Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Beginnings, middles and ends: My pontification post for 2008

"With the possible exception of the equator, everything begins somewhere."
---Peter Robert Fleming

I'm sure it would launch World War 3 (or are we up to 4 now? I lose count.) to determine but I suspect the equator does actually begin somewhere or more likely everywhere. Each point on the line is a start or end, depending upon how you look at it.

And if you think I'm talking like TS Eliot right now you are probably right.

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
---T. S. Eliot

2008 is a year with a beginning, middle and ending.

Let me explain how I've arrived at this earth-shattering bit of amazing insight. (You hear the jokey tone there, right?)

(Bear with me, okay? I know this is long. I'm sorry. I won't post for a day or two so take your time. And know I am deeply grateful you'll give me any time, much less the time this might take...)

"Where there are friends, there is wealth."
---Titus Muccius Plautus

The New Year's Eve party was really tremendously fun. The hosts had just enough things to do that everyone had a good time but nothing was so structured that you felt put through any paces. I was so impressed with how into character everyone got for the game. It was hilarious. My neighbors/friends have hidden depths of dramatic and creative talent (or no longer quite so hidden).

They also have some explaining to do about the backs of their closets and the costumes they found Let's start with Jon, who still has (somehow) a shirt I know for a fact he had and wore to dance clubs in the 80s. At the time it was widely agreed to be a really super rad shirt. Now it gave us all pause.

I do have photos. I have lots of photos. And they are hilariously funny, most of them. But. I'm not alone in any of them. I'm sharing the frame with other people who haven't signed off on their image being shared.

You'll have to take my word the guests looked fabulous and it was all a good time.

You'll also have to take my word that it was no trouble at all to find accessories that would suit the 80s. What's up with that? I had a slew of bangle bracelets, you can see the necklace, and big black hoop earrings. The dress is right off the rack. I'm ashamed to admit I still have hot rollers. Not that I use them, just have them. I forgot how time intensive it was to get ready to go out in the 80s. Dude. I am like totally grateful for the grunge movement of the 90s.

I'll spare you a boring recount of the party. It's never as fun to hear about it or retell it, and things that were hilarious in context often leave others whistling in boredom. But I will tell you about the next day.

It's all about being able to sustain a conversation for longer than two minutes without interruption.
---Julie Pippert

When Jon and I woke up---on our own timetable (which was disgustingly early...I'd hoped for 8 a.m. at least but our routine is apparently deeply ingrained)---and were able to get up and move about without fielding 45 demands and 22 arguments all before we even got downstairs for was an unparalleled pleasure.

It's difficult and controversial to say anything negative about parenting and kids.

But I will.

First, a caveat---of course. Don't blog posts about parenting complaints always contain a caveat post?

Here's mine: I think each parenting comment should never be evaluated on its own. That's a challenge with a blog, where people probably have not read or retained every word I've ever written. I believe, however, that we should give people---whether exulting or ranting---the benefit of the doubt that they are well-rounded and offer the other side of that coin at some point too. So while I am going to get a little bit negative here about parenting, I do love my kids and I do love parenting. But sometimes it can be a challenge, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. It's often the little things that build up so that you are swamped and underwater without ever having seen a big wave. That's been the situation here. I got swept under water and haven't been able to completely pull my head back up the the surface, parenting-wise.

I used to think it was or should be unnecessary to offer a caveat, but I've changed my mind. I think it makes perfect sense.

Venting is a process. It's the middle, and the middle is the means by which we get to the end. I have faith that people will eventually get to the end.

However, that's a hard view to maintain, especially in the moment. I think too often we focus on the end, rather than understanding the means. Most people do usually process through the beginning and the middle and reach a balanced end. (Stuck is another post.)

However, while I believe this, I find it a challenge to practice at times, especially because I am (a) a solver and (b) a parent.

B is the biggest challenge of all. As a parent I am often put in the role of moving the process along and showing how to solve.

It gets to be a habit, sometimes a nasty one that carries over to adults (sorry) and what's more, as a parent, I am often in a rush, and distracted. Or interrupted. That's a pretty huge impediment to communication, especially quality communication.

That's really, really frustrating, especially for a communicator like me. I like to talk. I process out loud. I'm a methodical (read: needs time) processor. That's what makes me and Jon and good team: he's a good listener and encourages and reminds me to stop talking and listen, and I encourage him to talk.

"Who speaks, sows; Who listens, reaps."

---Argentine Proverb

So for the first dozen years of our relationship, we moved like a well-oiled machine.

Enter the monkey wrenches: Patience and Persistence.

They don't intend to be monkey wrenches and that's a sort of unfair---albeit it funny---characterization.

But it is true that kids disrupt. (Listen, seriously, all your protests just now are no greater than my own. I'm 100% with you about the "but kids are blessings, kids are great, we love kids, they have enriched us too" comments. But remember, this is one side of one coin in the middle so bear with me.)

That's something Jon and I got to talk about yesterday morning: trying to work as a team with constant disruption and interruption.

"There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you're busy interrupting."
---Mark Twain

Patience and Persistence understandably interrupt. A lot. Constantly. God love their future partners in life because as much as I love those girls, the truth is they are very high-maintenance. I realize that if you look up high-maintenance in the dictionary you'll find a photo of kids next to it as illustration. But I've met a lot of kids. And all kids are not created equally.

Some just have more going on.

My kids have got a lot going on, and have from the very beginning. Persistence was so eager to hit the ground running in life that she tried to come out half baked, at 24 weeks. We managed to convince her to stay in for a while longer but when the time came, she shot out in less than three hours. And she hasn't slowed down since. She's a rocket. Patience is more like a steam engine, chugging fast and steady.

They've received lots of labels so far, but "busy" and "spirited" are the top two.

You know your life is special when other moms say things such as:

"I don't know how you do it; your kids are so busy, I'd go crazy."


"Wow, your two are more work than my four." (Thanks, Sis.)

Keeping all that energy aimed in a positive direction is a lot of work, very draining. I usually have a lot of things I need to talk to Jon about (kid discipline issues) and a lot of things I want to talk to him about (do you think I've lost my mind? oh yeah and how was your day?) but at the end of the day I look at him and he looks at me and we feel so old and tired and unable to talk. So we promise to get a good night's sleep and talk the next day. When we hit the same point the next day, we stare at one another with the same exhaustion and lack of speech ability.

Knowing this, we often try to sneak into another room and talk in the moment.

That's usually an exercise in frustration and futility.

Hands down that is the hardest part of parenting for me personally, as myself (versus me as a parent, which holds a separate set of challenges): the constant buzz of activity and noise.

I need down time, quiet time. Without it, I just keep losing my charge. I don't get to process. And stress just builds up, volcano style, inside me.

I also need to talk to my partner.

"Such is human psychology that if we don't express our joy, we soon cease to feel it."
---Lin Yutang

"That which we are capable of feeling, we are capable of saying."

We do make time for date night. Often we join other people or go somewhere and do something, so it's not necessarily a relaxed morning at home where conversation can organically unfold. We've sat across from one another at many a restaurant table either quiet (which can be good too) or sharing small talk (which can be good too). But sometimes the silence is charged.

This is because we often have a sitter at home and we are aware of the meter running for time and cost. We better make this good, worthwhile, whispers the pressuring voice. Pull out all those things you've wanted to talk to him about for the last two weeks, it pressures again. There are all those issues to discuss, kid problems to solve, things to work out, hisses the voice even more urgently, that's what you need to talk about.

So I don't sit quietly because I've got nothing to say (as if!) but because I've got too much. Also, I don't want to be out and talk about Issues. I want to enjoy my time out, have fun. And I'm tired. And I'm glad to not have to do anything. For anyone. For a few minutes.

I'm just grateful to be eating with someone who doesn't need his food cut, who doesn't snitch off of my plate, who isn't begging to be up and running after about 2.4 minutes of sitting and eating, who isn't whining about something not tasting right or being too hot or too cold, who isn't kicking anyone under the get the picture.

So as much as we enjoy the quiet, relaxing, uninterrupted meal, we get home with this feeling of unfulfilled expectation.

We haven't had all the big talks and reconnection of communication we feel we probably should have.

(Oh well you pave the road to hell.)

Yesterday morning, New Year's Day, we just expected to take it easy before heading over to my sister's house to celebrate 2008 (no, no Kool & The Gang at the party...shocking), have lunch and retrieve our children.

What happened was...we talked. Just shared thoughts, ideas, opinions, chit and chat. Without fear of interruption, without actual interruption, without 37 different things going on, we just sat around and talked. It's amazing how the conversation flowed and evolved, without distraction, expectation or interruption.

I know I processed a few things, and I think he did too.

In a way, parenting in the busy lives we lead can be a bit like crisis management. Or playing in the 4th quarter of the championship game when the ball's in play. Man on man! Zone! Defense! Offense!

But no pressure.

It's only the future success and happiness of your kids on the line. ;)

"The future depends on what we do in the present."
---Mahatma Gandhi

Sometimes I don't think we're aware---honest?---about how difficult and trying parenting is. Oh we say the words but I don't think we necessarily allow ourselves to feel the relief and validation the words can bring.

This is a tough job, and the pressure is enormous.

When I share a feeling with another person and that person says, "Oh Julie, how great!" or "Oh Julie, how rough!" it is such a huge relief, that little, simple validation.

But I don't do that for myself.

I've got such a stiff upper lip mentality.

Tough? Soldier up girlfriend!

Trying? Straighten your backbone chickie!

Stressed? Pull it together.

The parenting gig is something I willingly---and with huge effort, which adds its own layer of extra pressure---took on. I wanted to be a parent. I chose to be a parent. And it hasn't happened in a vacuum, this parenting. It's happened amid pretty much all ten of the top ten stressors.

We have soldiered on, but eventually you run out of resources. The soles of our boots are worn, our bellies (metaphorically speaking) are gaunt, and our uniforms are tattered.

We notice this because our kids are finally big enough that we are starting to get some breaks, and that enables us to see how flat out stressed we've been for the last six years.

I mean, we've known it's stressful, and we've noted it out loud, but this is the first time I've given myself permission to accept it, and relax. It's the first time I think, yeah, we need to make a few changes and we can.

Perhaps while you are going through a trying time you need to soldier up---it's how you get through. Still, it seems like somewhere in there you need to acknowledge just how much is being asked of you and where that leaves you, emotionally, physically and mentally.

If you're like me, when you start that line of thinking, it opens the door for comparisons:

"Other people manage all this just fine, without losing it."

"Other people have it worse."

"I need to pull it together, these are all blessings."

Perhaps this sort of thing comes easily to some people. But for people like me, it doesn't help.

I need a little time in the middle, you see.

And I finally got the exact space and time I needed, for that middle. On New Year's Day.

"With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts."
---Eleanor Roosevelt

In a way, midnight on New Year's Eve can be a letdown. Another ball dropped, another kiss with a loved one, another toast of champagne, just one more minute passed on the clock. What's the big deal?

The big deal is which minute just passed: one year ended and another began.

So here's to a great middle---the year 2008.

In other news...

The Hump Day Hmm is returning next week, as promised. Here are the topics (and remember you can always suggest one or more):

January 9 --- Tell us about a person who inspires you or who is important to you, and why. Make us feel the love. It can be someone you know personally or someone who has done something you respect.

January 16 --- Tell us about what the arts (music, dance, art, etc.) mean to you and what you think the effect of de-emphasizing it in schools means for the kids, the community, the culture and the future. (I may be opening this up as an essay contest for 7th graders. I promised to run an essay contest for 7th graders and this might be a good topic. I have to clear it with the teacher. If it clears, I'll be posting the essay winners during that week.)

January 23 --- Tell us about the most important cultural issue from your perspective. Is it something that ought to be emphasized more in politics? Is it a political issue? Why or why not? Does it affect how you vote?

January 29 --- Tell us about a key point or vivid memory from childhood. Describe the event, and tell us why you still carry it, and how it works in your life.

It's a popularity contest and my friends are my competition...

The always awesome Slouching Mom nominated me for a couple of blogger awards. These are the sort that you register and vote for. I'm alongside some of my favorite bloggers and blogging buddies. This creates for me a rock and a hard place. It's an honor to be nominated and to sit alongside fabulous bloggers. Slouching Mom is my BFF just because she nominated me. That's so incredibly cool and nice and warm fuzzy invoking. It feels good. So do the few votes I've managed to get.

But. Popularity contests make me anxious, especially when I compete against friends.

However. I am on the boards. And I do have enough pride to hope I make a decent showing. I do care, now that I am there and involved. I do care, also, about the bloggers I know and like who are up there, as well, and want them to have a good showing, too. You can vote for multiple people in the same category. So you don't have to choose among us. You can vote for me, Slouching Mom, Lawyer Mama, and Wheels on the Bus Emily.

And vote for them, too. If I can't pull it off, I sincerely hope one of *us* from our lovely corner, one of our blogging buddies wins.

So, if you like, please, go register and vote for me. I've put the links on the sidebar and will add them here.

My site was nominated for The Blogitzer!


My site was nominated for Best Parenting Blog!

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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niobe said...

I'm voting for everyone. As many times as possible.

But I'm so with you on some kids being just naturally easier than others. And some parent-kid combinations seems easier than others as well. I generally keep my mouth shut about parenting. But if I didn't, well, I'd never stop dispensing unsolicited opinions and advice.

melissa said...

I did the same thing once my little one got to be about 6. It was like emerging from some sort of haze and finally realizing that I could do other things again. But only so far, since I too have "those" kids and it is very tiring.

I do a lot of the "other people have it worse" thing, too. Like I'm not allowed to have a bad day or anything. Need to get over that...

Great post, as usual. :)

dharmamama said...

I will remember forever a LLL meeting I went to, where a mom there had broken her toe because she went out and kicked her brick house because she was angry with her kids. I was a new mom, and having immediately settled into the attachment-parenting community (so glad I found my people!), I honestly didn't know it was OK to have those feelings. Such a relief to know I wasn't alone. Since then, I've learned to keep it real (for the most part). Keeping it real for myself means it gives permission to the next mom, who thought she had to be perfect, to keep it real. So thank YOU for keeping it real. Because I read your blog regularly, I know how attached you are to your girls, and how thoughtfully you parent them. Having said that, I honestly didn't see anything you had to give a caveat for. I thought you were going off on a rant. But what you said was, "Parenting is hard." Damn right it is. As is parenting an intense child (or two). When my youngest was three, my then-husband and I timed how long he went without saying something. The longest was 6 seconds. Six. Seconds. And I'm an intro-introvert, must have time alone and silence to function. I get ya, sister!

Of course, now I'm wanting to make all these book recommendations, but I won't. You had a moment, or two, and got to breathe, and BE. Hope that feeling stays with you.

Gwen said...

I'm glad you got the break. And that you were able to appreciate it. There is probably some kind of benefit in reminding oneself that others have it worse, as a way of keeping perspective, but that doesn't need to limit the scope of your feelings about your own stressors. Our problems grow to fit the spaces we have for them. If we were all walking across southern Sudan, away from a marauding army, we wouldn't have time to worry about whether we are screwing up our kids (short answer: we are; let's just hope we can deal with their later accusations with grace and humility). But we're not. This is the life we have, and therefore the one we have to deal with.

You know what I've recently found myself dreading? The time when my children no longer go to bed at 8 and we lose our quiet "us" time at night. That's a whole new set of pressures there (seems like I syntaxed that poorly, but whatevs).

slouching mom said...

you described the tension on "date night," when there's a sitter who's on the clock and limited time to be out, so well...

my husband and i barely say a word to each other while we're eating out at a restaurant. we're so unused to having time to talk. we're generally overtired and a bit stunned. at least the silence is companionable, lol!

Karen said...

oh, that sounds like time very well spent - better than on a list of resolutions - you guys got to communicate - no caveat needed for my sake - I also have some "high" need/energy/ in my house - and yes, others may have it worse, but I still have to get through each moment as best I may - a little break goes a very long way at my house!

Kyla said...

Here's what KayTar has taught me, it doesn't matter if someone has it worse...hard is hard. Your hard is HARD. My hard is HARD. But there is no comparison, because we each have our own load that can be difficult in unique ways. Never compare your challenges to someone else, because in reality, there can't be a comparison because it isn't what YOU are facing.

Family Adventure said...

Hey Julie, I was going to say something pretty much along the same lines as Kyla (although probably not as well).

Thanks for being you, real and honest.

And I've already voted!!


thailandchani said...

I like a lot of what dharmamama had to say. Much of it. Unfortunately, it's hard for me to address this with any authenticity since I've never lived it. On the other hand, balance is balance and in the end, that's what it's all about. :)

Bon said...

loved this, Julie...particularly its meta nature with all the pithy quotes, emphasizing and framing what you're wanting to say.

overall, what i love about blogging is that it's given me room for the rants, for the genuinely complex expression of how parenting is for me. and i always add the compelled to. but at the heart of it, however good, it is also hard.

happy 2008. nice start.

Mayberry said...

First, you look fabulous as an 80s babe.

Second, congrats on the noms.

Third, I nodded all the way through this post. My husband and I had one of the most far-reaching, important conversations we've had in ages on Christmas night, at his mother's house, conducted entirely in whispers because our son was sleeping 1 foot away.

I agree with Bon. Great start!

Andrea said...

Frances is an easy-going kid. She's polite and well-behaved and very happy. But she's busy. Very busy. She never just sits.

She has a tremendous amount of energy and it's a good thing she's as happy and well-behaved as she is, because already I am pretty well fried after an hour or two of trying to direct all that energy, and as it is it's all positive. Even when she is colouring or playing with her little pets or doing crafts or playing a computer game online, she is never sitting. Never. She is wriggling, squirming, jumping up and down, kicking her feet, turning in circles, and generally expending vast quantities of energy which apparently endlessly regenerate. I've seen ohter little girls her age who play with toys while sitting down. Not Frances!

Also, because she is an extravert, and I am not, and she demands and needs a lot of human interaction, and I am the only person who is there to provide it much of the time, I find it incredibly draining. Just being as present and interactive as she needs is hard. And this is for a little girl who is affectionate, loving, polite, and does as she is asked 99% of the time.

So, yeah. I get it.

wheelsonthebus said...

But, Julie, you don't need a caveat. Of course we know you love your kids. We also know you are an intelligent adult and that probably means sometimes you want to think. We get it. Of course we do.


Jeff said...

I like what you're saying about how the challenges of communicating with your husband once you have kids. I find one of the biggest challenges after years of having kids is finding the right time and setting for intimacy. The change from the earlier years of the "impromptu" moment to the more calculated "is this a good time?" moment is an adjustment that pretty much sneaks up on you - but one that shouldn't be ignored to the point of "comfortable complacency." It's kind of the elephant in the marriage that needs to not be ignored.

Suz said...

I love how you describe yourself. I've known for a long time that I process by thinking out loud. It's been a challenge for G. and I as a couple because he tends to do all his thinking quietly. It's taken a while for him to understand that I'm processing when I talk, I'm not proclaiming my decisions.

I also like that you've discussed relationship issues in this post. These don't seem to get much play, sometimes, but I think that they're really important, especially if you have kids that do tend to take up energy (both individual and couple-energy).

Aliki2006 said...

Scott and I long ago gave up trying to say anything meaningful to each other before the kids head to bed. L. is a constant interrupter. Constant.

Mrs. Chicky said...

Where do you find the time to write these epic posts? All I can say is - totally gnarly, Dude. An 80s party? Rad.

Sober Briquette said...

Julie, you've covered it all and I completely agree. I especially beat myself up with the "everyone else is handling it" kind of thinking, even though I hear from/read lots of other mothers who say basically the same thing. I just have a hard time getting that through my head. I guess that's because there's never a single goddamned moment of silence, and if there were, I'd probably fall asleep.

You nailed it!!!

Kathryn said...

Again, you've said it like a pro. Parenting is TOUGH. Of course it is a blessing, but it is tough! Hard work! My hubby and I haven't had a normal conversation in almost 5 years. We've had 3 boys in under 4 years. It's nuts. We are in constant baby mode and the interruptions are insane. We've just had another rough night tonight, and instead of the hubby and I pairing up when the kids go to bed, we retreat to our seperate corners for some alone time. We need our alone time, and yet it is scary to feel a bit of a disconnect. I don't want to look at him 5 years from now in the midst of the craziness and say, "now, who are you?".
It is a constant struggle to find balance. We can only try to do our best. That's all we have. Everything in life worth having is hard work. It's just, sigh, tiring.
Thanks for another great post.

FENICLE said...

I loved this! All the quotes too! You put a lot of time into this post & it shows. What a way for me to analyze the new year...

You've inspired a post.

Scribbit said...

Well congratulations! Cool for you!

Mary Alice said...

Humm...I've been feeling the parenting stress lately and also the feeling that there is no good time to talk with my partner. Sometimes I feel like we just pass in the hall and I rattle off a briefing of need to know info. I will say that over the past 18 of parenting I have noticed that the stress of parenting - of family life really - has its ebbs and flows. Sometime you will pop other side and have a reprieve!

Cpngrats, by the way.

anne said...

What a great post.

Parenting IS hard. And I totally agree with kyla in that each person's "hard" is unique. I go through this all the time at work where one co-worker will lament about how haaaaarrrd she has it and then, as soon as she leaves the room, another one will say "She thinks SHE has it hard? She should come home with ME for a day..." And so on.

Also, you shouldn't feel guilty one bit about recognizing the fact that it's not all roses raising children. Because it's not. Sometimes the little darlings just suck the life out of us. It's just the way it is and it doesn't mean anyone is a bad person for admitting it.

jeanie said...

Gwen said "You know what I've recently found myself dreading? The time when my children no longer go to bed at 8 and we lose our quiet "us" time at night."

I so hear that one, sister!!!

Everyone has had it tougher - everyone else's children are better - every mother's basic nightmare lives inside her head.

As I said in another comment to another blogger yesterday, motherhood is a target painted on us so "they" can take aim.

I don't think you needed to caveat either - perfectly logical and so glad you got to have that chat!