Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Fighting vainly the old ennui"

Have you ever had one of those terrible stomach flus that knocks you down for the better part of a week and at first you're all like, "Sweet Jeebus, why oh why have you forsaken me? I've been dry heaving for half a day and there's no diarrhea left for my ass to spray, JUST MAKE THIS END!" And then, when the worst is over you practically weep joyful tears over that first glass of water and bit of dry toast you're able to hold down, and then oh, look there's a "Beverly Hills 90210" marathon for the next few hours - life is good, life is great! Then later, when there's no more "90210", no more stuff you can think to look up on the internet and real food just isn't appealing yet, you think, "Damn, I'm bored," but you know you're nowhere near ready to face the world because just getting up to go to the bathroom makes you feel dizzy and weak - you ever have one of those stomach flus?

Extend that experience over several months and that's life with a baby. Granted, the details are different. The initial misery probably doesn't involve much diarrhea or vomiting. Instead it's just a constant panic and confusion plus sleep deprivation. Then, after a few months, you start to get the hang of things and maybe you even sleep for extended periods of time. Shit, when we graduated to just three middle-of-the-night feedings I thought I had it made, so thankful was I for that sense of relief. But then the tedium set in. My daughter is sixteen months old. I've spent most days of the week with her since she was born. This is a mostly ideal arrangement and I feel very fortunate to have this time with her as she grows and flowers so fast but OH MY WORD do I get bored.

Maybe it's our circumstances. We're a one car family so she and I are often at home. We make the most of it. I take her for long walks when it's warm outside. That'll kill a couple hours. I love reading to her, but she's only into that if she's sleepy. Otherwise she plays. I'm pretty bad at pretending to be interested in her toys. Lucky for me, she's very good at amusing herself. She has her barn and her blocks and her scooter. I have my iPad. Now that she's walking and so geeked to explore everything, I'll let her wander around the usually closed off, non-childproof parts of the house. She has so much fun. My only job during that time is keeping her from killing herself, so I follow her, closing doors and presenting distractions as needed. It isn't a taxing task but it's dull, and dullness can take a lot out of me. Sometimes in the afternoon, when my energy is shot, I turn on the TV to mesmerize her while I get chores done, but sometimes I'll just zone out, too. Her favorite shows are "Dragnet" and "The Partridge Family". That's cool. I'd let her watch annoying, "educational" kids' shows if those stations came in on our antenna, but I'm secretly glad they don't. She's a good kid, so I don't need to do much policing. I probably spend 30 minutes average out of every day telling her to not throw her food on the floor, or scream in my face, or try to climb up the bookshelf from the arm of the couch. Nevertheless, by the time Dan gets home I feel so desperate to be alone and away from her, I'll hole myself up in the bedroom for a half hour. I usually emerge in fairly good spirits. That's pretty much my every weekday. It's not bad. It could certainly be way worse. But when friends ask, "What have you been up to?" I simply don't have much to say.

I'm not asking for your sympathy, nor am I asking for your suggestions, either. I accept boredom as an inevitable part of this phase. The most important thing is that she's healthy, developmentally on target and quite sweet and cheerful, so I don't worry about our lifestyle having a negative impact on her. Eventually, I'd like to put her in daycare because I think she'd thrive in that environment. Likewise, I think I'd benefit by returning to some sort of full time paid labor, but for various logistical reasons we're not there yet. I'm doing my best to enjoy our temporal lot, but it's as imperfect as anything. Also, I've never experienced this sort of life before, which might be the reason I feel compelled to describe it. Or maybe it's just to prep you for the next time you see me. If my eyes are glazed over and I don't have much to say for myself, you'll know why.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Feeling a Fraud

Sometimes I feel really unqualified for this mom job. Like, how did I talk my way into this gig? What idiot thought it was a good idea to hire me? Then I remember that I'm self-employed and I can't quit.

I tell myself the same thing that most of my friends would probably say - just look at that kid, she's awesome! And she's so happy. Yesterday, I turned to her and said, "Bernadette, when I see what a fantastic person you are, so beautiful and strong, I feel like I must be doing something right, that I must not be too much of a fuck-up." At that moment, she happened to give me the most disapproving sideways glance and I quickly backtracked, "I mean, that I must not make too many boo boos!"

Note to self - add "stop swearing" to the list of all the things you'll do better tomorrow. For today you are too sleepy, and the basic feeding/diapering/putting to bed/don't let her maim herself upkeep is about all you can manage.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Alone in the Crowd, Again, At Last

On day one of my 9am P90X class, I immediately notice it's a much different scene than the 6am class I took in the fall. There are way more attendees and they're mostly stay-at-home or part-time worker moms like me. That is where my similarity toward the group ends. I'm dressed in bright green, fuzzy sweatpants and a ratty old T-shirt from Foodie Delight, my hair pulled into a floppy, disheveled bun that will only get messier as I jump, lunge and twist. This is just me being myself but I forget what a freak I am until I get into a large group setting. Most of the other ladies wear spandex leggings and actual hairstyles that are probably quite casual by their standards but more labor intensive than anything I ever do. And that's cool. But my profile is just a bit too high and waiting for class to begin is somewhat socially awkward. So I do what I need to do - smile and say "hello" whenever I make eye contact with a classmate and as soon as the instructor arrives, take my place in the far back corner of the gym. From this vantage point, I can observe without being observed. I take a deep breath and exhale. All is well, for I am a contented, self aware introvert and this is how I roll.

I've always been this way. When I was in the fourth grade, I told my best friend that I couldn't hang out on Friday afternoons because that was my "alone time" for reading, writing and drawing architectural floor plans of fantasy homes in which I would have at least six rooms to myself. When I was 28, a coworker asked me to house sit his country home during the holidays, even though he knew I had no car and no driver's license to make use of his vehicle. "Most people would probably get freaked out being there all alone for ten days," he said. "But you seem like kind of a loner and I think you might actually enjoy it." He had an indoor hot tub and a wood burning stove, and he was exactly right.

Though I've always stubbornly sought solitude, I've only recently identified myself by the i-word. In the past year, I've read several online writings from self-proclaimed introverts looking for a little understanding. It started with Jonathon Rauch's 2003 article for The Atlantic "Caring for Your Introvert". I've also enjoyed Sophia Dembling's The Introvert's Corner column at Psychology Today. Most recently, I saw this explanatory cartoon on Facebook, "Dr. Carmella's Guide to Understanding the Introverted". Reading these pieces has helped me understand why I have this need to be by myself, that it's my way of replenishing energy. And, of course, now that I have a baby, alone time is more precious than ever. Having said that, there's a militancy about some of these writings, an antagonism toward extroverts that I find a bit alienating. I love me some extroverts. They take me to fun parties and start conversations with strangers. Sometimes they help me meet cool people. And if I find their scene becomes a bit too much for me, I know I can back off without feeling like I'm ditching my friend. Extroverts can always fend for themselves in a crowd.

A common misconception of introverts is that we don't like people. I love people and I love great conversation. It's just hard for me to converse with more than a few individuals at once. And sometimes I like to witness a discussion without being involved. I love eavesdropping. This is why you may see me at a cafe with a notebook and an iPad, pretending to be engrossed in writing while I'm actually listening to the couple gossiping next to me.

There are just two things I would like my extrovert pals to understand so we can get along better in the future. One, just as the cartoon said, please don't take my introversion personally. I'm not being quiet because I think I'm better than you. Quiet is just the way I am for a good portion of the day. The second thing is, please don't invite me to dinner and then spring a bunch of people I don't know on me. Yes, I do mind that you invited so-and-so, not because they seem like bad people, but because I need to mentally prepare myself for this kind of thing. But I won't actually say that to you in the moment because you put me on the spot and I don't see the point in everyone having a bad time. So I'll muddle through the experience and feel weird about it and then I'll probably make up some excuse for skipping your next dinner invitation. If it's gonna be a group thing, just let me know in advance, and don't flip the script at the last minute. More does not necessarily equal merrier.

Other than that, I'm pretty happy with my mellow bubble. With the help of some very understanding friends and family, I've built a life for myself where I manage to find that energy-building alone time. Nature has played a funny trick on me by making my daughter a far more extroverted personality. I foresee a not-so-distant future in daycare, where she can get her fix of energy-building company. In the meantime, I take her to the YMCA Child Watch every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. Only once has she cried after leaving my arms. Otherwise, she is quickly immersed in another person or thing. The noise of the other children masks my departing footsteps as I head to the gymnasium, find my spot in the far back corner, and quietly grunt my way through another excruciating workout. Alone in the crowd, again, at last.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cost of Being the Lady Boss

I've held several jobs where I was in a position of authority, but it's been a long time. I miss it. Being in charge was great because I love problem-solving challenges and having the latitude to fix stuff that went wrong. I thrive on planning, organizing and working alone, and I find that people in charge get more opportunities to do those things. Managing other people was only satisfying to the extent that it helped me accomplish my goals. I wasn't a power tripper. I generally aimed to be helpful and fair to those who called me "boss".  

Actually, the "being the boss of other people" part of leadership was the area where I struggled most. I'd get really stressed out when I sensed that employees disliked me or thought I was doing a bad job. I'm (unfortunately) extremely perceptive of other people's disapproval. Last time I was a manager, the palpable disdain I felt from employees and colleagues was so overwhelming I would go home and cry every day for two straight weeks until I decided to quit. Honestly, I wasn't great at that job, but it was also a remarkably hostile environment. Even if I'd had a passion and talent for the work itself, I wouldn't have lasted long. But I was so freaked out by that experience and my withering under pressure, I have not pursued a management position since then. That was over five years ago.

For most of the time between then and now, I figured my problem was that I was too concerned with being popular. I always thought it would be easier to be a guy boss because I wouldn't care so much if my employees liked me or not. But now I'm thinking lady bosses automatically have it harder because we are more apt to be disliked. I've seen the way many of my past and present coworkers have treated their female superiors: the eye rolls, the second-guessing, the extra snarky behind-the-back commentary. It comes from both men and women, I'm sad to say. And while their criticism is sometimes deserved (many bosses, male and female, are incompetent, abusive, and/or lazy), it seems disproportionately directed at women in charge. That bugs me, but at least now I'm able to recognize it as an epidemic.

So, I've decided I'm not going to let those old fears prevent me from pursuing any desirable leadership positions in the future. I can't say that employee sexism won't drive me crazy, that it won't make me angry. It just isn't a strong enough deterrent to keep me from doing work I enjoy. Maybe I've reached a place where I'm just less afraid of being angry.

And all those feelings are the reason why this is one of my favorite scenes from anything ever. This occurs after Liz overhears an employee call her a "cunt". After spending a couple days proving that she can be nice, every staff member leaves work early, and she pulls an all-nighter to pick up their slack. In the midst of her toil, she finds inspiration in a 3:30 am rerun of "Designing Women".

Friday, February 1, 2013

Advice I Would Give to My Younger Self

Even when invited, don't get in the middle of other people's drama.

Exercise really does make you feel better. It will replace some of your nervous energy with a calm energy. There are gyms where fat people, the elderly and children work out. Seek that sort of environment.

If the primary reason you like that guy is that you sense he likes you, move on. You're better off alone.

You'll never learn how to drive from your friends. Hire a professional instructor. But, whatever, you don't really need to do that for a long time. You built a car-free life for yourself, enjoy it! Driving to work sucks.

You will eventually quit smoking. In the meantime, don't treat cigarettes as a substitute for food.

You'll regret every meanness you remember. Don't be a jerk and don't befriend one, either. Even if that person is smart, charming or funny, you will reach a point where you simply can't stand their company.

You don't have a kid yet (well done and thank goodness!), or anything nearing that level of responsibility. Don't take stuff so seriously, least of all yourself.

The internet is going to be a much bigger part of your daily life than you can imagine, and not just for email. Don't sweat the mechanics, you'll figure it out. What you should know is that it will provide this outlet where you can write the way you write in your journal but other people can read it. And while that sounds terrifying, you'll find this activity both fun and therapeutic. So keep doing what you're doing writing-wise and don't worry that maybe you should be doing something else.