TO OFFER UP: immolate, slaughter.
TO GIVE UP: abandon, surrender, forgo, renounce, forfeit, relinquish, resign, abdicate; betray.
I think our vehicle is just about the spookiest car ever during the cold and wet weather we have to come – weather like we had tonight. There is about a half inch of standing water on the inside (in the soggy months we grow mushrooms and once, quinoa, in the back footwells) which means the window interiors are completely fogged up when you enter. A handful of stuff doesn’t work right: example, the dashboard lights, leaving it dark and inhospitable as a little waterlogged crypt. Tonight upon leaving my date with J. I peek in the back to affirm no one is lurking there and waiting to strangle me (DAMN YOU violent/scary television shows – I only have watched one of such in the last several months and it has me half-terrorized!). Then I’m driving home and it’s dripping and dank like a WWII U-Boat but without any sweaty German sailors to keep me company.
I’m a little blue, probably because I had to throw out my last pair of pajama bottoms and my second-to-last pair of jeans a few days ago, they finally fell apart. Last night I slept in a too-small t-shirt and tiny shabby men’s boxer briefs. There’s some kind of place on my little Comfort Gauge that gets tripped now and then when the variety of Needs becomes too much to navigate; I don’t mind juggling but I hate feeling overwhelmed and sad (things used to be a lot harder; I’m grateful today we can pay our bills). Like when I don’t have a single dress for winter and I’m carefully washing my four pair of socks and a friend online posts pictures of their entire closet piled with of shoes and I go count and I have six pair, including one pair of Old Navy flipflops (Doesn’t Work For Winter) and a pair of Danskos I bought long ago and don’t wear (anyone want ’em? size 39), or when Phoenix’s child friend comes over and looks in my closet and says, “These are ALL of your clothes? I have four times this many!” or when I can’t really figure out what to scrape a few bucks off to buy (because Ralph will bend as far as he can to help me be happy and would not begrudge me anything) simply because I don’t quite know where to start.
I’ve written about these feelings before, borrrring. I inwardly grown at the thought of hearing postulated “solutions” because what I mostly want to do is write about it, the writing itself moves me to clarity. Regarding less personalized dictums, hearing the frequent admonitions to mothers to “not put themselves last” and to make sure to get themselves a pedicure and have a cup of tea by themselves in the morning, it chaps my ass. First off it’s typical condescending be-ladying (Right. TEA will solve our problems! and P.S. large edifices in our entire culture flourish by mothers Putting Themselves Last, and most people don’t seem to mind). And the fact is some things have to go last, for a time at least, and sometimes they’re my things, and I have the right to talk about my feelings now and then without being told How I Could Do It Better as Wife/Mother/Laydee.
I rarely, ever, think about what life might have been like without children. I remember when I was just about to come off maternity leave after Phoenix was born and my husband, slated to return home to raise our child, received a rather generous employment offer from the mill where we were employed. Our combined salary would have been over six figures and that seemed like a lot to me then (it seems like a lot now!). I was sitting in my parents’ living room when the phone call came in, nursing our firstborn. Ralph and I looked at one another and my mom excitedly asked us what we’d do. It felt momentous to have to choose but at the same time as familiar and simple and fierce as who was lying in my arms.
Of course even if we’d dual-incomed this whole family business we would have still had kids and the work and commitment children require for those who take responsibility, well, I could never have imagined beforehand. Today I can’t craft a picture of my life without them and I don’t get up to much guessing or claims about it either (just like I didn’t predict the structure of life-with-kids before I had mine, either). One thing that irritates me when talking about starting a family is people act like you could have it all figured out or planned or all Awesome ahead of time. Maybe some people can, I dunno. In my experiences my kids changed my life (absolutely and finally, and for the better) and since I went down that road I’ve had to make choices I never thought I’d imagine and I’ve been challenged and surprised just about every damn day. It’s like going through some kind of Hell that is better than anything I’ve ever experienced. Even my trip through postpartum despair and mania (after Nels) helped me dig deep and now I have the gift of being able to remember myself with Awe. Events have been as formative as my DNA and no longer can be separated from my personhood.
So why should I feel silly about our car, or my steadfast and day-to-day choice to ignore the cultural messages a woman who really cared about herself would dress up, would not “let herself go”, or would perform some other task of Ornamental Femininity that involved something other than used men’s Levi’s hacked off at the ankle, and old Doc Martens carefully tended, and coconut oil as moisturizer, and a careful plate on my secondhand dresser with a collection of $3 earrings. Someday my children will be out of my home and feeding and caring for themselves (likely) and I’ll have a little more for myself (maybe) and maybe I can have some of those many Nice Things I see so many others enjoying or maybe I’ll be smart and blessed enough to have learned to not think about it all too much.
That said, the concept of “sacrifice” in order to raise children has always irritated me. Partially because it frames childraising in, surprise surprise, a negative light (and frames child as “choice” instead of part of human life). Something that once you pick means you can’t have a lot of other really awesome shit like The Cool Kids do. Like there was all this other, better stuff out there and you’re scratching it off the list with gritted teeth, to later tell your kids how you did so. (That sounds like a great way to make my kids feel pretty shitty, then they can grow up and make their own kids feel shitty.) I have no problem if other people want to frame it that way, sacrifice. For me being pissed about it or wistful or using it as an excuse to live a less-full life, it would be like having a private mental life fantasizing about other people besides my partner (or having an active physical one screwing around, behind his back). If I don’t want to be here, don’t want to do it, I don’t have to. And I know it.
Today we went to a friend’s birthday party and I got to meet some lovely new grownups. My children played and raced around and ate and picked apples and delighted me entirely. Phoenix was complimented on her name and she said Thank You. And after a beat I told the group, “She chose it herself.” (She’s never bragged on this and I think she should!) The party attendees were a little confused as it obviously did not occur to them how this could be, that a small child could have chosen their own name. I told them about the change and the adults responsed favorably, one woman saying, “That is so cool you let her do it!” And I thought to myself yeah, it really is. The thing is I didn’t learn how to be a better person on my own nor improve much upon my nature unaided. I have the kids’ help, for which I’ll always feel a deep, bottomless gratitude.
Hey my pj’s fell apart too… So I have been sleeping in E’s scrub pants when he helped in the ER for school. Not nearly as warm.. But I am on the hunt today! Haha.
& if I was Phoenix I would brag about how my Momma let me change my name. It is quite amazing. =]
I don’t have children, so I don’t understand the sacrifice part I guess. But I do have debt. And making sure that my clothes are well tended and washed carefully so that I do not need new ones – especially for work – is HARD work. And sometimes I am very resentful. I SO want new running shoes, but it’s not going to happen. So I keep my jealousy to myself (mostly) and write about it on my own blog. The writing helps.
I think you correctly identify the paradox of society right now: the idea that what is a natural part of being human (having kids) is a choice that requires us to become a separate part of society. Of course, there is part of society who is wealthy enough to not see having children as a sacrifice – but they don’t parent the way you or I do. My sister in law, for example, thinks that I sacrifice too much and don’t do enough for myself (I guess I didn’t get the memo that I need to waste $35 on a pedicure once a week, rather than slather my feet with lotion and put socks on over that and call it a pedicure). It is the privilege of the wealthy to consider parenting a sacrifice.
I especially like the way you frame it: having children is part of life. My husband says that people who actively choose to not have children don’t fully participate in the cycle of life. I think these people forget that they, too, were once children. I could go on about this but I’m packing to go to Disney World – I’m lucky to have an aunt who never had kids of her own (not by choice) but who has surrounded herself with children during her career as a dance instructor in inner-city public schools. She chose to celebrate her birthday this year by paying for us to go to Disney with her, something she knows I can’t possibly afford right now. She doesn’t say it, but I know that it was a stretch for her to pay for all 4 of us, which makes me all the more grateful. Anyway, I’m going to be on a plane with 3 kids (10, 3.5 and 1.5) by myself and I’m bracing myself for dirty looks and complaints about my kids’ behavior. Woe to the person who makes a comment out loud within my hearing.
i don’t see my choices as a sacrifice either. recently my 11yr old asked me why i don’t have a job and i happily told him i wanted to be home with him and his sister – that this was where my heart calls me to be – money is for spending but life is for living and i am choosing to live my life as fully as i can with the people who are dearest in my life – i wouldn’t have it any.other.way.
You’re quite right, the only things that society at large seems to have a problem with mothers placing themselves last with are 1) appearance and 2) money. Whether the money question is whether they should go and make more or should be happy with what they’d have with a single income, it’s no-win. Everything else is golden.
I don’t think I knew Phoenix chose her name. Do you have a link to the story? That’s super cool!
I have been a lurker for a while now and I just wanted to comment and say how much I appreciated this post and your blog in general. I don’t have children (yet!!!), but when I do I am going to be taking many pages out of your parenting book. I find it really refreshing, and I can’t imagine letting my children go through the meat-grinder of modern childhood in this country. So, thanks for sharing your life on your blog…
(We are also neighbors! I’m down in Portland.)
Here’s hoping you find something cozy and warm and flannel and nice!
The jealousy and resentment thing can happen to any of us… we are all sold the bill of goods that buying Shit will make Life Better. Your work with your debt is admirable. I’d imagine it’s also kind of soul-sucking. Kids are hard work to feed or raise but they cuddle you at night and I don’t suppose debt management has much of an upside besides the day you’re Done. Also, the clothes thing? That *is* hard to keep up on! And I don’t know about you, but when clothes are kind of falling apart or looking shoddy and you’re supposed to have nice ones for work… ugh. That feels horrible. (p.s. last year when I ran it was in my old Keen hiking boots; my mom bought me new ones for my birthday this year, yay!).
“the idea that what is a natural part of being human (having kids) is a choice that requires us to become a separate part of society”
“It is the privilege of the wealthy to consider parenting a sacrifice.”
Wow… I’m going to have to think about that one a while! My mind immediately went to the flip side of the coin… people who disparage poor/poverty/working class parents who struggle. “If you can’t feed your baby then don’t have a baby,” that kind of total non-compassionate response and again, individualistic one (you know: it’s not MY fault if there are huge glaring social inequities, but it’s YOUR responsibility to make sure we don’t have to pay for that kid!). People who police HOW many children someone has (usually of course, policing the mother). Etc.
I don’t have any friends or family in higher socioeconomic brackets who give me shit about not getting pedicures or having an aquatic car or wearing thrifted/mens clothes/t-shirts. But sometimes I wonder if they look at me and pity me or are grossed out by me. Anyway… I think you’ve spoken about your SIL before and the tension over this issue. I’m guessing there’s some hurt or pain or confusion in her life that she’s not articulating in a more productive manner.
“My husband says that people who actively choose to not have children donâ€™t fully participate in the cycle of life.”
I have heard those without kids (either by choice or because they can’t) express hurt and anger at hearing these sorts of statements, whatever self-edifying intentions we might have in saying them. I know you didn’t ask my opinion (hee), but I no longer know if those without kids are “missing” something elemental or not. For instance I think of my favorite author ever Thich Nhat Hanh, he has no kids but has done more for me with regarding to caring for mine than any other author, he has lived a life of deep meaning, and he wrote passages about mother and baby that spoke to me more than anything I’ve read from anyone else.
That said you are right about those very special and amazing adults without kids who “get it” and who understand children (and their carers/mothers) are a part of this world. Like your aunt! Those gronwnups are solid gold and it’s only sad how rare they are. Sadly, before I had kids? I didn’t help kids or their carers (mothers) at all, except to tolerate them.
WELL-SAID on motherhood “giving up!” And very succinct. (Here’s my daughter’s name-change story.)
My own mother gave off the “I don’t want to be with you” vibe and worked out-of-home (not all working-out-of-home parents give off that vibe, I hasten to add). Of course now that I’m older I understand why she did. She felt edgy about money, she couldn’t be present for children, she was gentle and nurturing at heart but ill-equipped to raise us in ways that weren’t heavily colored by her own mother’s Authoritarianism. My dad was better at this so she left that part to him. ANYway, my long-winded point is, giving your kids the gift of “I want to be with you” is probably just about the most Amazing Thing Ever. I suspect many kids in our country don’t get it, which is why they grow up and give the same vibe to their own.
Wow! Thank you so much. You know I really did think, long ago, parenting was kind of this drudgery and messy thing… “refreshing”, it’s how I feel most days as the last years have discovered better. Oh and the “meat-grinder of modern childhood”, you’re right about that. I think that’s one reason many without kids by choice, don’t want to have kids and sometimes, don’t want to help kids. It’s so upsetting to them. Thank you for your comment!
Kelly I have to say thats pretty much the longest reply you have done lol. I am hoping to get my sewing machine running after I move and have time and I WILL make them! Lol. Eventually.. =]
What’s sad is I don’t think it *is* the longest reply I’ve done!
I think my commenters need to quit saying such awesome, interesting stuff. 😉
Haha well at least I just keep it short, sweet, and (sometimes) funny lol. & regarding the wedding dress that didn’t fit… I recieved another one from a friend that knew the issue I was having and this one fits amazing! lol. Now I don’t have to worry about fixing the other one. Too bad we don’t live closer! I would have loved to have you fix it for me =]
Kelly – I don’t think my husband meant that people who choose not to have kids are missing something but rather that they’re not fully participating in life as a biological being. He has a strong opinion about the need for society to support each other and thinks that a lot of social problems are the result of people being disconnected as a whole. A large portion of the whole is children and, because children are required to continue life as we know it, he feels that people have a biological obligation (maybe that’s too strong a word but I can’t think of a better one right now) to it wherever possible. I think his theory has some basis – otherwise how would people explain the extreme drive of some women who struggle with infertility? I know a few who have undergone or are currently undergoing fertility treatment and they’ve said in various ways that it’s like their bodies are telling them that they need to have a baby but their bodies don’t respond. But that’s not remotely scientific evidence, so it’s not exactly proof. And you’re right -this theory doesn’t take into account those who have profound impacts on society and its children, directly or indirectly. I don’t know what he’d say to that. I do know that he puts his theory into practice by counseling his female colleagues (medical providers) to remember that if they want to have kids it’s easier to do when you’re younger and that they shouldn’t let their professions get in the way of their desire to have kids. He maintains that society doesn’t support motherhood by emphasizing the importance of having a career early in life and that this is counter to biological fact – i.e. that fertility is the domain of younger women – and that to deny this fact is to deny our biology.
“maybe Iâ€™ll be smart and blessed enough to have learned to not think about it all too much.”
Inspired, once again. 🙂
Totally been there on the broke/frustrated with a lack of nice stuff front. It feels like a recurring illness for me, like there are moments when I have the wherewithal to feel like I have what I need and then there are moments where I have one pair of shoes for work that has heels worn down so badly that I am walking on metal and it is so very upsetting to me (I am very conscious of these things at work in particular, as I work in a place where people dress up and where I am a part of a different class and have a vastly different current and expected-over-my-lifetime income than most of the people I deal with regularly; it’s easy to forget that I am dealing with a really small and privileged population). This can be hard sometimes, trying to play the part among people who can’t fathom that my husband bartends a few nights a week so that he can care for my daughter (one of my students who in his defense comes from a country in which this would be completely unheard-of, blurted out with, “you mean your husband doesn’t WORK?”)
Although I have had family (in particular, my parents) and friends make pointed comments or otherwise thinly veil their disapproval of my renting, shoe-needing, old-car-driving, no-vacations-in-exotic-places-taking, no-cute-swimwear-owning ass (I live in California, for chrissake, and own a stretched out black speedo that I bought while PREGNANT), I have learned (ok, 70% of the time, when I am feeling strong I can remember this) that this is their shit, not mine, and that I made specific choices about not working 14 hour days, for example, and not continuing to date the “financially promising” but deadly boring dude in favor of the one who made me laugh. Ultimately, when it came down to laughter vs. stuff, I chose laughter. And everyone else, including all of the Them types who tell the Me types that I “need” this or that new thing, can go away quickly.
“not continuing to date the â€œfinancially promisingâ€ but deadly boring dude in favor of the one who made me laugh. ”
I really, really, really relate! I fell in love with then bred with an art-school dropout working at Target! The intelligence and Goodness and sincere skills in the sack were a part of it too, not just the laffs. But he was not the golden-egg goose when we got together, and I was aware of this.
You are right that when we compare to certain groups we’re liable to feel impoverished (esp. with American media’s consumer culture!). One thing I liked from the global rich list website:
“We are obsessed with wealth. But we gauge how rich we are by looking upwards at those who have more than us. This makes us feel poor.
We wanted to do something which would help people understand, in real terms, where they stand globally. And make us realise that in fact most of us (who are able to view this web page) are in the privileged minority.
We want people to feel rich. And give some of their extra money to a worthwhile charity.”
Isn’t that cool?
Finally: if you’re ever feeling shitty about it email me. Because your choices sound really good to me. It’s hard to stay strong sometimes and know they’re the right ones.