Brooding, as usual

Gimli and I had a huge fight on Wednesday morning before he left to work, which ended with me telling him “Just go, so I can calm down and we can talk about this later,” after I had yelled at him in front of the kids and banged my head on the kitchen cupboards. He walked out the door with tears in his eyes and it took me about six hours to fully calm down. I feel bad for Illyria who was subjected to a short-tempered mother all morning, and who saw us fighting for the first time in her life (not our first fight since she was born, but the first time she’s seen us fight).

On the surface it was about grocery shopping, but underneath that it was about the shift in our roles since moving here. I’m having a hard time coming to grips with how I see myself now, now that I spend maybe five hours a week instead of five hours a day working on my dissertation. And Gimli, who used to come home every day to put Illyria down for her nap when she was a baby, is now gone from 9 until 6 or 7 and weekdays often doesn’t see Oz at all except for about an hour or two in the morning.

So Wednesday morning, Gimli waved a yellow post-it note at me. “I’m making a shopping list,” he said pointedly. I felt my hackles raise: it was his air of “This isn’t my job, I shouldn’t have to be doing this,” that instantly raised my defenses, because we always shared this duty before, in the States … and it escalated from there.

I understand his frustration, and I feel like I’ve been ridiculously slow on the uptake, to really get that I have to take pretty much full responsibility now not just for the shopping itself, but for monitoring the cupboards and refrigerator and for thinking ahead to what we might need tomorrow. I have to shift my mentality and think in terms of backup, like I do with regard to diapers and coffee. I have to think that way about everything – bread and eggs being a main point of contention at the moment because I tend to use them up before buying more, instead of always having extra on hand. Same with leftovers – my preference is to use up what’s cooked before cooking more, but this strategy results in an often-empty fridge, which bothers Gimli more than I realized.

His mom is a hoarder and stockpiler to a ridiculous degree (we spent a year once eating through her canned food, and she once kept a frozen salmon in the deep freeze for – get this – TWELVE YEARS) but I suppose I tend to run to the opposite end of the spectrum. I need to find a better balance. I’ve been living day to day, seldom planning ahead more than one meal at a time. And that has to change for the harmony of our home. By the end of the day Wednesday, I had come to terms with that. And I know I’m spoiled for help – our fab Albanian babysitter/cleaner/general helper is here for at least a few hours every day, and all day Mon/Thurs. I should totally be able to handle my current reality considering the help I have.

But I’m feeling deeply depressed about this shift in how I see myself – I don’t feel like an academic anymore, I feel like a housewife, and a bungling and inexpert one at that. (Not that I’m feeling particularly confident about my dwindling academic self at the moment either, to be sure.) I feel like giving up. I feel like giving up on the PhD, on language learning, on everything that isn’t related to managing the household and raising the children. Last night I dreamed that first a former student of mine and then another grad student in my cohort came to me and said, “we don’t think you’re really cut out for this program.” It was a version of the oh-no-there’s-an-exam-today-and-I-haven’t-studied-at-all dream we all have and I think it is indicative of the growing feeling I have that I’m just pretending; we may drag this out for a few years, but in the end, I will never finish my degree. I don’t have what it takes. Maybe I have the smarts – at least enough to fake it – but I don’t think I have the drive, the mental discipline, or perhaps as Wordgirl put it, the ego to take it to the end. (I did once; where did it go?)

I’m good at the loving, the playing, the getting down on the floor and getting absorbed in whatever the little ones are absorbed in. I’m usually very patient. I’m not so good at the organizing, the discipline, the setting boundaries and being consistent about rules and routines. I have to get better at that part of it though, because like it or not, I am the señora de la casa now. I’ve been shunted back six decades in time. And if I’m going to have the responsibility, then I will learn how to do it well.

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17 Responses to “Brooding, as usual”

  1. Caro Says:

    I think we are on the same page with this one. We had a huge row about cleaning the other day. I think the problem is that I never wanted to be a housewife and frankly I suck at it. Using my brain and working is so much part of my identity that I struggle to know who I am right now. I just have to try and get my head around the fact that it is me that’s at home all day at the moment and that means I have to do the bulk of the household stuff. Even though what I’d like to be doing is just playing with the kids while I have this opportunity since working full time and not having much time with them will happen soon enough.

  2. Rachel Says:

    Hang in there! I wanted to be a housewife & mom and have days (OK really weeks & months) that I feel like I suck at it. I feel the same as you do about shopping, use up what’s there and then buy more. It drives my husband crazy to have the same thing for supper two days in a row. But he also hates it when I freeze leftovers, because “it doesn’t taste as good”. I feel like I can’t win & I dislike shopping with two children in tow.

    I was in a book club last summer with some more experienced moms, many of them grandmothers. The younger moms were all against ever arguing/fighting in front of the children. The older mothers disagreed. One 70ish mother said that could never allowing your children to see you argue could cause problems later in life because your children would then be skittish of conflict. She suggested that if you do argue in front of the children, to make sure they are aware that you made up as well. That helps them learn to deal with conflict better. We also talked about ways to fight fairly, which was very helpful to me.

    Sorry this is so long, your post seems like one I could have written.

    • eep6 Says:

      I loved your comment about letting your kids see how you resolve conflicts. I think having little witnesses might help me be more intentional about doing conflict in healthy ways.

      • Rachel Says:

        I wish there was a “Like” button like on Facebook. It is easier to restrain from saying certain things during the heat of an argument when little ears are listening.

  3. sharah Says:

    One of the best $20 we ever spent was on a whiteboard for our kitchen. Whoever uses the last of something or sees we’re getting close adds it to the perpetual grocery list. Then we always know what we need. To make that work with meal planning, we also keep a stock set of ingredients for staple dishes — pasts, frozen veg, bulk hamburger, that kind of thing. It takes making it a habit, but it also becomes a shared responsibility so neither one os us can blame the other.

    And I hear you on the dissertation. I’m coming to the realization that not only can I not finifh the way I’m going, but that I’m really not sure I even want to anymore.

  4. tara Says:

    i think you hit a chord with disgruntled about house duties- For me part of it comes down to the fact that house duties are undervalued so even if I like doing some of them (cooking) or am obsessive about some things (clean house) I don’t like the assumptions that his work is more important, that he needs more of a break (hello, moms never get to leave work!) , or that somehow it’s ok that he can’t see that the trash is overflowing (if we’re splitting gender roles that way then I’m not doing the trash- ok I will but only under duress).
    I agree with Rachel that fighting & then repairing in front of kids is ok. A can’t handle the argument- he goes & hides because “his parents didn’t fight” and I can’t say that’s healthy either.
    Blech- it is about how you view yourself, but it’s also in how Gimli is going to value your work and you might have to spell out for him what would make you feel better about the boring, unsatisfying bits of the job. If you can figure out what would make you feel better about them, please sure that because I’m lost 🙂

  5. tara Says:

    share not sure-sheesh i can’t think

  6. Wordgirl Says:

    I so so so can relate to this…it speaks to me and makes me want to cry with relief at not being alone.

    I find my marriage is under strain right now too — not enough alone time, not enough reflection on the best parts of our marriage before — and harboring our own small grudges about things undone. G is one who likes to joke — but sometimes it feels passive aggressive “look at me, here I am, cleaning the kitchen again…don’t worry, I got it…” — and the sort of thing like what you’re talking about..the incredulity that I haven’t prepared for a week when W will be here — that the fridge isn’t stocked. I have my own issues — that he never seems to fully engage with Z — that he’s rarely down on her level just doing his thing with her…

    I try to take a deep breath and ask myself how much of my response to him comes from another place — for me it has a lot to do with my own mother — and I get defensive easily. I am trying to work though that.

    Martha Beck just had this thing in the recent O magazine about writing the person a letter and detailing all the grievances — “you are …” — and then afterwards rewriting it with all the points only adding “I am” — I wondered if I should do that with the way I’m feelign about G — because some days I am just burning with fury — and that’s unlike me.

    I do wonder about big blocks of creative work/research work — how on earth it could get done — you know the men who got their phd’s when they were young father’s had wives — and it seems like that’s what you need. Is there a way to extend the helper’s hours and responsibilities?

    Thanks for sharing this…I really do believe you can do it — you can get there — I wish I had the key though because I believe I’ll finish the novel — but not in the time frame I thought…I know how much life opens up as they get older…small consolation now, I know.

    XO

    P

    • eep6 Says:

      Thanks for the lovely long comment Wordgirl – the thing about the “wife” has been sitting in my mind ever since you wrote that… I think that might be my next blog post 🙂

  7. Carlita Says:

    This post resonated with me but I was hesitant to comment because I feel particularly helpless in this arena myself. And so I did a bit of brooding as well. My husband is out of town this weekend with “the boys” and so my resentment has been mounting. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to pin down many legitimate reasons to be angry with him. The only things that come to mind are the fact that he doesn’t seem to appreciate my efforts (aggravated by the fact that I can’t seem to appreciate my efforts) and the conviction I have that I would be more supportive if the roles were to be reversed (but, ahem, no evidence to support this theory).

    I just wanted to say that this is a long hard slog for so many of us. I hope that you don’t give up, though. I think just the process of working to carve out time and space to do one’s own work is valuable, even if it is SO DAMN HARD.

    Also, I just read an article that made me feel a little better. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it but you may want to check it out:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/

    • eep6 Says:

      Holy cow, this article was AWESOME!!! LOVED it – it has helped me so much to gain perspective on my life.

  8. Awkward Moments Says:

    i am so sorry. I am not at all in the world of academia. You are doing amazing things. It will pay off in the end! This.Is.Hard!

  9. AnxiousMummy Says:

    Hey sweetie, I can so relate to this. You sound like you are being an amazing mum, that is obviously the part of this role you enjoy. The other stuff is just essential stuff that no one likes. If you are not the kind of person to make lists, why can’t Gimli just give you the list but YOU do the shopping since you’re home? Ugh. I really believe you can finish your degree. In fact, I am uber jealous you are studying, ‘cos I would love to! Don’t be too hard on yourself. I think part of the ‘drive’ you describe as missing goes when we have kids and it’s just a biological thing to make sure you still care for your kids. So don’t blame yourself. You’ll get it back.
    Take care & thanks for your comments!! xo

  10. Back For Seconds Says:

    Thanks for the comment!!

    I just wanted to throw some encouragement your way. My mother raised seven kids and I have asked her, many times, for advice about different situations. She won’t ever give me any.
    Haha, her philosophy is that motherhood is something we all need to figure out for ourselves. Some moms are really good at running organized, timely households. Others suck at that, but rock at making awesome messes with their kids.
    Both my mother and I were the latter. I know she struggled for years feeling like a failure because she couldn’t keep the house spotless and dinners were often repeats or repeats. Her kids never cared, however, and eventually she was like, “screw it, I’m just going to be what I am.” So we had a messy house, lots of leftovers at randomly timed meals, and all sorts of wacky adventures.
    My best friends mom was the opposite. Spotless house, organized schedule, creative cook. And she was just as fabulous a mother– just a different type.

    Don’t beat yourself up 🙂

    • eep6 Says:

      I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes a “good mother” and this is a great reminder that it’s not just one cookie-cutter pattern.

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