Parenting journal: An honest account

When I don’t have time to properly write, but there’s something I need badly to jot down, I’ll do it on the phone or iPad (or laptop if I’m lucky), in a synced note I keep for this purpose. Every month I pull out the note from the previous month and look it over. I’m reading over the June one now and realizing two things: first, the start of June was really hard (you may remember from my previous post that we all took turns getting sick), but second, I was able to write about that with an unusual degree of honesty and clarity — which means overall, things are getting better. I’m so struck by the tone of these jotted notes, I want to excerpt them here because in spite of their bleakness I feel there’s an arc to them that is ultimately hopeful. (Be warned, though: I do think they’re pretty bleak. And that’s after editing!)

June 2: Permission to rant

I’m just going to give myself permission to rant right now, because I usually don’t and I think it’s long overdue. And we’re not going to think about whys or problem-solving or whether I’m spoiled and have created these problems for myself and am a terrible ungrateful person for complaining when I have so much. We’re just going to acknowledge my feelings and give them space to exist. 

I hate so much about my life right now. 

I hate that I spend so much of my day doing housework. 

I hate when everything is filthy and cluttered and I feel like I have to step around mess in a space that’s already so small.

I hate that I don’t have any space of my own. Not even a closet. Not even a cupboard. Not even when I need to poop or take a shower. 

I hate crawling around on hands and knees to wipe up Owl’s food mess. I don’t actually hate the act of it, or wouldn’t if it weren’t so frequent; I just hate that it seems to represent everything that’s become of me: I now crawl on hands and knees, 1-5 times a day, underneath my child’s mess. Because that’s what I’m worth now: I’m a toddler’s mess-cleaner. Not a person. 

I hate feeling guilty for hiring someone to clean our place once a month. I hate feeling like it would be even better if they came twice a month.

I hate multitasking. I hate that these days, my entire life feels like multitasking.

I hate being pawed at and scratched and climbed over and hit and nursed on and clung to and howled at and snotted on all day long. 

I hate how tense and tight and achy my back feels so often.

I hate that taking care of myself is so low on the priority list right now. I hate never looking nice anymore. I hate neglecting my body at this time when it needs SO much care.

I hate the loss of my bodily autonomy. I can’t say that enough. I hate it so much. Maybe it would be okay if I had the time to actually care for my body as it does this great work of nourishing and comforting a small and growing being, but since I don’t have that, I hate it.

I hate having so little energy, although actually a lot of the time it’s not that I have no energy but that I don’t have the kind of energy it takes to: attempt to do something, be interrupted, deal with the interruption, resume the activity, deal with yet another interruption, and complete the activity only to have it all be undone or irrelevant in minutes or hours, or have to go straight from that into lunch or dinner or whatever. 

I hate that every bit of alone time takes something out of Erik and yet barely makes a dent for me.

I hate that caffeine and sugar get me through so many of my days.

I hate that there are friends who don’t reach out to me. I hate that there are friends I don’t see anymore or talk to anymore. Maybe some of that is my fault but some of it isn’t and I’m angry about that. 

I love the friends who do reach out to me, in any way. 

I hate having this many things in my life that I hate. I hate that I spend so many of the hours of my one precious life feeling exhausted and joyless and hateful. This isn’t what life is for.

I hate that feeling this way makes me feel like a piece of shit for being so spoiled. 

I hate that I don’t have any brain space to think about the rest of the world, or even my friends quite a lot of the time. I hate feeling selfish for this. I also hate feeling like this means I deserve to not have friends anymore.

I hate censoring these feelings because I’m afraid of what people will think. I also hate censoring these feelings because of people actually saying things to me about these feelings — which does happen.

I hate that the reason I’m able to write any of this right now is only because I’m letting Owl watch YouTube, which is how I got through yesterday as well. I recognize that this was something I needed for my sanity, but I can still hate it. 

I hate that everyone says this will pass, because while I know that’s true and it is some comfort, how long do I have to wait and what the hell am I doing with myself in the meantime, just hating life and waiting for something to change? What kind of a way to live is that? 

I hate that being tired is now so much a part of me that tiredness didn’t even register as something I hate until this far down the list.

I hate typing with my thumbs. 

Tired Lisa

June 8: Violence

I clicked into a PPD awareness article that I KNEW was going to be extreme, by the title, but I skimmed it anyway and it was about a woman who killed her newborn and herself. Her husband had no idea she’d been feeling that way.

I think what’s so horrifying about stories of women killing themselves and their children isn’t only the fact of it, but also the violence. Women aren’t expected to be violent, and even more particularly, mothers aren’t expected to be violent. But what I realize now that I’ve had a child is that there is an inherent violence to motherhood: to the birth process, to the process of literally giving our body in order to feed the child, to what it does to us as individuals.

I would never hurt Owl, and I would never hurt myself — not physically. But in the timbre of my thoughts I do violence to myself daily. There is a thread of comprehension in me, now, when I read these accounts of women who enacted violence after having children. The experience of mothering is so frequently oppressive that I want to fight it with every part of me. I have resources, internal and external, but these women felt they didn’t. And that level of hopelessness demands to be met with violence. 

And now someone’s going to come along and tsk at me (or worse) for voicing this.

June 8, later: Endless internal conversations

  • I’m so tired. I’m so, SO tired. 
  • Of course you are, love. You’re doing so much right now. Be gentle with yourself.
  • You know why you’re tired? Because you’re useless and weak and pathetic, that’s why.
  • No I’m not! I’m very capable.
  • Yeah right. What are you doing that your mom didn’t? That your sister doesn’t? That your mother-in-law didn’t? They all did fine. You should be fine too. But you’re not; so: it’s because you’re stupid.
  • That’s not true!
  • Pathetic, that’s what you are. Pathetic and spoiled. You have all these resources your mom didn’t, much more of a household/childcare partnership with your husband, more friends and money and the whole internet. And you still can’t handle it. You’re pitiful. 
  • Don’t listen to that voice. You know it’s unhelpful and what it says isn’t true. You’re a great mom and a great person. Everybody is different. There’s no point comparing yourself to others. Everyone has different skills and different challenges. There’s no shame in feeling tired. It’s OKAY. 
  • Thanks. Thanks for the reminders. It’s just… I’ve become that mom I looked down on before. The sloppy, out-of-shape, out-of-breath one with the joyless face who looks at her child in exhaustion and says helplessly and futilely, “Please don’t do that, love.” I don’t have the energy for anything. Everything’s a mess. I don’t feel well and I stay inside too much, but I just don’t want to do anything except sleep for two weeks.
  • Of course, of course. That’s completely natural!
  • I never wanted to be this person! I realized the other day that I never write about the good parts of parenting. And it’s not because they don’t exist, but because I don’t have the space ! I can’t enjoy them, because I’m so damn tired! Or angry! Or stressed! Or frustrated! And I don’t have space or time to be any of those things, not when Owl is attached to me 24-7. 
  • Your feelings are completely understandable. It’s absolutely okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. 
  • I’m ashamed of my feelings. Owl is wonderful. She’s the best kid there ever was. And Erik is the best partner. And I feel like I’m failing them both. Not to mention myself, but of course, no one cares about me these days. At least that’s what it feels like, even though I know it’s not true.
  • People do care about you. Lots of people, and they’ve said so, and they mean it.
  • I know it. I just worry about myself, you know? I feel so joyless so much of the time — that’s not me. And I have everything good in my life. It’s just… I’m so wound up all the time, I’m so tense, I’m always braced for another onslaught, there’s never a chance to just enjoy what I have. 
  • That’s quite a choice of words, ‘onslaught’. 
  • Look, this is my day:

I wake up before I’m ready. Owl’s still asleep next to me. I think, should I turn on the iPad and spend some of this precious time getting stuff done that I can’t get done while she’s awake? Or should I try to go back to sleep? I decide to go back to sleep, but then Owl wakes up and wants to nurse. She nurses on the side she’s next to. Then she climbs over me and I shift so she can nurse on the other side. Then she returns to the first side and I shift again. Then she climbs over me and I shift again. Repeat several times until she falls asleep again. Now I’m awake and I have to pee. When I try to get up, Owl senses me leaving and relatches. Repeat the whole process except now I really have to pee. Sometimes we have to do this three times before I can get up and go pee. When I come back, Owl is firmly asleep, but now I’m awake. So I get out the iPad and check Facebook, email, my games, etc, all the while berating myself for not sleeping, wishing I could get up and do something but I can’t because Erik is either asleep or not here, and I don’t leave Owl in the bed alone.

When she does wake up, I have to figure out breakfast, which is sometimes easy and often isn’t, and inevitably takes many steps because that’s the kind of breakfast I like (make tea, milk and sugar, make eggs, slice bread and make toast, butter and honey, cut fruit). Too many moving parts, as a friend said, but simpler breakfasts make me feel like I’m shafting myself even more than I already am. And I have to make breakfast while keeping half an eye on Owl. Sometimes she lets me work without interruption, sometimes she doesn’t. We eat, and maybe I’ll get a chance to glance over my emails or whatever while we do. Then I have to clean her up, and then clean up the high chair and the floor around it, while keeping an eye on her so she doesn’t come back and track herself through the crumbs and mess.

15-month-old Ada eating bread and peanut butter

By now it’s 10:30. Owl will probably go play by herself, which gives me time to (maybe) clear the dishwasher and wash the breakfast dishes. If we had a busy night last night I’ll need to wash the previous night’s dishes and run the dishwasher before I can do the breakfast dishes. Meanwhile I’m putting laundry into the machine. Meanwhile Owl has come back to demand my attention or try to climb onto the dishwasher. Inevitably I have to do things in multiple attempts, inevitably my temper frays while she hangs off me crying MA MA MA. I nurse her again with her climbing all over me again. Then finish the dishes or laundry. Then if I’m lucky, she’ll play by herself which gives me a moment to stare into space.

Or none of this has happened; we had something to go to in the morning so all I did was wash her high chair tray and then we headed out, which means there’s going to be more scrambling when we come home for lunch, plus the real possibility of Owl asleep on me while I need to pee.

Then it’s lunchtime and I have to figure out lunch while still keeping half an eye on Owl. Lunch is pretty much exactly like breakfast except now I’m more tired: find food, eat, clean up. And now I’m sleepy and still haven’t done a single thing all day, except maybe the laundry (which I have to remember to put into the dryer). Then Owl will be super fussy for a little while and I’ll just want to scream at her, but I don’t, and then she’ll nurse to sleep (switching from side to side, of course) and then I’ll get a break, maybe — except sometimes she won’t unlatch and her asleep latch will hurt a little bit and she’ll wake up when I try to unlatch her. Or she’ll be unlatched but I’ll have to pee and I can’t leave. All too soon she wakes up again and it’s back to playtime, MA MA MA, and then afternoon snack which is not necessarily any easier to figure out or clean up than an actual meal, and then counting down the minutes until Erik is done with work, which is usually not at 5. Maybe there will be an afternoon nap, maybe not. And then we order dinner because I haven’t been able to cook anything, which makes me feel like a failure and also I’m so tired of takeout and then I also feel like the worst ungrateful person ever because I’m fortunate to have so many options and be able to afford them.

After dinner if I’m lucky Erik might take Owl for a walk and I’ll get a chance to clean up after dinner in peace, or take a shower, and maybe catch up on emails and maaaaybe if I’m very lucky write in my journal and maybe Owl will let him wear her while he does the dishes, but often Owl just fusses while I’m trying to get something else done, and I have to stop to nurse her to sleep. And then she’s asleep and now that I’m horizontal I’m too tired to do anything, so I stay in bed for too long on the iPad, and then finally get up and brush my teeth, and then come back and even though I’m practically dead I won’t go to sleep because goddammit this is the first time I’ve had to myself all day. So then I’m online or reading or playing games till 11 or 12 or even occasionally 1, and then finally I go to sleep. And next morning this starts all over again. Oh and I’ve slept all night on like the edge of the bed because wherever I am, Owl rolls/pushes/smacks into me by instinct. And once or twice during the night I have to do the ninja escape so I can pee.

Breakfast and journaling

Twice a week, on Friday and Sunday mornings, Erik will usually give me a couple of hours to myself to write. I hang onto those times like a lifeline but I also feel guilty, because I’m not spending enough time with Erik and he’s not getting any alone time except for work. But also those hours are not enough. Sometimes he gives me more time and again the guilt, again too it isn’t enough. I can’t live like this and I feel like all I do most of the time is housework — housework and feel guilty for not doing more housework and for not being happier with my life — and then I hate everything. I can even show you the list I made, one afternoon, of everything I hate. It’s a long list. 

  • That DOES seem like a very circumscribed existence. 
  • And I feel like I can’t tell anyone how much I hate it, because they’ll just be all ‘well you shouldn’t cosleep then’ ‘well you should wean then’ ‘well you should get out more’ ‘well you should find creative ways to incorporate Owl into housework and cooking so you can entertain her and get your chores done at the same time’ ‘well you should get her on a nap schedule’ but I’ve done everything I’ve done for a reason, usually several reasons; I believe I’ve made the best choices… it’s just that they’re not necessarily the best choices for ME. They’re the best choices for Owl and the best choices for us as a family and us as a mother/child unit, but they limit my autonomy and my privacy. But I also feel like I can’t change any of these things now without a huge transition and do I sound like I have the energy to initiate a huge transition? I don’t even want to take a walk every day, not even around the block, even though I know for certain that it improves my mood… so how am I going to deal with anything more complicated than that?
  • It’s no wonder you’re tired.
  • I KNOW. And I don’t know how to do anything about that. And meanwhile I feel guilty and ashamed. Sometimes I really think I can’t do this much longer without falling apart. I also wonder if there’s something ‘wrong’ with me — meaning that this is depression or anxiety or something. It doesn’t seem like other moms feel this way at this stage. But I don’t know. All the more experienced moms I know say it gets better and I’m still in the thick of things. I don’t know, I don’t know. 

[Around June 11-12, we all started to NOT be sick anymore. And then I realized, as I mentioned in my last post, how much of my exhaustion was due to that.]

June 22: A question

I’m thinking: how do I recognize my limitations without feeling completely inadequate? It seems like a first step would be to acknowledge and accept that this is the way I am, without judgment, and then move forward to finding solutions and setting boundaries. But how do I accept myself without feeling guilt, shame, and self-condemnation — without comparing myself to others? 

I’m thinking especially of my tendency to overload myself, and how I don’t seem to know how to fix this until things get really bad. It’s like I don’t know how to say, “Hey, actually, I don’t like this and should probably stop feeling obligated to do it it” until I get completely burned out. 

June 24: A new theory: THE LOUDEST NEED

I’m realizing I stay up too late because there’s a true and urgent need (sleep. now. right here.) but it can’t be met for some reason (I haven’t brushed my teeth yet, am still wearing my clothes, etc). The obstacles may be tiny, but they exist. So since I can’t immediately meet that most urgent need, I’ve rerouted my energies wherever else they happen to fall, and that’s usually on the iPad because it’s handy.

That’s at nighttime — I already know that the reason I’m on the iPad for a lot of the day is that my primary need (sleep) is incompatible with my primary obligation (making sure Owl is well). I will literally fall asleep wherever I am if I don’t watch out. Electronics are stimulating; hence, the iPad is almost always at hand.

This applies, in various ways, to eating and drinking and peeing and exercising and all the other needs that I have. The act of mothering a baby, especially an infant, is so all-encompassing that over the past year-plus, the whole of The Needs That Lisa Has just faded into a kind of background noise, because I was so rarely able to do anything about my needs when they first arose. So I learned to tune them out, replace them with other things (sugar, caffeine, Facebook).

I’m wondering if everything in my life would just be better/easier/clearer if only I paid more attention to my real needs and met them immediately, whenever possible (and, as things get better, it’s increasingly possible). First step is acknowledging that the needs exist. And recognizing that in fact, ignoring them is costing me effort. So I’m going to try listening to them instead. At least for a bit. I hope longer than a bit.

July 4postscript

I can’t remember now whether I’ve mentioned this here, but for the past few months I’ve been saying — re: “it gets better” and “this too shall pass” — that while the hard phases are just as hard as they were in the newborn stage, when things are better, they’re a LOT better. And at this precise moment as I’m typing this, things are better.

Moreover, there have been enough of the hard times now that I’m developing some familiarity with them and how I deal (or don’t deal) with them. And that helps a lot, too.

Lisa not so tired

15-month-old Ada walking through the Roy De Forest exhibition at the Oakland Museum

15-month-old Ada enjoying the Roy De Forest exhibition at the Oakland Museum

Lisa and Erik on their first date since Ada was born more than 15 months ago