Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 can go die in a fire

I hate to be overdramatic about a year.  But 2016 really has sucked in so many ways.  I think a lot of the cultural fuss about 2016 being awful is mostly a way of superstitiously convincing ourselves that it will magically stop on January 1st -- that no more celebrities will die, no more gorillas will get shot, and Trump will crawl back wherever he came from.

But really, the reason 2016 has been so awful isn't actually because it was immediately bad.  Rather, it's a year we came into with a lot of optimism, only to have our hopes dashed and the prospect of a grim future laid out ahead of us.  So looking to 2017 to save us isn't going to help.

I know that, personally, that's been the way 2016 has been for me.  2015 was a really hard year, but I had a great deal of confidence 2016 would be better -- that it would be the year I finally pulled out of the rut it was in and saw some improvement in my life.  I mean, look what I wrote one year ago!

However, it is slowly getting better.  I realized today that 2015 is the first calendar year since 2008 that I haven't been pregnant for any part of it.  If I can just keep plugging away, there will (hopefully) be a day when I can sleep through the night again.  When I can put a cartoon on for the kids and take a nap because all of them are old enough to be briefly unsupervised.  When I can count on some time to work on my own projects every day, and the energy to do it.  I'm dreaming of a day when thinking about my garden or my next novel doesn't make me overwhelmed and exhausted, but excited and ready to start.  It'll happen.

Just reading these words makes me feel kind of bitter.  I had such high hopes.  And for awhile it looked like things really were starting to get better.  Miriam got a little older; that helped.  And around April or May I started feeling alive again ... instead of struggling to stay awake all day and accomplish a few tiny things, I actually started feeling like doing stuff!  Probably it was my hormones returning to normal at last, which would be why I got pregnant that same month.

If it hadn't been for that momentary improvement, maybe I wouldn't have minded so much.  But to have things get better, to remember how it felt to feel good, to be able to go places and do things again, to be doing well financially, to feel for a short time that I was actually doing well as a mother, and have that yanked out from under me?  That was what made it so horrible.

Objectively, this year has been less horrible than I might have feared.  Our move did set us back financially, but we were able to manage it better than we would have been able to a year or two before -- our frugality for the past five years paid off in our ability to make this happen.  This pregnancy has been unpleasant, but I don't think I've had any prenatal depression this time around.  The kids have struggled -- Marko quit making those amazing gains in schoolwork that he was doing last spring; Michael has returned to his baseline level of "could power a small city with his whining," Miriam has slept way worse -- but they're still doing better than they were when I was pregnant with Miriam, probably because I am taking better care of them than I was then.  And while the wonderfulness of John and I getting to spend time alone together from time to time, and having our room to ourselves, is ending soon, so far at least this pregnancy hasn't put a noticeable strain on our relationship.  We're a lot better at getting along than we were in the past, for one thing, and neither of us is horribly depressed.

Basically what has gotten me through this year has been asking myself the question, "What am I objectively suffering right now?"  And often, it isn't a whole lot.  Maybe I'm tired, or I'm achy, or my stomach's bothering me, but that isn't the source of most of my unhappiness.  My unhappiness is caused by worries about the future, and I can choose to set those aside as much as I can and focus on how, right now, things are okay.

I still get sad if I think of it too much.  Like how I was not able to write a single word of the book I wanted to write this year, or how we've basically given up on our dream of ever living on a farm because we don't want to have to move again.  When any of the kids gets needy and whiny, I feel like I am failing them because I'm not as emotionally available as I want to be ... and because I know that's only going to get worse when they have to share me with a needy baby.  That's especially the case with Marko right now; it seems he's going to need a lot extra from me this coming year, and it's a year when I won't be as able to give much.  I would like to imagine a reality in which it was no big thing for me to be able to care of a newborn while also taking him to assessment appointments and speech therapy, but that has never been my experience of what having a newborn is like.  Instead I have always barely been able to keep everyone fed and not biting each other.  I don't know who's going to fall through the cracks the most, but it seems inevitable that somebody will, and that kills me.  I thought mother guilt was bad when I had only two kids!

I wish I had something optimistic to say at the end of this post, but I really don't have much.  I'll certainly be cheering 2016's demise, but I have few hopes for 2017 being better.  I fear the post-Miriam lethargy will return, and that I will never find a cure for it (I've had several things tested; no luck).  I fear that Marko will fall behind in school because I won't be able to work with him; that he'll miss out on help he needs because it takes us so long to get him diagnosed; that I'll fail to bond at all with the new baby because I will resent it so much for its neediness when the other kids need me too; that I will resent Michael and Miriam for still expecting me to pay attention to them too; that John and I will drift apart because we are so busy putting out brush fires with the kids that we never spend time together anymore.  Maybe it won't be as bad as that. But I remember, before Miriam was born, saying "maybe it won't be so bad" and it totally was that bad.  Optimism is a hard thing to keep renewing when it keeps getting blown up in your face!

I hold onto small things.  We will soon have paid off the extra costs from moving and the midwife, so that starting in February we will be making financial progress again and I can buy myself some new socks.  John has been working long enough at the library that he is going to earn some time off next year, and we'll actually be able to take a family vacation.  I have found a good babysitter who may be able to help ease some of the burden.  And lately I have felt very encouraged and supported by friends and family -- the more crappy stuff life flings at me, the more people have made a point of standing by me.  It means a lot.

Still stuck on what my word should be for the next year.  I have an image in my mind -- of me rising to the occasion, of being a different kind of mother than I thought I'd be.  A more active mother, one who manages crap like appointments and therapy plans, even though I'm scared of making phone calls and terrible about writing stuff on my calendar.  I meant to be a laid-back mother, one who trusted my kids to blossom into adults with help from me, but without any pushing.  But it's looking like I may have to take the lead more, seek out professional help, and make more concrete plans.  Already I've started being more of the leader in terms of Marko's schoolwork -- setting a time for it every day and choosing the work he'll do.  It doesn't suit me, but it suits him, and isn't that what it really means to follow the child?

Basically, I have to be way more type-A in the coming year than I want to be ... and I have to be that way despite any postpartum exhaustion I may have.  I have no idea how I'm going to make that happen, but I have to, because my kids need it.  I need to take charge of my life more.  I need to quit putting off going to the dentist and I need to schedule a physical and I need to buy new clothes.  The year when I feel totally prostrated by the increased demands on me is not a good time to do all that -- I was supposed to get a year when things steadied out so I could take care of things.  But that year did not come and I can't keep putting stuff off forever.  I have to find a way to be the person I need to be, regardless of how little that is like the person I am.  Comfort or accomplishing some of my own dreams will just have to be a project for another year.

Can you think of a one-word way to explain all that?


Anonymous said...

I wish you could see how awesome you are. Please believe in yourself. Love and strength, your fan in PA.

Baroness said...

Best of luck with the new year.

Andrea said...

Self-sacrificing sums up a lot of what you are doing. That seems to be a lot of what raising a family is about. It's hard and really stinks sometimes (a lot of the time when kids are young and needy). And it's hard to put our own dreams and wishes aside during this stage of life. Keep up the good work :)

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