Friday, July 01, 2016

retching rumination from the tired lady in the corner

(There are photos and happy thoughts at the bottom of this post.... if you need those and not my self-assessing teleology)

My go-to phrase this summer has been "holy smack" - which is code for "I keep discovering new levels of physical overwhelm."  There is a lot going on, most of it less than thrilling, and some of it downright awful.  Plus not-writing is not good for my mental health.  (Kind of like how not-sleeping isn't working out for my mental health either.)

It's hard to write though when I'm feeling so negative.  I get in a place mentally where everything that actually expresses my experienced reality sounds whiney, but if I try to write more positively it lacks any semblance of authenticity.  Living with imperfect mental health is such fun.

It's summer break, I have all 5 (5!) of my kids home all day, in a house full of unfinished projects and homeless things waiting for their homes to be built.  I cannot even begin to stay abreast of the clutter, I am swimming and drowning in clutter in that slow-mo dream chase scene sense. It makes me grumpy.

Between my parents trying to get their house ready to sell (and my dad having already moved ahead to Chicago, and that's it own whole story but it's not my story) and my sister about to get married - lots of extended family upheaval.  Thankfully nothing tragic, but just disruptive (to our efforts to make headway in the chaos at home... every weekend is spoken for the rest of summer.)

You know what is my pet-peeviest peeve?  The thing that gets under my skin and makes me absolutely nuts?  Things that go missing inexplicably.  So currently that's my prescription sunglasses, though the list has been much longer at previous points this week.  The craziest stuff sprouts legs and walks away at my house and it makes me bonkers. My children embrace irrational behavior with wild abandon.  There's a constant soundtrack looping in my head asking "why? why? why? why? why?"

With all of that on my perma-front-burner, I have to manage my emotional energy pretty carefully. Which pretty much means that Facebook is always a bad idea.  I have to be hopeful that true digital natives will be smarter about how they engage in rhetoric on social media than my generation is.  I know it's human nature to seek echo chambers and content that reinforces existing biases, but hopefully kids will eventually figure out that the things they put out on the interwebs are more like giving a speech at graduation than they are like speaking to a room of like-minded friends.  But really, the safest bet is never to assume anyone you speak to is 'like-minded,' because at some point in your opinions or experience, you're going to differ.  So, the rule-of-thumb 'seek first to understand, then to be understood' - it's sound and seldom minded. Let's just collectively recommit to doing better, ok?
(I guess I can promote that behavior because I'm not afraid of being wrong, as many are.  I do still have the socially conditioned irrational fear of being rejected though, so I'm sympathetic to all socially conditioned irrational fears.  I get how hard it is to be perfectly logical, and get to practice being sympathetic to intense irrationality at least 12 hours a day.)

Mostly though, at this point I would just really like to devote an hour or two each day to doing things that make life more pleasant or joyful for myself, and being the kind of introverted, aesthetically sensitive nerd that I am, that would probably look something like fixing myself a cup of tea and perusing a gardening catalogue IN A CLEAN, WELL-LIT ROOM. BEFORE MIDNIGHT. WITHOUT SPENDING 2 HOURS CLEANING IT FIRST. Maybe while listening to some moody Billie Holiday.

Mostly I'm just saying that Virginia Wolf was on to something.

There are lots of funny moments in this phase of my life, and I suppose I will feel a bit lonely when things slow down someday. But I will also, I hope, be sleeping more regularly by then which means I will be infinitely better equipped to handle that sentimentality than I am to handle my current intensity. It's just... really intense. Constantly having short people hanging from my body.....

In my efforts to live vertically by my bootstraps, I turn in a lot of spare moments to beautiful or exceptional stimuli (well, that and emotional compulsive eating...)  A lot of things that are beautiful feel kind of flimsy or cloyingly indulgent next to my reality, and unfortunately all the best beautiful things are openly wrestling with the complexity of humanity, which I'm also not well-equipped to deal with in my state of running on vapors.  I vacillate between the two impulses and can't spend much time with either one before I start to get emotionally seasick.

So yes, the takeaway is that I'm perpetually just barely hanging in there... yet again.  The perpetual part being what makes it exceptional.  I wish I had the emotional turgor to be more springy, optimistic, ambitious; to just be a bigger personality than I am.  Bigger than my kids - that I could influence their choices and behavior without having to do behavioral gymnastics (which are exhausting) to try to convince them that what I want/need them to do was their idea in the first place. I need charisma and I could not be further from charismatic right now.  I'm constantly leaning into my most insecure mind, trying to tip it toward more rational and level-headed thoughts and away from a pessimism and insecurity so deep and wide that I fear it would take me years and miles to dig myself out if I let my guard down. Maybe half of that phenomenon is mental health, and the other half is just what all women deal with in a culture that is emotionally brutal towards women and caretakers.

But hey - there is a fair amount of delight thrown in this mix. There's Bunny's Margot Tenenbaum face at her first ballet recital (dress rehearsal).
Bunny's 1st Ballet Recital

(Which, she surprised me and was delightful and obedient for her actual performance.  With a low-grade fever no less.)

Bunny's 1st Ballet Recital

There's all my kids being madly in love with swimming lessons, and the ease with which I can hand them over to their teachers and then sit in the shade with the baby for half an hour.

Gentleman Swimming Lessons

There's the odd set of circumstances that had us dog-sitting for two weeks, and my kids finally learning how to fall in love with a dog.  (Mr Renn remains unconverted, feel free to proselytize)

Pet Sitting

The Captain's sentiments about my parents' impending move: 

Captain's Paragraph

And Sir O, that tricky devil, managing to nearly never be in the photos I manage to take. He's about to turn 10 folks. (To which I say to myself: "Holy Smack" yet again.) You know that line in Hamilton, "Hamilton is a host unto himself, as long as he can hold a pen he's a threat." 
Sir O doesn't need a pen. 


Monday, May 09, 2016

22 minutes left in Mother's Day, and how I feel about it.

First of all, lets just put it out there that my Mother is a stellar human being, and a tremendous support to the many people who rely on her in order to function at all. I don't know whether she self-identifies as a feminist, but she was born with an indomitable spirit, an has always known that she was capable of absolutely anything she put her mind to.  She just happens to be extremely accommodating toward other people in deciding what she will set her mind to, which pretty much makes her the most ideal employee on the planet.  I know her bosses know how lucky they are to have her, I just hope they remember to let her know that they know.  Sort of like what we, her 5 children, ought to do more often as well.

IMG_0033201605080059Masters Graduation 2
Gee, I wonder where I get my squinty eyes from.... 

There's a meme going around Facebook today (Mothers' Day) saying "post a picture that makes me proud/happy to be a mom."  I'm not quite far enough out of postpartum land for those to be the first two adjectives I'd attach to my motherhood, but I can attach them to my recent graduation, which is so tightly wound up with motherhood in so many ways.  I mean, I spent a year writing a thesis about (blogging) mothers.  I am like a high priestess in the order of over-thinking all the complexities of motherhood.  So here's the thoughts I do have about motherhood today.  They aren't super glossy, but they are coming from my authentic place of wanting to find a way to be honest and still find beauty in things.

IMG_0010201605080050Masters Graduation
We pulled Sir O and the Captain out of school to take this photo.  They were not about to miss class parties for mom's graduation.  After 3 minutes of having my feelings hurt, I figured fewer greased pigs to wrestle during the convocation was probably a good thing for Mr. Renn. 

I am really grateful, but mostly just awed that I've been entrusted with the care and keeping of such giant, unwieldy personalities as the ones that have landed in my lap. These kids have You would think God would have sent them to a less-easily-overwhelmed mother.  Someone who found tremendous fulfillment in keeping their days filled with structure and wholesome recreation and silly songs and who didn't want to crawl into a cave at the end of everyday just to have some time to be alone and not be so tangibly needed and touched every, every minute.

I mean, motherhood is deeply, deeply humbling.  And not just because the world talks about mothers as angels when we all know very well we are human, human beings.  Motherhood is humbling because when you love these little ruffians so fiercely you want the very best for them, then you continually catch yourself being unable to give them the very best mother.  You can only be you, and you are invariably selfish and short tempered and irritable and tired and burnt-out.  Or whatever your particular shortcomings may be - those are mine.  I wish my kids could have a parent who never lost her temper, and was always level-headed and able to think before she spoke.  But, instead, they have me.  I sometimes manage to make progress toward being the parent I wish I was, but there's a lot of backsliding on my journey toward being a saintly mother.

I mean, I love my kids, and I love spending time with them individually.  Collectively they tend to run me ragged.  I do not love feeling like an unpaid maid, being ignored, bearing the brunt of their anxieties and frustrations, and being the only place where the buck stops most days.  (Nor am I enamored of sleep deprivation.... which makes all those other things that much worse.) Kids save their ugliest behavior for their parents, and unfortunately we, their parents, tend to reciprocate that favor.

So some days I despair and become convinced I'm raising a small army of psychopaths.  And because of my personality and the way I (and most other women) have been socialized, I internalize failures and give credit for successes to others or to good luck.  When my kids show a stunning lack of capacity for logical thinking, my first reaction is to try to figure out where I failed. When my kids exhibit repellant behaviors in public, I am mortified for myself because I assume everyone will use their insanity to index my worth as a human being.  There's all that cultural baggage of womanly virtue being tied up in trying to control things that aren't entirely controllable.  A virtuous woman will have her house in order and her children will be well-behaved.  I mean, crimony.  I will never have enough 'virtue' in me to stay one-step ahead of my children's capacity for entropy.  I am forever and ever trying to figure out what makes each  of their vastly different personalities tick and how to leverage that toward better social graces.

My favorite features of myself, and the things that make me like myself as a human being in my less-depressed moments are virtues of quite a different stripe.  I like my willingness to consider the possibility that I'm wrong.  I like the extra effort I take to say meaningful things (and not quip deepities) when I think people are in pain.  I like the delight I find in making things fancy or celebratory when they could just be plain and serviceable (you know, when I feel well enough to find energy to spend on such things.)

I even kind of like some of my features that are on the verge of being vices.  I like my penchant for dramatics, because it opens up space for vulnerability and honest talks about feeeeelings.  I like my advocate heart that speaks up when people voice ideas that are incomplete, and need to expand to include ideas, people, and experiences that are uncomfortable for them to acknowledge.  There was probably a time when Mr Renn would have changed these things about me if he'd had the choice, but I think they've grown on him.

See, no matter how much my life revolves around being a mother, I'm still a person first.  A real, whole, messy person with my unique set of gifts and failings.  And when you hand me the stewardship of a grundle of other such complicated persons, and the responsibility to train them to function within a cultural framework that often runs contrary to their natures, it's just not always a pretty process.

So I hope we can value motherhood without having to say it's pretty.  Sure, I love my mother because she was endlessly patient with me and cheered me on, and other platitudes, but I also love her because she made lists she never managed to check off, occasionally played solitaire when real life was just too-much, couldn't resist reminding me what a hard time I'd given her over her inability to force my brothers to keep their rooms clean when I turned to her for solidarity over my discovery that kids are gross, and probably gave me a therapy-worthy complex with her struggle to embrace healthy vulnerability (she's getting there).  I love her not just because she was a great and dedicated mother, but because it was dang hard for her to be a great and dedicated mother.  She knows what it's like to realize that your kids aren't going to cooperate with your preconceived notions of what motherhood is, and to slowly, painfully peel yourself away from those preconceived notions (which were reasonably pleasant and modest and circumspect, we were smart enough to know were were raising humans, not creating stock footage.)  I love that when I criticized her as a 9-year old for not being imaginative enough, she entertained my attempts at giving her imagination lessons.  I mean, she accepted criticism from her bratty kid, because she was so keenly aware of her own failings that she acknowledged the truth in what I was saying and discarded the hubris of it without a thought. I catch myself responding in the same way to my children's complaints.  We both probably needed to be kinder to ourselves and tell our kids to cut us some slack, but there we are being human and broken and keenly aware of it.

SO anyway - I'm happy and proud that I graduated.  I mean, it was insanely hard to push that project to completion.  I did grad school while raising 4 kids, through a nasty pregnancy, and through a move to a new house.  It was not pretty.  I tell that to everyone who says "I can't believe you (did grad school and x,y,z.)"  And you know who found the most delight in my accomplishment?  My mom.  she just thinks it's the coolest thing in the world that I managed to pull it off.

But hey, I think we learn and grow the most from putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations.  The ones where we are so stretched that we can't manage those traditional markers of virtue.  If life is hard enough that you aren't quite managing to keep your house in order and your children well-behaved in public, then you must be learning some of the best and brightest life lessons, and pursuing some of the most difficult-to-attain virtues.  I bet you could use a cheerleader.  I will cheer and validate you from my messy corner. And that's how I'm feeling about motherhood today.

Monday, April 11, 2016

More frenetics at Bantam Hill

IMG_9973201604110046Simon's Blessing

We (Mr Renn and I) are trying so hard to mold our still-new-to-us home into a place with some grace built in.  Entropy is rising up to battle us at most every turn, but now that I'm not forced to spend every iota of energy on a thesis, and I'm at least halfway through the most intense phase of infant-dom, I'm beginning to feel like maybe entropy doesn't always have to win.

IMG_9954201604110042Simon's Blessing

Last week was not my favorite thing.  Circumstances combined to make too many things happen at once.  For a week my basement was being drywalled, and we had to find temporary homes for lots of things, for that same week, it was Spring Break and my kids were home all day every day and there was no spare money or adult supervision to leave the house we had only half-access to.  Plus, for kicks, the Duke's baby blessing was the following Sunday, so the house needed to be cleaner than usual, and lots of food prepared, despite the extra messes of drywall dust and too many bored bodies in too little space.  I worked hard last week, and by the time the blessing arrived and my house was full of company, I was too tired to be the kind of hostess I'd like to be.  But, I was relieved to have made it to that point.  I hadn't totally beaten back my to-do list, (The fingerprints on the sliding glass door are still there, for one.) but everything was good-enough, and done and that busy-crazy week was behind me.

IMG_9969201604110044Simon's Blessing

So now, we can turn around and focus our energy on the next thing.  Luckily our next things are gaining momentum and scale.  This month we hope to get trees planted around our house.  There were 3 total trees when we bought the house, and we cut the only substantial one down the first week we lived here.  The bit of Pennsylvanian still living inside of me has felt terribly bereft, and so kickstarting our mini-arboretum is an energy-filled prospect.  Plus my basement is being taped, mudded, and sanded this week, so I need to pick out paint for it.  Paint always feels like a gratuitous decision.  If you're ready for paint you've really accomplished something. We're done working on invisible skeletons and we're ready for the really visual elements that reward your eyes with instant gratification when they're installed.  Momentum! Momentum!

Monday, April 04, 2016

Fuzzy brain cocoon

There is a biblical ideal that in one's household things should be done in wisdom and in order, be reasonably easy to navigate and generally make sense.  I totally understand this theoretically, but in practice we are a train wreck over here.

When we moved in almost 2 years ago, we were in a frantic and unorganized state.  I was falling desperately behind in my last semester of classwork for my MA, and my goal was just "good enough for now" in order that I might keep my head above water and not have to drop out of school.  Thus, we have never established good systems for household operation here, and have now had plenty of time to get into bad habits.

This messy state of affairs has been triply muddled by the unfinished state of our house, and our fits-and-starts approach to finishing its spaces.  The pay-as-you-go method of remodeling is not conducive to orderly living.

So we have found ourselves, less than a week before we are supposed to host company for the Duke's Baby blessing, with a basement full (no really, full) of drywall, and heaps of things all over the house that have never really had a home in our home.  The overall effect is ever-so-demoralizing.

Drywall piles

On the bright side I've got enough morale to keep pushing through, and to try to figure out how to break large projects into smaller ones that can be accomplished in short, uncertain periods of baby-napping. But the going is slow, and the kids are less-than-onboard with the whole "let's not live in squalor" thing.

Picking up the pieces of our family organization is always kind of an ugly part of my postpartum experience.  Things fall apart so extensively while I gestate.  And now, here I am in the tired, tired throes of late newborn-hood, pulling myself up by my bootstraps every single day.  I am getting too old for this kind of exhaustion.

IMG_6971august 2014demillemoving in and getting settled

I might share some before and afters, just to cheer myself on. (with totally un-styled, SOOC camera-phone pics, because that's what I've got. And yes, the lamp cord is now burning my eyes.) At the moment I can only tell you that the maroon wall is finally not maroon.  (We beefed up the baseboards, and did a Ralph-Lauren paint that goes on like plaster, so there's a texture thing going on there that isn't showing up with great fidelity in the photo, but the reflective quality of this wall has been nice in our dark, cavelike living space.)  I have yet to decide what else will hang on that wall though, I'm waiting on a new clock to base the whole layout around. .

Drywall piles

And, it's spring break.  Of course it is.  The entropy is poised to swallow me whole, but I'm determined to at least not lose my temper.  We'll see how I do. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

intentions smacking headlong into reality

Chilling, as it were.

So I had this goal to start posting regularly again, and it was a good goal.  At some point in recent weeks I even hashed out a tentative 'editorial schedule' with post ideas and the works.  Only a few things I forgot to consider: sleep deprivation and lack of discretionary use of my hands.  Plus there's the part where several of my ideas for posts seemed pretty lackluster when I went back to look at my list.  Like the part where I was going to dissect how the internet treated International Women's Day and how pretty much everyone used it as an excuse to reinforce their current (inevitably limited) paradigm of what a valuable woman looks like.  The whole spectrum of popular sentiment about women was represented, but I think very few people's views were expanded, which tends to be the result of designated days.  In my brain I was going to cleverly illustrate this with examples and responses, but I guess I forgot that to make such a post relevant and arresting it would have had to have been posted very shortly after Intl. Women's Day, and also it would need to be thoroughly researched, and I didn't even come close to having enough time on my hands to tackle such a thing.  But hey!  John Oliver tackled it, so at least I can feel like the idea didn't necessarily suck.

In the meanwhile, I'm still struggling to feel like I've got my feet under me.  I get glimpses though, and that's encouraging.  I mostly just need more sleeeeeeep, and then I'll be pretty well human again.  Just trying to patient through these first few months when babies are sweet but are also kind of like lizards with only three modes: asleep, reasonably content, and clearly unhappy. Personality tends to crop up around 3 months, and we're looking forward to it. I am trying to enjoy the sweetness of now too, but uber-needy newborn is not my very favorite stage (I know for some people it is, and those people are welcome to show up for a baby-holding fix while I frantically tackle home keeping chores.)

I remember we started babysitting a 6-week old almost a year ago, but only once a week.  I was thinking, "Wow- this is totally do-able when it's not every day, all day and all night!" Taking care of newborns isn't inherently hard, its not sleeping and not having predictable breaks that is hard.

Anyway - posting.  I hope I somehow get back into the habit.  Bear with me and my efforts as I figure it out.
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