4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I called the doctor last week to inquire, “So about this shingles thing, if I can’t just rest and I just keep pushing even though my leg hurts and I’m sort of weary and exhausted, will I do permanent nerve damage? Because that’s what the other old lady in a lawn chair said to me at soccer practice last night.”
Because it is just impossible to rest. Who will go to Market Basket if I don’t? Food doesn’t grow on trees, you know.
I was talking about this with a fellow mom-of-four in the pre-school parking lot and she just said, “Look, Jen. Tell them they’ll need to put you in the hospital if they really need you to stop.”
And it turns out I won’t do permanent damage, says Nurse Eileen. “But really, Jen, you just need to stop. Can you take a week and pay somebody?”
But now that all the busy-ness is done, I realize there’s a bigger problem. Actually the biggest problem, and that is (jazz handsssss) Superlative Jen,
This is what Tim called me even before we dated, when he’d overhear me in the graduate painting studio, “How late was I here last night? Well, how late were you here last night? Midnight? Oh, that must be why I didn’t see you. Because I was here until 2 in the morning.” (Yes, I hate that me, too.)
I remember in 10th grade asking my incredibly athletic friend how many sit-ups she had done. “100.” A few minutes later as I finished my sit-ups she said to un-athletic me, “Great job, Jen! You did 100?! Way to go!” to which I replied, gasping, “Nope… I did… 105.”
It’s to her great credit that she continues to be my friend.
This past Monday my running besty came over, juiced from tennis but ready to run, or at least walk. When I gave her the option of just schlumping over on the couch for 45 minutes (from my position schlumped on the couch) she acquiesced. Because even though this fellow overachiever was likely hoping to achieve an extra workout, instead she’d achieve her community service hours, “helping a friend in need.”
“Jen, you just need to rest,” she said,
“Could you? If you felt good enough to get out of bed and walk around most of the time, could you actually go to bed, like during daylight hours? Really?!”
“Well, no. I’d feel too guilty,” she replied.
What is that about? How does my sense of self-worth get tied up with how busy I am? There are people who meditate each day and go for long, slow, quiet Fitbit-free walks on the beach each day. They actually stroll, meander, dare I say. How do they get there? What is it in their psyche that allows them to just breathe deeply instead of running, running, running.
Do these people really think they’re good enough to just exist without actually accomplishing something? Who do they think they are?!
God, if I think I’m not working harder as a stay-at-home mom than my husband is working as a go-to-work dad, then I’m racked with guilt.
Is it because of the damn feminist revolution? We can have it all so we should? Go, go, go, fight, fight… win?
Was this how my mother felt each day? If she wasn’t the first up. The last down, the one dealing with the most hardship (with a smile duct-taped to her face) then was she coming up short? Because I must have learned this somewhere.
Granted, this is typically the way “average” siblings function in a family of not average (read: disabled) people. We function high. I mean, we accomplish.
Because we can, so we should. I remember when Rachel Simon, author of Riding the Bus with My Sister, came to speak at my school. She is an author who wrote about the year she spent riding the local Pennsylvania buses with her intellectually delayed sister.
I was the one who recommended her book. I loved the idea of having someone come talk to our high-achieving students about people with intellectual disabilities, and also about being the sibling of someone with disabilities. By the time I finished the book I really didn’t like her much. After she spoke on campus I was done with her. She just seemed so… Smug? Know-it-all? Competitive.
And now am I teaching it to my kids as well? Will my daughters think they have to be the best (or at least aspire to some outlandish definition of best) in order to feel like they’re worth anything at all?
This has got to stop. It’s time for me to be okay with stopping.
So today I sit on an empty beach and I rest my weary legs. I watch as the lifeguards slowly drive a truck down the sand bar installing channel markers. I sit in a beach chair with my white Mom jeans rolled up and my feet buried in the sand. It’s one of my two kid-free mornings each week, time to catch up on stuff.
And I join these people who believe in themselves enough to just be; be alone, be quiet, be still, be calm, be enough.
Maybe it’s time all us over-achievers, under-believers, decide we’re enough.
We are enough.
(Also I’m blogging on the beach. Baby steps.)