Remember The Nanny?

You might want to start here. In 2012. Basically, nothing is different now. 

But you’re still reading, I guess, and so I should probably clarify again that there are no actual nannies. None. No nannies. Pity. Why aren’t there nannies?

Well, I am the nanny*. This week, anyway. Debra is away living her musician dreams and RR and I are spending the week together and trying not to catch the house on fire. I was actually prepared to not be the nanny this time. Who cares if she plays games on the iPad on a school night? So we eat McDonald’s for dinner, whatever. Bedtime? What’s that? She’s not going to suffer long-term because I’m only up to so-so parenting for five days. 

Apparently though, I’m not actually capable of dialing it back. During yesterday’s snow day we read books, practiced math, and made a gingerbread house from scratch. She had chicken, homemade buttermilk biscuits, and spinach for supper (which was delivered on time and arranged in a pleasingly fun face), wrote a sweet note to mail to her grandmother, and went to bed early after a story and lullabies. I did have one point of failure. Rather than going out to build a snowman with her, I just helped her make the face and then, when she came in cold and rosy-cheeked, gave her hot cocoa that I mixed up from a delicious recipe.

This morning I walked her to school, after using Debra’s guidelines to pack her the world’s most perfect lunch. I have no idea what this evening will hold but I’m willing to bet the nanny will have everything under control. Kidding, I’m not so crazy that I refer to myself in the third person. Yet.

I’m pretty sure we can blame this one on my mom so there’s something. When she mothered, she was over-the top wonderful. It always came with an equally over-the-top crash at the end and, as I got older and less cute, stopped happening at all. I was relieved, actually. The hills and valleys were exhausting. I don’t think she ever pretended to be the nanny so I’m not sure I’m on the side of right here. But RR is happy and I’m amazing, even if I am maybe, a little, pretending to be something I’m not. 

*For those that don’t click links: Since RR has been alive, during lengthy times of being the sole caregiver, I’ve pretended I was the nanny. Nannies get paid to be awesome and patient and perfect and I’m a much better mother when I pretend I get to go home at the end of the night. I swear I’m not as crazy as this makes me sound. Go read the post. 

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Bad Habits, I Guess?

I’ve been informed that I’m doing it all wrong. I know, right? That is a heavy burden to carry. Yes, friends. I am proceeding through life as only the oblivious can do. Wrongly wronging with abandon. 

A more than occasional theme of late is that I’m accommodating. That I am particularly aware of how my actions/inaction will impact the people around me. That I am overly concerned with smoothing the way. This theme is accompanied by a stream of well-meaning scolding. I mean, honestly, I’d have ignored it if it hadn’t become such a thing. Apparently, my inclination to do this or that in order to minimize potential confusion or frustration is a hazard, not a perk.

Well, fuck. 

I suppose being accommodating can be seen as being too concerned with others’ feelings. I see it as pretty self-serving. I’m made more comfortable by having as few bumps in the road as possible. If I can proactively do or say something that will make our interaction better, I absolutely will. It’s not a tendency to avoid conflict either, because in the fight or flight equation, I’m full on fight. I also don’t go very far out of my way to smooth yours. Not everything can be perfect, of course, but it doesn’t mean I’m not trying.

These sound like excuses though. And as much as I don’t think it’s a big deal, everyone else seems to, which is in direct opposition to being accommodating. Here’s an example that I suspect will make you nod and agree with my wife:

I’m sitting in a coffee shop across from a man who has his backpack on the chair next to him. It’s a busy day and a small shop. I have also noticed that our table is the wheelchair accessible table which has filled me with low level angst the whole time I’ve been here. Several people have eyed this chair as they walked past, a mother and child, a lady with a mean cell phone voice, and a befuddled man with a cup of coffee who has circled the table three times. He looks like he’d like to ask for the seat but hasn’t for whatever reason. He also doesn’t look like he’s used to contending with fancy people, like backpack man, for space. While I don’t want to ask the man to move his bag myself, it tripled the anxiety I was feeling about working at the shop at all and being at the accessible table in the first place.

Not my backpack. I’m not taking up too much space. I’ve only been here 20 minutes. This is a common work location. Just because I have the skills to deal with a fancy backpack man doesn’t mean befuddled guy didn’t. This is not my concern. Still though. 

Another example. I’m having, again, dreadful problems at work. I go out of my way to get as much management training as possible, I practice what I learn, and I get rave reviews about my communication and support for my team. However, it turns out that I’ve been trying too hard to cushion the more difficult issues and, as a result, there hasn’t been as much suffering as there could be. Or something like that. Rather, I’m the one doing all the suffering. Even I’m aware that less hand-holding is required. This smoothing the way habit has definitely backfired. 

Obviously, that’s vague and doesn’t make for great reading. Suffice to say, now it’s not just my wife and sister telling me I’m too accommodating, it’s work, too. Which apparently pushes me over the edge. Fun. I can’t even effectively blame my mom for this since it has definitely gotten worse in the last several years. There’s no conclusion to this and I wish I’d remembered to warn you about that so you wouldn’t waste your time but there it is. 

And there it is. Literally. Right above us. I clearly have work to do. 

6,700,000,000

That’s the results you get if you google “how much can one person take”. It’s also at the top of the autofill list if you get all the way to …one person. Of course, in my search results, it looks like this. Please don’t ask me to explain lot lizards.

The first result there is for a stress quiz from Oprah. I clicked it for you, dear reader. It was not a quiz (bummer) but was instead a link to a stress meter. It was not a fun drag-the-arrow sort of meter (bummer) but rather a PDF to fill in All The Feelings (super bummer).

Basically, I can’t take the amount of stress that worksheet is giving me. You can’t even drag and drop those colorful doodads on the right which I totally would have done. For you.

And while couples’ counseling is hard, and so are pets, and eight-year-olds, and broken down cars, and friends that move away, personnel problems are really hard. Especially on top of the rest. I’m in it, friends. And have been, since last year at this time. Knee deep in one problem after another and I am so exhausted. I realized today that all I want is for someone to help. Not to explain the rules or commiserate or sympathize. I just need help. 

I’m not without it, never fear, and it can’t go on forever (although, after a year, I think it’s fair to be worried) but I feel like pieces of me are flaking off and they are the only good pieces. I’m worn to wire in places, nothing but policies and best practices. And a wireframe doesn’t make friends easily, or cuddle nicely, or bend back into shape. At least wire doesn’t break. There’s always a bright side, right?

And Us and Them and We

Apparently, practically everyone has been in couples’ counseling. Not you, of course. Well, at least not all of you. Probably. In my old age (I just had a birthday and that was nice), I’m realizing that I give far fewer fucks than I used to about what people think. I’m also realizing that the last few years of personal and professional challenges have drained me deeply; I now have a small margin of self-restraint before I will tell people my business. It’s like my tire treads are worn out and I just sort of slide into the corners with a teenager’s confidence that it’ll all be okay.

I do have a fair amount of restraint at work, thank goodness. There it’s all black ice all the time and I haven’t gotten to the point where I don’t care if I spin out. Everywhere else I seem to be more than willing to say, “we’re in couples’ counseling, you know” I don’t ever say why. I don’t think it would make me feel better if I did. Once, Debra and I found out some distant acquaintances were in counseling and we spent some time speculating whether it was an affair, or drugs, or abuse. We shouldn’t have, of course, but we were young and didn’t understand that they were working hard to fix something rather than settling into contempt or giving up. Fifteen years of wrinkles, that much experience, and no shortage of humbling communication snafus later, and it seems obvious. 

I was talking with my stylist (this makes me sound more fancy than I am) and she said that it’s remarkable, really, that couples make it as long as they do. You can’t expect people to stay the same. They change and grow and they don’t always grow in alignment with one another. They don’t always grow at the same pace. Someone one veers off while the other races ahead. Someone sinks in while the other reinvents. Not every couple should stand fast. Sometimes they need to help each other along, even if along means out

So even though I’ve always thought that couples’ counseling was reserved for couples careening into a split, now I’m finding that many people I tell have ALSO been in couples’ counseling and that every single one of them is a happy person, fundamentally satisfied with life. I thought counseling was reserved for couples with deal breakers. I thought it was something to keep quiet. But I’m not in a deal breaker situation, I’m not in a situation at all, and it’s a relief to hear that others have been here and that it doesn’t have to be forever. It feels hopeful. 

Marriage is Hard

Believe me, when my wife read that title she was a bit put out. Well, I assume. It’s not as though this is new information though.

You see, the truth is hard. She knows it. I know it. You know it, dear reader. My wife and have a strong relationship. I often feel lucky knowing how in love she is with me and I with her. Not that love is the sole indicator of strength. It’s commonalities, compassion, shared experiences. We’ve known each other since 1998. Did you see that? Twenty years. We’ve been married less than that, of course. It took us awhile to untangle the small knots and webs tying us to everything but each other. I was elated when we moved in together and over the moon when we got married. We have so much fun together and always have. We adventure, she and I, and it’s delightful.

Now I’m not blaming our daughter. Or where we live. Or what we do. But somewhere, somehow, in the last several years the solid foundation we put up at the beginning began to get in our way. It became hard to do the things we used to love to do and then we started to bicker. I assume every couple argues now and again. We have a particularly famous disagreement titled Why Did You Drive This Direction? and are long time participants in the How Do You Not Remember That? siege. I’m a fan of the Exasperated Sigh and she is well acquainted with Hot Face resulting from sudden (and fleeting) anger.

We’re not supposed to use that word, right? Angry? It’s not a word that you want to hitch to a happy marriage. I think that’s unreasonable, by the way. Everyone gets angry. It’s how you handle it that makes, or breaks, the marriage. It isn’t breaking ours. The resentment, the lack of communication, the disconnects – that’s what’s corroding all those careful, pretty, connections between us.

Neither one of us are interested in letting go, giving up, or walking out. Instead we headed to a counselor’s couch to talk about really super awkward things, like sex. You guys, this shit is not easy. I don’t have a roadmap. I never watched my own parents go through this. The only outcome I’m interested in is the one that keeps our bond as strong as it ever was. Is there any point then in counseling, if neither of us are giving up no matter what?

Something seems to be working. It’s hard, feeling like there’s no one to talk to. I thought I’d tell you though, I think it’s working. I think it’ll be just fine.

 

Make a Decision

You know, I’m a competent professional. Part of my work is to make decisions, forecast the future, design plans that will move us forward into new places, and sprinkle the whole thing with innovative ideas. I’m good at it and I like doing it. I’m not a waffler, although at home I’m deliberate; at work I make decisions relatively quickly, accepting that if there are mistakes we can right them the second or third time. That would be a problem in fields where decisions are exceptionally costly or life-saving, but I work at a library, folks, none of my decisions are going to be disasters.

My wife likes to consider all of the possible options before settling on a decision. We’re incompatible this way (at home, I’m not always interested in options) but we are very compatible in that the time I prefer to make a decision (again, at home) is pretty close to the time she needs to consider all of the options. I like to think of it this way – she will lay out a range of options and then I can make a quick decision after having taken awhile to consider them all and we’ll end up landing in about the same place. You might recall that we had paint samples on our bedroom wall for a year.

My mother wants me to make instant decisions about things that are important to her. And then she wants me to do those things right then and there. Under duress, I can usually accommodate one preference, but not the other. For example, she wanted to know if I would take a lovely fountain and a fleet of end tables so that she didn’t need to move them. I said I would on the spot but they will certainly hang out in my basement until I’ve had time to consider where I’ll put them. This will take awhile, my brain space is occupied by other things, and it bothers me not at all that we don’t know where we’ll put them yet (or ever).

It agitates her that I sit on things past the .15 seconds she has provided for a decision. What dates am I thinking of traveling? Where am I planning to go? What do I think I’ll do when I get there? If there’s not a plane ticket, hotels, or a friend’s couch involved, those decisions may well come once I arrive. When we went to Disneyworld, I bent my entire will toward planning out the trip (although leaving plenty of flexibility) but this is not my regular approach. I head somewhere down the middle but closer to the last minute.

For example, earlier this month Debra and I decided that we might go away for the weekend. Two weeks prior, we decided on a location. A week prior, we made a hotel reservation. Three or four days prior, we decided what we’d do when we got there and we decided when to leave about 15 minutes before we got in the car. Of course, this is for a relatively local vacation. I don’t consider most of that last minute but I watched my mother practically tremble with agitation and judgement as we waltzed through this process.

Today I’m spending the afternoon with her wrapping up the tail end of her packing. I am well aware that she will expect me to make more split decisions about what I want to take and leave. I’d prefer to decide later once I’ve brought it home. I’m not asking her to delay any moving things and my decision will have no impact at all on her. I just want the chance to consider the greater picture and, if she behaves as she usually does, this is going to drive her insane. I’m not feeling particularly accommodating today. I’m trying not to think of this as a looming disaster.

I accept that there’s a happy medium here and that the stress she’s under doesn’t give her the flexibility to move outside of her comfort zone. The impending conflict is completely within my control. Clearly, the teenager in me is trying to act out – I could make decisions quickly, I just don’t want to. If I can just get that cantankerous 15-yr-old to cool her jets, I might be able to make it through this.

 

A Smaller Loss

I don’t know if there’s a post marking the arrival of my parents and the subsequent overhaul of life. I looked but didn’t try too hard which I think is a good summary of how I feel about the last four years. When we suggested they consider this state over their current one and over the two inhabited by my sisters, we did so partly for their sake (better medical care! lower property taxes! four seasons!) and partly for RR’s, who otherwise would have, at best, annual contact with her only set of grandparents. It was not for my sake. I think that much is clear.

We had dinner with them, and then my mom alone, every Sunday. Our lives changed in dozens of small ways and some very significant ones. We have new electricity in the basement and new plumbing in one bathroom but the lights are crooked and the silicone lining the sink is shifty at best. Weekend relaxation ended at 3pm but we had multiple Sundays on a porch, in the fall air, with the scent of apple pie and pot roast wafting through the house. I got to spend the last two years of my father’s life with him and that’s unquantifiable. There are no more sentences for that because I can’t do it justice.

We were right that the medical care would be important. The property taxes didn’t turn out to be lower. And, in the end, winter is why my mother is moving away. That’s the kind reason, the one she drags out for friends. It’s so cold, she says, and my other daughter is in Arizona. That’s true. It’s the family she’s spent the least amount of time with and the daughter she probably likes the best. Although, to be fair to my other sister, it’s just me she doesn’t click with. But mostly, here is where my dad died. I don’t think she can get away fast enough.

As we come up on the moving date, I’m parts sad for RR and part happy for Debra and I. This is going to reduce stressful conversations and increase weekend opportunities. I’ll be able to take a deep breath. We won’t have to move a tv, or bring over supper, or change plans for anyone but us. She’ll be happier on the other side of the country. To be honest, I also could use a break from the constant reminder that my dad is gone. In the end, RR seems to be the only casualty. It’s (hopefully) the final loss in two years of losses. And just think, now we have an excuse to vacation in Arizona again!