Snapshot of Reality

There was this moment last week when I was unfairly lashing out at Dave for the general feeling of dissatisfaction that intoxicates my days these days.  I spent minutes explaining to him that I’d been on the brink of something, really getting my fingers wrapped around a career finally, not just a job, when I agreed, yes agreed!, to uproot our family and move 350 miles away.  I lamented that my 12 hour days are spent in an intellectual vacuum, wiping noses, stepping on LEGOs, making snacks, meals, snacks, snacks, water with ice, questions why why why?  “I’m so frustrated,” I said.  “This isn’t what I want to do.”

“You’re sick of being a mother,” he said.
The words were a revelation.  No judgment.  No guilt trip.  No “I feel sorry for our kids,” just a simple, “OK” and some solutions, some ways to eke out some satisfaction from my days.  He offered words of encouragement.  Pure love, pure pride in his wife when he pointed out everything that I am, that I forgot I was.
“Label yourself,” he said.
“Wife and mother,” I replied.
“You get up and 5:30 and write for an hour and a half every morning.  You run three times a week.  I'd add writer and athlete.”
I sighed.  I’d chosen to see less in myself.  He reminded me of words of love my friends poured over me at our going-away party.  “You make it better where ever you go,” they’d said.
I started to cry, humbled again by their distant unconditional love.  At once, I felt better.  I keep reminding others that tough times pass, that seasons change, that all the clichés about struggles and challenges are clichés for a reason.  Quick to remind others, slow to remember.  Somehow I’m not allowed to struggle like everyone else?  Absurd!
Really, my life is, in most ways, better than before.  I mentioned that to Dave and he asked, “Most ways?”
“I don’t have my friends here.  They were my support.”  I also don't have a life outside of my family.
So, now comes the next phase of restarting life.  I’ve got car insurance and cable.  I found my local Trader Joe’s and a few good running routes.  The logistics are covered.  The every day is done.  Now, I’ve got to tackle the long term.
My good friend suggested I go on meetup.com to search for groups.  “Ninety percent of the people you’ll meet?  Meh.  But you’ll find some gems.”  I like the idea, but I need more than friends, I think.
Is it awful that, as a stay at home mom, I don’t want to join a dedicated mom’s group?  I cringe at the thought of hanging out with a bunch of moms, talking about motherhood.  The last think that I want is to find common ground around the same subject that is making me crazy!  Realizing that I’m sick of being a stay at home mom explained everything.  I need more than just my kids.  I need more than just my family.  I need my own life again.  I need a life separate from carpools, helping with homework, and making meals.
I may get crucified for saying I’m sick of full-time motherhood.  Judge me, accuse me of being an unfit mother, or tell me I’m simply wrong for feeling this way.  Want to know my reply to anyone who may chide me for my feelings?   Staying at home with kids is the hardest job on the planet.  Waking up every day to demands, questions, more questions, incessant questions, rules, breaking of rules, enforcement of rules, manners, more manners, please sit at the table, nagging, pestering, begging me to play but not that I want to play this, interrupting, not liking breakfast, no I don’t want a peanut butter sandwich for lunch I want grilled cheese no not milk I want water I don’t want an apple I want a peach.  Don’t cut it up!  I’m not cut out for it these days.  I possess neither the patience nor the will.  I’ve been built up too strongly by success in my career to step out of that life without some level of dissatisfaction.  Nobody needs to remind me that raising children is the most important job I’ll ever do.  Please refrain from consoling me with reminders of the positive change I’m affecting through the unconditional love I feel for my kids.  I’ll remind you that we’re not all built the same.  This doesn’t fill me completely.  I don’t feel nearly as alive as I did when I worked a mere 10 hours a week.  That’s it.  Ten hours!  I won't apologize, either.
By itself, motherhood confines me.  I feel limited and unfulfilled.  Doing double, working as a trainer in a kick-ass gym and mothering?  Now that’s what I call satisfied!  Sure my schedule was nuts.  Yes, I felt pressed and stressed sometimes.  But my body, mind, soul, and spirit thrived!  I challenged myself and brought that growth home.  I feel that I was a better mother then than I am now.  I need to get back to that place.  Again, I find myself in the position of trying squeeze in everything I need to do alone into about 6 hours a week.  I feel pressed and stretched and confined and going crazy.  It’s about to change, though.  I feel it.
That’s it.  I’ll break out of this new shell soon enough.  The process just sucks.


The Life of a Flower

You can call me a sap.  I find meaning in everything.  The world is full of symbols and I am a vessel of interpretation.  Call me corny or emotional or whatever.  I cry at the end of children’s books.  I own it.  I am it.  I can’t deny it.

I’ve cried a lot in the past few months.  Moving six hours away from the town I’ve called home for a decade tore me up.  Saying goodbye to the people in that town, well, I’ve lost it a few times.  It’s been hard.

Before we uttered a whisper of moving, things were clicking for me.  We’d unloaded our burdensome house and walked away from our piece of the American Dream.  Despite all of the beautiful memories we shared in that house, first words, first steps, first birthdays, I felt nothing when we walked out.  That’s a lie.  I felt full blown relief, almost to the point of giddiness.  I wanted to scream and yell at the house, ask why it took so much away from us, but I couldn’t get angry because I almost felt like laughing.  It was over.  The saga was finally over.  Great things continued happening, too.  Work was amazing.  My training roster was packed with challenging and funny clients, my coworkers inspired me, and my boss infused me with confidence I’d never before felt.  I loved the kid’s pre- and elementary schools.  I enjoyed deep, meaningful friendships.  I loved my church.

Our first move started us anew in many ways.  We rented a wonderful home in our favorite neighborhood almost immediately.  I could walk to work and stroll to my best friend’s house.  We had a big back yard and a patio and it was awesome.  This house was my dream house.  It was wonderful.

But something else was in the works.  As we were trudging through escrow, Dave was entertaining an offer by a great company to do an interesting, perk-laden job in the Bay Area.  He was considering it, pending my approval.  He says the conversation went something like this:

Dave:  What would you say if I told you that I’ve been offered a job with (all the blah, blah, blah details), but we’d have to move to the Bay Area?

Natalie:  Yes.  Let’s do it.  I need to do something that scares me.

Dave signed a job contract on the same day that we signed our lease.  Our move would be temporary.  We called our house The Summer Home.

The Summer Home filled me.  Life felt a little easier.  The kids had more room to play and we enjoyed a more private yard.  Friends visited.  We threw a “Hello-Goodbye Party” and fed about 35 people.  I putzed around the garden.  We recovered.

Along came July and the pressure mounted.  We began hunting for a house in earnest without knowing where we were going.  When August rolled around, well, I’ll simply say this: It was very hard and we both struggled for peace under the intense demands.  We argued.  We lived in a hotel for two weeks (or was it 2 years?!).  I grappled with excitement for something new and overwhelming grief for leaving very close friends.  Leaving schools and churches scoured me.  I was in a lot of pain.  The kids were happy, though.  For them, life must have been a bit like Eloise, living in a hotel with the cat.  We felt so much stress, but they had no idea!

Two weeks into our hotel stay, we found a house.  We took possession on August 17, but our PODS didn’t arrive for another week.  It was kind of awful and kind of fun.  We slept on an air mattress and ate off of paper plates.  We stole towels from the pool at the hotel.  When our stuff arrived, it was like Christmas.  But as I’ve said before, moving and unpacking is just like Christmas, except it’s just the same dusty crap you had before. 

Our friends did all of our plant-sitting for us, so I hauled all of our greenery up about two weeks ago.  Some plants suffered the fate of the back of the truck.  Windburn city!  Our beautiful plants were black leaves and flowers stripped from their stalks. 

One plant fared well, though.  I took special care with my plumeria, however.  During our stay at the Summer Home, it enjoyed warm morning sun, a little afternoon heat, and then shade.  I watered it regularly.  This passive love resulted in a funny growth out of the top, which I hoped would lead to something exciting and beautiful.  I waited patiently.  I am not known for patience, either.  During its stay at our friend’s house, it continued to grow and do the weird thing.  When I picked it up in late September, the growth proved to be a cluster of buds.  When loading the truck, I wrapped the plant in a giant trash bag and secured it in a windless spot.  I intended to see this plant come to fruition.

Our new town is hot.  Today was 99, and as I write, the clock and thermometer read 9:27 pm and 87 degrees respectively.  The plumeria gets blasted with hot sun in the morning, bakes in the afternoon, and then stews in the latent, shady warmth as the sun dips below the horizon.  I watched the flowers grow, petals so tight, itching to burst forth.  Then, last Friday, I saw the first bloom.

I purchased this plumeria from an ABC drugstore in Honolulu in March of 2006.  It cost around $5.  Alexandria was 4 months old.  She stayed with my parents while I tagged along on Dave’s business trip.  When we got back to LA, I drove to my parents to pick up Alexandria.  Dave drove home.  When he got there, he called me to tell me water was coming out from underneath the cabinets.

The flood.  The beginning.

So this plumeria, this odd stick that has only thrown giant, waxy leaves annually for over 5 years, has been wildly unexciting throughout the duration of our struggles - flood, frustration, anger, sadness, death, and near-death.  I’d considered throwing it away.  At one point, I thought it was dead.  But no, in her weirdness, she continued to live her funky life.  And five and a half years later, as my family settles into the most secure, happy, fruitful place we’ve been since the flood, our funny plumeria blooms. 

Symbolic, no?