Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why I want to be a stay at home mom

So I was watching the Steve Jobs speech at Stanford and it occurred to me that I should spend some serious time thinking about why I am a stay at home mom.  I've been having internal pushback towards my decision making process lately and I think I need more clarity.

I view parenting as accompanying your child through an apprenticeship to adulthood.  One that my mother failed at.  My mother gave me adult responsibilities when I was very young.  I had to be responsible for myself in a way that was not appropriate or fair.  And I failed often.  The result was that I got hurt often.  I don't instinctively know what skills a child would have to avoid problematic people.  I don't want to teach my children to be just like me.

I don't think my aggression is an ideal life attitude.  And I want my kids to be allowed to be them.  I don't know how to do that without looking at them all day long.  I don't know how to bond in a shorter time span than that.  I believe that working mothers love their children just as much as I do.  I don't know how they find time in the day to deal with that much emotion.  I can't.  It overloads me.  Having to be patient and interactive with them is incredibly difficult.  If I had other things adding stress to my life (like a job) I would be nasty and mean and vicious pretty much all the time.  It is hard for me to be nice and I find that embarrassing.

I only know how to get through the bad days by having a lot of control over every single solitary thing I say and do all day.  You can't do that and have a job.  So really, I just don't want to have a job.  No.  That's not true.  I do not believe I am capable of managing the stress of a job and the stress of children.  I would not be pleasant, ever.  Dealing with my mental health takes up too much time, honestly.

And I am getting to discover what it is like to unfold in a safe, gradually expanding environment.  I am watching how Shanna changes.  It's amazing to me to look at her in all of her grumpy glory and think, "That is in absence of any external stress whatsoever.  Hunh.  How does that jive with what I remember doing/being/saying?"  I'm learning what it means that someone else can't "make" you feel something.  My children get on my nerves.  That is kind of their job.  When I lose my temper and start yelling at them I have this huge hammer in my brain hitting me as hard as possible saying, "She's a fucking three year old!  She doesn't know this is an annoying thing to do!  You are supposed to be helping her learn not berating her for her inadequacies!!"  I feel like my anger is not supposed to be part of the equation.

Do you know why I feel that way?  Because in my family you weren't allowed to address small injustices or issues.  You were required to stay silent through small problems and big problems alike.  I was supposed to just smile and "be pleasant".  "Why is your tone of voice so nasty all the time" was the favored thing to tell me.  I learned that I was simply an unpleasant person because I wanted them to stop "playing" with me in ways that hurt me.  I was a whiner.  At least according to them.  And looking at Shanna... I can understand why people around me didn't notice that anything wrong was happening.

If I put my hand around Shanna's hand to hold it when she's not in the mood it doesn't matter if I am holding her with so little pressure I barely encircle her hand.  "It huuuuuuuuuuuurts."  I feel like I'm going to lose my mind.  She is constantly whining about how much I am hurting her, when I am not even touching her body.  When I am walking towards her with the hair brush she starts crying and clutching her head and rolling around the floor sobbing because I have hurt her.  When I haven't touched her yet.  I did that too.

Do you know what my mom did?  She probably thought she was just trying to get it over with as fast as possible.  Oh how I screamed.  I have done the same thing to Shanna.  You pull them over to the couch, hold them between your knees, and as fast as possible you get the knots out no matter how they squirm.  But my would start with a fine tooth comb at the top of my head and yank.  I have a baby brush with soft bristles and I start at the ends and I pull knots apart with my fingers.  I don't think Shanna is reacting to what I am doing less than I reacted to my mother.  I sincerely believe that Shanna experiences actual physical pain for less than 10% of the time I am brushing her hair.  My mother could be gentle but when she was in a hurry... well... that was that.  And she was in a hurry a lot.  I was the youngest of four.  She worked most of my life.

If I had to hurry and get Shanna ready for daycare before I got ready for work we would not have a pleasant relationship.  She wakes up slow.  We generally sit in a chair for half an hour cuddling before we do anything at the beginning of each day.  Calli is joining us now.  Then Noah makes breakfast and the kids go back and forth between us.  If I also had to get ready for work then, that would be the end of my writing and relaxing.  That is when I have that time.  The other tasks would get managed somehow by someone else.  I would just lose writing.

It's hard for me to actually admit that I need this writing.  It feels so banal, so unimportant.  Why would anyone ever care about anything I have to say?  Who the fuck am I?  Because if I'm telling you the truth I want people to read this.  I want people to give a shit what I say.  But I'm not sure anyone should.  Have I thought anything useful?  Have I taught anything?  I don't know.  Not enough, I'm sure.  What is teaching anyway?  When I worked as a high school teacher my goal was to have the kids be able to argue with me more by the end of the year.  I want them to be ever increasingly sure of their own opinions.  I want them to be able to talk in finer and finer detail about what they believe.  Because only once they can talk about it can they really be a fully integrated person and deal with their little hypocrisies.

I actively want to avoid being a hypocrite.  That means being very sure what my priorities are and changing my behavior when it's not in alignment.  It's hard.  It means I don't get to coast for long.  What are my priorities.

Noah, Shanna, Calli, Sarah.  Not necessarily in that order.  Spending time with them.
Socializing with other people

It's a short and broad list to start with. That means that when I sit down to read a book to Shanna I am not evading my housekeeping duties.  I'm following my priority list.  I want to stick my tongue out at an imaginary person now.  I feel like there is some judge and jury out there who is going to tell me I am a bad mother because I want to sit in the garage and smoke pot instead of clean my house.  Seriously.  Who the fuck wouldn't agree with me?  I'm writing, damnit.  Why am I writing.  Why does writing matter.

Writing lets me get out the stupid shit I am thinking about into a format where I can see it, understand it, and recognize that it is idiotic.  If it is just running around and around and around in my brain... I don't know how to get off the train.  The writing changes it from a train on a circular trap to a traffic loop.  Yes, it is possible to get caught in the center if you are being dumb, but there are exits all fucking over the place.  Just pick one.  Are any of them really worthwhile?  I don't know.  I don't know if anyone will read my writing one day and feel like I made their life better.  I gave them an idea they didn't have before and it made their life just a little easier.  I feel like it is so hard for me to "act normal" that certainly some other people are also just acting and they might like a trick.

I loathe when people say, "Be yourself!"  Yourself is a bizarre construct of all the different influences you've had in your life + personal taste.  It's pretty vague.  And let me tell you, when you do things you genuinely like (like making your hair increasingly AWESOME) people are quick to remind you that you are stepping out of the herd and you should stop that.  I think I dyed my hair because it makes me visually a freak but it doesn't cause any more pain to my body.  I think that is a god damn excellent direction of progress.

I want to be a stay at home mom because some accident of fate handed me a partner with sufficient money to support me all my life in a manner to which I would like to become accustomed.  We've been married for five years.  Until now I have contributed enough to pay for my truly unnecessary stuff.  I was self-sufficient enough.  Now I have no form of income.  Now I am completely dependent on someone else for the first time since I was 15.

Of course I'm secretly having a fucking heart attack and hoping that I do a good enough job in November that I can sell the book.  I don't want to be a god damn dependent.  But I don't want to do anything that requires me to deal with other people.  Err, well, that kind of limits the options.  And honestly I wouldn't take a random retail job right now.  For one thing it would be hard to get someone to hire me because I am so overqualified.  I think I could overcome that though.  It's called lying.  But I would feel guilty for taking that job away from someone who needs it more.  I don't want an office job.  I don't want anything where I have to be doing additional work.  Ha.  I feel like being the housefrau maid for my family is enough fucking work this lifetime, thanks.  And I want to write.  And my husband wants me to write.

I have such intense feelings about Noah's perception of my writing.  He takes it more seriously and gives it more respect than I do.  I think that Noah is the one who convinced me that I am a writer.  That anyone who compulsively feels the need to write 10-20 pages a day is a fucking writer.  That's just not normal.  Normal. Normal. Normal.  I hate that word so much and I use it constantly.  I think it goes a long way towards wrecking the meaning I am going for.

Why am I so god damn compelled to be just like everyone else?  When I stand near people too long I start acting like them.  I conform.  I do it in subtle ways at first, then loud, then I explode and yell at them and make it seem like I was being oppressed by the ways I was conforming.  Even if the other person was unaware of the whole situation.  They are just standing there confused.  In my family the constant chatter is about telling you what to think, when to think it, how to think it.  So someone sitting there and telling you something about how they handled a situation is fairly explicitly giving you directions on how you are expected to handle it in the future.  You know that whole, "Childhood as apprenticeship for adulthood" thing I have?

Until fairly recently my aunt and uncle were supporting their three adult disabled children.  And a bunch of grandkids and SOs.  Because they reinforce one another's behaviors.  They will rise or fall as a unit.  They are all so ridiculously similar it isn't funny.  Like obsessions with collecting useless things.  Everyone has a different animal.  For every holiday under the sun people compete to find you something with that animal on it.  But they are all dirt poor.  So all the stuff is cheap, ugly, and really pointless.  And they have LOTS of it.  That's one small point, but they do the same thing with everything.

When I walk into a middle class persons house I instantly put on my 'acting' face.  I start to imagine, "How would people who live here behave?"  Do you want to know why I paint my house really dark colors?  Because I grew up in houses with dark wood paneling.  They were caves.  I don't know how to cope with relentlessly white walls.  We had relentlessly white walls in a series of depressing, horrible rental places.  Or ugly paneling that turned the house into a dark cave.

So I painted my house purple and cornflower blue and green and raspberry and navy blue.... among other colors.  They are dark enough to make me feel calm and settled.  Aunt Vonnie's houses were the home base.  That was as much of a home as I knew.  That feeling is in a dark house... even though it bugs me.  I don't want to be the kind of person who has a uniformly dark house.  It feels oppressive to me.  But I like darker, more saturated colors.  Who says a house has to look like the materials came that color direct from nature?  I never got that memo.  I guess I ditched that day at school.

This constant attempt to conform to whomever I am standing near creates problems.  Because then I get angry at the person for "making" me feel like I have to conform and be like them.  I have had this problem in particular with a couple of female friends.  We will be having an intense conversation about something and they are giving advice and all of a sudden I go ballistic and start screaming because I don't want to be like them.

I don't know how to handle those feelings very well.  That sudden explosion of fear that they are trying to wipe me off the planet.  I know that it was that fear that got me out of my family.  I respect that fear.  I respect the fact that my individuality comes with a rock solid fist to defend it.  But I really wish I wouldn't hit my friends.  They haven't done anything.  This is my fuck up.

I am struggling with the fact that my self control runs out.  I have too many things I am trying to control. I don't know how to relax and let go of the anger in the moment very well.  It cycles so fast out of no where.  When I am at home I take a time out.  It's not perfect because I'm doing too much stomping away/slamming doors.

The only normal I care about is the one where my kids aren't afraid of me.  I don't want my kids to quake with fear from my voice.  That is not a relationship I want.  But I want to be effective.  Three sucks.

I want to be a stay at home mom so that my kids and I can learn how to be nice to each other without outside pressure.  We can learn how to be a family together.  Because really I don't know much more than them.  Luckily Shanna is an excellent teacher.  She's having an emotional period, but mostly she can talk about her preferences and make requests and follow directions.  She is in a rough phase (the book told me to expect it! I love that book) and that's ok.  Hormones are rough.  I try to be gentle and understanding.  For her, this is just a phase because nothing bad has ever really happened to her.  Minor injuries and scrapes.  Losing her friend Rowan was the biggest loss she's been aware of.  If I am patient and loving, she will come through this and on the other side she will hopefully understand that three year olds are assholes and I was really nice to her.  This is part of the circle of life.  I wish I could apologize to my mother for some pieces of it.

But that is when we jump on the merry go round again.  I don't think my mother abused me as a small child.  I think she neglected me to such a degree that it becomes criminal.  I think she tried to enculturate with the only thing she knew... and it worked.  I am indeed, white trash.  Even that didn't go how she planned.  One of the strongest and most defining things about white trash as I understand the concept is the fierce loyalty.  Blood is everything.  How do you think they get away with incest?  If you are related to someone you are obligated to do anything they want... forever.

Excuse me while I pause to vomit on the floor.  I respond to feeling like I should conform with hostility and aggression because it was a very useful tool at one point.  My friends aren't trying to convert me though.  Gah.

I should stop writing.  It's already too long.  But I don't want to.  This is the problem with trying to do shorter entries.  I don't always see a clear stopping/starting/dividing line.  How do I talk about things in separate posts when it is all one big concept in my head?  But then I ask and people tell me, yes they would prefer shorter posts.  And then I feel like I am failing to deliver something that people want.  I wish I didn't do this to myself.  Shit.  This is over twelve pages long.  Ok, I'll stop.  And it took me just over an hour.  That's actually kind of hot.

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