Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Still On The Fence: More Thoughts on Life Balance and Having Number Two

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here again. I have excuses, yes, I’ve been busy. Working on my manuscript, teaching workshops, pitching classes, doing housework, engulfed in family life, and so on. I’ve started posts for this blog, but not finished them as more pressing deadlines take over. And my perfectionist tendencies always keep me from just rattling off a few random paragraphs. That’s not really my forte, anyway. I’m an essayist at heart, not a blogger.
But in any case, I still regularly feel the need to purge the crusty layers that build up, to vent, to muse, and to locate my center of gravity beyond all the thoughts and tangents: to locate what, at core, has been going on. So, here goes.

First off, I finished another round of Writing Motherhood in October, and am now wrapping up a round of Writing Your Birth Story. Both have been good; and both have taught me how I might refine the experience, for the participants and for myself. Namely, I still want to make the workshops longer. One month always goes by too fast, but then I worry that less people will sign up if it’s longer—because of the time commitment, the money, and thus the greater element of risk involved. But I crave the opportunity to go deeper into the writing process and the community that we form each session, and that can only come from more time together. So next March, I will offer a six-week, in-person Motherhood workshop series that taps into craft, in addition to the usual free-writing and focus on process. And sometime in the late spring, another (mostly) online Birth Story workshop. Stay tuned.

Another thing I’ve been weighing still is whether I want to have another child. Some days, it feels obvious, if only because I can’t yet let go of the underlying longing to know what it would be like to go through the experience of motherhood “all over again”, yet on a new level. To imagine getting to know another child of mine, to go through a similar process of discovery and bonding, but also, to know that this child will be a completely different person than Cedar. How would this feel to go through motherhood again, yet this time a bit more seasoned, and with a different child? A part of me can’t stand to not find out.

There is something deeply fascinating to me about the whole unfolding process of motherhood, despite all the sleep deprivation and angst at not having enough time to myself. Motherhood has offered the ultimate paradox for my creative life, in that while I’ve been constantly struggling to get more time to write and teach, I also have never felt this over-brimming with projects and ideas of things to write about. Almost three years in now, and motherhood, more than ever, still feels like such a rich, unmined territory to tap. Whole stages of mother-child-father-universe relationships have gone by, that I simply haven’t had the time to capture by pen. And so if I do go through motherhood again, maybe I’ll get a second chance to approach these topics all over again. Granted, from a new layer of insight.

But then, my devil’s advocate pipes in, I will also be even more busy, and catapulted back into the early days with hardly any time to myself. Instead, now, my “breaks” will consist of time that I am “only” with the baby, while Cedar is in school or with others. It might be years before I regain the equilibrium I have finally gained now, the space where it actually feels possible to mother, to write, to publish, and to teach—to do a bit of everything I want to do to feel satisfied inside. Instead, I will have to go back to a period of “just mothering” (as if that isn’t intense enough by itself), with a little scribbling and reading on the side. Teaching will be put on hold for a while, because as much as I love it, some basic minimum amount of writing needs to come first for me. And publishing? This blog will have to continue to suffice.

Any big publishing goals I have will need to happen before another baby comes. This much feels clear. That’s why the last time I was expecting, I made a final push to send out my manuscript to small presses. That’s why I haven’t done much of anything with my book for two years, until finally late this summer I took the plunge and paid someone to read the whole thing and give me feedback, to will myself into seeing it and loving it and being motivated to work on it from a fresh perspective.

I wrote a new introduction and epilogue, drawing out certain themes, reframing the ‘arc’ of the book anew. I actually feel like it is good again, worthy of the work it will take to get it out there, worthy of the money I plan to spend to make it look professional (assuming I self-publish, the current plan). Worthy of the energy it will take to launch my own book tour, to market, to update my blog or make a new website, and to get myself excited about a project that is so old, all over again. I am motivated. I want to do this. I want to birth this labor of love of mine, this coming of age memoir, this project through which I’ve learned so much (and would like to have some closure around, please).

But the deadline keeps getting pushed forward. Because I have so little concentrated time to focus. I did have two and a half full days alone to work a few weeks ago (when my husband brought Cedar to his Grandma’s for the weekend) and I accomplished more in a couple days than I would for many months in the usual piece-meal way that I must work. I need more of those intensive working chunks. I am not planning any classes for December-February, with the hope that I will finish the book and start in on the publishing process then. But then I have been saying this—that I’m “almost done”—for a long time. And if I didn’t know myself better, I’d start to doubt in my own resolve. Only I know each time I say it, it’s that much more closer to true. And I know how much work I’ve already put in, and I know how close it is. And so I know, I must do this. I must put it out there into the world. And this must happen soon, certainly before any pregnancy or new baby could enter my life. This much is clear.

Writing will always be like another child to me, another child I need to take care of and take into account any time I’m considering adding something new to my life: how will this child be affected? Will I still be able to care for this child in a way that feels satisfying? Will this child be somehow left behind? These are not trivial questions to me.

So, here I am. It is almost December. Christmas is coming, gift giving, photo-organizing, tree buying, family gatherings. This all takes energy, time. Somehow I must be diligent in making sure that my few afternoons a week to myself don’t get completely sucked into this frenzy, alongside the usual housework, bills, chores, and correspondence. Somehow I need to dive back into the manuscript revisions, set clear small goals, personal deadlines.

Somehow I must also find a way to exercise more, to prioritize health, for this has fallen by the wayside over the last year, and I know how important it is to my overall well-being. (Although as I think about how my future ‘breaks’ would probably consist now of times when I just have the baby to care for, I console myself by remembering that at least during that baby stage you can pop them in a stroller and go on lots of walks. At least I got more exercise back then. And drank less wine, too.)

When I try to imagine what else about that stage would feel “easier” now that I can compare it to the toddler stage, I feel fairly steadied for the challenges. After all, we’ve already had our share of dietary, sleep, and behavior challenges—what are the chances that the next baby would be even more challenging? Certainly possible (and this thought fills me with both fear and humility), but not that likely (at least I hope, or pray).

Ah, so apparently I’m back at the topic of: to procreate again or not to procreate. Well, I’ve already decided that it would be hugely stressful, financially risky, and too time-consuming to try to build an addition before another baby came, so I’ve already (sort of) made peace with how we could add another child into our one bedroom, 850 square foot arrangement, by putting the baby’s crib (and yes, our baby is getting a crib this time) into the living room next to our bed.

It would be crowded. Our evenings would be subdued (assuming the baby eventually wakes from noise, as most babies do). And our marital life may, yet again, suffer. But, oh, the ultimate joy! (Right?) Oh, the joy of having a larger family to grow old with. Oh, these early years will go fast, right? Yeah, I don’t know. I’m still on the fence as I’ve said. Just trying to feel out if it is indeed do-able and, most of all, right. Do-able? Yes. Where there’s a will there’s a way. But, is it right for us? That is the bigger question.

So, no home remodel yet (although at the rate our appliances are dying, we’ll at least get an all-around updated kitchen by then). I’m also looking into other preschool options for Cedar so that he could be in school more than the three mornings a week that co-op preschool (which we love) will entail next year. We can afford that, I think, though I have yet to do any math. So that leaves the publishing goals, the teaching, the writing… the weaning and toilet-training goals too (both of which keep getting put off for now, for lack of interest, or resolve). A lot still needs to happen before I want to remove my IUD.

My husband and I would also need to have a good budgeting talk, a sound financial plan laid out, as well as a plan as to how we plan to prioritize marital peace, connection, communication, and overall sanity. And that means: regular date nights (or afternoons); even once a month will do (obviously we haven’t set a high precedent here). And a new agreement forged between us as to what degree of personal time it is realistic to expect—for me, to write (and do everything else I do to maintain our household). And for him, namely, to fish. Because that is his passion, his religion, his connection to nature, his exercise, his primary release, and I get that.

Sure, I’ve spent plenty of time over the last couple years begrudging his desire to go fishing (Again? Haven’t you gone enough already?), with a lot of back and forth negotiation (You can go every other weekend for the day, if I get to go write for a few hours every weekend. Fair enough?) But then there were the long weekend trips out to the Olympic peninsula which began to take their toll (Most parents of young children are lucky if they get to go on one long weekend, bachelor style trip with their buddies a year, much less four!). Until we finally reached the place where nursing had decreased enough that I could leave Cedar for longer stretches, and reached a wonderful, almost equitable agreement called tit-for-tat: you get a weekend, I get a weekend.

I say ‘almost’ equitable because his “weekends away” have typically consisted of about three full days, whereas mine are more like one point five. But it’s hard to complain about this when for almost two years, the longest time to myself I ever got was something like four hours to go to the spa. And so, in my ongoing quest for shared parenting equity (tit-for-tat, if you will), I’ve now proposed that we count “days” versus weekends, because I still mostly feel like I end up with the short end of the stick. I believe my husband begrudgingly agreed (translation: grunted). And so now, I’m fine with him going away fishing for a weekend, as long as I get my time to write in exchange. I need it, and now more than ever. I have serious goals. Limited time. The decision to have or not have a child may hinge on this factor!

Anyway, the irony of course is that even if we manage to finally come to a place of “total equity” regarding parenting duties, if another child were to come into the picture, this equation would no doubt get thrown back out again for another year at least. (And I don’t expect to get “back pay”, so to speak, because somehow that would just be way too demanding of me and the expected maternal sacrifices.) Maybe the next baby won’t nurse or co-sleep for as long, and won’t be as dependent on the boob to go to sleep. Maybe we’ll consciously decide to make it easier on ourselves, and especially on me, not following quite such an attachment parenting model (not that I ever set out to be an “attachment parent”, mind you; we just made the choices that felt right at the time).

Don’t get me wrong, I stand behind the parenting choices we’ve thus far made, for the most part, and for this particular baby, with this particular temperament. But there are things I will probably do differently. I tell myself. Of course, the true test will be what actually happens when we are in the thick of it. And there is a sense of adventure and an exciting challenge inherent in this imagining… mixed in with impending fear and dread. In moments though, there is an overwhelming optimism, that says, in the end, how could we ever regret it!? But in some ways, this sentiment is na├»ve, for I’m sure some parents actually do regret having another, on some level, but this is not a socially acceptable sentiment so you don’t hear about it.

But still. It is exciting, you must admit, the whole baby-imagining, baby-making, birthing process. It’s high drama. It’s life and death from its most peaked and illuminating vistas. And it’s also a bit like… falling… into an abyss. First and foremost. Before you slowly climb your way out again, and before you are so worn down and seasoned that you are finally able to enjoy the view from each stage and even in the midst of each new challenge; where you are so humbled by the whole life-altering experience of parenthood, that you’ve stopped waiting around for those promises of the future plateaus, and you truly are just along for the ride. Or something like that. Doesn’t it get easier as they say, even as it gets harder, with two? Don’t you experience even more of a degree of ego destruction, humility, and self-surrender? And isn’t that ultimately a good thing?

Hmm… I’m not completely convincing myself, although I am trying. I truly do see both sides. The amazing and awesome, and the terrifying and terrible. Parenting is at heart a paradoxical experience. It’s rough. There’s no escaping this, no matter how “easy” or “hard” of a baby you had. Parenting is hard on marriage, on your body, on your personal goals or dreams, on maintaining your former idea of yourself. And yet, it is also so hands-down incredible and amazing. To watch a child grow. To be so intricately tied to their experience of this earth. To laugh with them, dance with them, nurture them. To see the world anew through their eyes.

Sometimes I wonder though how much of this desire to have another baby is tied up in societal norms. If the majority of mothers around me weren’t having number two, or planning on it, if I were in the minority for considering another one, would it be easier then to let go of the lingering desire and embrace the sanity of just one; i.e. the quicker return of my equilibrium, creative life, and quality time with my husband? It’s worth pondering. There is something of the fear of “missing out” at play here. Not wanting to miss out. The clock is ticking, it’s now or never, so just go for it!

And then, a friend recently mused that after she had her third child (who incidentally was a “surprise”), she definitely no longer had that feeling of baby lust around infants she’d still had before number three came along. None whatsoever. And so that makes me consider: would the lingering baby lust still be there, even if it weren’t meant to be? Will I somehow just “know” at some point that I want to do it, or will I have to make the harder choice (in some ways), of deciding “no,” and in turn letting go of whatever lingering visions I might have had of a larger family or round two of motherhood anew?

Why does it feel like deciding not to have another child would leave me with more questions and potential regret, than deciding to have one? I think it’s because the decision to have one is proactive, decisive, and once I decide something big like that, I stand behind my instincts that led me there. Whereas the decision not to do something can feel more passive (even if it isn’t a passive decision, but deliberately thought out); still, it can feel like something you just “let happen” by letting “time slip or opportunities slip away from you”.

Perhaps this is also tied up in how our culture values “doing” more than “not doing”. More is better. And “not doing” is often seen as laziness or fear, whereas more “doing” is usually applauded and admired, at least from a distance (wow—look at how much that person is accomplishing!), even if it drives one to emotional, physical, or spiritual fatigue.

Hmm… this is an interesting discussion, Anne. But now I must go and pick up my child. I am sure these thoughts will be continued in a future post, (sadly, yet realistically) months down the road. Until then, dear readers, thank you for indulging me. And feel free to share with me more thoughts on your experiences with having number two. I’m definitely still on the fence. Sticking with just one at times can feel pretty sweet. 

Especially this little one.


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