Is school starting yet?

I’ve lapsed in my writing, as we hit the road (again) the last couple of weeks to see more family and we had almost no internet connection.

We are home, finally, and now hosting my mother and Fred’s 16 year-old half brother. It’s been a whirlwind summer with the non-stop traveling, people-seeing, and work. The three of us have had our share of crying, shouting, and whining.

There are a number of things that I can use as a barometer for how things are going, but the most telling one is how I’m doing as a mother, and I can say with confidence that I’m just a bad mom right now.

I don’t know if I’m a “bad mom” because it’s summer in general, or because it’s been a particularly strenuous summer. I am always in awe (and flooded with guilt) when I see Facebook pictures of mothers cheerfully working on arts and craft projects with their children, or taking them on excursions through state parks. My Facebook posts (if I were to dare post them) would consist of photos of me rolling my eyes the nth time my child tries to negotiate to have dinner at McDonald’s, or wagging my finger at him to knock off that whining, NOW. It’s quite embarrassing to admit, but on three different occasions I have said to Fred, “You know, you would just love Auntie XXX.” I am thinking out loud during those moments, but I could name at least three friends off the top of my head who could make my child happier.

I am so tired, and I readily admit that I lack that maternal gene that allows me to be pleasant when I’m around a child 24/7 for more than a week. I feel guilty when I find myself thinking, “When is school starting again?”

I know it’s not so much my child that is driving me crazy as it is my fatigue that is facilitating my being driven crazy. The more tired I am the more impatient I am, and the more impatient I am the more I am chipping away at the relationship between Fred and me. When he is temperamental or difficult, he is saying to me, “I don’t like this. I don’t like this tension. I am not happy. Where’s my real mom?”

Indeed. Where is she? She’s buried this summer under the physical strain of traveling and adjusting and readjusting to time zones. She’s grappling with in-law issues and aging parents for the first time. She’s confronting the question of where to live over the next few years. She’s wondering how to keep her child entertained, or if it is even her responsibility to keep him entertained. She’s swinging between helicoptering and “free ranging.” She’s confused. She’s staying up too late and waking up too early. She’s trying to please too many people and get too much done. Then, she’s beating herself up because she sometimes doesn’t like whom she sees and hears when she looks at herself.

When over nine years ago I had asked Fred’s nurse how bad it would be to give Fred formula once in a while if I just couldn’t hack the breastfeeding (I struggled even while still at the hospital), she told me the oft-quoted advice that the first person to take care of was myself, and to do what was best for me. It’s clichéd advice in America, but significant then as I was in Japan, a country where the mothering culture is about sacrificing all of one’s self for one’s children. Nine years later, I know her advice still holds true. There’s maybe a mistaken assumption that as our children get older, things get easier, and that as we get older we become wiser and stronger. They do and we do on some level, and yet new and different challenges confront us and tax our energies and confidence.

Like aging parents and maturing children…and summer vacations.

6 thoughts on “Is school starting yet?

  1. Oh Cecilia, don’t beat yourself up. Seriously, this is a tough gig, spring, summer, fall, or winter. I took on a big project this summer and with both girls home, I’ve had my challenges too. You want them to have “the best summer” yet you need to get work done, and often times, it’s the sleep that goes first. And when that happens…we’re not exactly functioning as our best selves when the fatigue sets in. I get all of that!

    When I read this, I smiled: “I readily admit that I lack that maternal gene that allows me to be pleasant when I’m around a child 24/7 for more than a week,” because I am the same. I love my kids, of course, but I don’t believe in martyrdom when it comes to parenting, so when I don’t get the balance I need, where their needs and mine are in alignment – which is nearly mythical, if you ask me – I am edgy and less likely to practice patient parenting.

    I have missed reading your blog though, and a crazy idea just came to me – maybe you and I should have a girls’ weekend away some time. Not that this has anything to do with what you wrote, or maybe it has everything to do with it!

    • I love all that you wrote, Justine. Exactly. I probably do hold unhealthily high standards for myself, and that letting go is what I need to do first. And I LOVE the idea of getting away together – I know you know how to eat well and have a good time!

      Cecilia

  2. Cecilia,

    Please do not be hard on yourself. I know how stressful it can be sandwiched between aging parents and raising a child. Caring for others leaves little time to do things that you enjoy. I think we all benefit from a little me time, but when responsibilites come first that priority seems the first to go. Combined with lack of sleep and uncertainty about big issues leads to irritation. And we all are guilty of taking it out on the people closest to us.

    Sometimes I give into the irritation and I’ve told my daughter at times, “Mommy is not in a good mood.” I think it is important for her to see that Mommy is also human. What I’ve learned is that these feelings pass and then we ride the cycle again of laughter, anger, irritation, and back to joy again. Isn’t that what much of life is about?

    • Rudri, I really like that you tell your daughter honestly when you are not at your optimal self. It’s much healthier than simply trying to push yourself relentlessly. I think doing that also models to our children how to identify and, without shame, acknowledge and communicate their own negative emotions when they feel them. Indeed, we go through cycles, and every difficult one gets better. Thanks so much for your comforting words here.

      Cecilia

  3. Those arts & crafts pictures? Even the “summer vacation” pictures? I long ago stopped looking. Too hard. The last time I even had a vacation with my kids was before divorce, when visiting the ex’s family, some 13 years ago. So… those pretty pictures of happy families summering and all smiles, I think they’re part of the myth.

    I content myself with whatever good moments come along, frequently spontaneously, and try not to dwell on what we “could have” or “should have” been as a family, as it isn’t reality. Not mine (or ours).

    But those good moments that we may not capture on film or write about – perhaps a little look of complicity, a quiet moment in a quiet house (at last), knowing your child is reading on his bed… those count for a lot.

    This mothering shtick? These days?

    Give yourself a break. It’s hard, hard, hard – in every configuration.

    • “But those good moments that we may not capture on film or write about – perhaps a little look of complicity, a quiet moment in a quiet house (at last), knowing your child is reading on his bed… those count for a lot.”

      So true, D. It’s a good reminder to sift through the ups and downs of the every day and look for these moments, because they are there even in the most difficult of days. Thanks for this.

      Cecilia

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