Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bouncing back to you

This past month has been a roller coaster of emotional and physical highs and lows. The ride began in early January as we found out that Ben's contract at work was ending rather suddenly, and we had to get a new plan, more or less right away.

At once, everything was turned upside down. My life, which had been slowly shaping into a neat, orderly silver breakfast tray -- toast here, juice there, two eggs over-easy on a shiny white plate -- had just been tossed in the air, and I was standing there staring up, wondering if I should try to catch anything on its way down, or if I should just duck and run.

In the end things worked out very well, and I can tentatively say that the work-home-family situation is even better now than it was before, as a result of the shake-up shakedown. I am working more hours from home, which I genuinely love. I really enjoy being engaged in the professional world, and my time as a stay-at-home and work-from-home mom has emphasized this trait in me even more.

In the process of getting the details in order, though, there was no shortage of tears, sleepless nights, and anger (at no one and nothing in particular, just anger at the fact that such a thing could happen to us, as if we are unique and should be saved from the uncertainty that is a part of life).

Before the bombshell, I had been reading a lot, but later, in between weeping, eating carbs, and obsessively applying for jobs, I watched a lot of movies and TV, trying to find something that would resonate with the way I was feeling: chaotic and resentful, yet also somehow like I had been miraculously rescued and set free from a rat-maze that I wanted no part of. As the Old Way began to recede into the rear view, I began to look forward with not a little bit of excitement. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was the first dose of cinematic balm that I slicked over my wounds, reveling in the color scheme, which reminds me so much of the color panels in my dad's old World Book encyclopedia set. The dry humor of Cate Blanchett and Anjelica Huston blew over me like a cleansing arctic wind. The appearance of the jaguar shark brought me to tears as I recognized something familiar: the beast that ate my comfortable past, the beautiful terror that leads me to something better in the future.

Aside from the more obvious positive changes, the employment shift has allowed for some other, more surprising bright spots as well:

*I got to take part in the first interview in which I had good questions for the interviewer, and the answers to those questions led me to know that I didn't want the job. It was a very smartly powerful feeling, to know the right questions to ask (will I be filling out the paperwork on the clock or on my own time?) and to hear in the mincing answer that this was the kind of job I went to school to get away from.

*While I was turned upside down, for a while, by the stress, I bounced back much, much more quickly than I would have otherwise, and for the first time I faced a biggish crisis without descending into that sticky tar pit of self-hatred. This sounds kind of dramatic, but I think if we are honest, most of us have been to that place of loathing when things go sour, stuck in a circle of thoughts about what we ought to have done, and what we should have known, blah blah blah. Normally in a crisis I set up a tent by the shore of that tar pit, and stick my feet in it at least up to the ankles. This time, it didn't get me. I am learning not to view everything in the narrow terms of transgression and punishment -- at my better moments I was able to see the situation -- the dreaded Layoff -- as something that just happened, not as a curse sent to me specifically in retribution for some thing I did, or forgot to do. I could also see that viewing things as punishment or reward for me personally makes the problems all about me a frankly arrogant and childish way. Why does every event have to center around me? It doesn't. And what a relief.

*To put it briefly, Ben and I got to reinvent ourselves in some really productive ways. How often had we daydreamed about making this exact switch, but never really actually done it? Being forced to do it made it more stressful, but it was also, at several points, exciting and fun. What shall we be today? To have it really be a question was a departure from the normal adult everyday routine. I can't say that I would purposefully do it again, at least not very soon, but in its own way, it was good.

The summary of the benefits of the whole situation comes in a short description of an afternoon I had last week. I had been grading papers and editing for several hours, and my work was drawing to a close. Ben, about to get in the car to fetch Chris from school, stuck his head in the "office" (AKA our bedroom with a giant table set up in it).

"Do you want some sushi?" he asked.

"Yes. Definitely yes."

"Ok, cool," he said. "I'll grab some at Publix on my way home."

If you have never been a SAHM, this exchange might not seem all that fantastical or noteworthy. But to me, it was like the first ray of sunshine on the first morning of the first day.

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