Friday, March 13, 2009


My sister-in-law once made fun of me on a visit because I was rummaging in the pantry for candy. "QOC has become a normal person at last," she said, "She needs chocolate."

Maybe I held myself to too tight of a standard when I was younger. Maybe I still do. Self-control was always my point of pride. I could, and did, make a microscopic bag of M&Ms last a month. If I decided that rising at 4:30 in the morning every day was what needed to be done, then up at 4:30 I would be. I didn't need to indulge myself. Don't get me wrong--I could always enjoy life, including M&Ms and sleeping in--but not in a needy way. I always had to feel that I could do without it. I never wanted to need a crutch.

Now--well, I understand a little more. Food still doesn't affect me that way and probably never will, but I understand the desire to binge. The need to do something, anything, that will quiet the noises in your head and maybe even hurt a little because the real pain is too much to deal with. Food is a handy thing for some people. Sleep for others. I can't eat when I'm upset and suffer from insomnia, so those don't work for me.

The irony is, there's nothing wrong in my life. Nothing bad. Just too much of good things. But that can hurt, too. If I were to make a list of the type of activities that I find difficult, and a list of the activities that I absolutely must do in the course of a day, the overlap would be almost total: following routines; emotional interactions; monitoring my surroundings; crisis management. There is simply no time or energy or need for the things I am good at: spontaneity; abstract interactions; detailed analysis.

What I do to cope is read. It sounds harmless enough. And it's not that there's anything wrong with reading. Nor am I distressed at the books I read, mostly light fantasy, as being evil. I just don't like to need them. I don't like that I'm always, always, looking for an escape from my real life and my real duties. But I am.

And it seems wrong. Shouldn't it be enough to be assured I'm doing the right thing? Am I saying that God and the Bible aren't enough to pull me through my daily tasks? I've tried to find ways to rearrange my life to work from my strengths and--they're not there. There's only so much improvement a housekeeping plan can take. Do something fun and spontaneous and I wind up regretting it amid piles of laundry and dishes for the next three days. I can sit down and pretend I'm planning for future years of school, but I know perfectly well I'll scrap it all and start over when the time comes, so what is the point?

There is no room for anything but diapers meals laundry diapers laundry meals diapers meals laundry (none of those done well), and if there's a momentary pause I'm too exhausted to tackle the sort of housekeeping projects I might actually enjoy, too mentally frazzled to even communicate with another human being (some evenings DOB comes home and I literally cannot speak to him)---so, I read. Serious books require too much mental effort and housekeeping and mothering books just depress me. I don't need more ideas about how to do things better; I have read all that before. So I read fantasy. As if I were drowning, grabbing at twigs and hoping they will hold. Or, if my hands are full (as they often are), I click refresh a hundred time, looking for messages.

I turn to words like some people turn to drink. And if I can't make my own words I have to go hunting for someone else's.

I think I should interact with the children more, but the more I interact early in the day the less likely I am to still be able to speak to them by dinnertime. I think I should do something that had some value for someone else or even for myself, but I can't come up with anything that wouldn't push me over the edge. Taking a walk used to be my favorite way to relieve stress, but I can't do that now.

So I just . . . read. But I don't like it because I'm not reading for fun so much as I am reading to cope, and I don't like that I need to cope. I ought to be stronger than this. I shouldn't need something. Or maybe I should. Maybe I am not supposed to be as tough as I would like to be.


the Joneses said...

And your last line nailed it. We all have the idea that we should be Too Tough to Let _____ Bother Us. But we're frail; we can't do everything, not even what's most important to us. If we were all-sufficient, with no need to cope or compensate, then we'd be heroines in a fantasy novel.

I'd say that reading is a good coping method. It gives you space when you can't go away. You need some kind of retreat, so take advantage of what works! (Which is to say, I do, so you should too.)

-- SJ

Jane said...

I enjoy your blog so much. My children are all grown and much of what you write about is a lifestyle in my distant memory, but I read your blog for the way you put the words together. Just as I reread old books that I know the story and much of the dialogue by heart, because the writing is so good it's a pleasure to me.

I didn't have twins, nor all my children so close in age (our three sons were spread over seven years) but I do remember the long sameness of the days. I was passionate about my need to be an active PRESENT mother, but there were long periods when I looked for ways to cope, also. I just want to share with you that this is one season of mothering that has joys and challenges of its own and one day you will find yourself in another season. For me, the best time of my childrens' growing up years was when they were old enough to really discuss things with me. I hold those memories most close to me now.

You are doing fine, better than fine. If you don't mind a little unsolicited advice from an "old lady", enjoy what you can of this season, and know that others are coming (I know that you do realize that). They all have their joys in their own ways, but some of them are just...better.

Anonymous said...

This is the very thing that drove me this week to a Sit and Knit. Its the very thing that has me plugging the in the MP3 player with a good book on it and sitting there with my sticks and my string.

What do they say on the Red Green Show? We're all in it together, I'm rooting for ya, and keep your stick on the ice!

Something like that... anyhow! I'm rooting for ya!

SK: ) said...

And I'm so glad I don't have to cope yet that I freely offer you these unsympathetic words of nonsense:

Look for the Abstract in the Routine.

Consider the fractal properties of laundry, for instance. The deeper you go, the more you see the same pattern repeated over and over and over: sort, wash, dry, (press), fold, put away.

There's probably even a mathematical equation behind that pattern. But I'm no mathematician.

Rachelle said...

Thanks for being honest. I routinely pull the "I should be tougher" bit on myself and I like to punish myself by reminding myself that others use to have it harder. But like Jane, my mom is good to remind me that this is just a season of life, and it will pass. These are the "tired years." And you are right in your last line.

For me, raising children is good for humility and learning about grace.

And some day, if you're kids say, "Mom sure read a lot", it probably won't send them to therapy.

Steve said...

Just to give the male perspective, I think you're doing great. I would not be able to cope with a quarter of what you do, even given massive amounts of chocolate or personal time. Reading (non-evil reading) is a great coping mechanism. It does give a little relief space. You're not doing it to the exclusion of your "normal" duties. And you're not doing it to excess.

You have been blessed with a basketball team of strangers (counting The Duke), and you're keeping them all fed and clothed and relatively well. Don't beat yourself up over this.

Queen of Carrots said...

Jane~that's really quite encouraging. It's the people who try to console with, "You think you have it bad now" that terrify me. So, what, I should just slit my throat while I still can?

Songbirdy~I thought the applicable Red Green quote was, "No matter how bad things are, you can always stop and say, 'Hey, at least my pants aren't on fire!'"

SK~Messy rooms develop fractal patterns, too. There's the big items, then the mid-sized items, then the little items, then the teeny-tiny items that the babies are choking on.

And thanks everybody!

Wendy said...

I don't know if this helps, but you are in the crucible now. I think this time (when the tiny ones are getting into things and need constant care and the older ones are too little to reliably follow helpful directions) is the toughest. It's a real emptying of self.

I remember thinking over and over again, "It will never be this hard again." And it won't be. Even if you have twins again, you'll have bigger helpers and more experience and it will be easier. I'm praying for you.

Incidentally, I do end up reaching for comfort in food. I don't know that this applies to your situation, but I realized recently, that I am reaching for food when I'm hungry for God.

You have a real and justified need to regroup without intrusion. I am certainly not suggesting that you stop reading, but it might be worth giving yourself 5 minutes to try resting in God's presence.

Not "praying" (you already have enough interaction!) just being with Him and letting Jesus minister to you.