I wrote this post last fall. But I never could decide if I should publish it or not. On bad days I would re-read it and decide I was full of shit. On good days it would make perfect sense. I think I’ve decided that it is a valid point of view, even when I’m in a foul mood. More importantly, I have a lot of friends who are starting new families. And if this helps prepare them for what is going to happen, or helps anyone who has felt this way, I guess it’s worth everyone else thinking I’m crazy. So here it goes:
I almost didn’t get my open-water diving certification. This was in Thailand, about 7 years ago. We were supposed to sit on the bottom of the bay for five minutes, just breathing. After a minute or so I went into lizard-brain mode: “Underwater! Not supposed to breathe underwater! Flee! Flee!” I had to kick up to the surface, rip off my regulator and gasp for air.
Recently I’ve decided that, for me, staying at home with the kids is not unlike breathing underwater. We’re not supposed to be raising kids alone, without extended family in the house, without other moms and kids in the neighborhood. Physically, I would have had more energy for this job if I’d been 20 instead of 30. Mentally, it’s extremely difficult to put aside years of personal focus to tend to absolutely dependent human beings. Saying it has been hard to move into this lifestyle is an understatement. I’ve been fighting it for almost four years.
I’ve been fighting the fact that it actually is so difficult, that I can’t put myself first, that I can’t run away, that it isn’t fun a lot of the time, that I’m not always the parent I want to be, that no one told me it was going to be this way, that there is never enough rest or recuperation. I’ve been very angry that I didn’t know this beforehand. I was totally naive. I mean, I knew college was going to be tough. I knew living in a foreign country would be a challenge. Everyone tells you this. For me, knowing made all the difference. I didn’t feel cheated and could concentrate on the positive. What people tell you about having children is that it is wonderful. They gloss over the rest, or have just forgotten. I’m here to say that that does not help. Then again, maybe it’s just me.
After my scuba-freak-out in the Adaman Sea, I resolved (mostly out of embarrassment) to try again. This time I found a simple, yet incredibly effective trick: focus on the fish. The second I just looked around me I stopped fixating on the weight of the water above me, the air in my tank and lungs. My anxiety lifted. I finished my certification and couldn’t get enough of diving. It turns out I’m good at it too.
Not to stretch a metaphor too thin, or compare my children to fish, it’s still an apt comparison. I’ve been fighting the reality of my daily life. My mind has just not been able to comprehend such a huge and irrevocable shift in existence. It has been in lizard-brain mode: not comprehending that I actually can breathe. Trying to flee. And that is exhausting.
So I’m letting go. Part of this has to do with my realization about just how much my attitude affects my family. Part of it has to do with the fact that with a second kid, I can see just how fast this is all happening. I can’t spend all this time gasping for air. That is not to say it still isn’t hard. All of the above factors are still true. And I’m realizing that letting go is more of a continuous process than one big event. Also, I can’t forget to refill my own tank once in a while (Go metaphor go!). But I’ve noticed how much more energy I have when I’m not angry and pulling at the restraints all the time.
I know I’m not the only one who has had such a hard time with this stay-at-home-mom business. Yet, although I’ve heard a lot of commiseration, I still felt like I was the only one this mad about it. Don’t get me wrong, I feel lucky I can stay at home while the kids are this little. I don’t want to blow this chance. I’m starting to finally feel like I can enjoy it on a much more basic level. And maybe I’m good at it too.
Now I’m off to look at the fish.