I am sitting down to write this post in a completely quiet house. The only thing on, besides major appliances, is my computer. No fan for white noise. No classical music or kids radio station. No crackle of the baby monitor. Not even the almost-inaudible sighs of a sleeping baby. I am alone in my house.
I've had a dozen ideas of what to write about since my last post in July, but none of them have happened. I get up in the morning and don't stop working at things until bed, but still only manage to maintain. The house stays orderly for the most part. We have a little food to eat. Nettie is clean and cared for and even entertained some of the time. But beyond that, things don't happen.
It's kind of like living in a fog. Not the murkiness of the first six weeks with a newborn - that was dark and dreamlike, hardly real. This has begun to feel more like a permanent, habitual haze. My head starts buzzing the minute I wake up to feed Nettie in the morning. It buzzes all day, thinking of all the things I want to do besides feed and do laundry and feed and clean up and feed. And it stays buzzing when I try to go to bed after the 9:00 p.m. feeding, thinking of all those things that of course I didn't get done that day. At 1:00 a.m. I wake up to feed and then lay back down to buzz through my list again. There are so many things I want to get done. Things to clean, of course. Things to pick or preserve or cook. Things to wash. Things to make, things to felt, things to write. I've had the start to a poem spinning around in my brain for two weeks, but like my grocery list, it hasn't made it onto the notepad. I just let it buzz around in my head, keeping me up at night.
This evening Nettie decided she didn't want to eat from the left side, which she does from time to time. She doesn't prefer that side; who knows why. After the third attempt ended in frustrated tears on both sides, Dave took her to visit Grandma for a bit. And so I find myself alone in my house for the first time in months.
Within minutes of their leaving, I felt the fog that has settled in my brain clearing a little and I could see how to let some things go. I stopped fussing at the pile of dishes on the counter and let the dust mop sit where I left it yesterday. I put on the kettle and sat down and started typing. They'll be back in a few minutes and she'll be hungry and all the little cleaning jobs I wanted to get to will still need done tonight, but right now, with the setting sun coming in my studio window, even my crazy-messy worktable looks kind of beautiful. Kind of.
My life is more chaotic than it has ever been. And I don't believe I'm going to learn to enjoy chaos. I love control and order just as much as I ever have. But I realize now, in my temporarily quiet house, with only my cat to demand anything of me for the next thirty minutes, that I can handle the chaos. I just need occasional relief.
While I was trying not to enter full-blown hysterics tonight, Dave suggested I just get out of the house, go for a walk. My mom had suggested the same thing a few minutes earlier: get out, go do something. I found myself echoing to him what I told her: everything I want to do right now is here, in this house. I took Nettie for a walk today. I don't need to take that same walk again. I want to do some work in my house. I want some time in my studio. What I didn't realize, until Dave left with Nettie, is that I needed some time BY MYSELF. I needed the silence of an empty house. I needed to know that for some amount of time, however brief, no one would make any demands of me. Nettie doesn't need me to smile when she spins her toy. Dave doesn't need me to show him where the mustard seeds are.
During college, I volunteered for a semester at the local YWCA. I helped with a "respite care" program that was held on Friday nights for low-income mothers who couldn't afford babysitters. I couldn't appreciate at the time what a valuable service that was for those women. Or the use of a word like respite. Such a serious word. Implying a break from something unpleasant, even suffering or distress. I probably still can't really appreciate how much most of those women needed a respite, as they were working mothers, single parents, and had more than one child. But I do understand the use of that word now. Respite. Not so over-blown after all.
I don't mean to imply that being a mother is tortuous or unbearably difficult. It's just that there is no "off" setting. Moms are always on. (Dads, too; I don'tmean to discriminate by using the m-word.) And it can get overwhelming, trying to be the mom you want your child to have. Sometimes you just need to be the not-momma-self. With no one to observe you. You need a moment to breathe.
Because the sometimes-crushing responsibility of motherhood (or parenthood) is undoubtedly centered in feeding and clothing and caring for a small, nearly-helpless, and often-demanding person. But sometimes the hardest thing isn't getting up for the 1:00 a.m. feeding. It's finding the humor to laugh with my baby about her "little piggies" and read her favorite book for the hundredth time when all I want to do is go in the studio and work on my latest creative idea.
For me, the crisis comes on Saturday when I've waited all week for this day that my partner is "giving" me to do what I've wanted to do since Sunday. And somehow it's 4:00 already and all I've managed to do is restart the computer and sit with an embroidery hoop in my hands for a few minutes, and in between I've fed and done laundry and put away the jars of tomatoes and some garden produce and done some dishes and gone for a walk with Nettie and put her down for two naps and changed diapers and a dozen other little things that frittered away the day. Nothing has gone terribly wrong. No one has actively prevented me from "having" this day. But I've lost it. Somehow it has slipped though my fingers and now my baby has decided that she would rather not eat from my left side. That the left side is sub-par fare and she'd rather go hungry than finish on the left side, so yeah: you can go ahead and pump that side, Mom, because there is no way I'm going to take whatever snake oil you're trying to peddle from that boobie. Gross.
They're back now and Nettie will be ready to eat when she wakes up and I'll finish this post later, fill in the parts I didn't get to tonight. I'll buzz it around in my brain and maybe tomorrow morning I'll finish it over a cup of tea, if Nettie decides to take a nice nap.
Since I haven't found time to write my poem yet, I'll share one of T.S. Eliot's that speaks to me these days. From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:"
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons
I doubt that my reading is exactly what Eliot intended. This is usually read as a poem about a middle-aged man who has grown complacent, who thinks he has plenty of life to mete out in coffee spoons and banality. For me, it's a reminder that there is a time for everything that needs to be done. I just need to take a deep breath and decide what to hold and what to jettison. There is nothing on my "to-do" list that can't wait until tomorrow. Except Nettie. She can't wait, and she isn't. I can only have Nettie the way she is today for this day. Tomorrow she will have changed just a little, grown.
My days are full of small things right now, the mundane tasks that go into taking care of the biggest thing that has ever happened to me. My days are measured in feedings and diapers and little piggies and Dr. Seuss. And I think I can be okay with that. As long as I get an hour or two to myself once in a while. So that when I get into bed at night, instead of thinking about my list, I can focus on what really matters.