Dropping My Mental Load

The French comic artist Emma and her depiction of “mental load”  has gone viral for illustrating the burden many women take on as family project manager.

In my marriage, I am the one who:

  • Knows when we’re about to run out of toilet paper.
  • Remembers to buy an end-of-year card and presents for our kids’ teachers.
  • Hunts down the contractors and makes doctors appointments.
  • Makes hotel reservations for hotels.
  • Pays most of the bills.

In the past, my husband has said to me, “Just tell me what you need.” During my more rational moments, I tell myself, “He’s right. Just speak up and tell him to change the dentist appointment. Let him initiate the what-are-we-having-for-dinner? conversation. Let him respond to that text from our daughter’s friend’s dad for a playdate.”

But I’m not always rationale or calm. Sometimes I am just plain fed up. “Why do I have to tell you?!” I want to shriek. “Can’t you just see that there is no creamy peanut butter in the house? Didn’t you notice that our 9-year-old daughter has been wearing the same pair of shoes for a year and a half and might need new shoes? Do you even know where toilet paper comes from?”

So. If I lose my shit, it’s my fault for not speaking up.

If I “take over” the task, I’m not giving my partner the chance to take care of things.

But. If I tell him what needs to be done, I’m still doing a share of work that all those lovely surveys that say women still do more housework don’t and can’t possibly measure.

This: What our partners are really saying when they ask us to tell them what needs to be done is that they refuse to take on their share of the mental load.

So this month, I am dropping my mental load. In the immortal words of Crush the sea turtle: Let us see what happens when Squirt flys solo.

To be sure, there are certain chores and tasks that we’ve discussed and divvied up:

  • I shop for the groceries and cook. He does most of the dishes.
  • I get the kids up and out the door in the morning. He picks them up from the bus.

But everything else, I’m letting go. I’ll let you know what happens.

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My Dark Truths About Parenting and Marriage

IMG_3681After reading Kristen Oganowski’s piece 10 Dark Parenting Truths We Never Talk About, I was inspired to write about my own dark truths. The stuff that I think and then push down by busying myself with the laundry or a glass of wine. I appreciate the honesty of her piece because so much of what a I read on parenting involves how to make yourself better (because you are inadequate) or is sarcastic. I’m not judging either of those responses, but I wanted to sit with my dissatisfaction. Let it be. 

Once written, my truths, this radical honesty, still left me feeling unsettled. “God, I thought. “I’m just as horrible and complain-y as my children.” But a thought or a feeling is just that: a thought or a feeling. I can observe it, acknowledge it, and move on. My “Remember” refrain is way of moving on.

I don’t like to play with my daughter.

When she asks if she can give me Minecraft lessons or if I’ll play Legos with her which involves building and playacting different scenarios, I cringe. Then I feel guilty. My daughter is nine and in the next few years, I expect that she’ll begin to pull away from me. Shouldn’t I embrace this time when she wants to spend time with me? My mom’s schizophrenia prevented me from having a close relationship with her, so I feel like I should be more dedicated to cultivating my relationship with my daughter.

Remember: I do enjoy being with her: biking, letting her bounce her invention ideas off of me, lazing in bed and talking, reading Harry Potter to her. We’re different people who enjoy different things.

I let my husband be the heavy.

Last night the kids were jacked up on ice cream and giddy from having spent the day at a friend’s house. They were giggling and happy and it was after 9 p.m. “Can you be in charge, please?” I asked Rodney. “They listen to you.” Other times, I’ve found myself saying the cliched words, “do you want me to tell Daddy?” because I know they will be scared into doing whatever I’ve asked them to do. I don’t like resorting to keeping the kids in-line through Daddy’s Reign of Terror, but I don’t always have the energy or the patience to do things the “positive discipline” way.

Remember: There are lots of times you do find the positive, firm way to get the kids to do what you want. Using the “When you ___, you can” construction works wonders. E.g., “When you put your shoes on, then you can play for five minutes on my iPhone.”

I consider my husband a third child (sometimes).

Rodney gets jealous or upset when I put the kids’ needs or wants ahead of his own. He’ll snap “I guess that I don’t get to talk!” when he’s interrupted. And when the kids are finally engaged in their own activities, he’ll demand attention by grabbing my various parts. “Why can’t you just talk to me!” I silently scream in my head. “Why all this groping like some teenager!” 

Remember: Channeling my therapist, I think she’d say that I need to schedule more regular dates with Rodney so we feel more connected. That reaction also speaks to my need for some alone and recharge time.

I’m in it for the money and benefits (for now).

Jasper’s preschool for the 2016-2017 year will be $410/week, which is $19,680. When confronted with the possibility of switching to a job that’s more meaningful and creatively challenging, I find myself holding back because I need my job which isn’t too demanding and pays well.

Remember: This doesn’t mean that I can’t change in a year, find a job that gives me the pay and flexibility that I deserve. I can also find ways to inject creativity and challenge into my life, but I’m not at the right time of my life to take those risks.

I’ve called my kids names

For once, we were doing something that I wanted to do—visiting a quaint town with an independent book shop, vintage furniture stores, and unique clothing places—and my kids were bitching about walking. Are we there, yet? I can’t walk anymore. Can I get something at the toy store? All these values I’ve tried to instill, and I have two whining children who can’t set aside their own wants for a day to do what I want. That’s when Jasper collapsed on the ground.

“I can’t walk anymore,” he cried.

“You both are being brats,” I hissed. “Brats!”

Remember: Everyone loses their shit. I told Rodney that I needed 10 minutes alone, and I was able to calm down a bit.

Family vacations are not really vacations.

For our summer vacation we spent a week in Williamsburg, Virginia. I love intellectual, culture things and eating great food and walking around. My kids prefer the pool, amusement parks, and plain pasta from chain Italian restaurants. Guess who had the better vacation?

Remember: Accept that I’m not going to experience the vacation I would want if I didn’t have kids. That’s why I’m taking a staycation this week. Home is not exotic, but I’ve been the boss of my own schedule.

Privacy, Please.

FullSizeRenderSometimes when I’ve lost the will to parent, I pretend that I have to poop.

“I need to go to the bathroom!” I’ll announce loudly grabbing a magazine and pounding upstairs to the bathroom my husband and I share.

Not 30 seconds into the New Yorker—which I read back to front, first reading the cartoons, next making a mental note of the articles I want to read but in all likelihood won’t read—I see shadows move beneath the door, like a shark lurking beneath the water’s surface.

“Mama, what are you doing?” my four-year-old son Jasper asks.

“Pooping!” I lie. Will he believe me? He leaves, then returns a moment later and parks himself in front of the door. Then I hear the familiar rattle and crash of Legos landing on the floor. Sigh.

One time when my need to use the bathroom was genuine, my daughter Zora slipped a note under the door.

“I miss you,” it said.

Of course, when they’re really in dire need of attention, the kids barge right in. My daughter did this last week and immediately regretted her actions.

“It smells in here,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“Hmm, I wonder why?!” I replied sarcastically.

Kids aren’t the only ones who ignore the closed door. Once when my sister-in-law was visiting our family, my husband and I took the opportunity to sneak upstairs for a quickie. Five minutes into our tryst, my sister-in-law opened the door to ask something. “Hey!…Oh, my God!” she muttered, blue eyes widened, her jaw dropped, and she quickly slammed the door.

Five years after moving into our condo and after countless interruptions, we decided enough was enough and bought and installed three doorknobs with locks.

Not long afterward, we enjoyed a lazy Sunday afternoon at home. The kids sprawled on Zora’s bed engrossed in Minecraft videos, and my husband and I stretched on the couch reading. My husband removed the book How To Manage Your Strong-Willed Child out of my hands, placed his head in my lap, and grinned expectantly at me. I tried to deflect by asking him if he thought that Jasper was regular kid who thrived on routine, but I may as well have been speaking Tagalog to him. He placed his hand behind my head and pulled me down for a meaningful kiss. Deciding to go along for the ride, I let myself be led upstairs into our bedroom. We locked the door and undressed and jumped under the covers. The bright afternoon light fell across our bodies. As I traced my finger down his breastbone, I heard the familiar, “Mommy?!” Then the door rattled. Ha! Locked!

“Go away!” Rodney barked.

“Mommy? What are you doing?” Jasper asked.

“Snuggling with Daddy,” I yelled.

“Why?” he asked.

“Go away,” Rodney barked again.

A pair of small feet padded down the hall. Spell broken, I looked at my husband and rolled my eyes. At least we have privacy.

 

Weekend Reads and Whatnots

Call it a mid-life crisis or obsessive rumination because I’ve forgotten to take my antidepressants, but I’ve spent a lot of time this week reassessing what makes my life meaningful and purposeful.

(Jeeze, why does thinking about that have to be crisis or mental illness? Why can’t I just see myself as thoughtful and introspective?)

In the last few months, I’ve turned 42, been offered a new job after being at the same company for 15 years, learned I needed a biopsy for suspicious microcalcifications seen on my mammogram (turns out I’m okay; more on this later), and questioned whether I can really be and do all the things I want to be and do. Thanks, Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter.

So  Maria Popova’s Brain Picking’s post 20-Year-Old Hunter S. Thompson’s Surprisingly Sage Advice on How to Find Your Purpose and Live a Meaningful Life provided me some much needed perspective at the right moment.

Zora felt nervous this morning about her very first outdoor rock climbing expedition to Great Falls, so I told her to strike a power pose. It worked for the Rwandan debate team, whose story I heard on an excellent Invisibilia episode exploring the question, is change is possible from the outside in?

Exhausted new parents are told to sleep when their newborn sleeps, but this mom thought it’d be a lot more fun to dress her baby up as pop culture icons like Beyonce, Pikachu, and Han Solo.

This Edit Your Life podcast episode on handling the transition back to school offered some good tips on getting ready. (Though I still think I’ll be shrieking like a banshee at the kids to get out the door and to school on time September 6.)

And finally, How To Be Mediocre and Be Happy with Yourself.

Namaste!

Will My Daughter Be Anxious and Sensitive Like Me?

Before my husband Rodney and I decided to have children, we met with a physician for counseling. I was worried about having a child given both our history of anxiety and depression. The poor kid would be doomed? Do we have a child anyway? Would having a child be selfish? How can create another person knowing that her chances of being anxious and depressed were pretty high?

While I don’t remember the exact conversation with the physician, he said that any children we had would have a predisposition for anxiety or depression, meaning they would inherit the propensity for a those disorders, but full blown depression or anxiety wasn’t a given.

Now, nearly ten years later, my daughter Zora sits in front of me with a stomachache, glistening eyes, and a voice knotted with anxiety.

“I don’t want to play capture the flag at climbing camp,” she says in a scrunched up voice, her dark eyes buried under furrowed eyebrows.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because I never get to climb on the wall. I just sit on the side!” she croaks angrily.

“Why?” I persist.

“Because there are always people ahead of me!” she says.

“Why don’t you push to the head of the line?” I ask.

“Because they won’t let me,” she answers.

Her dark red hair forms an angled curtain around her face. Her skinny arms wrap around her knees. She’s determined to be angry and left out.

I try changing the subject. “Have you had breakfast?” When she’s anxious, she won’t eat. I was like that, too.

“No.”

“C’mon, then,” I say as I lean over to pick her up. She struggles in my arms then grudgingly throws her arms around my neck. 

“What am I going to do when you’re bigger than me and I can’t pick you up?” I whisper into her ear as I carry her lanky frame into the kitchen. 

After a bowl of dinosaur oatmeal and a glass of soy milk, we’re upstairs in her room picking out clothes. She flops on the mattress and looks at her feet.

“I still have a stomachache and I’ve eaten,” she announces.

“Look, next week I’m off and you don’t have camp. You don’t have to go anywhere. Won’t that be fun to look forward to?” I say.

Transitions are difficult for her. New situations are difficult for her. Asserting herself is difficult for her. There are expectations to meet, not only hers, which are likely high and unreasonable, but also what she perceives others may expect of her a.k.a. mind reading. Reminding myself that I think and feel may not always be real, has always been a struggle for me, and I can see that my little girl  shares that propensity.

She nods and we get on with the business of getting dressed. Even though she is nine and too big for me to dress her, I kneel down beside her and pull a t-shirt over her head and mint green leggings over her feet and narrow hips. I grab her hand and we head downstairs and out the door to camp.

Once in the car, Zora and Jasper request no music or NPR. They’re not bickering, which means that dark cloud of emotion has moved on. I relax and pull out of street onto the main road. 

“Next year, when I’m in fifth grade, can we get a fluffy dog?” she asks.

“We’ll get the dog that’s right for us at the right time,” I say. My response is maddeningly parental and noncommittal, so I add, “I read that cockapoos are good for kids.” 

“What’s a cockapoo?” Zora asks. Jasper, who is four, snickers. I said “poo.”

“A cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle,” I say. Then, knowing that silliness takes her out of negative place, I continue.

“So… you and Jasper are either,” I pause for a moment, thinking “‘Evodneys’ or ‘Rodvonnes’ — a combination of me and Daddy.” They giggle. “Which name is better?”

“Rodvonnes!” she’s taken the bait. We spend the rest of the trip to rock climbing camp describing the characteristics of Rodvonnes, everything from sensitivity to loud noises like toilets flushing in public restrooms (all Rodney) to wide, freckled noses (all me). And, I think to myself, the sensitivity and mood issues. 

But so what? Yes, Zora is a genetic mashup of me and Rodney, but our own struggles with depression and anxiety aren’t her destiny. Zora is her own person: sensitive, anxious, change adverse, but also funny, creative, sarcastic, tenacious, and original. As her mom, I can’t mold her into less anxious, gregarious person. Changing her into something she’s not is a losing battle and a rejection of her unique talents. My job is to help her become and accept herself. 

“Tell us more about the Rodvonnes, Mommy!” Zora urges me, as we pull into the parking lot at the camp. Yup. She’s excited about her own possibilities.

My Morning

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Three Perfect Shots.”

1. In Which We Discover a Redhead in Our Bed.

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. And then my seven-year-old daughter’s lean, sharp body insinuates itself between me and my husband. In the dark, all I feel are elbows, knees, and soft skin. When I peek, I see her hair falling like an auburn curtain across her face. Safe under Daddy’s arm, she snuggles in. Parenting experts encourage you to walk your kids back to their own bed, but my husband and I defy their advice and keep her with us. Right now, she believes we can protect her from anything.

2. “My Spoon Is Too Small.”

“I can only hold one piece of cereal on this spoon,” she complains and shows me the lonely square of Life cereal in the spoon.

I stare back at her.

“Well?” she says.

“I would like…,” I prompt.

She answers with a dark glare. “I’m not a baby.”

“I’ll get you a spoon,” I answer. I grab a large, slotted serving spoon from my ceramic utensil jar and hand it to her.

A grin breaks across her face as she takes it from me. “It’s working!” she giggles, using the serving spoon to pick up the entire cereal bowl.

3. Steggie Loses His Head

Apparently the Dinosaur Era follows the Thomas the Tank Engine Era: my son has carried around two plastic Stegasauruses for nearly a week. Stegasauruses, or “Steggies,” as my son calls them, are very popular with the toddler crowd. While the toy store had lots of Giganotasauruses and a slew of Pentaceratops (yes, I know too much about dinosaurs), we snagged the last two Steggies. Relative to their body size, Steggies have very small heads and even smaller brains — approximately the size of two eggs. They also have weak necks. When my son dropped his Steggie at the daycare center this morning, Steggie’s head snapped off skittered off to parts unknown.

“I’ll let you know if I find the head,” the associate director assures me as my son walks to his classroom and lifts the headless Steggie for his little friends to see.