaaard. So I asked our nanny to work an extra hour during the fall. Not exactly making time for myself, is it? Making time for WORK, more like. But making time for work helps carve out more space for me, helps keep my anxiety down. I could pay for even MORE childcare (for example, not stay home with the babies on Mondays) and have more time for me. But I choose not to.

3. Sundry small items like having regular massages, going out for drinks with BFB, giving myself some breaks during the work day for spacing out.

Bucket #2. Go out with your partner once a week, every week, for SIX MONTHS. I was all WOAH! That’s pretty extreme, therapist! And she was like YEAH. So we’ve been doing that. Not quite every week but as often as we can secure childcare. It certainly helps. And I think bucket 1 helps me feel willing to invest in bucket 2.

Bucket #3. Have sex with your partner. I know I promised this one would be NEXT, but no. You have to wait. It will totally be next NEXT, though.

The therapeutic sofa, part 3

Bucket #2. Seek social support. I cried when she said this. I was like, I tried, and it’s soooo hard for me to try, and my attempts failed. And she was like, yeah, you have to try again. Not a very sympathetic response, but what more is there to say? (Actually, she said a little bit more. She suggested I treat it like a JOB, in the sense of getting serious and systematic about it. She also suggested I generate a list of reasons why someone’s failure to respond to, say, a request to hang out is not about me. You know, like, people are busy and tired. And having kids with conflicting schedules is a huge obstacle. Et cetera.

Of course, it probably IS about me, because I am loathsome.)

I have done jack shit about this suggestion. It’s just not worth the effort, and besides, I have YOU PEOPLE. You are my social support. I haven’t mentioned you to her because…I don’t know whether she’d say, OH! Sweet. You’re covered. Or OH. Listen, you’re deluding yourself into thinking you have people in your life, but you don’t, and then I would feel pathetic.

Bucket #3. Replenish the personal well. This one is obvious, and hasn’t every mother been told a thousand times to make herself a priority, and to make time for herself, to not forget how important she is. Yeah. And none of us pay attention. Because there’s enormous cultural pressure NOT to pay attention, and also, who has the fucking time, right? And life with babies should be a little tough, right? There should be sacrifices, right? I mean, if I have time for like 40 manicures and a movie, where are my priorities? I chose to have children (boy did I ever!) so didn’t I sign up for a few difficult years?

But again, it’s a question of balance. I can do nothing for myself, make no extra time for myself, but…there will be consequences. I will be tired, I will lose my temper with the babies, and my spouse? Well, he will get only the cold, gritty dregs of my extremely limited cup o’ energy.

So what have I done about this suggestion? I will tell you when we cover our next topic: Marriage = hard. (But I think SRB’s series presents a lovely approach to self care, if you’re in the market…)

In addition to these buckets, which I’m sure are a big disappointment, because DUH, YOU KNEW THAT,  but you know what? Being told obvious things can still be helpful, because if you know it, why aren’t you DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT, she also said some encouraging things:

1. Things get exponentially easier every year. Like, I won’t be able to believe how much easier life is in a year, and that will just continue year after year. SWEET. Lookin’ forward to it.

2. Some people parent exactly the way they were parented, which is only a good idea if their parents did a splendid job. Some people are so passionate about not repeating their parents’ mistakes that they do the opposite of what their parents did every time, thereby creating a negative (in the sense of a photo negative) version of the same pattern. The people who are on the right track are those who are attempting the middle road, and are at least thinking about their choices, and not always reacting based on past patterns. That’s me! That’s many of US! Many of us are trying, thinking about it. Many of us are awesome.

So, wrapping up babies = hard.

Babies really are hard. It seems silly, because they’re just babies. But they’re HARD. And they should be hard–providing quality childrearin’ should be at least a little bit taxing. But there are things a parent can do to make babies less hard, which will vary depending on the situation. In my case, changing expectations about how my time is spent, and anticipating situations that are going to result in total loss of temper. But seeking social support–people to whom you can complain and of whom you can ask questions–and actually making time for yourself are quite likely to be every mother’s list.

Next time: The MANY hours of effort I have to expend in order to be willing to have sex with my spouse!

The therapeutic sofa, part 2

So the question that took me to the therapist was: How much of the anger is circumstantial (Babies = hard. Marriage = hard. Career = hard. Approaching 40 = hard.) and how much of it is…something more serious.

The only way to find out is to take care of the circumstantial part, she reasoned. Then I can see what’s left rolling around in the bottom of the old psychological boat. You know, is it some muddy water and a worm, or A FIFTY FOOT PYTHON WITH A RABID TIGER TEARING ITS WAY OUT OF THE PYTHON’S BELLY AND THE TIGER HAS EBOLA.

So I started bailing. And she gave me a couple of good buckets of different sizes to use instead of the rusty old tin cup with the hole in it that I would have brought to the task. Man, I’m loving this my psyche is a boat metaphor I created. I need to write a self help book immediately wherein relationships are like yachting, just in time for jackasses to throw in their beach bag for the Hamptons.

So let’s take this one dimension at a time, though of course, OF COURSE, all the dimensions are interconnected.

Babies = hard.

This is two separate issues for me, the fact that parenting is difficult, and the fact that being all drained by parenting reduces you…and by you I mean ME…reduces ME to a more primitive state. One in which I don’t have sympathy or energy for anyone but my children. Not myself, and certainly not my spouse. Hence the endless blowups and the deep, deep misery about them. She recommended three buckets:

Bucket #1. Keep track of your triggers to see what’s pissing you off. I did this for a week. The result is not much of a surprise. I know that when I try to accomplish too much with my babies I end up being angry at them. I end up being worn down and not having any happy times with them. I also know that when my husband does small things that irritate me, I get angry all out of proportion. More on this subject when we get to Marriage = hard. But the exercise was worthwhile in that it let me do something quantitative, which I enjoy, and it revealed one pattern I wasn’t totally aware of.

What do I do differently now? Two things. First, when I’m taking care of the babies, I think about what I want to get done around the house, and then I tell myself: I CAN do all those things. But there will be a cost. The cost is that I will be tired, I will probably lose my temper with the babies, and I will not have any real interaction time with them. So then I decide what kind of experience I want, and I find the right balance between things that are good for me (like getting dinner ready, or cleaning a bathroom) and things that are good for them (like being read to, or taken outside to admire the birds, though note that I firmly believe seeing me do chores is also good for them, because life has chores in it, and it trains them to amuse themselves). Second, the unexpected pattern is that are certain situations that occur multiple times a day and that drive me FUCKING WILD and always, always, always result in misplaced unkindness. And they are 100% fixable, and I haven’t been fixing them. For example: Bunlet loves to play with Bun Bun’s toilet (he wants to MARRY that thing, but he can’t, because the piece of SHIT state I live in believes that marriage is between a man and woman) at all times, but inevitably thirty seconds after she’s filled it with human waste. It’s not like I can’t predict it. It happens all day long, and every time I do the wrong thing. I move him five feet away and try to deal with the waste situation. And he crawls (HE’S CRAWLING FOR REAL NOW! Oh, how I love to see that sweet baby crawl!) back like lightening, and I move him and he’s back again to strike at the toilet like a SNAKE and I lose my temper entirely. Ridiculous. So the second thing is about anticipating moments that are going to put too much pressure on me and having a planned solution, rather than behaving like a moron. There are only about four of these in my life, and all can be solved by putting a door between whatever baby is involved in the situation and myself. So now that’s what I do. Sometimes the baby cries. But you know what? I’d rather make my child cry for a few minutes than be so angry I might hurt him or her. And you know also what? They are getting used to this, and now don’t cry much. Conditioning, y’all.

Has this helped? Yes. Loads. I feel like I’m in control a lot more of the time. Am I still losing my shit? Yes. Absolutely.

There are two more buckets! But you’ll have to wait for them. If you’re American, eat some corn and set off some illegal fireworks. If you’re not, think about what assholes we Americans are.