Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some days, I am that white duck.

I've been struggling lately. Not any grand struggle, or a sustained one that haunts me from moment to moment. My struggle seems to crop up sporadically like acne, and it's difficult to pin it to any one event or overarching fact of life. But it comes up again and again—I'm not good enough. I'm not cutting it as a homemaker, a sex partner, a financial contributor, a writer, a designer, a friend, a woman, a human.

At thirty-one, my baby-making machinery is humming insistently, but I can't help but think that if I routinely feel this overwhelmed, working full-time at a job I truly love and also playing the homemaker role, how on Earth can a child ever fit into this equation? If I already feel like I don't have enough energy to go around between my husband, work, friends, and day-to-day chores and errands, what could possibly be left after a day spent caring for a baby?

I suspect my genetically inherited Catholic guilt wants me to suffer. I should be thrilled—my husband is thus-far supportive of me writing full-time, despite the major income hit. I seem to be good at it, and I possess the discipline and drive. No longer commuting, I have the time to exercise and relax and read when the day's writing is done. If the house is clean, that is. On paper, I have it all. But I frequently find myself crushed by the pressure to revel in it. I feel crushed by frequent feelings of inadequacy, when I should be all set up to thrive. Water, sunlight, and nice, nutrient-rich dirt, and still some days I wither.

I take criticism of my housekeeping and other wifely tasks intensely personally, because if there's truth to them, it must mean I'm failing miserably. After all, I work from home. Surely I should be able to accomplish X, Y, and Z around the house. But X, Y, and Z take time, and that times takes away from the forty+ hours a week I feel obligated to spend on my writing and related tasks, and that makes me feel as though I'm falling short in that department. If I tackle all the chores and write five thousand brilliant words and make a delicious dinner, I'm pooped, and then I'm failing at the role of affectionate and charming partner. Seriously, how much worse could a child make this? How do my mother-author-partner Twitter friends do it all?

I want to say I'm not neurotic…perhaps those who know and love me will disagree. But I welcome germs with open nostrils. I don't care what the latest trends are and if I'm hitting the mark. I don't generally worry about what people think of me, unless they feel as if I've hurt them personally. I hope most of my acquaintances would say I'm easy-going. The struggles I'm feeling…they don't feel neurotic or frantic, generally speaking. They feel more like hopelessness. Not quite depression (I know what that feels like), just a sense that I'm failing when I'm not living up to my various daily roles.

When I feel like a worthy professional writer and a creative person, I feel like a lousy partner. When I feel like a stand-up housewife, I feel I'm neglecting my duties as an-author-who-treats-her-work-seriously. If I nail both of those, I probably neglected exercise or friendships or blogging or items on my miscellaneous to-do list as a consequence. As I write this, I feel I should be hemming my husband's pants as I promised. I need to eat dinner, but I need to blog. I need to be reading my friends' books, because they're kind and supportive enough to read mine. I need to find an agent. I need to cure whatever's making my toes all itchy and fat like sausages because I haven't been able to work out enough. I need to schedule this and that and return this e-mail and get groceries and learn to make homemade curry sauce because the store-bought jars are so pricey. And I need to relax, because not relaxing makes everything impossible.

But of course, I don't need to do any of these things…except perhaps the groceries, from time to time. My husband probably won't leave me if I don't hem his pants tonight or schedule this or that utility. My writing career will probably not flop if I take a weekday off to relax or tackle some other project. My friends will probably still like me even if I don't read their books the month—or year—they come out. This blog will not cease to exist if I fail to write twenty posts a month. I do, however, need to fix my itchy sausage-toe problem.

How do you do it, Claire Huxtable?
With pills? It's pills, right?
My husband brought home a book for me from his office, called Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, by Judith Warner. He knows I like nonfiction books about people struggling in our twisted modern society, books about how television is corroding our children's psyches or how our hypersexual media is warping our expectations about intimacy and self-worth. This book is wonderfully and personally written and it is both staggeringly depressing and heartening hopeful. It describes the plight of my generation and the one preceding it to a tee—women trying to cope with their God-given right—nay, obligation—to Have It All, post-feminism. Women striving to have it all but feeling utterly helpless and lost and inadequate and dissatisfied and exhausted.

Some days life, no matter how good it truly is, feels very difficult. And I don't feel as if I'm allowed to feel that way, given how much harder many, many people have it in the world and in this economy. In addition, I've semi-consciously designed my own life to be as simple as possible—don't acquire too many things, live in a condo that's a nice, modest size, only spend the energy cultivating friendships and acquaintances and family bonds that feel mutual and healthy, strive to do work that's challenging and creatively fulfilling… Generally keep things casual and manageable, so that when a child does enter the picture, they'll be part of a humble, adaptable, content family. And content is fine. Jubilant happiness is impossible to maintain for more than the odd fleeting moment, plus it's exhausting. Content is healthy. Content is doable.

Or it should be. So why do I feel so helpless some days, amid all the positivity and ease of my life?

I don't have an answer, and I'm sick of analyzing myself, trying to sleuth one out. I'm just pleased that today—or at least in this hour or minute or moment—I feel calm and content. Just this second, I feel like enough. If only it could last.


  1. Ooh, I think I have the answer for you. I'm a mother/author/wife/RN/blogger/Twitter person. People often ask me how I do it all. And I answer: by doing everything imperfectly. Amazingly, it all works out. I write when my son naps or goes to sleep at night. I parent during the day. The first few months after he was born I couldn't speak in coherent sentences because I was so exhausted (did you know babies need to be fed every 2 hours on the dot? Yeesh!)so I let everything slide. For *months*. And when I came back to it, it was all still there. No big deal.

    I work my "day job" as an RN only every other weekend so that I have time to stay home and write. As for housewife stuff, fuggedaboudit. The house gets cleaned once a week, and I pretty much never cook if I can avoid it. Just because you're staying home doesn't mean you have to be a homemaker, or that the home you make has to be super clean.

    As for being a blogger, I update "weeklyish or if something exciting happens". No one's complained yet about that, even though it used to be a daily blog. (

    And it turns out all I need to maintain my awesome relationship with my husband is a little cuddle/talk time and you know, other stuff... and we're good. We don't need to glom on to each other the moment he gets home from work, but we're still happy together.

    Everyone is different, and I'm sure if I didn't have a toddler I'd be able to write a lot more, but it's worth it. And in a few years he'll be in school all day and I'll be able to write.

    You can do it, Meg :)

  2. Hey, Shoshanna! You're kind to share all that. I love the "do everything imperfectly" philosophy. I just wish these pangs of inexplicable despair would go away. They don't make any sense! But I guess logicking one's self out of a funk just isn't a realistic solution. There are surely few things out there less logical than human emotion.

  3. "Just because you're staying home doesn't mean you have to be a homemaker, or that the home you make has to be super clean."

    Yes, this. Isn't writing your full time job? I don't hear many people coming home from a 60 hour week (typically what I spend writing and doing writing related tasks) then panicking about all the housework they haven't done, or the tea they haven't made. Give yourself a break, beb!

  4. True, you can't logic yourself out of a funk. Last time I was in a funk, I saw the movie "The Proposal" and I was instantly cured. :) While that makes no sense, whatever works, works! Interestingly enough, I often think chocolate will work but it *doesn't* - it only makes the funk taste better. Hmm.

  5. Despite my best efforts NOT to think this way, it's hard to ignore the voice in my head that says my job isn't equal to my husband's—he makes faaaar more than me, endures a lousy commute, and he does work for others (whereas my work feels nearly as though it's just for me). So the guilt-center of my brain reasons that I must also do the vast majority of the housework, otherwise my contributions aren't going to cut it. It may not be rational, but it's what my wonky noggin asserts sometimes.

  6. We work for ourselves, true, but also for our editors, publishers, and readers. But I hear what you're saying - I often feel the same way, mainly because of the money factor. But being an author is like having your own business. Someday you'll have a huge multi-book deal with an advance that will make you feel very much like you're bringing home the bacon ;) Hey, if JK Rowling can become a billionaire... right? ;)

  7. Yeah, we like to joke in our house about what we'll do when my first gazillion-dollar advance turns up! It's nice (well, not nice, but comforting) to hear you feel that way too sometimes. Maybe that's all I need—some assurance that feeling this confused and ambivalent is normal. It SEEMS like the normal thing to do would be to float about on a cloud of bliss and gratitude, having this dream job. I suspect that I just need to hear that other people struggle with it from time to time as well. Thanks!

  8. Anytime, Meg :) I'm just a Tweet away. *walks off into the sunset*

  9. I was married at 20, preggers days before the 1st Anniversary and baby mama at 22.

    I've been house full time since 6 months pregnant. I work maybe 6 hours a week at a "play job". And that's only been the last year. (This past September was our 15th anniversary.)

    I hired a maid. I send my husband shirts out to be done. Not much of a cook either. And I still run out of hours in the day sometimes.

    To answer the baby question, all the baby's stuff will get done first - don't even let the thought cross your mind that the kid is going to want. Not gonna happen, the rest of your day and life will conform to the new center of your universe.

    And never ever under estimate your contribution to your husband/marriage/household. Don't focus on the things you don't bring (paycheck on the 1st & 15th) focus on: Published Author! Proud hubby brags of "Well, my wife - she's a WRITER." etc and so on...

  10. Thanks, Missy—it's cool to hear all that. It's so easy to get trapped in my brain's funky weather patterns and forget how adaptable I really am.

  11. I agree that you are completely normal in all this worry. My personal philosophy is that all of the stuff we think we have to do all at once has its time and place and comes in waves. So if you hit a baby wave then a lot will be impossible to keep up the same way. But then things shift again, and it's time to get better with X or Y or Z. And then it shifts again. It's never meant to be all at once.

  12. Hey, Meg,

    I'm so sorry if I added to your stress this holiday season. I've been having an abundance of self-analyzing depression recently too.

    I think it's worse this time of year...the pressure to be perfect, that is. And no matter how hard we try, all we can hope for is our personal best. Sometimes our best is just not to f* up too badly. That's where I'm at now. Waiting it out in my hidey-hole.

    Add kids to the lives we have and believe it or not, it works out. Priorities shift. I can't believe my daughter wasn't horribly scarred by my clueless parenting. But she wasn't. She still says "I love you" and means it! What a miracle!

    Lately I've been reading Women Food and God. There's a lot about the pressure to be perfect and how we make ourselves miserable by focusing on our shortcomings. There's something very freeing about just giving up. I've yet to get to that point, but I might try it. The contentedness sounds wonderful.

    Let's throw in the towel together! I'll shout a big "I quit!" so you can hear it 30 or so miles away. Then we can just accept ourselves as we are and tell those nasty little voices in our heads to shut up.

  13. Hey Michelle! You're right about these feelings coming in waves. My waves just seem to be crashing with more frequency an vigor in the past few weeks. Any coincidence that it's also the darkest time of the year and New England's finally decided to act like it's winter? That and I just hit Send on a gigantic project that tapped my brain for the past five week.

    Ash, I think you really nailed something I overlooked—I've been focusing too much on the things I feel I'm falling short on, and not giving myself credit for the successes and accomplishments. It's just that you get one of those days, one of those sludge-tinted-glasses days…

    At least I can take comfort in the fact that the days are literally only going to get lighter from here on out. Hopefully I won't need to call in my friends to talk me out of funky cloud next year at this time. Thanks again, ladies!