Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Truth

Truth; I struggle with what I do every day.  I love my children, but often I wish I had a job.  But not now, because I know that a career will make things more complicated, and we won't have as much time.  But I wish that I felt more fulfilled in what I do.  Not in parenting.  But in taking care of the house - in washing dishes, changing diapers, feeding kids three times a day (what, isn't one time enough?).  I know that very few out there truly love doing laundry or dishes (Anne of Green Gables does, it's in a short story about Avonlea).  And I try and tell myself that every job has its boring parts, its repetitive parts.  And today was actually a really good day. Lydia was home sick because she threw up (for the last two days), but she felt better after throwing up this morning, so I spent the morning doing 'homeschool' with her and Elisheva watching on, and it was really fun. She read to me, we worked on reading lessons, Lydia entered the world of fractions with her first grade workbook while Elisheva wrote straight lines in her Preschooler workbook, and Guinevere wrote important work on the discarded sheets.  I felt fulfilled today.

Avram and I were talking about how I feel like I both want more children, and I want to be done, so that in five years I can go back to school, and start living for myself. But that's not it either - I know that this family is my true self.  It's Avram's true self as well - this family is what we do, what we are.  I feel petty complaining, when my life is really so good. I have a supportive husband, who does a lot of work around the house and with parenting.  He's the sole washer of the diapers, and always changes Enoch without me even asking him, if he's there and Enoch needs changing.  I also appreciate that when I started talking about needing/wanting to teach at a University, to go back to school that his only doubts were whether I had to stick-to-itness enough, because I  am notorious in our marriage for being a dilettante of hobbies and interests.  When I asked him if he had any concerns about me working outside the home, and our family, he was surprised that I had assumed he did.  I also want to do foster care and possibly adopt, and as well, I have hyperthyroidism again, and it's not a big deal (they're just watching it), but being pregnant and having a young baby is enough of a wrench to our family life, especially when one of the main movers of said life is basically out of commission, that Avram and I have both said, that perhaps, maybe, even quite possibly, we are done at four until further notice.  At least out of my womb.  I don't know, I know children are eternally important, and I wallow around in not feeling/not wanting to be good enough to be a good mother and homemaker.  Then I met a Sister who is an Amish Convert in my stake, and is pregnant with her sixteenth child.  Let that sink in for a moment.  And then I know that I am not truly at any capacity at all - I just don't want a larger capacity. I want to afford to go on vacations, and have my children leave the house before I'm in my sixties, and I want to have a house that isn't bursting at the seams with children.  I grew up in a blended family of nine children in the house all within ten years, and it was small, and crowded and poor (and there were more children then my parents really were ready for parenting either).  And yet, despite all of these difficulties, I really loved my childhood. I love my family, I loved our home, and I loved the crazy times together.  On a daily basis I'll remember something from my childhood that makes me happy, or smile.  This morning as I lay in bed it was my sister Tali and me's habit of calling each other Pookie - first as a joke, but then it occurred so often we fell victim to the habit, and even today call each other that as often as our names.

I vacillate back and forth between feeling selfish that I'm so concerned about what I want, and wanting to feel validated intellectually, and then saying that there are times and seasons, and it isn't wrong for me to want to pursue something for myself, and that truly being a stay at home mom is sucking the life out of me, or at least my brain.  And neither are true, and both are true, and perhaps life lies somewhere in the middle, where I do want something more intellectual, but there are also times and seasons, and that time will come.

I got married at 22, and have had four children by the age of 30, and I don't regret any of that.  I'm glad that I've had my children young, and that when they are gone all day at school (ie, free babysitting in this context), I'll be able to go out and first go to school and then work in some capacity (teaching at a university? libraries?) and still be a mom.  Even writing all of this out, I want to recant a lot of it. Not because it isn't true, but because truly I have nothing much to complain about.  That is the sum of human nature, I suppose, to want what we do not have.  I'm sure once I'm busy writing term papers, and trying desperately to get a publication and teach I will remember fondly my halcyon days of yore, where I could play uncounted games of chess against the computer, and had the leisure to write blog posts and check facebook to see what people think of my bon mots.

One thing I struggle with is that my religion teaches me, and I believe, that families are what this life is all about.  Having children is what this life is all about. Now, I need to take a second to put a caveat here - that doesn't mean that single people, people without children, people who can't have children, etc, etc, do not have a purpose in life, or that their lives are not fulfilled. Nor do I mean that there is some magic number of children that fulfills this purpose.  I don't care if you have one child or sixteen - in this specific context I'm talking about me (I know, how selfish. See above paragraph - this is endemic in my life).  What I mean is that the important part of my life, eternally speaking, is not going to be how many college degrees I earn.  And that I know that children truly are an heritage of the Lord, and that what I do as a mother, what Avram does as a Father, is worth more than everything else - than all of the worldly things, put together (excepting of course what we do as individuals, as Children of God, as marriage partners, as children as sibling and all the actual important relationships that make up our life).  I know that Avram can feel fulfilled with working and parenting. I also know and do believe that Mothers are the primary nurturers of children - I feel it when I'm pregnant, when I'm nursing, when I just know what my children are thinking, wanting, etc.  Back to the beginning of this paragraph - what I struggle with is that what is my will, is not the Lord's will.  This happens constantly in a fallen world, and in all aspects.  The Lord wants me to love others.  I want to judge them.  The Lord wants me to give of my substance to the poor and needy. I want a new couch, and a better decorated house.  In this respect, the Lord wants me to be a good mother.

The crux of this is that finally, I think, I believe I am coming to understand that for myself, I think I am a better mother when I feel fulfilled in my life (I think that this part applies to everyone). And I feel fulfilled in academia.  This isn't a specifically new understanding.  I remember my freshman year talking with my then boyfriend Dennis about me wanting to be a college professor, and him completely supporting me in that (except that the word support here sounds patronizing, and I don't mean it that way.  Patronizing support in my mind isn't support at all.  Avram is never patronizing either, and I love him for it.) I wrote about this years ago, and still mean what I say.  So what's new from then?  Two more kids, I suppose.  Mothering, housekeeping, takes a lot more out of me now then it did then. Also, it's always been easy for me to gloss over the young kids years. My mind has run for over a decade that I would have my children young, stay home with them, and then when the youngest started school I would go back to school myself. I don't mind that order.  I don't, honestly, even know what I want to go back to school for, except I love academia, and not even just because it's the only word that rhymes macademia.  It's good for me to keep my options open, because who knows where we'll be or end up, but I am not exaggerating when I say I've spent hours on the U of U's website, perusing their advanced degrees in areas like Anthropology. To return to the point, I want to be a good Mother, the Lord wants me to be a good Mother, and I'm learning that it's okay to not want to be a stay at home mom, and still be a good mother. But that's not it - I've always known that.  Since I can almost remember, my Mom has worked outside the home.  What I mean is, I've finally come to terms with the fact that I don't have to get to a point where I love homemaking.  I love my kids - that's enough.

When Avram and I were first married, I quite quickly transitioned into being a homemaker.  I finished all but 3 1/2 credits of my undergraduate degree before we were married, and after a first summer of working together as window washers, I took up a part time job at a daycare just until I had Lydia, whom I was already expecting. I was alright with that - at the time, I had lost much interest in pursuing a career, and had the vague notion that I would go back to school 'someday.' (that has always been in the works).  In the meantime, I loved my little Wymount apartment, with its 600 or so square feet.  For some the transition to marriage and motherhood is very rough.  Of course there were the normal wrinkles (how do I get this child to sleep, again?!) but overall my first couple years post school, post single life, were a dream - a happy dream filled with all I could read classics and fluff books, including an entire read through of the major Arthurian legends.  I love perfecting cooking, which I already enjoyed.  I made homemade bread - and have since then in spurts. I painted furniture a little.  In England later on I learned to knit, and knitted a little.  I pursued homemaking crafting hobbies a bit at a time.  After Guinevere, I went on a sewing stretch, and sewed curtains and duvets and skirts for the girls. Slowly, though, many of my fun hobbies started feeling not so fun.  I became tired of crafts, or crafting.  Sure, I still like a painted piece of furniture, but the fun of doing it waned.  More and more in recent years, what I really crave isn't endless homemaking time, filled with crafting and reading whatever I feel like (usually fluff) and cooking new exciting things.  I'm tired of all of it. I even struggle to not be tired of my kids, because of course they come needing to be fed, and clothed and with so many needs.  And parenting isn't bright and shiny and new anymore.  It's not a hobby, where I get to tote my darling baby around with me while mostly still living my own life.  Now I have a six, four, two year old, and a darling baby, who still needs to be toted around, but it's not cute any more.  It's tiring and overwhelming, and what used to be fun side things (make new time consuming desserts for no reason!  plan things to sew/craft in any capacity that is not a necessity and will take countless hours to finish!) now seem like dragging weights, another set entirely of children, except these ones have nothing to do with my eternal salvation, and they'll never give me grandchildren to cuddle and spoil.

A year ago, I declared out loud, "I don't like crafting." It felt good.  Not that I begrudge others crafting - life is short (unlike this blog post), and you should do what you love.  Not that I have not in the past enjoyed crafting - I have.  I have loved many aspects of homemaking.  Some I even still like, and I will tell you what they are once I think of them. Mind you, this is all being written when I have a three month old, so although this is all true, it's a tiny bit tinged with the slightly deranged mind a lack of sleep will give you, not to mention a lifestyle that includes forced breaks on the couch every couple of hours for twenty minutes of bonding time with your baby, that although welcome and lovely does not conduce to accomplishing anything of note.  Regardless, since that declaration, I have released all guilt I had previously felt from seeing blogs where people are feeling fulfilled by doing anything with their hands that involves paper or fabric or glue.  I had not been the type in my life to live in constant comparison with my fellow (wo)men.  I have marched to the beat of my own drummer since childhood, and what's more, I've never even  had to work at it - I have always been very comfortable (too comfortable) in my own skin.  Until about the time I had Guinevere, so two and a half years ago, when this all began to come crashing down.  In the last year I have felt myself returning to my own skin once more.  I've allowed myself to not like cooking as much, just because I have done so in the past, even for most of my life.  I don't have to make homemade bread to love my children, or even myself, even if it does taste patently better.   I can buy cute things, I don't have to make them myself.  I got the idea of giving my girls real wool felt plush food to play with last Christmas - and then I picked up the phone, called my sister in law Aleatha, described what I wanted, and commissioned them from her.  It felt good, and I have never regretted not making them myself, even though I had the materials, and obviously the time.
I'm learning to love myself as is, and as I want to be, which means looking at thrift stores for super cute kids clothes, not sewing them.  I can cook good food, but I don't need to plan herculean dinners that take all day.  And ten minute burritos and easy pasta are on the menu every week, but who really cares?

Despite this new found happiness, I have still struggled with the other looming trifecta of homemaking (children, what one does with ones time (crafts/projects/etc., and then of course the housekeeping).  Avram has stepped it up this last year.  He'll regularly throw laundry in, sweep floors, pick up rooms in addition to his already long established chores of bathroom cleaning, lawn mowing, garbage emptying, etc.  And I know that a house will not disappear just because I work outside the home.  Yet somehow I often feel chained to my 1300 square feet, seeing in its rooms more and more work to be done.  At my best I'm about a B + housekeeper, and I'm okay with that. But I get tired of feeling like the apex of every day is trying to keep the floor uncovered with all the junk that seems to filter out of the ether.  I feel like much of my life is being led in all the areas that I don't excel at.  Sure I never mop my floor, but did you know that I got a 1600 on my SATs back in the day?  Of course you don't know - SATs aren't really important, but when I did well, they were to me.

I spent my whole life really good at one thing; school.  Well, two things - reading beat out school.  I used to read under my desk in school, from first grade on up through sixth (and I'm sure later, but I've blocked it out) .  All my childhood my teachers would tell my mom at parent teacher conference that I had so much potential.  My fourth grade teacher told me that when I published my first book I needed to send one to her. I got straight As the first two years of high school, and then spent the next two year at a college prep boarding school, where I had a scholarship (mostly need based, but also a quarter was academic).  Even among the children of doctors and lawyers and well off business men I was among the best academically, me, who lived in the west side, in Glendale in Salt Lake, who instead of having countlesss enriching classes in dancing or sports or whatever had a library card. My senior year I took four AP classes.  (And my junior year one).  My identity was shaken when I got my first Bs in Physics.  At BYU I had a full tuition scholarship for four years.  The Summer before I started my freshman year in 2001, I had a conversation where I asserted that I wanted to get married at age 26, when I would be graduating with my Ph.d. (I also had a foreshortened belief that I could do all my grad work in four years -oh, the young and optimistic).  Also at BYU, starting with my first semester, I discovered something I liked more than school, even more than reading ; boys.  I had four relationships in college, and with the advent of love, out went my clearly defined academic self.  Sure,I still got decent grades  - I graduated with a 3.63, which is alright, but was far beneath my capacity, and I knew that then, and didn't care.  I don;t regret most of my college experience  I did work alright  but I played much harder  and I am glad I had those years of carefree fun.  Yet by my second year in, I had no real intentions of continuing schooling after my undergraduate, unless I din't get married.  I was sure I would get married - I had a missionary plus boyfriends (yep, I was also cocky.)

When I went with Avram to an academic conference in Wisconsin two and a half years ago, all of these long ago desires surfaces, and something awoke in me, and it was strong.  It turns out that although I spend decades feeling that I was smart, and that my self worth was in someways linked to that, I was not completely wrong.  I value myself more, when I feel smart.  Not because my intrinsic worth gains, but because I feel fitted to what I am doing.  To freely borrow a line from Chariots of Fire, "God created me for a purpose (Motherhood), but he also made me smart; when I use my brain, I can feel his pleasure."  Not that I don't use my brain in motherhood - I do. I think children deserve the best we can give them and that have educated mothers at home, and fathers at home can only help them, but I want something more.  I need something more.  Lately I struggle with even feeling smart anymore.  On the one hand I assert that I want a master's possibly a Ph.d., but on the other hand, I worry about getting in anywhere.  I feel inadequate to teach at a college level.  I feel like I have few salable skills, few academic skills.  Where does changing countless diapers teach one to survive in a career? (perseverance, I suppose). I know this isn't true, that people say all the time after being out of school in 'real' life for a while that going back is much easier because classes are so simple compared to the great complexity of three dimensional living.  Yet, if I was once a sharp sword, now I feel like a rusty wall decoration, with an unbalanced hilt, and even some hokey metaphors.

 Last year I went with Avram to SBL, the Society of Biblical Literature conference, and I loved every minute of it.  I loved the presentations, I loved manning the booth for BYU in the dealer's hall, I loved meeting people, talking to people, thinking about points brought up. I felt alive, sparkling, like the air was clearer (a real feat in San Francisco), the conversations I had more witty, and even my outfits were well planned and cute (yes, I know, this is not exactly a staple of academia, but if/when I have a tenure track job, I shall endeavor greatly to banish all black as the color of choice for my academic wardrobe.  Someone needs to liven up biblical studies, and starting with bright pink and blue shirts is just the ticket).  I know that academia is not always like that.  I do share a house with an academic, after all.  And he works from home three days a week - so I see it all up closed.  Which means that Avram sees me all muddled up in my life, which some how makes it seem worse, if only becuase I am aware of how patheticly I'm not magnifying my current calling.

This is a long blog post to swallow.  Much of me doesn't want to publish it, since I basically complain from start to finish, which is ironic, because I am deeply aware of how much I have in my life, how essentially happy I am in the big stuff. But I'm all to aware how easy it is for people to think one thing about your life, when the reality is different. So I want to let it be know publicly, mostly so if anyone out there is also struggling that it's okay.  It's okay to love your family, but not homemaking, even if you once did.  It's okay to want to work, even if your family won't need the money. It's okay to not have answers - I don't.  I often hear people talk about how women need to find something that is them to do, so they aren't swallowed up by child-raising until there is no themselves.  I love talking to people, working with people, leaving the house and having places to go - I can't do these things at home.  I love conferences and colleges.  I love my children - I don't want to put them in daycare at the ages they are to do this. I  want to give them their childhood, too.   So how can I learn to love this stage now - how can I feel fulfilled in being a stay at home mom until Enoch, or whomever, is old enough to start preschool, and I  can get out of the house? It's funny.  My life is at the same time much less desperate  and yet sometimes in my head more desperate than this all sounds.  I'm not dying of neglect of self.  It's just after I've done all the cleaning I want to do/need to do, and when Guinevere is napping and Elisheva is playing, I don't know what to do that will really fulfill me.  I read academic books off and on, but it's hard to continue without anything outside.  I talk to Avram a lot about his studies, which keeps me mentally alive.  I edit his papers, and love the importance I feel by contributing to something.  I often spend time on the internet, but the internet is much of taking, but little of giving emotionally and I usually don't write blog posts because it takes a lot of mental energy, which I struggle to give when there are three children at my side, who need me any moment.  I've only been able to write this because a, it's burning inside of me, and things find their way out somehow, and b. Avram has had Enoch half this time while the girls have been sleeping.   I know that we find ourselves when we lose ourselves and that going to work and forgetting myself and my problems is good.  But it doesn't seem to help. So I don't really need answers, but understanding would be great.

(Here is the post I wrote two and a half years ago on this topic, generally. It was before I really started struggling; Unseen as Yet Academical).


5 comments:

  1. YES!
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  2. I so understand. A lot of this has been under the surface for me too, ever since I had post partum depression. For me, instead of my academic side, it's my artistic side.

    I have read in several places that in our culture we value the sacrifice of mothers to a dangerous extent. Mothers give constantly, or at least we think they should, somehow. But if they do in actuality give everything, they get sick, drained and depressed.

    Yet as Christians we believe that to sacrifice your life for the sake of others is, -there is "no greater love". Would it be a good thing for mothers everywhere to let the life drain out of them, literally work themselves to death, for their children to grow up in a perfectly clean home with on-time well-balanced meals? Of course not. Are we supposed to balance these two concepts of Christian sacrifice and personal fulfillment? I have no idea how. "Balance" seems like a silly word in this case anyway.

    I have learned that I am not the kind of mother who feels the need to give constantly. I often feel the need to do things just for myself, with no obvious benefit to my children. I feel guilty about this often. But I believe that doing things just for my own personal enjoyment and development can be inspiring to them. I would rather have my children say at my funeral, "I knew she loved me and she was a very artistic person. She inspired me to do xyz" than "I knew she loved me and she always kept the floor really clean."

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  3. We planned on having kids right off the bat, but, you never know if that will happen or not, so, in the mean time, I went about happily taking the GRE and applying to graduate programs in Neurobiology. Naturally, it would end up that I would find I was pregnant with our first with in the same week as getting accepted into a program and finding a mentor professor. I suppose I could have done both, but with my husband still not even done with undergrad schooling and us trying to save up enough for me to be at home with kids, it didn't seem the right time.

    And, I have to admit that, even now (12+ years later) I still feel a little tense when I bump into friends from my undergraduate days who have become doctors, etc. I find myself wanting to immaturely shout, "Remember how I was smarter than you?? Remember how it was always me with the high score on tests? Remember it was me who received the "Outstanding Zoology Student" award? REMEMBER!" Lovely, huh! Haha. But it was very much a part of me and something I loved about myself.

    Fortunately (or unfortunately perhaps?) I am, actually, quite content with this whole being at home as a mother business. True I'd rather gouge my eyes out than fold a batch of laundry, and there aren't many crafts going on here, but I do feel quite content. Perhaps that is bad because I now likely lack the drive to ever persue my former goal of being a biology professor. In my world, it feels more like there were two alternate lives that I might have been equally happy with.

    But you my friend. You have it bad. I don't think you'd be content calling out, "I was smarter than you!!" to friends like I am want to do. No, you seem to definitely have a hunger and drive to feed yourself with more of that. I suppose I could just say the slightly annoying things like, "Oh, your time with little ones will be over before you know it", but in truth, you already know that. And who knows, sometimes good and right things are going to only require sacrafice. Maybe it will always be hard and you will be blessed for doing something eternal and faithfully despite it not totally fulfilling you. I know you know that too, and are willing. BUT, sometimes . . . sometimes Heavenly Father instead just says, "Here, try this. You can have this other good thing too if you want. I love you and I am proud of you and all your good desires and I will help you have both".

    Clearly I don't know how. As you said yourself, you can't be at school and be with your kids, etc. etc. But I do know that sometimes Heavenly Father sees some perfect opiton that seemed impossible or neve occurred to us before. I think your desires to use your mind -- to challenge yourself mentally, to learn and progress are absoluutely good. And I understand how just "reading" doesn't feel proactive and satisfying enough, but until you can completely go to graduate schoool, who knows, maybe your current life will just be the sacrafice you make for something bigger, or maybe not. Maybe Heavenly Father will say, "Alright, try this then." And present you with something that might really allow you to feed that growth you are craving. It's worth asking.

    Either way, good luck to you! I think it is great for women to see that they aren't failing if they don't love every moment of motherhood (did you read that recent blog post by . .. someone? . . .called "Don't carpe diem"? Sooo great), and I also think it is good for women who don't understand why someone would choose motherhood to hear from someone like you who knows exactly why she is making the sacrafice.

    Best wishes! Here's to hoping some grand academic adventure lies in your future!

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  4. I loved this post. I have 6 children, the youngest of which is 2. I almost went back to school this year. It pains me to think that I didn't. I definitely cried about the decision I made to hold off on that. But I simply couldn't go back to school then. For one thing, we couldn't afford day care, and I would hate to put my little ones in day care anyway. And then there would be homework on top of housework and nurturing of children both physically and spiritually. (Ok, that was more like 3 things. Ha ha!) And for another thing, the Lord called us another way. We are now back where we were, asking God, "Now, why in the world are we here?"

    I often feel like I have lost myself in endless to-do lists and that I just need something to make me feel alive inside. I was a dancer when I was younger, and I was also very involved in band and choir. I felt like that was me. But those are things that I can't do anymore. It makes me feel so lost sometimes. So do we just live in denial of those feelings for the time being? I don't know. But I do know I wouldn't trade my children for anything. And I know that I want to finish a real (aka more than an AA) degree someday.

    I also struggle with the idea of having so many children because I wonder if people think, "Why does she have so many. She can't even keep 1 in line." I do love every one of my children and would love to have more. But I also worry what other people will say or think if we have another baby, especially if said new baby happened to come along during our current family financial crisis. It seems shallow to worry what other people will think, and I often feel selfish for wanting more children. Oh, goodness. It's just a pit of vipers. I guess all I can do is listen to the Spirit and do my best.

    I agree that motherhood is a lot to deal with and that feelings of fulfillment can be so hard to come by. But I am thankful for this time in my life, despite its challenges. I am truly blessed, and I did and still do choose this life on purpose.

    Well, at least you're not the only one whining when things really are so good. ;)

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  5. Justin Han Coach Member of the Singapore PGA since 2009. Do you want to know about Member of SPGA since 2009 so please click here

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