We hit the wall yesterday. Anyone else?
I’m sitting here stress-eating Cheez Doodles, trying to sort through the poopstorm of emotions I’ve experienced these last two days. I’m trying to name them. Naming things helps, right? Let’s see… there was mid-morning Fluster-Rage. Lunchtime saw a bout of Tearful Confessional Grief With Some F-Bombs Thrown In, and by early evening, I was What Is Wrong With Me Why Am I So Mad melting into Dinner Needs To Get Made, Everyone Out Of The House, There I Feel A Little Better, Tomorrow’s A New Day, We’ll Start Over And It’ll Be Fine.
These are unprecedented times. We need new language for everything, don’t you think?
What keeps coming to me as I sit here is this concept of “but/and”. It’s a therapeutic device used to make you realize that things can be two (or more) things at once. Like, my sewer-repair guys can be both terrifying infectious disease vectors but also my personal heroes for digging a trench through clay in the rain.
Or, just as a for instance, my kid can be both a thoughtful, chubby-cheeked delight, and a torrent of pig-nosed hellfire and stains up to her elbows, with literal twigs stuck in her unwashed curls for effect.
Motherhood itself is an “and” situation through and through. I love my kids AND I want to lock them in a room with a bowl of water and some Saltines from time to time so I can just THINK for a second. I love my kids AND I want to throw a weighted fishing net over them and not care how long it takes them to find their way out because I’m done being nice and they have to learn to cooperate somehow, right? I love my kids AND I want them to stop interrupting me every forty seconds because DIDN’T YOU JUST HAVE LUNCH? HOW CAN YOU BE HUNGRY ALREADY? IF YOU WANT SOMETHING TO EAT, HOW ABOUT YOU FINISH THAT TOASTER PASTRY FROM THIS MORNING, HUH? YEAH, THAT ONE. THAT ONE RIGHT THERE. THE ONE YOU LEFT ON THE EDGE OF THE BATHTUB.
We hit the wall HARD yesterday. I called my best friends and hashed it out from my car, where I was taking a break from chasing Bobo around the house with a lesson plan and all but ignoring Beaversons, and I immediately felt better afterward. (Thank God for technology and girlfriends, amiright?) Mr. Burdy took up the school lessons for thirty minutes while I delivered some no-contact lemons to a friend. (None of us are ready to brave the supermarkets yet). I cried, I walked, I heard from my girlfriends that they were feeling the wall, too. I felt better knowing I was not alone.
You know my brain didn’t want to stop there, right? Feeling better was not enough. It wanted to go all the way down the rabbit hole and get to the deep, deep reason I was so angry because I couldn’t get a five year old to sit through a short lesson on poetry. Or why I couldn’t manage the two year old’s requests for pretzel sticks and a story without resorting to stomping and sighing heavily.
We’re ALL feeling this thing- this being trapped inside houses with people we ordinarily GET BREAKS FROM. It really can’t be overstated that even the people we love the very most in life need get the hell out of our personal space from time to time. We need something to miss, something to fantasize about creating when they return. We just need time apart so we can reset, so we can start fresh. I know my brain needs a break. Frequently, and in pin-drop silence.
I also know ALL the kids in America got a memo on Monday that read: JUST BE BUTTHOLES THIS WEEK. THAT IS ALL. My kid, anyway, is reeling away from me like John Lithgow in the Space Odyssey movies. I can’t reach her. She started out with some enthusiasm earlier in the quarantine, and now we’re in Twigs In Hair/Don’t Care territory. She’s a special kid, full of creativity and bursting with ideas. She’s also got some major dysfunction going on in the impulse control and organization part of her brain. I set a piping-hot meatloaf on the dinner table last night and in the time it took to turn back for the forks, she’d already pulled a chunk off with her bare hands. But! She’s also really thoughtful and loves involving her little sister in games. She also walks away from her dresser EVERY SINGLE MORNING with the drawers hanging open and has to be reminded that someone might lose an eye so she needs to push them back in. But! She’s also great at rhyming and making up songs. She’s also given us holy hell for five years around her bedtime. But! She also knows how to scramble an egg by herself.
I kind of feel like I’m living with a pint-sized David Helfgott: wildly talented, but who might go out to fetch the mail without pants.
You see? Kids are “and/but” situations, too.
ANYWAY. The point is this: on any other day, I love how wildly talented my kid is. I like that she’s creative and strong spirited. Yesterday, though, I wanted to bludgeon that creativity to death, bury it in the yard, and just get on with it already.
Why, though? Why, during this concentrated time of re-examining our values and questioning the whys and hows of our society as we all avail ourselves of the snack cabinet, why would I be so dead set on a five year old’s schooling agenda instead of her creativity?
Um. Hi. I’m Lolo and I have anxiety.
Bobo’s schoolwork is not her schoolwork anymore. It’s MY schoolwork. It’s a reflection on ME, the mom, the One In Charge, the person everyone wants to blame when kids go bad. If Bobo doesn’t DO her schoolwork, I feel like it’s somehow a commentary on my shortcomings as a teacher and parent. Bobo, in no uncertain terms, does not want to do her schoolwork. At least, she does not want to do it between the hours of 9 am and 8:15 pm. (Tonight, right before bed, she acquiesced to a sight words assignment).
But, WHY, Lolo? Why does THAT matter to you, a nice middle aged lady, at ALL given everything that’s happening in the world right now? Why is your concern whether or not the teacher or society at large thinks you’re doing a good job? How could you possibly think that ANYONE is doing a good job right now? Furthermore, how could you think anyone has TIME to judge you, given all THEY’RE doing to chase down THEIR kid with a handout and fetch the other kid a snack? Why on earth would you think the rules apply AT ALL during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC?
Ah. Because school is my motherrffin’ WHEELHOUSE, y’all, and if I can’t ACE schoolwork, then WHO THE HELL AM I ANYMORE?
My identity *might* be reeeeeeeally wrapped up in this.
And here I was thinking it was just gluing cut-out letters to a worksheet.
Here’s what I (now) know:
Kids (people in general) behave entirely differently in groups. Group dynamics is a thing for a reason. You wouldn’t (unless you were a little unhinged) stand up in a classroom, throw your books on the floor, stomp out of the room and drag the pencil caddy off the table on your way out just to be a little shit all because you didn’t want to do the work, right? Guess what you CAN do when it’s just you and one other person you’re not afraid of? That.
Guess what else you can do when you’re not in a classroom? Run to another part of the building and throw yourself, face-first, into a pile of stuffed animals. Or help yourself to the snack cabinet. Or roll your eyes and groan at the top of your lungs. Or threaten the teacher with some sort of flimsy logic where A most definitely does not lead to B, but nice try, honey.
Anxiety is usually defined as living in the future. It’s imagining all the possibly what-ifs, and missing the present. The what-ifs began piling up on Day 1 of this whole Distance Learning thing. What if Bobo can’t hack it and she’s kept back a year? What if this decimates her self confidence and she self medicates down the line as a result? What if she has inherited our genetic disposition for self destruction and is existentially unhappy for the rest of her life and turns to a life of drugs to suppress the deep emotions that boil over from time to time because she had to live in 1300 square feet during a pandemic with three other people, two of whom were yelling 11 hours a day?
And that is how I turned a reading comprehension lesson into a scenario in which my adult child was dead in the street, her obituary starting out with “It all started when she was held back in kindergarten”.
So how to deal with this kid, her homework, and my anxiety all at once?
Well, I don’t have all the answers, but what I did do immediately was treat this like it was an overheated blender. I just pulled the plug. Then I got out my cleaning supplies and started in on the pesto that was sprayed all over the ceiling, by which I mean I apologized for yelling. And then I drop kicked the blender into the backyard, meaning: I told Mr. Burdy we weren’t following the plan anymore and I emailed the teacher and told her as as much, too. Then I got out a small, cup-sized food processor, the one that only does one small batch of food at a time, the one you have to keep an eye on to make sure you haven’t liquified your ingredients, the one that maybe makes more noise, but is a little more precise. And by that I mean I decided to take today minute by minute, with only a loose script, and I let the kids lead on their learning paths.
Today we baked muffins, and today I let Bobo do as much or as little online reading and math as she wanted. As it turns out, she did three times as much as was expected, probably because I wasn’t breathing down her neck the whole time. Today I let the kids play for hours, and I didn’t even think about wanting to throw a fishing net over them as they decimated their bedroom in an effort to build a fort. (Hey! Bonus S.T.E.A.M. activity!) Today I let the kids tell ME when they were ready to do academic work. Bobo half-read a book to her sister at 11, and not the prescribed 9:30 am. Reading. Done. Check. We read another book about spring and talked about bears and possibly painting some bears later. Science. Art. Done. Check.
Today we planted some seeds. I thought Bobo might be more enthusiastic, but this was toward the end of the day, when her energy was waning but I still wanted to get it done. We got it done, but I could feel the resistance. And! Because motherhood and children are all and/but situations, Bobo, my tangle-haired lunatic child, accidentally kicked over the whole kit a few hours later as she flew through the front door at dinner time.
I didn’t rage, I didn’t yell. I looked down at the half-effort to right the tubs of soil and I thought: She doesn’t give one crap if these things sprout or not. This was YOUR project, not hers. I could see that. And, I can give that urgency to be the best seed-planter a name: creeping perfectionism. It threatened to rob me of my present, the present where those were just seeds and this was just a family of four people living in close quarters and there could be more seeds later. I shooed that perfectionism away. I tried, instead, to stay with the simple enjoyment of it, those few minutes during the day when Bobo and Beaverson and I got to play in some dirt.