I’m sure a lot of you will feel me on this one: after the first week of my summer off, I felt utterly useless and sometimes crazy. I went back to work when my daughter was 3 months old, and I was NOT ready. I clung to the idea of my summer off (perks of working for a school district) like some kind of life raft. I counted down the days, I closed my eyes when things got too stressful and went to my “happy place” – a land of adventures with my little one and long lazy days of playing peekaboo and reading stories. I couldn’t wait for the summer to start!
Well, I can honestly say the first three days were like that. But on the fourth day I got the flu, and when I came out of it two-weeks later, I had lost my summer luster. Don’t get me wrong, the part where I got to play with Avery as much as I wanted to was pretty awesome, and I soaked that up. But during her (sometimes several hour long) naps, I would find myself at loose ends, in dirty yoga pants, scrolling through Netflix and finding nothing interesting, wondering what on EARTH I used to occupy my time with.
I languished. I didn’t shower too much. I sent Sam whiny text messages at work. I seemed to have forgotten how to get things done around the house.
A month went by this way. A whole month.
When I realized how long it had been I took a good, long look at myself and realized I was fading into the background. I had once been informed, and well read, and creatively productive. I had once had interests and hobbies and friends. My life had once been mine, and now I was giving it all up entirely to this idea that “I didn’t have time” or “I was too tired” or “it was totally understandable to not shower or change for two days”.
In this way, I think the way the media portrays new parents was my biggest enabler. We expect this of ourselves. The deconstruction of our personalities, the stuffing of our former selves into this new “mommy” mold, the sacrificing of things that used to mean something to us – it’s all so normal, it happens to everyone, right? Who has time to make art? To write? To take photos? When you talk about it to other parents you get the sympathetic nod, or the “you just wait it gets worse” look. Nobody pushes you to remember who you are, or to break the cycle, because to do so would be rude, right?
My problem was, I wasn’t just unshowered and wearing out my pajamas, I was quickly becoming depressed. But because it was so “normal” and “everybody feels this way” I wrote it off, I told myself it would pass in time. I was wrong.
Right around this time I read a tweet from one of my favorite musicians about an online reading group that was tackling Infinite Jest (the postmodern David Foster Wallace epic that I’d been meaning to read for ages), and it was already part of the way through. I went to the website and was instantly overwhelmed. The book is 1,076 pages long and I was already 3 weeks behind in the schedule. The momentary excitement that had flared up in me at the prospect of participating died out almost immediately. With a baby? There was no way I could catch up, participate in the discussions, read all the members posts. I’d have to do it some other time, maybe next summer…
Around this time I got pretty pissed at myself. Who had I become? Why was I letting this idea that “moping around in spit-up-stained overlarge t-shirts is normal new-mom behavior” seep into my head and scare me away from something I really wanted to do? And what good was I going to be as a role model and a mother if I let all my skills and hobbies and interests just evaporate?
I took the book off the shelf, I calculated how many pages a day I’d have to read to catch up, and I started. That day.
It was incredibly rough going. The prose is dense and difficult, the vocabulary is borderline impossible, and my brain had turned to mush from too much facebook and bad tv. I struggled for the first week or so, the discussions on the website sailed straight over my head, and I thought of giving up. Often. I thought a lot about how easy it would have been for pre-baby me to read this book – I would have been discussing circles around all these other schmucks! But I didn’t give up. I kept going. And slowly but surely I found myself having an easier time, I started participating in the discussions and found that people respected my opinions; my confidence was coming back bit by bit and it felt amazing.
I finished the book on schedule, and it was a pretty huge accomplishment. I networked with people in the group that have become some of my favorite folks to bounce creative ideas off of. I have a new creative writing project in the works and I am writing music again. This experience opened the flood gates for me, and my personality – you know, the one I thought had been eaten by my daughter – came rushing back.
As a result I feel like a whole person again, like a happy person, and this has made me a much better mother and partner. I think that’s true for all of us, really – the most comfortable and fulfilled and happy we are within ourselves the more we will radiate that light out to our spouses, to our children, to our friends. We deserve to give ourselves the time to be the best people we can be, and our families deserve that too.
So my challenge to you is to think of something – big or small – that you’ve “been meaning to do” since getting married/getting pregnant/having a baby/having another baby, and take a step toward actually doing it. Even if you can only carve out 10 minutes a day to devote to it, it’s enough. It’s not a race, it’s just investing what little time you have toward making yourself a happier person.
And tell me all about it in the comments!