Tag: Failure

28Jul

Beware of Mantras

Growing up quasi-Amish taught me how to bake bread from scratch, sew my own dowdy jumpers, grow organic wheat grass in a pan on the windowsill, and hide. Good lord, was I skilled at hiding. I had a lusciously guilty stash of sugar cubes that grew over the years to include Thin Mints, Warheads, Pixie Sticks, and some fundraiser candy that called itself World’s Best Chocolate (and really was! at least to a chronically deprived sweet-tooth…) and none of my five hundred siblings ever found it. Talent, non?

I also learned how to hide my feelings, my opinions, my idiocies, and my problems. It’s a little-known fact about families who isolate themselves from the world: rather than creating a safe haven, isolation breeds like an insidious form of bacteria until you can no longer reach outside your own skin. No one allowed in, period.

I can’t begin to tell you how powerless I was raised to be. I have a lifetime of poisonous mantras stashed in my mind: Do not ask for help. Your feelings mean nothing. We do not talk about that. Doctors want to harm you. Policemen want to harm you. Your instincts are wrong. NO ONE CAN HELP. Honestly, the two best things I’ve ever done to fight off those mantras were meeting Dan, who tirelessly chiseled away at my mind with rock-solid compassion, and starting this blog. It’s not easy, of course. I constantly want to censor myself (and I often do, if you want to know the truth), and I revert several times a day back to Your feelings mean nothing. We do not talk about that. No one can help, no one can help, no one can help, no one can help.

Writing about depression, in particular, feels like stripping in front of the entire world. It comes with a host of other confessions like failure and weakness that I would much rather keep hidden, and it looks so raw and grotesque out in the air. Hi, I’m Bethany, and I can’t manage to take care of two teeny-tiny little girls and one teeny-tiny little apartment by myself and oh my god, am I actually admitting this aloud?

But your comments and e-mails have given me exactly the boost I needed to shrug off my Amish mantras and do something unimaginably frightening: Ask for help. I went to the doctor today, all of my own volition, and I told him the truth. And now there will be tests and further appointments and possibly referrals, and though we know nothing yet, I feel hopeful. I don’t know how to explain what hope feels like after this long, but thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

17Apr

How to Be a Parent

When I was a teenager, I babysat several times a week. I loved every minute, and if I had written an essay called “How to Be a Parent” at age fifteen, it would have said this:

First, you play princess Barbies with your adorable four-year-old, then put her in her princess jammies to read princess stories before tucking her into her princess blankets for the night. Then you feed the baby his bottle while watching a romantic comedy and eating sugar by the spoonful dinner. Once the baby is asleep, you’re free to spend the next several hours taking sexy bubble baths, or whatever adults do with their copious spare time. The end.

In the 1,141 days that I have actually been a parent, I have taken exactly three bubble baths (none of them particularly sexy) and learned a few things. Like, the moms of the children I babysat were probably cleaning frantically for seven hours before I came over. Also, the parents had probably lost a cumulative year of sleep training that adorable four-year-old to stay in her princess bed all night. And normal adults, those with actual responsibilities during the day, don’t stay up until 2 a.m. drinking wine in their lingerie by candlelight. At least not often.

The relative who came to visit us when we brought Natalie home from the hospital was just trying to help, I know. But everything about her help got under my skin, crawled around, and gnawed at me like a swarm of chiggers. I scratched back pretty hard, I’m afraid.

I felt like all those years of babysitting had earned me a PhD in childcare, but I had no idea what to do with my own daughter. My mind boggled at the fact that this tiny person was completely dependent on me. What if I didn’t dress her warmly enough? How could I know if she was eating well? What was making her so miserable that she had to cry? I felt like I should be confident and relaxed, but I doubted myself at every turn, and my relative’s comments further prevented me from finding my own way of mothering. They made me feel 200% a failure.

The “I would nevers” started innocently enough: I would never leave my baby strapped into a swing all day. I would never use the television as a babysitter. I would never ignore my children. I wasn’t trying to be supercilious at all. I just knew I loved my little girl and wanted to learn from all the parenting mistakes I’d seen.

But then, the third trimester of my pregnancy with Sophie lumbered down and squished out my energy overnight. My energetic two-year-old was suddenly a pig-tailed tornado, and I kept falling asleep three words into story time. “Sesame Street” and “The Backyardigans” became very, very important to our survival. I started falling asleep at night under a palpable cloud of mother-guilt.

Natalie and I went out on a mommy-daughter date this week. We walked through a park, Natalie chatting incessantly about everything she saw (“Look, there’s a flower! And a bird! And another flower! Ooo, look, there’s grass! Did you see the grass, Mommy? The grass, over there? Did you see it?”), and then shared a cup of ice cream. It was perfect. I hadn’t paid attention lately to what an amazing little girl she is, bubbling over with sweetness and enthusiasm, and I was blown away.

I wish so much that I could do more for her. Maybe if Sophie cleaned the house for me, I could give Natalie the one-on-one time she deserves, but you know babies–too busy lying around, being cute. But despite my imperfections as a mother, my daughter has a vast, beautiful heart. She is happy and creative, and she knows I love her with everything I have. She knows, and that is enough for now.

We’re on the journey back into the sunlight, but this time, I’m not looking at other families for validation (At least our daughter eats her vegetables, yada yada yada). Instead, I’m deeply humbled by the other moms and dads who are struggling to be the right parents for their children. I’m encouraged to see other families who, through their aching, ache for one other. I’m so grateful to know I’m not alone in this shaky business of being human.

Things change. Children learn their way in life as parents temporarily lose theirs. “I would never” becomes “I’ll do my best,” and we fumble our way through apologies. We learn honesty and grace. Our rose-tinted glasses crack; we see our children for who they are. And through each struggle, each fight for the relationships most precious to us, we dive deeper into the mystery of unconditional love.

28Jan

Focaccia

Pearl Jam is exactly the right music with which to have a religious crisis. You just know that Eddie Vedder is singing from the depths of his own dreadful, gravelly crises and that he would understand if you suddenly shouted a very bad word into the angsty void. (I like Catherine Newman’s use of “focaccia” without the last two syllables.)

I am writing this knowing full-well that it is not socially acceptable to have a religious crisis, at least not in the Christian world. I imagine most other religions are the same way though, too convinced of their own rightness to allow wiggle-room. Admitting weakness to churchgoers inevitably spawns a feeding frenzy, and you haven’t met sharks until you’ve ticked off a Southern Baptist. I know. I used to be a Southern Baptist poster child, a preacher’s kid with curled bangs reaching up to heaven and more righteous indignation than the Bible. Yes, I would very much like to smack my former self too.

I managed to survive the “God loves my parents and thus hates me” crisis when I was thirteen, and then the “God might not exist” crisis prompted by my Christian apologetics class at age fifteen (Feel free to bask a moment in the irony. Are your pores opening yet?), and then the “God doesn’t listen to me,” “God doesn’t talk to me,” and “God is a misogynist” crises in college–all without telling a soul. The idea is to get over your shameful lapse of faith quickly and quietly and then tell everyone your “testimony” of how God brought you through.

If you’ve ever hit a rough patch in your spiritual journey, you know just how much it sucks. You feel like you’ve done something horribly wrong. You feel embarrassed for not having it all together. You feel like a hypocrite for not understanding the system you’re supposed to promote. Most of all, you feel a bottomless, inky-black loneliness. If you can’t talk to God, who’s left?

If I were to name my current state of loneliness, it would be “God exists, but I don’t like him.” What does one do with that, not liking God? Everything triggers it–mealtime prayers, bedtime stories with Natalie, news reports, movies, that sharp doorway that deliberately gets in the way of my elbow. When we eat, I think about all the people starving across the world. How can he say he cares more for humans than for birds? When I hear news about the Middle East, I think about the endless violence and terrorism. How can he say the government is on his shoulders? When I cuddle my precious Sophie, I think about the baby he sent to be tortured, murdered. How can he call this the “good news?” When I read the Bible, I can’t see past the God-sanctioned warmongering, the murdering, the animal-sacrificing, the salt-pillaring, the earth-swallowing, the flooding, the exiling. How can he call himself good?

You have no idea how much I feel like the first un-closeted gay right now. I mean, am I normal? Do any others exist? How do they… uh, do this? Will acceptance possibly outweigh the judgment aimed in my direction? Will anyone be able to help me without just trying to cure my “condition?” Where is the backspace button for my mouth?

It doesn’t matter; I’ve said it. I don’t like God, at least not right now, and hopefully that’s not as scary in his mind as it is in mine. I also hope he’s not offended if I take this opportunity to say exactly what’s on my mind, that being FOCACCIA. (Imagine that being growl-screamed, Eddie Vedder style, please.)

25Jan

More Fun With Metaphors

Hindsight needs a good punch in the nose for being so irritatingly smug.

To everyone who knew I should quit The Horrible Job, you are officially smarter than I. There were about forty-six reasons why I should have quit before and only a third of a reason I should stick it out, and that third of a reason may have just been a wad of used gum that looked like a third of a reason, but it still had to be pried out of my hands this morning. And then, once the gum was safely in the trash? I found out that this taxidermy organization secretly specializes in babies.

Shall we have more metaphor fun? Well, since you insist… This job was a free vacation to Heavenville, Bahamas that turned out to be a 298-hour mandatory timeshare symposium. This job was a banana with a sunshiney peel hiding an inner core of soggy, putrid iniquity. This job was a cute little friend who promised to share her Barbies but then didn’t on account of being BEELZEBUB.

In other words, it was a scam.

Once I finish scraping my jaw off the floor, I’ll have some pressing questions to ask. Like Internet, why didn’t you tell me my job was a scam until after it sucked out my brains and I quit on my own? And Self, how did you think putting almost three years of work into a profession you didn’t really like for an anticipted payoff of 30¢ was a good idea? And Ex-Boss, do you get special discounts for channeling the Prince of Darkness?

I feel profoundly idiotic. This is right up there with all those other moments I’m not telling you about in an effort to protect my imaginary dignity. Sigh, sigh, and, well, sigh. Let this be a lesson to those of you who are ever offered a job that 1) doesn’t pay, 2) provides no company address, 3) has no employee support system, and/or 4) is endorsed by the legions of hell: YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN’T TAKE IT.

24Jan

Why NOT to Become a Taxidermist

When my eulogy comes out in the papers next week, it will say this: “Bethany Bassett was found alone in her studio, crushed to death by her part-time job. It took a team of paramedics, an industrial-sized crane, and Arnold Schwarzenegger over five hours to lift the job-induced anxiety off of Ms. Bassett, but it was already too late. When asked to comment, her husband smiled sadly and said, ‘At least she’s with Heath Ledger now.'”

Yes, I have a part-time job. This is because I am afflicted with chronic stupidity on many, many levels. It’s not just that I have my hands and my lap and my arms and my hair full of offspring who require my fulltime attention, though that does contribute to the general not-doing of my job. It’s not just that the job doesn’t pay, though about that, uh, ::bashes head into desk repeatedly::. Oh, no.

The problem is the job itself, which, for sake of an example that won’t get me dooced, we’ll call taxidermy. I had a mother who saw taxidermy as a very important ability and made sure I practiced every day of my childhood. All that time defiling squirrels and cute little birdies left me with a finely-honed set of skills; by the time I graduated college, I could have stuffed THE HECK out of someone’s grandma in 20 seconds flat. After Natalie came into our lives and we were living on Dan’s stipend of approximately $4 a year, I took the only part-time taxidermy job I could find. Nevermind that the not-getting-paid-thing negated my main reason for taking the job. It was work! That I was good at! And anyway, I would get a percentage of all donations to the Taxidermy Museum of Dead Art once my exhibit was up. Plus, after a few years, my résumé would be impressive enough for me to land ANOTHER taxidermy job! Career, here I come.

All was well until I was given my first assignment: a Great Horned Outer-Mongolian Double-Pustuled Octopus. No one whose name is not Jesus could make that thing look tolerable. I tried anyway and had various epiphanies along the way: No one whose name is not Jesus would ever pay money to see this monstrosity on display. I am volunteering for this, voluntarily. And OH, how I STRONGLY DISLIKE pustules. And octopuses. And, come to think of it, all creatures who have ever had the audacity to die. In fact, just thinking about taxidermy makes me want to bypass existence altogether, this existence which I am STRONGLY DISLIKING right now.

Two-and-a-half years later, I’m still working on the damn octopus, except that I’m not working on it because my children like to eat occasionally, and my new socks just vomited all over our living room rug, and the oven is still glued shut with the overflow from last week’s Lemon Disasterbars, and the dirty laundry is staging a coup d’état, and the plants on our balcony are screaming obscenities at my neglectful self, and I have a blogging addiction that is sure to give me cancer by 2010 but I still can’t quit. See? Chronic stupidity.

I don’t know how to wrap this up because I am exhausted x 1048, and that pretty much makes this on par with drunk blogging. I’m inclined to forget about wrapping this up altogether and start rambling about how maybe this actually is drunk blogging because maybe Dan’s been infusing me with vodka while I sleep, or maybe one can get drunk on laundry, or maybe that blood orange martini from two nights ago was stronger than I thought, and then I’ll start mixing metaphors like telling you how blood oranges are the Godiva of citrus, and at some point you’ll stop reading, and I will have successfully shirked my duty of ending this post in an intelligent manner. ::Sigh:: I have a job that I cannot manage to do adequately at this stage in my life, and I don’t enjoy it, and we’re making closer to $6 a year now so extra income is no longer essential, yet I feel a horribly guilty obligation to finish this project already. That is why I’m holed up in my studio this morning with my computer.

Blogging.

4Jan

Serenity

The new year is already up and running, but I’m wandering somewhere on the other side of the line with untied laces, trying first not to choke on the dust, second to figure out how the hell to catch up, and third to find serenity in the midst of personal chaos. That’s my wish-on-a-star for this year–serenity. It was conspicuously absent last year, and I’m suddenly feeling desperate.

Don’t get me wrong–last year was fun… in the way that hurricanes and tornados and seizures are fun. It was like a twelve-month play date with a schizophrenic giant. Dan got his master’s, we were unemployed, we were homeless, we moved three times, we shipped our possessions and selves overseas without any guarantees, we started a new life in Italy, we had a baby, and our two-year-old inexplicably turned thirteen–each a circumstance saturated with stress. 2007 should have come with a label: “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: This year may be hazardous to your health; proceed at your own risk.”

I’m wildly glad we took so many risks to chase our huge dreams, not letting practicality or security tie us down. I also know that one day, I will realize how truly incredible the payoff is. But for now, I’m spent, running on a backup generator. This holiday break has been rather disastrous, with all four of us contracting bronchitis, influenza, or a hairy scary combination of the two, and I haven’t found the space to recharge. Thus, I find myself entering 2008 with my sanity tied in knots and my view of the future splattered with calamities.

If I still believed in the power of resolutions–or at least in my own power to keep them–I would make several:

To have fun with my girls every day.
To try cooking a gourmet recipe every week.
To learn Italian fluently.
To get in shape.
To reach out to new acquaintances without fear.
To rediscover God.
To make friends with new books and rekindle my friendships with old.
To write, constantly, with all the beauty and honesty and creativity I have to offer.

But I would give up these hopes, these efforts, this carousel of trying and failing and trying again if only to have a year drenched in serenity. Then, I think I could finally find the craziness to be me.

27Nov

Thief, Ogre, Janitor = Mom

It’s hard to relax when you’re a thief, stealing a few minutes for music and uninterrupted breath in your sunny corner studio. Even though all your offspring are contentedly sleeping in the other room, you coach your guilt along–I should really be cleaning or editing or studying or cooking or saving the world–as though, without the guilt, you will disappear.

You dig farther into the reserve, tonguing your 9 a.m. frustration like a mouth sore. I wasn’t going to be a yelling mom. I wasn’t going to use the TV as a babysitter. I was going to smile constantly at my children, be accessible, stimulate their creativity, enjoy every minute with them. It’s worse, even, because you used to be a Good Mother™. Now, you’re mostly ogre, and the monster is coming out in your little girl, and you have no idea which prompted the other.

You don’t mean to change the subject, but there are no solutions in sight–only dusty windowsills and dirty coffee mugs. Your serotonin levels plummet under the weight of so many unfinished tasks. The physical laws of the universe dictate that housecleaning is never finished–not when people move and breathe and inhabit said house–but universal truths are no match for your dissatisfaction at uncompleted projects. You’re a terrible janitor for the same reason you’re a stellar one.

You wish you didn’t think of yourself as a janitor; no one embraces that label. Plus, it’s an overly dramatic and negative interpretation of your role as mom. It also shows a horrid mix-up in priorities; when did janitor replace playmate and teacher? And how could something as mundane and fundamentally imperfect as a house take precedence over your own children?

You swish around the guilt in your head, vaguely wondering how much of your brain it has taken over. You wonder how different your days would be if you hadn’t grown up believing that guilt was Godliness. You wonder how you can keep it from spreading like a toxic stain over your family. If only it could just be scrubbed from your persona… How did I get stuck with myself? My personality traits, my memories, my vast inadequacies? I know how to skin emus, play Chinese flute, write iambic pentameter, pronounce words in Zulu, and teach babies to sleep through the night but not how to make myself work right.

You grimace at how self-centric your thoughts have become. You don’t know if sharing your foibles with the world at large is helpful or entertaining or hideously presumptuous, and you run through the disclaimers: I still love my family. This is just a stage, compounded by a lot of major life changes. And it’s not actually that bad; I’m just a pessimist. But you know that the disclaimers will only sound fabricated, in a “she doth protest too much” way, and presumptuous or not, un-disclaimed honesty has value.

You swallow several times, write “Stop overanalyzing!” on a to-do list, and sit down to play puppies with your two-year-old daughter. The dirty dishes–and the guilt–can wait for a while.

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