Thursday, May 23, 2019

Hamster rescuing was not on my job description

“I NEED LOVE!” I bellowed, from the master bathroom, adjacent to our bed. This is the not-so-subtle, passive-aggressive method I use to gain his attention this morning.

My husband, who had been waking up slowly, scrolling his phone as he lay there cocooned in blankets, drops his device as if it has suddenly caught fire and burned him, and is at my side in a flash.  

I am under slept, feeling sour, and dreading the day in its entirety so I proceed to woefully list off to my husband, all the reasons my life is terrible.

“I’ve been stuck at home for three of the last four days with sick kids. I let them watch 8 full hours of shows yesterday which turned them into little devils. They are fighting constantly (well, except when the tv is on, but even then, they argue over what to watch) and anytime the tv is off, Emma follows me around the house and tells me she’s bored. The house is a wreck. And I don’t feel appreciated for the volunteer position I just finished. I can’t go on a run to burn off some of this angst because I have all these kids and they are like anchors, holding me back. Plus, they are sick so they might make it a whole block before collapsing. Jack only has four more days of preschool left in his life and then summer hits full tilt and alone time with be a scarce commodity. I signed him up for Lunch Bunch these past two days to buy me some extra time to write because I am FREAKING DESPERATE but since the girls were home sick, I just paid extra and wasn’t even alone! And now there is only one more day of Lunch Bunch left, and I think I just might die. The weather has been so crappy and it is making me feel really down and I’m weaning off one of my antidepressants because I think it is giving me night sweats, but, based on the way I’m feeling, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea anymore. And this morning I’m supposed to have a dermatology appointment but now I have to haul the sick kids along with me – minus Isla who I think is well enough to go back to school today but that means I have to leave her home alone which I feel super guilty about because she’s only nine but if I took her to my appointment, it would make her late for school - and I’m super annoyed that just because I don’t have a paid job, all the care and arrangements for the kids falls on me. And speaking of jobs, I think I want one because this full-time-stay-at-home-motherhood gig does not seem to suit me and money is too tight but who will watch the kids if I do work and really I just want to be able to pursue my dreams which unfortunately don’t seem to compensate monetarily. But I feel called to do them and yet I can’t seem to find the time and – oh yeah did I mention that these dreams won’t likely pay so how am I going to buy the help I need in order to pursue them? I feel like I’m in a vicious cycle and I don’t have time to do anything I want to do. I can’t seem to accomplish anything. And ALSO. I vacuumed these bathmats yesterday and look! There are already grassy footprints on them. I give up! WHY DO I EVEN TRY?”

Graham, who had been taking in my every word, looks at me, solemnly. “Wow,” is all he can formulate. “That seems like a lot.”


As I type these words now, I’m seated on the cold tile of my kitchen floor with the laptop across my legs. My butt cheeks are 100% asleep and I’m leaning against the hard cabinets at my back. Come to think of it, I could really use a pillow behind me. To my right, the piano bench is toppled on its side, blocking off one side of the island. The overturned coffee table on my left, along with rags stuffed into any gaps, obstructs the exit on the other side of the island. A spoonful of peanut butter and a handful of sunflower seeds sit on a plate next to me along with a screwdriver - the tool, not the drink! But for sure the drink would make this situation 1000% better right now - which I used to remove the kick plate at the base of our dishwasher. This is my very first moment alone in over a week and do you know how I’m spending it? Trying the lure out my middle daughter’s pet hamster who escaped her cage overnight and has set up camp in the bowels beneath our kitchen cabinetry. How is this even my life!?!

Most of the intricacies of my days feel laughable, ridiculous, and I can’t believe this is how I pass my hours, breaking up fights, throwing away pairs of tiny underwear that are too far gone with this last accident to redeem. I really don’t recall hamster rescuing being on my job description. Among the million other oddball roles that seem to make up this thing called “Motherhood.”

“I’m educated!” I preach at myself. “I am capable! I have things to offer!” But if anyone were measuring my visible day-to-day productive output, they might argue differently. I am struggling immensely with a lack of fulfillment in the way I spend my hours right now. I feel like I am in an early mid-life crisis of sorts, trying to find myself, my worth, my value and my purpose. I’ve been trudging through a personally grueling season of being “in between” and it’s growing rather apparent that it doesn’t look very good on me.

I sincerely thought that life would look different for me after I quit my (paid) job. To be frank, and I think I’ve said this before, I didn’t quit to spend more time with the kids (who, despite the tone of this post, I do actually adore!) I was working part-time when I officially bid my job adieu, so I still saw them plenty, and was not feeling a shortage of quality time in their company. The reason I quit that job was because I was unhappy in it and I didn’t want to look back in 10 years and realize I’d wasted away my life, undervalued and feeling invisible, in a position I didn’t love. Instead, I wanted to write. Maybe speak some, about what exactly, I wasn’t entirely sure, but I figured the pieces and opportunities would just fall into my lap. And they sort of did. For a little while.

I’m not sure what I envisioned for my life as a writer. For sure, I figured I would be doing, well, a whole lot more writing. But it hasn’t really panned out that way and I’m wrestling hard with my feelings about it. I read a lot of about writing, how to write, how others have been successful at it, but thus far, these sorts of books have only served to make me feel smaller, less equipped, more inadequate. Anyone who does it will concur - the writing life sucks! Like why would anyone choose to subject themselves to this sort of lifestyle on purpose? Here, just pen down your most personal thoughts and feelings, and then post them on your chest for the world to attack, criticize, and sometimes, on a good day, agree and whisper, “Me too.” Writing isn’t for the faint of heart, and it certainly isn’t for the thin-skinned either.     

All this to say, “quitting my job to write” isn’t looking exactly the way I’d hoped. I’ve been doing a lot more flailing than I have been moving forward favorably. I’m struggling with a general feeling of invisibility as a mom. It seems to be an underlying theme throughout my life, this struggle with feeling invisible and undervalued. Graham noted the irony – I quit one job where I felt invisible and now am doing another where I feel increasingly so. The sum of this equals a lot of disappointment to wade my way through.

I know full well the tremendous value of mothers, of the significance of the work we do. I would be the first to tell any mom struggling similarly that her job is the most important in the world. But it doesn’t change the fact that I still have these emotions, that our culture doesn’t value us well, that I feel unfulfilled, and that I personally have a pile of negative thoughts and unmet expectations to work through. It may also mean that full time stay-at-home motherhood is not the only thing I am called to, even though this fact causes tidal waves of guilt to come over me.

Since I can’t seem to make the writing thing happen with kids underfoot, I’ve started to dapple elsewhere. I feel a very real pressure (from no one other than myself, and in my defense, I do happen to be the one who does the budgeting around here) to find some sort of part-time work to help make ends meet. I don’t know how and even whether this will ever pan out but the idea both excites me (slightly) and grieves me (tremendously). I have realized an undeniable internal desire to be compensated for my work (and is there a more poorly compensated or thankless job than motherhood in our culture?) At the same time, I am already mourning my loss of freedom. How can I reconcile the two? I’m not ready to surrender my hope that I can somehow figure out a way to do life-giving work that also compensates. Does this seem too far-fetched?

My bathroom monologue that engulfed Graham at the beginning of this post illustrates the place I go when I’m not doing enough of the things that give me life. I see everything through a negative lens. On the one hand, I want to take this outburst with an extremely large granule of salt, but on the other, don’t our baseline feelings and frustrations come out most when we no longer possess the energy to filter or sensor them? They pour forth in their rawest form.

I wish I had more answers to accompany the many questions that I’m asking. I recognize that I need to make some changes (and recognizing you have a problem is the first step!) These changes could look like me making peace with and learning to embrace the job I currently find myself in. Or it could look like me making a change and getting a (paid) job once all three kids are in school in the fall (full disclosure: I’m regularly perusing job openings at local plant nurseries). Or, also come fall, it could look like me surrendering the desire to be compensated, no longer allowing the dollar amount I bring in determine my value, and instead pour my heart and soul into this writing thing that I love even if it never amounts to anything or if I don’t have a final product to show for it at the end of the day. It could mean I just do it because it makes me feel alive and healthy and because it is my art form in a world that desperately needs beauty in the midst of brokenness. I kind of hope this last option is the one I land on, but we’ll see.

I share all this today in hopes that it speaks to someone out there somehow, someone who is feeling lonely and unfulfilled, either in a paid job in the workforce, or at home where the compensation comes only in the form of hugs and goodnight kisses. Both are difficult places to be and you aren’t alone. It’s okay to wrestle. And we will get through it, even when it's messy and unglamorous, and we find ourselves using our college-educated brains to rescue pet hamsters. Even then.

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posted by kelsie