Compulsive reflection

I can’t stop looking back. I have so much regret for this past year, and while there have been positives I can unequivocally state that this year has been the worst year of my life so far (and hopefully ever).

It’s not like there’s even anything juicy to reveal! This is the most garden variety unhappiness.

I am happy, and I’m a typically happy person (with depression and anxiety). But the past year has had more anger, sadness, panic, and hopelessness than not.

I feel that life this past year has been an unceasing exercise in control, and if I lose control in one place, it rapidly compounds to an unmanageable space. Tolerances are nil. Here’s a dumb, relatable example: I have to either constantly do the dishes (like, many times a day) and be very aware of the dishes situation and on top of the dishes situation, or the entire sink is chock full of dirty dishes and a child will be drinking out of a bowl and another will be using a straw to cut up a banana. That quickly escalates to the entire island countertop being piled sky high and the garbage overflowing. Things all over the floor. Crumbs everywhere. Have you ever finally dropped into bed and some child has left crumbs for you? That, but everywhere. And my “job” isn’t to do the dishes. It’s to do my actual, paying job, and also be a parent, and take care of household chores/general household management, and be a partner to my husband. When one piece falls out of place, all of a sudden I’m a shrill harridan because mess and disorder triggers my anxiety, and I’m not a good parent, and I’m not a good partner. The dishes aren’t done and messes are piling up, and the kids start squabbling, and I’m screaming, and then I have to sit down and work.

I’m lucky, because my schedule has settled down a lot in the last month. I haven’t yearned for “the old days” but I have had an absolutely desperate need for stability. I have a ton of stability right now, and it’s only going to get better. Sure, in the back of my mind, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop — the call from school or daycare that someone needs to be picked up, or that everything is shut down for COVID-19. But for the most part, life is returning to predictable. I’m able to enjoy time with my family again. I can think about how the past year has impacted my kids without feeling a black tide of panic welling up. I feel it’s something I can logically and compassionately consider and work on with them and with Bob. I wasn’t sure we’d get to this point.

Have I mentioned the laundry? I’ve given up, and it’s a constant itch between my shoulder blades, knowing it’s there. Waiting.

This past year brought with it a milestone I didn’t anticipate at work. I considered quitting, for the first time ever. Often. I resented feeling that way, because I love working, and I love the work I’ve been entrusted to do. I felt it was stupid to consider removing the thing that I felt the best about, but I also couldn’t quit life, which was a whole layer of confusion and upset on top of everything. And work itself was stressful for me, personally. I changed roles and divisions, learned a whole new job, helped launch a new division, and shepherded my team through changing a fundamental aspect to how we hire Happiness Engineers. I cried a lot. I never cry about work. I’ve never felt more unfit and generally disappointed in myself. But I am also very excited about the work my team is doing, and I’m proud to be part of it. And I feel that I’ve done a very good job! I think feeling like a duck out of water and being uncomfortable and growing through and out of that feeling is essential to overall growth. The toll, however, has been significant this year.

Maybe this is what slowly pulling back up from burn out feels like. Things hurt, it’s all very tender, the memories are painful almost beyond bearing, but… there’s something new there. Where before there was nothing, or rending, or a sort of emotional dismemberment, now there’s something fresh, delicate, new. I don’t know what. Spring, I suppose. Certainly warmth and longer days are helping. I know there’s a lot ahead of us, individually, but also as a country of people. I am starting to feel like I have my own oxygen mask on and can have capacity to help others with their oxygen masks — I haven’t felt like my own (metaphorical) mask has been in place for a long, long time. I’ve felt deprived of something essential, struggling without much hope of improvement. But I’ve had Bob who has been helping me with that metaphorical mask, and that has made every bit of difference. There are fewer days when I have to chant under my breath “no one is going to die” until I calm down. Far fewer.

Every day, a little less bad, a little more good.

Grant’s point of view

Grant asked if he could take some photos on my phone yesterday, so he cruised around for quite awhile, taking photos (and showing me after each one he took). I hear “mom” a thousand times a day, if you couldn’t tell. It’s really interesting to see what he’s interested in, although not very surprising.

Snow

I just recently started following a twitter account that posts photos of Canadian paintings. It’s called CanadianPaintings. The reason I started following it is because it’s posting some amazing paintings of snow in particular. We can all stand to better appreciate Canadian art in general, but right now I’m in it for the snow paintings.

Here are some of the ones that I find particularly intriguing, in no particular order (reverse chronological):

I find the different depictions of the snow very interesting. It helps highlight how variable different types of snow are, from the very bitter, bitingly cold drifting sand-like snow to the slightly melty packable mound snow, to the light dustings and the spring thaws. Seeing how the different artists chose to color the shadows is instructive and illuminating. The white of the snow is different in every single one as well. The light at different times of day makes a difference to what kinds of light and shadow you’d see (not just the direction of the light source, but the yellow-ness of the light). Monet famously went to paint his haystacks with many canvases, and sat there all day to capture them faithfully at different times, moving from canvas to canvas so that the light was always properly captured. The light at 5 am is not the light at noon is not the light at 5pm, and the shadows are all quite different as well in depth and color. The reflection from the sky, whether the sky bleeds into the horizon or not, overcast or not, it all matters to the colors and shadows, the light and the dark. And that’s just the snow.

What is… summer?

This morning over breakfast, my 9-year-old daughter asked me, “mom, what is … summer? Like, will we have … school? Still?” She looked genuinely puzzled. She’s been on a system of school/summer for four years now (she didn’t get summer breaks in daycare), except the past year has been such a weird, oily mix of days off, days on, remote school, school-school, that she’s lost her orientation. Haven’t we all.

The kids started back at school last week (they only went Tuesday because of how the cohorts work, and MLK day), for the first time since before Thanksgiving. While preparing Grant for the idea of being in school, I asked if he was excited to play with his friends. He looked at me for a second then said, “we don’t play together mom.” The lost pre-k year.

This morning when Grant woke up, he cuddled up to me and said “mom, I was doing a dream where Yoshi took me and threw me at the beach and it was so much fun.” I love that he calls dreaming “doing a dream,” first of all, and second, he is so solidly who he is. He loves playing Yoshi on the Switch, and he loves talking about going to the beach, and when he’s at the beach, he’s living his best life.

I think we have the makings of a pretty good plan for the next couple weeks (kids in school two days, then the nanny 3 days a week) so I can work a mostly normal schedule, and after that, in March, we’re probably going to send Grant to daycare for those 3 days. The twins are old enough to stay home with me while I work, and get their own school work done, but Grant is really struggling without socialization. He’s going feral, and I’m really worried about the long-term implications for him. Plus, I’m going bonkers myself. I don’t want us to go backwards to what we all used to think of as “normal,” but I do want some sense of predictability in our lives again. Right now, I am constantly waiting for the phone to ring because school is shutting down, or my kids randomly have a fever, or the nanny is sick (that happened last week and threw the entire week into disarray), or something happened to mom, or something else in my small orbit happens. Never mind the national and global problems that influence our world but it feels I can barely influence in return.

I wonder if, when summer does arrive — traditionally a time of relaxation and slowing down, filled with friends and family — we will recognize it, if we’ll remember what it is.