Thursday, August 11, 2011

The New Normal

Usually, you hear people talking about “the new normal” after someone has died. But I’ve discovered a whole “new normal” in the past year and a half.

Anne is now twenty months old, or close to it. I’m working two jobs, not because I want to but because I have to. This is part of the new normal. It’s the way things are going to be for a while.

Last week, I created a schedule showing when I would work at my tech-writing job, when I would work at my teaching job, and when I would do mommy/family things. “Mommy/family things” pretty much filled in whatever spaces weren't occupied by the 50-60 hours a week devoted to my teaching and tech-writing jobs.

My husband looked at the schedule and commented, “But you haven’t left any free time for yourself.”

Friends, it was the strangest thing. It was like he’d spoken to me in a foreign language. “Free time? What is this ‘free-time’ phenomenon you are talking about? I am supposed to have this ‘free time’ thing somewhere in my schedule?”

Believe me, I’m not writing this to sound like a mommy-martyr (or a work-martyr, or any kind of martyr). I just seriously had to slow down and process what he’d said. The concept of giving myself “free time” has become utterly foreign, at least for now, and for the near future.

And that, friends, is part of the new normal around here.

It’s the normal for any mom of a toddler, I would guess—and even more so for moms of multiple toddlers. And even, even more so (I think, though I could be wrong) for those moms who work full-time outside the home. (And I can't imagine how hard it must be for single moms who are all of the above.)

School begins soon, and my life is going to ricochet into warp speed when it does. (I don’t think that sentence made any sense, but I like the sound of it--linguistically speaking, if not emotionally.) I’ll be working 30 hours a week (hoping to cap it at 30) on software documentation, and I’ll spend the other 25 or 30 teaching sixty or so students—planning their classes, reviewing their homework, grading their drafts (with copious comments, of course!), and generally guiding them to become better writers.

Wow, just re-reading that paragraph, I'm amazed to think of how life, and priorities, have changed in the last few months.

Until this summer, I would read the blogs by women I found through Ann Voskamp’s wonderful blog (the Multitude Mondays and the Walk with Him Wednesdays), and I would imagine I was “one of them.” And with that imagining would come unbearable angst because, in truth, I am nothing like them—stay-at-home, home-schooling Christian moms who, while subtly lamenting about how they never have time to themselves, seem to have plenty of time to write beautiful blog posts almost daily, photograph countless bits and pieces of their daily lives, scrapbook and craft, clip coupons, garden, read books, write books, go to blogging conferences, guest-post for their fellow bloggers, and often leave copious (there’s that word again) comments on the blogs of others.

I loved these bloggers (or some of them), and I made time to read their blogs. I also made time to blog myself occasionally, but it was always time pilfered from something else: from my family (or my household chores, or sleep) if I blogged at night, and from my much-needed work breaks if I blogged during the day. I wasn’t like these bloggers.

And then I started getting these weird junior-high feelings of not fitting in.

And it wasn't just lifestyle. When I was honest with myself, I acknowledged that I was also too skeptical, and too cynical, to “fit in,” spiritually speaking.

So I stopped trying. It's like a weight has been lifted.

I've also stopped grieving the fact that I see so little of my daughter. I could keep doing that, but it's a problem that can't be fixed right now, and all the grieving does is depress me.

Oh, and I've tried to stop getting bitter or depressed when hearing a stay-at-home mom comment that she “really needs a break from the kids.” A simple eye-roll should suffice, shouldn't it?

OK, seriously ...

We all have different lives, different struggles, different challenges. I’m coming to accept that I have my own challenges in this stage of my life, and that I need to deal with my own life instead of wishing it were something different.

I think I’ve begun to embrace this "new normal" in a way I hadn’t before. In fact, it was at that moment of metaphorical embrace that the term “the new normal” came to mind. Or perhaps it was when I realized this was indeed the “new normal” that I became free to quit fighting where I am now.

This weekend, I said something to Dan about how “our biggest mistake was buying our house before the first one sold.” It did, after all, seem like so many problems, building up to my not being able to be with my little girl more, stemmed from that fateful decision.

“There are no mistakes,” he said. “There’s just life, and accepting what it is, and moving on.” (I’m not quoting him exactly. But it was something like that.)

No mistakes. Just life. Perhaps there is a God who planned for things to happen this way, or who at least, in His grace, has allowed things to turn out all right despite my unwise decisions, has allowed me to stay out of the nut house thus far. Perhaps it’s just life. My spiritual-skeptical self goes back and forth.

Whatever it is, I’ve come to a much better place than I was six months ago, or even three months ago. School has been good for me—good for getting my priorities back in order, good for allowing me to use my natural teaching abilities and to play with words and literature in the process.

And that’s the new normal. It isn’t the normal I would have picked if I’d had a choice, but it’s working.

To provide some breathing-room in my crazy schedule, I've begun the soul-feeding practice of composing haikus in my head whenever I can. I'm doing these in the spirit of an old blog-friend, I guess, only my poems are not quite as poetic as his. So I’ll end this relatively serious post on a light note and share one I wrote yesterday while in line at the pharmacy. I hope it will bring a smile to your faces, dear readers:

Three syllables, yet it hogs
My entire haiku

Happy trails!


Rene' said...

I love this post and I love how open you are. I almost felt like you took words right out of my mouth. I work full-time outside of the home and when I'm not working, I'm with Jack (or he's playing and I'm cooking, cleaning, or doing some other chore). I do get 2 hours of free time every night after he goes to bed, and sometimes I spend those hours doing things around the house. But I'm grateful for that small amount of time. I also hate being away from Jack so much, but it is what it is and I can't change it right now. I do get a little upset when I read about other working moms who send their kid to grandma's house while they go and enjoy a nice weekend away with the hubby. A stay-at-home mom surely does need a break now and then. But for a working mom, who only has weekends with her child, to sacrifice that time does upset me. I would never think of going away without Jack. In fact, I'd want him to come along and have that experience too. Other than work, I don't go anywhere without him. Everyone has different lives and priorities and you can't know what someone else is going through, so I just try and focus on my family and do what I need to do without worrying about anyone else.

Thanks for sharing and thanks for letting me vent a little!

Carrie said...

great post! I understand how you feel :-) I love Ann Voskamp's blog too. I wish I could write like she does. I read lots of those other blogs too and felt exactly the same way. I don't know how they have the energy to do all that or when they do it.... or maybe I just love my sleep too much.

Nina said...

Thanks for your comments, ladies! I was a little nervous about posting this because I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but this post has been wanting to come out for awhile. It's nice to get some positive feedback for it.

lifeinlimits said...

Have you ever read the children's book, "Your Kind of Mommy?" I love it because it helped me come to grips (well, okay, I'm still coming to grips with it) that God gave my children to *me* for a reason. And He gave *me* to my children for a reason. No one else would do. And whether that's working as much as you do (good GRIEF, girl - you are SUPERWOMAN!), or being a complete SAHM, or what have you, you are doing a good work because you are doing it faithfully. And one day, little Anne will grow up and be a mommy herself and look back at all you're doing right now, and SHE will think you were/are Superwoman.

You are being faithful, Nina and you are inspiration to me!

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