Category: Fears

Some Thoughts On Hope, Control, And Self-Sabotage

I woke up the other morning draped in unsettledness.

I am confident anyone reading this knows exactly what I am talking about.

It’s like, you feel the physical impact of unrest immediately upon waking, but your mind hasn’t caught up with your instinct quite yet, so you have to lie there in bed and do a mental review of the usual suspects until you hit on the one thing that exacerbates your anxiety, signaling a match:

Ugh…(identifying feeling of icky unsettledness while still half-asleep). 

Uh-oh.  Something’s wrong.

What is it, what is it, what….is….it?  Think…..think…..

Did the husband and I fight last night?  No.

Forget to a pay a bill?  Something with money?  No.  Thank God.

Kids — oh…..yep — [oldest son] on the trip.  Eight more days until he comes home (shoulders further tense; pulse picks up the pace a bit).  Yeah, there it is.

Oh, and then my blog — never wrote a post for Monday.  Or Tuesday.  Ewww….lazy.  You’re slipping!  Okay, so that too.

That all?  Yes — I think so.

So, in my case, I woke up the other morning with residual stress because my baby isn’t home and I had neglected my blog.

These two things are related, by the way.  And this relationship is what I want to explore, because I think it touches on something observable on a macro-level — beyond me and my little experience.

Let me explain:

I didn’t create a post for yesterday (or the day before), even though I had made a comittment to publish something every single weekday.  And most Saturdays.

And while this might sound like no big deal to some, it is a very, very large deal to me.

When I set a goal, only the threat of losing life or limb qualifies as an appropriate distraction from said goal.  It’s just the way I’m wired — I’m incredibly intense about the deals I make with myself.  Recently, in a moment of reflection and self-assessment, I discovered that in all likelihood, my voracious appetite for the setting and meeting of goals is really a means to make sure a sense of hope is always available to me in good measure.

Goals not yet attained equal — in my mind at least — possibilities.  Possibilities with unlimited sub-possibilities attached.  And possibilities equal purpose and movement and discovery.  And purpose, movement, and discovery are all necessary in creating a sense of hope.

Hope that what is good might become even better.

So, yeah, ignoring my blog for a few days was crippling to my sense of hope.  Crazy?  Perhaps, but it’s my truth.

Now, neither life nor limb has been threatened lately, so what gives?

Well, you see, my oldest child is off on his first trip without our little family unit of four.  He is with his grandparents for a ten-day adventure, canyoneering and rock propelling and ATV-ing out in the wild, wild west of Utah, Nevada and Arizona.

We make our home on the East Coast.

So, my baby’s clear across the country.  Nearly 3,000 miles away for what feels less like “roughly a week” and more like 240 hours.

240 hours in which I must cede control over one half of what is most precious to me (in the event that my other son ever reads this post someday — yes, [youngest son], you are the other half).

So, I have a thing about fueling hope, and I also have a thing about control.

And right now, I have no control.  And when I can’t orchestrate, I self-sabotage by avoiding most things that involve purpose, movement and discovery (see above explanation on goal-setting).

I don’t know why this is.  I certainly don’t mean to do this — though it seems beyond my capacity to overcome.  Like, my loss of control over one particular thing ushers in a whole psychology of abandon, where I engage not at all in anything other than frittering away the minutes and the hours and the days on complete nonsense until I regain control over whatever it is I feel I’ve lost control of.

So, I can’t focus on writing a blog post or changing the sheets in the boys’ rooms or preparing a proper dinner, but I can go for my third jog of the day, repaint my bedroom, and on-line shop on etsy for “mid-century modern oil paintings of Italy.”

Right now, my most recent post is three days stale, the bed sheets are soured, and dinners are cobbled together without a plan — a can of baked beans, a few slices of bread, cheese? Check.  Dinner’s done.  [Throw haphazard mash-up of foods on table and exit kitchen to walk aimlessly around the house].

But — I have run more miles in one day than I typically do in three, my bedroom walls are a newly christened muddy gray, and I ordered an awesome portrait that I’ll find space for once it arrives in five-to-seven business days.

Bursts of unproductive productivity seem to be my coping skill when I lose charge over my comfortable and carefully-curated environment.

And, yes, I very much realize that this tendency only serves to add more things to the list over which I have completely lost my grip.

As I said, self-sabotoge.

Now, I wish I had something more intelligent to offer up.  I wish I could type out some really clever transition sentences that would bridge to an “a-ha!” conclusion statement — one that turns this whole jumbled mess of a situation into a teachable moment, complete with instructions on how to better proceed at times like this.

But I’ve got nothing.

I did want to share this with you, though.  Because, as I mentioned earlier, I suspect I am not the only one who grapples with control issues and unproductive bursts of productivity and self-sabotage.

I suspect this is a universally human thing.

So, see, I do it too.

And  that’s pretty much all I wanted to say.

Until tomorrow, when I will have only 120 hours left to go, and therefore will likely be in a better frame of mind — one in which I am able to tell a story with clever transition sentences that bridge to an “a-ha” conclusion statement.  Or at least one with lots of self-depracting humor and other attempts at levity.

I will work that story out in my mind as I paint my sitting room today….


A Second Look At How Being “Settled” Can Be Very “Unsettling”

So, tomorrow is my birthday.

Weeeeeeeeeee!

That “weeeeeeee” was meant to be read with a heaping dose of sarcasm, by the way.

So, yes……where were we?  Birthday.  Right.

So, tomorrow is my birthday.  I will be officially turning 36, but if you ask my husband, I’ve been 36 for quite some time now, as he likes to remind me that at 35, I was really in my “36th year.”  See, he’s splitting hairs here, about the way we humans mark the passage of time — on the back-end as opposed to the front.

The husband also recently revealed that yes, it was appropriate for M’s husband to suggest that she (38 years old) and I (a fresh 35 at the time) Google “office dress for middle-aged women,” when the two of us were curious about what, exactly, we would wear when we ventured back out into the world beyond the Target-library-grocery store circuit.

Middle-aged!  Middle-aged?

“No way!” I protested.  “You’re cracked.  Middle-aged…..puh-lease.”

“Baby — how long does the average human live?” he countered.

“Geeze…I don’t know,” I floundered, already sensing that I was not going to like where this was headed.

Being the prig that he sometimes is, he answered with what I believe is the actual average life-span number, according to the CDC.

“What, 78?” he quipped.  “So…what’s half of 78?  39?”

My stomach dropped at the notion.

“So, okay, then you have about three years left (remember at a fresh 35, I was really in my 36th year, so his math was sound).  And M is, well…….[her husband] was right about her.  Middle-aged, babe.”

This conversation happened in the kitchen: Me, at the computer Google-ing work dress for women in their mid-thirties, he, leaning against the counter, eating a stray piece of something from one of the kids’ already-cleared dinner plates.

I wanted to get up and give him a swift shove for being so smug.

I literally wanted to push him.  Hard.  Send him hurling backward to make contact with the refrigerator, shaking loose all the school papers and important reminders.  Sending magnets to crack and break against the ceramic tile.

I, of course, didn’t play out the fantasy.  But my violent impulse did make me wonder:

Why was I so spun up about the whole age thing?

It took me some time to peel at these onion layers — the ones that had covered an almost unnatural fear of getting older.  But I did eventually figure it out.  And, a while ago, I wrote a post about it.  I have re-published it below, and I invite you to read my theory and then let me know what you think.

Oh — and the mention of some content in my “About” page was referencing old material that I have since re-written, lest anyone get confused by a seeming inconsistency.

Enjoy…..

An essay on why I cringe at the thought of another passing year.  Turns out, I’m not completely vain after all.  Yay!:

….the absence of my own possibilities sometimes feels like a phantom limb reminding me of all that will never be….

Okay, so, in my little “About” page, I made some ridiculous statement about not feeling like I had grown chronologically older since 25 or so, and I went on and on and on about “vertical” versus “horizontal” movement of time and growth and something about wisdom trumping years and blah, blah, friggin’ blah.

Well I am back — a mere five days after the fact — to tell you all that whatever I thought I was selling is such a pantload of crap.  Cancel your orders.  Don’t buy it.

Anyone in my most intimate circle knows that I talk incessantly about getting older.  I mean, like, incessantly (J and M, thank you for always listening, btw).  And I most certainly do not mean older “out” like I would have had you all believe, but I mean older “up.”  Up in age.  Up in years completed orbiting the Sun.  Up in moments gone by.  Up in number of pounds that won’t budge from my middle, in the number of creases that frame my eyes when I smile, in the sixteenth-of-an-inch increments that I swear — swear to goodness — I notice my hairline receding by every few months.  Older.  I am getting older, and I feel it now.  I feel the weight of that movement — that upward movement — every. single. day.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait — couldn’t wait — to get to the “next big thing.”  I was never ever satisfied with where I was. Too restless to live in the moment, I could never carpe diem.  Rather than “carpe”-ing I just, well, carped.  I could include several quotes here mimicking the “me” that I was during each phase of life that I deemed a necessary evil on the way to the golden ring (the golden ring always changed, by the way — being old enough to go to junior high, old enough for high school, old enough to date, to vote, to get a real job, be married).  But I think you get the point.  And yes, I listed voting.  I did not list driving.  I am a nerd.  I already know this, thank you.

And now?  Now I want to hold on to every moment of every day– down to the second.  I am absolutely beyond myself at the notion of putting another year behind me.

I don’t know how so much of my 30’s has escaped me.  Well, maybe I do.  I got married young by today’s standards (one month after turning 23).  While my peers were still dating and job-hopping, I was celebrating wedding anniversaries and managing a joint checking account.  And then I got pregnant at 25.  And again 15 months later.  Before I had turned 30, my husband and I were eyeballs-deep in meeting a mortgage, rearing school-aged children, negotiating in-laws, and hunkering down in our “forever” careers (my husband’s outside the home, mine inside of it).  My late 20’s and early 30’s were a blur because I was bum rushed by the milestones that most others parse out —  allowing at least a few years between each of life’s big “gets.” When I finally got my sea legs aboard this existence I created on the fly,  I was somehow already 34.  And I was incredibly aware of my age.

Huh.  That’s funny.  34 doesn’t sound old. And further more, things slowed down considerably at 34.  These last two years, my life has been relatively static.  Kids are incredibly self-sufficient. My return to graduate school was slow, and very very part-time; upon graduation, it was agreed that I’d hold off on re-entering the outside workforce for at least a little while.  Marriage kinks had been more or less ironed out several years ago — we’ve long found our rhythm as a couple.  So, what gives?  I thought it was the “fast” of it all until I entered the “slow” and still felt panicky.  I could never really put my finger on it.  Why I was obsessed with age.  Why I felt old.

There was one thing that should have clued me in:  I repeatedly considered women who were older than me quite young. Why?  It all came down to their level of “settled”-ness.  For example, a particular acquaintance of mine: At seven years my senior, she still seemed to me just beginning her life.  She had deliberately developed a nice career that still offered much upward movement. She was in a lovely condo in an important city.  She had established a serious relationship with someone she might very well marry.  She had things that mirrored all that I had with one exception: she had an “out” from it all.  With no wedding ring, no mortgage deed, and no children, this friend still had one foot in the land of infinite possibilities. And, while I would never in a million, zillion, trillion years ever, ever, ever want any “out” from my beautiful family and the life that we’ve built, the absence of my own possibilities sometimes feels like a phantom limb reminding me of what will never be.

Could this be at the root of my whole “getting older” conundrum?  Was it not so much increasing years, but decreasing possibilities that was making me mourn for yesterday, and last month, and last year?

With this stressor always at play in the recesses of my mind, my heart, and my soul, I was ever grateful to come across this post by blogger Jennifer Fulwiler: Behind the Scenes of a Mid-Life Crisis.  I read it, and I knew.  This was it.  What she said.  Exactly what she said.  All of it.  I would love for each of you to take a few minutes to read her words; whether you share in my fear of getting older or not, I think there is still wisdom to be gleaned.

Do any of you feel like me?  Anyone unsettled about being settled?  Let’s discuss.

 


A Keeper of Snakes and Wolves

A story about how my husband negated the role I had wanted to play as a mother to two boys:

Not too long ago, my husband and two lovely boys cooked up the notion that we should be one of “those” households with a pet snake.

Ahhhh, a snake.

I am not a snake girl.  At all.  I was not particularly fond of this idea. Plus, we already have a dog and several goldfish.  That seemed plenty enough to me.

But, no, we had to have a snake.

“It’ll be good for the boys,” encouraged my husband.  “Boys need a reptile.  I had a snake.  It was AWESOME.”

“Please, mom, please!”  begged the boys.  “PLEASE?!?!”

This seed was planted a few months ago, and each male in my house took turns with the watering can until I grew fresh green buds of weakness and allowed them to drag me up to PetSmart to look at serpents of various sorts.

Younger son — the child who would share his room with our snake — locked eyes with a small California Corn.  This was “the one.”

Admittedly, the snake wasn’t too bad.  Almost cute, in a very strange way.

It looked just like this:

snake
Corn Snake
Image Credit: www.reptilespecialists.com

I decided I might be able to handle it.  Maybe.  And I had time to mentally prepare because my husband wanted to be sure that one of the fish tanks we already owned could be properly converted to a snake hotel; he also wanted to be sure this was not just another whim, but something the boys really did want, and were willing to take care of.  So, we initiated a period of waiting and (for me) psychological adjustment.

Fast forward two months.

My husband felt the boys were in fact ready to handle a snake.  He also insisted the now- empty and thoroughly cleaned fish tank would be perfect for our new pet.  I felt appropriately adjusted to the notion, mostly.

So last Saturday the three men went to pick up a snake.

I was home when they came back with their new purchase.  I walked downstairs to greet them, feeling quite pleased with myself.  I am pretty cool, I thought.  I’m the mom who let her boys get a snake! 

This was a big deal to me, because I sensed it was the turning point at which  I was finally the kind of “mom to two boys” I had always wanted to be, but hadn’t quite mastered:

I hate spiders.

I don’t like camping, or any kind of “roughing it.”

I don’t care much for sports.

I don’t like anything to be dirty or cluttered or unorganized.

(I’m a real barrel of laughs, eh?  I am fun, actually, and I will prove it in future posts. No time now.  Just trust me here).

So…..the snake was my peace offering.  My way to make up for ways I may have fallen short before.  I was actually kind of even looking forward to this new pet now.

“GUESS WHAT WE GOT!” shouted older son, barreling through the door, nearly knocking me back with his excitement.

“A snake!” I said, trying to share in his new found joy.

“Not just a SNAKE,” my younger son piped in, grinning from ear to ear.

Huh, I thought.  What is “not just a snake?” I wondered.

“Momma,” teased husband as he walked up the yard toward our house, holding a shopping bag in one hand and a cardboard carrying case in the other.  “We didn’t get just any old snake…..we got THE snake!”

I suddenly felt uneasy.

“WE GOT A PYTHON!” shouted both boys in unison.

“Wait….what?” I stammered.

All three gentlemen pushed past me, up the stairs and into the younger son’s room, where a fish tank waited, empty, on the dresser.

I stood in the bedroom  doorway, trying to make my presence known.  No one acknowledged me.

“What did you get?” I demanded, hearing the panic rising in my voice.  “Excuse me, hello — what did you get?  What happened to the little Corn Snake?”

“This was on sale” was all my older son offered.

“CHECK IT OUT,” demanded the husband.

Let’s all check it out, shall we?

FP_BallPython_05
A Ball Pyhton: This is not an image of the snake they brought home, but an incredibly accurate representtion of what was pulled from the cardboard box
Image Credit: www.mccarthysboas.com

As the snake was slowly removed from the box, and lowered into his new home, I felt my face flush, and my heart begin to race.

I was a little bit scared, but a lot bit mad.

“[Husband’s name]!” I shouted.  “I thought we agreed on a California Corn.”

“Lauren — it’s fine.  It’s fine,” assured my husband (not very assuringly), as he swatted his big bear paw of a hand back-and-forth, like the motion was going to sweep away whatever pesky little unpleasantness might be coming from my direction.

This was a day for happiness, after all.  A day for celebration.  They didn’t need me ruining it with my attempts at coming to terms with a majorly unfair bait-and-switch at my expense.

Repeated efforts to better understand what having a python would mean to our household were ignored amidst the business of laying wood chips, arranging plastic hiding spot, and affixing the temperature and humidity monitors.

I asked if this snake “constricted.”

I asked how big it would get, and how soon it would get however big.

I asked if this little fish tank with flimsy lid and HOLES where the air pump motor used to fit was a wise choice for a python.

Each question received a garbled, half-assed non-answer in reply.

“Mad” zipped past “anger” and morphed immediately into “irate” as I absorbed the scene.

Clearly, I don’t count here, I thought.

My feelings don’t count.  My opinion doesn’t count.  The fact that I was okay with a California Corn — doesn’t count.

I felt taken advantage of.  I felt like all I was ready and willing and excited to give to my two boys, as a mom formerly afraid of snakes, was completely crapped on.

Now I wasn’t going to get to be the “cool mom.”  I was going to be the mom who ruined this big moment, if I kept it up with the questioning and the hand wringing and the scowling.  If I stopped it now — if I corrected course, regained composure, and simply walked away — then maybe, maybe I could at least neutralize whatever damage I might have already done to my reputation.

And that notion made me even more angry.

The wolf pack mentality of a father and his sons is both a blessing and a curse.  In a culture that seems ever eager to stifle the natural instincts of young boys seeking to develop a sense of autonomy over themselves and their environment, it is important as ever for fathers to lead the way.  Young cubs without their alpha male will get eaten alive.  I get that.  I really do.

But….as they boys get older, I am finding it an increasingly challenging task to stay relevant. I’m still the cookie baker and the play date hostess and the chauffeur, of course.  But sometimes I want in on the other stuff, too.  I’m just not sure how to make it happen.

What becomes of the role of mom, especially when she has sons and not daughters?

Marinating in all that I was feeling at the moment, I continued to watch the scene in the bedroom unfold.  I slowly came to the realization that maybe my role had become that of a zookeeper — responsible for the care and safety of these wolves.

“Alright boys, bring Daddy that roll of tape,” instructed my husband.

Older son reached for the painter’s tape and tossed it to his father.

Painter’s tape.

“Okay, boys, that oughta do it,” concluded husband, who pressed the last pieces of tape across the large hole in the lid.

Yes, I am indeed the zookeeper, responsible for the wolves.  And at times, also responsible for one very large bafoon.*

So, everyone — help.  Am I doing this whole mom-to-boys thing right?  How am I supposed to navigate these rough waters?  Lets feast on that today — the ever evolving — or devolving — role of a mother of sons.

*For the record, my husband has since crafted an appropriate lid for the tank, which was always his intention.  I wrote this when I was still angry.  He is very smart, actually — he is not really a bafoon.   

He is sometimes a gigantic ass, however.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Being “Settled” Is, Well…A Bit Unsettling

….the absence of my own possibilities sometimes feels like a phantom limb reminding me of all that will never be….

Okay, so, in my little “About” page, I made some ridiculous statement about not feeling like I had grown chronologically older since 25 or so, and I went on and on and on about “vertical” versus “horizontal” movement of time and growth and something about wisdom trumping years and blah, blah, friggin’ blah.

Well I am back — a mere five days after the fact — to tell you all that whatever I thought I was selling is such a pantload of crap.  Cancel your orders.  Don’t buy it.  I’ve already boxed mine up and returned to sender (which would be me, actually — I’m the sender — so now I get to figure out how to repackage such a false notion and try for the re-sell next season).

Anyone in my most intimate circle knows that I talk incessantly about getting older.  I mean, like, incessantly (J and M, thank you for always listening, btw).  And I most certainly do not mean older “out” like I would have had you all believe, but I mean older “up.”  Up in age.  Up in years completed orbiting the Sun.  Up in moments gone by.  Up in number of pounds that won’t budge from my middle, in the number of creases that frame my eyes when I smile, in the sixteenth-of-an-inch increments that I swear — swear to goodness — I notice my hairline receding by every few months.  Older.  I am getting older, and I feel it now.  I feel the weight of that movement — that upward movement — every. single. day.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait — couldn’t wait — to get to the “next big thing.”  I was never ever satisfied with where I was. Too restless to live in the moment, I could never carpe diem.  Rather than “carpe”-ing I just, well, carped.  I could include several quotes here mimicking the “me” that I was during each phase of life that I deemed a necessary evil on the way to the golden ring (the golden ring always changed, by the way — being old enough to go to junior high, old enough for high school, old enough to date, to vote, to get a real job, be married).  But I think you get the point.  And yes, I listed voting.  I did not list driving.  I am a nerd.  I already know this, thank you.

And now?  Now I want to hold on to every moment of every day– down to the second.  I am absolutely beyond myself at the notion of putting another year behind me.

I don’t know how so much of my 30’s has escaped me.  Well, maybe I do.  I got married young by today’s standards (one month after turning 23).  While my peers were still dating and job-hopping, I was celebrating wedding anniversaries and managing a joint checking account.  And then I got pregnant at 25.  And again 15 months later.  Before I had turned 30, my husband and I were eyeballs-deep in meeting a mortgage, rearing school-aged children, negotiating in-laws, and hunkering down in our “forever” careers (my husband’s outside the home, mine inside of it).  My late 20’s and early 30’s were a blur because I was bum rushed by the milestones that most others parse out —  allowing at least a few years between each of life’s big “gets.” When I finally got my sea legs aboard this existence I created on the fly,  I was somehow already 34.  And I was incredibly aware of my age.

Huh.  That’s funny.  34 doesn’t sound old. And further more, things slowed down considerably at 34.  These last two years, my life has been relatively static.  Kids are incredibly self-sufficient. My return to graduate school was slow, and very very part-time; upon graduation, it was agreed that I’d hold off on re-entering the outside workforce for at least a little while.  Marriage kinks had been more or less ironed out several years ago — we’ve long found our rhythm as a couple.  So, what gives?  I thought it was the “fast” of it all until I entered the “slow” and still felt panicky.  I could never really put my finger on it.  Why I was obsessed with age.  Why I felt old.

There was one thing that should have clued me in:  I repeatedly considered women who were older than me quite young. Why?  It all came down to their level of “settled”-ness.  For example, a particular acquaintance of mine: At seven years my senior, she still seemed to me just beginning her life.  She had deliberately developed a nice career that still offered much upward movement. She was in a lovely condo in an important city.  She had established a serious relationship with someone she might very well marry.  She had things that mirrored all that I had with one exception: she had an “out” from it all.  With no wedding ring, no mortgage deed, and no children, this friend still had one foot in the land of infinite possibilities. And, while I would never in a million, zillion, trillion years ever, ever, ever want any “out” from my beautiful family and the life that we’ve built, the absence of my own possibilities sometimes feels like a phantom limb reminding me of what will never be.

Could this be at the root of my whole “getting older” conundrum?  Was it not so much increasing years, but decreasing possibilities that was making me mourn for yesterday, and last month, and last year?

With this stressor always at play in the recesses of my mind, my heart, and my soul, I was ever grateful to come across this post by blogger Jennifer Fulwiler: Behind the Scenes of a Mid-Life Crisis.  I read it, and I knew.  This was it.  What she said.  Exactly what she said.  All of it.  I would love for each of you to take a few minutes to read her words; whether you share in my fear of getting older or not, I think there is still wisdom to be gleaned.

Do any of you feel like me?  Anyone unsettled about being settled?  Let’s discuss.