Saturday, July 17, 2010

Who, Me?

I am coming to that point in new-mom-ness where I can tell it is time to pay more attention to myself, or else I run the risk of not being a good mom because I am out of touch with what I need for myself, if that makes sense.

One of the hardest things about motherhood, for me, is that if I follow my natural instinct, I will wear myself out to the point of insanity. My motherly instinct is to completely forget about myself and do everything I can for my kids, which leaves me exhausted, underfed or overfed, resentful, and feeling like a failure. I am not saying this to brag that I am oh so selfless, but just to say that my personal instincts, if left unchecked, lead me to dangerous levels of self sacrifice that end up really being selfish in the end, because they are unsustainable, and they lack perspective, and they are really unnecessary.

What all this rambling means is that sometimes to be a better mom in the long run, you have to be a "bad mom" for a moment in the present. Case in point: the BF/bottle tension and debate. From my posts a few months ago you can see that B and I started N on one formula feed per day, in the evening, which did away with the terrible scream-for-four-hours-every-night scene that we had been dealing with. This worked really well for several weeks (5? 6?) and then, two weeks ago, N started what I assumed at the time was a growth spurt -- more hungry than usual, cluster-feeds, etc. When the growth spurts happen, I typically just hunker down for 48 to 72 hours of getting nothing done, and then it passes, and everything is all right. Except this one didn't end. It continued until I stopped keeping track, and was getting less and less sleep every night, and then this week, I realized I was losing my mind. My brain was spinning in those exhaustion-induced circles, the ones that happen when I am trying to figure out something -- any combination of actions, words, etc. -- that will end in me getting some rest. In these situations sometimes my mouth will say the things it needs to even though my brain is shorted out -- in this case, I got some good advice from my friend (thanks HF!) and got a little perspective from a desperate late-night "what in the world should I do" kind of conversation.

This conversation reminded me of the best aspects of having girlfriends, and also helped me to feel better about the reality of my situation, and highlighted the ridiculousness of being idealistic about feeding methods when you are juggling so much. Too much, really, and I am going to have to figure out how to pare it down.

After my friend left I sat and thought and cried and prayed and figured out that part of the problem with letting go of the breastfeeding ideal (I will still breastfeed, but whenever you introduce more formula, there is the risk that your supply will just decrease to the point that baby loses interest, so you have to be ready for that possibility) is that I am not completely sure who I am when I am not a mom. This was a really hard realization because of course that is exactly what I feared when I had C, and exactly what I precisely wanted to avoid. Nobody wants to be "that mom," who has no identity apart from her kids.

I think I came by it honestly, though -- right before C was born (just a few weeks before) I had a final disagreement with an old friend of mine, and without going into the middle-school-style details, within a few days I had lost most of my long-term girlfriends, several of whom never even explained what the problem was -- they just quit answering my calls. So I was confused, angry, sad, etc., and then three weeks later -- surprise! -- I was the mom of a 4 pound preemie. I kept having to fight the instinct to call them -- I hadn't even had time to erase them from my phone book. They would have been my first line of defense against such an upsetting thing -- the early birth, the fear, the weird hours, not having time to eat, etc. But they were out of the picture. With my social life kind of slashed-and-burned, I just jumped into motherhood as the obvious choice, because in terms of standard go-out-for-martinis kind of girl activities, I suddenly had no one to do that stuff with, and besides that it took 24 hours a day to take care of C. So it's kind of like if you were thinking about moving, but then your house got firebombed, so you had no choice but to move, and didn't even get to pack your stuff to take with you.

So here I am three years later, living here in Momville, and I like it, very much in fact. But I don't have anything to remind me of who I was, because it all got wiped out in a freak friendship/napalming accident.

In the meantime, I have made a lot of great new friends, and old acquaintances have deepened into real actual friendships. I am slowly getting over my fear of girlfriends and am enjoying being surrounded by people who genuinely enjoy my company, and vice versa, much better friends than the Napalm Girls, when it comes right down to it. And I sense that there is something missing, parts of me that I am perhaps avoiding or neglecting or allowing to atrophy because it is scary to look at the question Who Am I as it stares at me. And I want to be interesting, I want to have things to talk about, I want to keep learning new ideas and doing new things. I want to be an agent of action -- I want to be the subject of the sentence instead of the object. Or better yet, just the slim, spare verb: Runs. Walks. Laughs.

So, in a way, it's time to rebuild. What makes me happy? I thought of singing, because I used to do that a lot, and I was actually good at it, but I joined a choir last year and I couldn't stand sitting still for so long while someone criticized my (and about 600 other people)'s ability to, like, pronounce a Latin word perfectly while singing F-sharps on the top of the staff. And they were charging a hefty fee to be a member. So I quit, and I am not really sorry, but I was surprised to find that I hated singing in a choir, when that was such a large part of who I was and what I did, back in my old life.

So what does that leave? I remember that I used to like going out to movies, but now when I go to the movies I get bored, or I feel like falling asleep. Occasionally I like a movie, but not the way I used to. And besides that, going to movies is not an engaging pursuit in the way that a hobby is supposed to be.

I like to write, but that is not the kind of activity I am looking for, and in many ways writing (for me at least) is a very solitary kind of pursuit. I don't like to show my writing around until I am happy with it. This blog is a good interactive-writing kind of experience, but it doesn't push me outside of my comfort zone. Sitting in my house typing on my laptop is pretty much the definition of "my comfort zone," so I am looking for something more than that.

It's terrifying. It's like a second adolescence. ("Who am I? What am I about? When's lunch?") Which doesn't seem quite fair because breaking free from adolescence was a really hard-won victory for me.

So, all of this is to say, it's time for me to do some vaguely uncomfortable things in order to expand my world a little, bit by bit, so I don't end up fast-forwarding to my last kid heading off to college and me having absolutely no idea what I am about when I am not making lunches and doing laundry.

Cheers! Maybe it will be fun. It scares me to death and annoys me to think about it right now, but I have that standing-in-the-wind feeling about it, the feeling I get when the Spirit is moving in my life. The small still voice says that it will be nothing like what I expect, larger and more full-tilt than I expect, and difficult, and wonderful. Which, as a mom, is one set of feelings that I actually am pretty familiar with.

Wish me luck! ;D


  1. good luck ;) I feel that way myself too often. And that napalming stuff, brilliant.


  2. This was wonderful, Lisa! This is definitely a lesson that my mom had to learn, and she'll still remind me from time-to-time how important it is to have hobbies and things/people who can engage us outside of our husbands, kids, etc. It is important to be ok on your own (apart from everything and everyone else) because that just makes you that much better of a person when you're with everyone and having to give everything you have to offer to them. You should try some hobby "appetizers" so that you don't have to commit to anything fully until you know for sure what it is that you have a sincere interest in (and something that can keep you fully engaged without allowing your mind to slip back to thinking, "I should be doing this"): sign up for a one-time art or cooking class, go to a poetry reading, volunteer somewhere... I even remember how much fun we had just making a single necklace one night with an light-hearted movie playing in the background and a nice glass of wine. Learn from your kids and take baby-steps with this process... you'll get the hang of it eventually and will only become that much better of a mom and wife (if that's even possible!) ;)

  3. I understand the napalm thing too well. *sigh* I've always had a hard time trusting women after a series of broken friendships. I'm still learning. Cake decorating has been great for me. I think that it will always be hard to balance self/family with kids at home. But you look and figure out what you need and just make it happen as best you can...and when we forget we have our hubbies to remind us what we told them we needed.