“If a student handing you a paper sends you over the edge, then obviously something is wrong,” Odie said. Condescendingly in THIS woman’s opinion.
It wasn’t that a student handed me a paper. It was that after I gave the class a brief talk (I don’t want to say “lecture” because of the connotation) about not walking up to me at the beginning of my lesson or in the middle of it and giving me make-up work with no heading or date, a student walked up to me at the beginning of my lesson and handed me a paper with no heading and no date.
“What is this?” I inquired.
“I was absent.”
To say I lost it is an oversimplification. An unfair one, in my view. I know that my lips curled up in a smile because I felt the pressure in my cheeks, yet I suspect I looked more like an animal baring its teeth. Or like a grinning madwoman. I did not yell. I did not berate. I took a deep breath and instructed myself silently not to cry. Then, I talked about the present perfect continuous.
When I came home, however, and Odie asked me about my day, I did lose it. And the tears did come. How is it possible that I can get everything organized and ready for class, have all of my notes and instructional materials stacked beside my document camera, my objective on the whiteboard, and then have a student hand me a random piece of paper and I feel like the world ended?
I am a 40-year-old working mother of two small children, and I’m getting by the best I can. I don’t want to start in on the “kids today” rant, because won’t that mean I really AM old? When I started teaching in 1999, I’d roll my eyes inwardly at the “Old Guard” who declared in tones of outrage that when THEY were young, they respected their elders and came to class prepared and took notes during lecture. But “kids today” have no respect and no skills and never take notes.
If I ever get to sounding that bitter, shoot me, I remember thinking.
Well, shoot me then, I guess.
I count myself lucky that I can still wonder if the “kids today” have really changed so much or if I have. I believe it’s the absence of self-reflection that means I’m truly lost in Grumpusville forever. The vast majority of young people I meet are great kids, but they are a product of their times, just as I am a product of mine. Narcissism has become so prevalent that the people in charge of such things are considering taking it out of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, also known as the “DSM” which describes and labels mental illness and personality disorders. I don’t even want to get into the vast irony of a group of doctors deciding that there’s no such thing as “narcissism.”
The Nile is not just a defense mechanism.
My grandma Margaret always told me “Getting old is Hell.” I find myself thinking along those lines sometimes, especially when I try to make my giant old lady thumbs do something on a touch screen and suddenly I’m four screens away from what I wanted that crazy machine to do for me in the first place.
“I wanted to like your status, not sign up for a free trial of Netflix! Damn this thing!”
“Take it easy,” Odie will caution me from across the room. I think I’m starting to scare him more and more with my hair-trigger frustration. He doesn’t want me to do it with the kids, nor do I. Last week, we all had stomach flu, mostly one at a time, but Viva and I came down with it at the same time. She and I spent the afternoon shivering our fevers away under a down quilt, snuggling our respective barf bowls while Odie and Pringles played. Pringles was the first to hose down the family home with vomit, and consequently the first to recover. That was early Friday morning and by Saturday afternoon Viva and I were suffering too. Everyone knew Odie was living on borrowed time, even though we dared to hope it would pass him by. Three o’clock Monday morning, we knew that was not to be.
I probably could have dragged myself to work, but I took a sub day Monday, too. I needed to rest. I never get to rest completely. Pringles is at a highly needy phase that involves screeching (she can’t talk yet except to say “Mama”, “Dada”, “Elmo”, “up”, and inexplicably “cock”), throwing food, biting innocent bystanders, pulling hair and nursing. So, while I “rest”, aka “sleep” I have a 16-month-old constantly sucking on my teat. When I sit down to eat my dinner, both of my children try to climb on me. My dinner is eaten to the sound of whining and crying while Odie holds them back and I shovel down my food.
It’s no better at work. My lunch hour (which is actually only half an hour) is taken up by students who need to make up tests, get help with assignments, and talk to me about their problems. Every day I vow to take my lunchtime to sit with colleagues and relax a bit, but it always starts out with something I need to quickly do at my desk. Then, the students see me in my classroom and they slowly file in with their questions and their lunches. Others see them and take refuge at empty desks, plugging in to ear buds or chatting with the others. I don’t have the heart to tell them to leave. Or rather, I do have a heart, despite all testimony to the contrary.
And that’s fine. It doesn’t bother me. I actually kind of like it. It’s nice to have them. It takes energy, however. Often, kids want to complain about their other teachers, and homie don’t play that, so I have to practice the neutral compassionate smile I learned from my sister the therapist and nod while saying things like, “I’m sure it feels like that,” and “How does that make you feel?” and “Well, we can’t get along with everyone, unfortunately.” Despite certain students’ insistence, I am quite certain that their teacher does do more than just talk about cats. Likewise, I seriously doubt that their other teacher doesn’t do ANYTHING but cuss and scream and call them all stupid while talking on her cell phone to her ex-boyfriend. Nor do I believe that their other teacher really makes them, for homework, watch videos of her telling stories about her mom’s favorite place to get gelato. To hear them tell it, they’re being educated in a lunatic asylum and hyperbole is absolutely the worst thing EVER.
When I get home from work, exhausted, my babies are so happy to see me, it’s like they want to crawl inside my skin. I feel hideously guilty, but I find myself wanting to get away from them, and then simultaneously missing them. It all makes me feel like I’m going mad. I love to watch TV, and I’m starting to feel I have more in common with Carrie on “Homeland” than Lily on “How I Met Your Mother.”
Odie took the girls to the park this morning. I know that he will be disappointed if he comes home and finds me still in my pajamas. He won’t say anything, but he won’t have to. It will be all over his face. And if it isn’t, I’ll project it there.
Why do we feel like we’re supposed to do everything? We see those moms on blogs who have all these DIY tips about how to take cotton balls, used coffee grounds, a hot glue gun and make your own home office from scratch where you publish your blog that has a million sponsors and I don’t know about you, but I feel like a loser. My shirt is covered with cat hair, my carpet has a thin layer of yogurt, and my kids are at the park with their dad because he’s worried I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. Oh, and he just loves to play with them at the park, so bonus.
There is at least one person reading this right now who is thinking, “I work and I have small kids, a clean, well-decorated house, a size-4 body, dinner in the oven, and a sexually satisfied husband, so what is YOUR problem?” Are you kidding yourself, or do you really exist? Because people like me think that you do, and we beat ourselves black and blue on the inside because we don’t measure up to you. Every time I watch a TV show where a person has kids, but their house looks like the “after” shot from Extreme Home Make-over and the kids are entertaining themselves in their pack ‘n plays while the parents enjoy a sit-down dinner that somehow wifey managed to cook despite toddlers who hold onto her legs and scream and a three-year-old who trips on her own feet or walks into a wall on her way to the potty, I feel like yelling at the television, “THAT ISN’T POSSIBLE!” But I worry that it is, and I’m just a failure.And then there is the guilt, because I know I am blessed, and how dare I complain or struggle. I don’t know where I got the idea that I’m supposed to be fantastic in all areas of my life simultaneously and if I’m not, I should feel deep, debilitating shame. It’s not like there are mommy blogs or books out there promoting such unrealistic ideas of being a wife, mother, and career woman.
I recently met with my principal and we chuckled about how people who don’t give a shit what others think of them must be so happy. I walked to that meeting lecturing myself, “Keep it short. Don’t go off topic. Stick to the point. Get it done, then go get the kids and go home.” Then my boss asked me how I was doing and an hour and a half later, we were still talking. Even when my little deranged angel pops up on my shoulder and screams, “Oh my GOD! Listen to yourself! Stop talking!” I can’t. The devil pops up on the other shoulder and smirks, “She can’t. Just look at her go! Next she’s going to talk about her husband’s vasectomy, in 3, 2, 1…”
Such is life.
When my family comes back from the park, I think I’ll be better equipped to welcome them and enjoy them. I look forward to seeing my husband even though Viva will go “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom,” the whole time I am talking.
And Pringles will pull at my shirt and go “Num? Num? Num? Num? Num? Num? Cock.”
Oh my…. You are not alone. I wish I lived nearby and could chat. 2 young kids. Full time job. Pita hubs. Full time guilt as to all I fail to and stuff I’ve done and probably should not have done, the list goes on And on. Ugh.
From someone who has been where you are — an overwhelmed working mother — let me just say this. It is tough. Very, very tough. These years will pass, and it will get easier . . . for a very brief while. I found that the years between the time when kids can dress themselves but before they start undressing each other (roughly ages 7-11) are actually quite enjoyable and relatively easy, even when both parents are employed outside the home. After that, the pre-teen and teen years hit, and it’s very similar to what you are going through now — kids who demand their own way and then scream when they don’t get it, and who have to be watched every waking minute or they get into trouble. So, hang in there, enjoy those brief fleeting years when things get easier, hang in there again, and you’ll be looking back wistfully before you know it. Oh, and screw the guilt. Guilt will get you nowhere. Whatever you do, please keep writing throughout. You are gifted.
Along the same lines as what Kelly is saying, I’ve heard parenting compared to a hurricane. The first 7 years are stormy and difficult, then you hit the eye of the storm where things run smoothly for a few years, and then around 12 or 13 the winds start blowing the opposite direction! I really enjoyed those years in the eye; we are heading into the backwinds now.
Oh, I don’t even work (of the paid variety) and I feel like this! Trust me, you are one of the super mums I envy. You just went and burst the bubble by telling the truth of it. (hugs)
You are perfectly normal. Get over it. I say that in a supportive voice. I don’t know one real women out there who isn’t struggling the same way you do. We are all doing it in our own ways. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s not. There are lots of ways to have a good life, a good marriage, raise good children, etc. Lots of ways. It can be done successfully without perfect cupcakes in handmade liners. It can be done with kids who have messy hair and fillings. It can be done with a husband who breaks things. It can be done with dogs who just never get the housebreaking thing down pat. Ever. It can even be done with slipcovers made out of old sheets. Doing life well doesn’t mean doing life perfect. Perfect is for losers, scaredy cats, the meek and timid. And just because it looks perfect doesn’t mean it is. Champaign and caviar are nice, but you can get through life with water and oatmeal too. I’d try to cut back on losing it on students though. ha.
I so, so hear you. It would take me months to list all the things that irritate and frustrate me but a fraction of a second to list the things that don’t. Yesterday I needed to take the kids out and didn’t have time for a shower. I decided to have a quick wash with a face cloth instead. My two year old very kindly handed me a dry cloth. What I did not realise was that the cloth had a generous smear of dry poo on it. I proceeded to wet the cloth (thus re-hydrating the poo) and give my face, chest and arms a good wash. Yep, living the dream!
Was waiting for the next blog entry. Glad to see you at least care about us, your readers! I was getting worried there for a bit, thinking “damn that Mrs. Odie, she don’t give a shit about us.” my wife has talked about that feeling of the kids all over her when at the same time she’s just tired of them touching her. Calls it “touched out.”. Ever hear of it? Fuck, I just realized I follow a blog. Now, what does that say about me?
This is me and I am not even working! It’s hard no matter what but working full-time, in such a demanding job, makes it even more difficult. Talk about emotional, mental and physical drain! Thanks for writing and sharing this one. The dinner scene by itself makes me feel less alone and just a little less crazy.
Oh yes… you make being a working mom sound exactly how I think it will be. Somehome I’m still looking forward to it. At least part of me is… Thanks for the laughs, friend. I hope you find some respite in your work week next week.
Do what works. Who cares about anyone else? If it works to be in your PJs then the universe can suck it. The early years of parenting are all about survival and you do what works or you fall apart. The bar isn’t ‘I am failing to be like someone else who isn’t me.’ The bar is ‘is this working? If yes, then continue as you were. If no, find what works and do it.’
And with a five-year-old I can say it’s never easy but it does get better.
How nice you have colleagues you enjoy! Mine are backstabbing shit racists.
Good one! I’m the same way, I can’t wait to see the kids when I pick them up from daycare and then start to count the hours until bedtime. HA! A couple of unfortunate recent “life lessons” has got me trying hard to appreciate every second with them but even then, I have to remind myself of this constantly.
I’m a master of the wishing game, where I imagine/wish for the one magic thing that would change and suddenly make it all just work, and suddenly life would flow perfectly and I wouldn’t feel like I’m swimming against the current. Alas, I’m probably not going to win the lottery soon, so soldier on, right?
I am a 37, have a 8 and 3 year old, a 2500 sq foot home with Ninjago Lego pieces embedded in the carpet WITH the dried up Gogurt, in addition to dust bunnies that get detected when the children release these vibrating Hex Bugs under the couch, a size 8 body all weeks save for one a month that jumps to a 10, so I am SO RELEVED it’s not I you are referencing to. But thinking of your blog last night did save me from having a nervous breakdown over all things uncontrollable in my pathetic universe here in the other LA (we moved here from Los Angeles a decade ago) as I navigate through the job, the frustrated husband, assistant den leader for my son’s group, and the culture shock that continually erupts even now in my face.
omg ! Oh, I hear you, honey and I dont even have any toddlers! I am sharing this one with all of my teacher friends! Soooo good!
I stay at home with my two little ones and still dont get half of what i feel i should get done! My hubby took the girls to the duck pond this morning so i could have my breakdown in peace..so i feel you there!
I love this post and hate that it took me so long to reply.
Well let me begin by saying I might be the owner of one of those “happy blogs” but then again I have those post where I express my frustrations although not as fluid and well as you do. I am a photographer therefore I can express myself visually better but pictures of me losing my mind would not be cute either. Not for the world but just the thought of seeing my mug losing it could send me away for awhile.
There are days I fantasize of a pink Vespa. I pack a backpack with my camera a few pens, a journal and a GPS and I just drive all the way to Argentina to the south point until I can anymore. In my journey I find myself having encounters with strangers, connecting with some, getting drunk in some countries even getting thrown out of some.
I guess what I am trying to say blogs are just one side, a little tiny sliver of a whole panoramic view. All we can do is be ourselves in hopes we connect in someway somehow but for us to use them as a guide for living is like reading instructions in a foreign language.
I love reading you because you who you are.
You are *so* not alone. You’re only writing out what I feel on a daily bais. Thanks for saying what we all feel.