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.