1.09.2013

One day at a time.

When I was a junior studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, I had to take this painting class for an art credit. Each week we were taken to a different location to paint. One week we painted Mont Sainte-Victoire and another week we painted a bucket laying on its side near Cezanne's house and another week we did self-portraits in front of mirrors in my teacher's stunning house.

Each week, someone in the class cried. Their mountain was misshaped. Their bucket wasn't the correct color. Their curly hair was impossible to recreate with paint. Painting, as it turned out, brought out extreme emotions in all of us.

The week that I cried was the week we visited a farm. I was painting a barn and some ducks who were hanging out nearby. It was windy that day and my easel kept nearly tipping. My palette caught a gust, flew off my thumb and landed face-down in a pile of leaves, wasting all of the paint I'd mixed. And those effing ducks. How does one successfully paint moving targets?!

The point is, I too had my week to cry. One by one, painting took us all, humbling us and bringing us to our knees.

*

I attend a breastfeeding support group every other Wednesday and every week someone else cries. This was my week. Having held strong through the latch issues, the exhaustion, the gas problems, the puking problems, the pumping problems, the challenges of a baby refusing a bottle and much, much more, this week it wasn't even something breastfeeding-related that got me. This week, I admitted to the group that I no longer feel interesting. And then I started to cry.

I've worked my entire adult life. And before I worked a full-time job? I had summer jobs and work study jobs and babysitting jobs and way before that I got paid $2.50 an hour to be a mother's helper for the family down the street. Working has given me purpose and it's given me something to talk about. It's also give others something to latch onto in conversation.

"How's Arc going?" people would ask. "How's teaching English?" "How's working in the PR department?" "How's the babysitting business?"

Working outside the home gives others a simple topic for small talk. What, then, does one ask when you no longer work outside the home?

In my limited experience, they don't ask much of anything at all. They ask my husband how his job is going and then we skip over me to someone else at the party. Don't get me wrong - I don't honestly know what they're supposed to ask me. What would I ask myself? 

Because herein lies the issue. I don't know how to explain what I do all day. Somehow it is 9am when Chris walks out the door and 6pm when he walks in the door and I have made it through via a combination of cleaning someone's butt, wiping puke (repeatedly) off my shirt, soothing and swaying someone to sleep only to have him wake up four seconds after I put him down so I can do something luxurious like eat a yogurt or turn on the TV or go to the effing bathroom. Amidst all of that, the struggling and the smiling, what could I possibly discuss that would be of interest to someone else at a cocktail party?

So this afternoon at breastfeeding group when it was my turn, I talked about how Noah won't stay asleep and how he hates his carrier and how he pukes all the time. And the wonderful woman who runs those meetings said, "Ok Jen, but what is really going on?" 

And that's when I took a breath, started to cry, and admitted that I no longer feel interesting.

I'll skip the part about how the group was wonderful (they were! oh how they were!) and move on to say that I am in a decidedly better place at 8pm than I was at 8am this morning and it is all due to that group. This morning I teetered on the edge of a large void of sadness. I reread some of Heather Armstrong's earliest posts about motherhood and I understood them in a way that I never had before Noah was born. I emailed a few friends to let them know that I'm not doing so hot lately, still unable to truly understand why. I don't have the energy or strength to go back to work, but without it the horizon stretches as far as the eye can see, displaying only day after day of exactly the same things. 

I don't know if I want to use the word depression; that still feels too strong. But I write this post for someone out there who will eventually have a baby and wake up one day feeling gray and like nothing will ever change again. Get yourself to a support group, breastfeeding or otherwise. I don't know if I'll wake up feeling better tomorrow, but it seriously changed the course of today and at this point, I'll take as many positive afternoons as I can get.

6 comments:

Rebecca said...

Not very long ago, I read an article by a woman whose son is disabled. When she goes to parties or meetings, people talk about their kids, the funny things they say or the activities they're up to, and they they look at her and say "So... how's [name of son]?" She shared this to say that she resented that question. She wanted people to ask, "How does he like his new classroom? Did he have fun at the zoo last week? What is he going to dress as for Halloween?" She didn't want to have to both ask and answer the questions, so she asked her friends (or readers, I guess) to take the initiative.

My point in sharing that is to say that we often don't ask people the right questions. When I was unemployed, people asked me "So what do you do?" at parties or gatherings. Instantly I would become emotional and defensive and explain that I had been laid off, that the economy sucks, that I was in fact working two part-time jobs and finishing my master's degree...but none of those things had anything to do with "what I do" because "what I do" was taken away from me.

I have been trying very hard to move away from letting "what I do" define "who I am" because I don't really get to do what I want to do anymore...but I do something, and "I am" what I bring to it. It's getting easier as I realize that someday I will get to do what I want...now is just not the time.

Not sure if any of that makes sense, so I'll just end with this: BOOBS!

Rebecca said...

Somehow I managed to make that comment all about me...and what I really wanted to do was give you a hug and tell you that everything is going to be ok!

Susan Epting said...

Jen,

YOU WILL ALWAYS BE INTERESTING!!!! Right now you might feel as if you aren't, but there is one sweet little boy who sees you as the most important, interesting person in his young life! I think that one of the reasons people at parties aren't asking about you is because they do not have children and have no idea of how to broach the subject. Remember that one day they might very well be in your situation. Your role as a mother is most likely the most important that you will ever have in your entire life because you are nurturing a human being and helping Noah to grow. In 20 years when you look at that young man, you will realize that he is what he is because you were there for him. Please don't ever forget that. I know that some days it's very hard but talk to any woman who is a mother and we will all tell you the same thing. The sacrifice and hard work is worth every single minute and all the effort you put into the most important job in the world!

Love,
Mom xo

lindsay said...

so glad you have such an awesome support group! They sound like awesome people. Sending you much love from NC Jen! xoxoxo!

Meg said...

I'm so glad and sorry that you wrote that post. I'm glad that you have an amazing support group. I'm glad that you have enough self-awareness to be able to answer a question like "what's really going on," and I'm so very glad you're brave enough to share what you're feeling!

I'm sorry that you are feeling gray. I'm also sorry that "what do you do for work" is the best people can come up with for small talk. I can't say I'm much better, but as someone who doesn't much like to talk about work, I've gotten away from asking other people about it. I'd much rather know what you've been reading, or the places you've been recently or the new recipe you tried out.

I don't get a lot of fulfillment out of my current job and I'm taking tiny small steps toward changing that, but in the meantime, there is so much more to my day to day than what I fill my time doing. What makes you interesting, Jen, is what you think about. At least, that's how you've always interested me. Your outlook and perspective, your passion and caring. That's the stuff that no job could ever give or take away.

Sending lots of love and smiles from PA :)

Erica said...

I second what Meg said. You're interesting because you're *interested* ... in others, in life, in profound questions that other people never think about.