Saturday, October 1, 2011

on muddling through


Ups and downs of the new school year, Elan's first day of Pre-K,

September 2011

A friend called me recently. She was having one of THOSE moments – in the line at Trader Joe’s, with her baby (who’s not been sleeping much lately), in a rush to make it to a celebration at her son’s preschool, her line was moving the slowest and she was frustrated, thinking about all the things she needed to do for the business she runs (her full-time job squeezed into part-time childcare), a work slip-up she had made, and when she finally got through the line, she realized she didn’t have her wallet with her. She had to abandon ship, leave the groceries, and flee, holding back the tears.

Wow, do I get this. Capacity maxed out, brain spinning, trying to make up for not enough sleep with caffeine, frustration and anger are quick to surface. Sometimes it’s directed at my kids, but more often at myself. Recently, I discovered, on one of those exhausted-at-7-p.m. nights, that I had made a stupid mistake in my work life, one of those things you can describe as a “brain fart” if you’re being uncouth. Thankfully, it didn’t have any major repercussions, but it made me look incompetent, not together. I couldn’t believe I had made such a sloppy error; my laundry might sit in the basket unfolded for a week, but I try to be – and usually am – extremely organized and responsible in my work life. However, it was immediately clear to me why it happened: I was maxed out. The error happened back in June, when Mikhail had just recently started his new job, and I was scrambling to figure out childcare, juggle projects for two different work clients, and be on my own with both kids for the first time when Mikhail traveled for work.

If you’re anything like me, the response to this kind of slip-up/overwhelm moment isn’t usually compassion and understanding for yourself. It’s more often anger, frustration, thoughts of why can’t I make this work?, a tendency to look around at other women juggling family and work and projects and households and think she’s got it all together and she’s happy too, what’s wrong with me? Which is why I find it so important to burst that bubble, to talk about Real Life, with all its messy moments when you have to flee Trader Joe’s in tears, because, in my experience, we’ll all have those moments, whether you’re having one today or not.

The first few weeks of September were really rough for me; I had lots of THOSE moments. Coming back from an insane amount of travel, I was stressed out. Elan was adjusting to his new pre-K class with lots of meltdowns at home, Emry and Mikhail had colds, I had two weekend trips back to back after two solid weeks of traveling to two different states, and, on top of that, my babysitter situation combusted – I had to decide what to do about an untenable situation with my sitter, let her go, and find a new one, all while trying to unpack and repack four times in a two-week period. It wasn’t pretty.

In the midst of all this, I decided for several weeks that my goal was simply to muddle through. If I could just manage to muddle though the chaos, that would be good enough. I didn’t have to be particularly patient, happy, or living in the moment; I didn’t have to be good at things or do things well. I just had to muddle through. And you know, it did give me some freedom. Whenever my blood pressure would start to rise as Elan lost his #$%^ yet again, or when the thought of packing up another suitcase would make me want to sit on the floor and cry, I would think just muddle through. Acknowledging the difficulty of the situation did help. Lowering my expectations of myself helped too.

And now, October begins. The fat fall spiders are stringing their giant webs through the bushes; the leaves on the trees are rusting and crinkling at the edges; the sunlight is weaker, coming later and fading earlier. My little family is settling into its autumn groove, and I am finding that I can once again expand out from muddling through. I can aim my sights a bit higher again, and that feels good.


Emry crawling through a tunnel, September 2011

And I can once again fit into my old size 6 jeans, which feels really good, but that’s another post.

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