“I’m tired of being pushed around. Tired of being told what to do. Tired of writing your god-darned articles. Tired of dancing to everybody else’s tune. Tired of being told whom to marry. In short… I’m tired!” I love this quote as said by an exasperated Barbara Stanwyk in the 1945 holiday classic “Christmas in Connecticut.” And well, I couldn’t have said it better myself, but I’m still going to try.
For weeks I was sitting on yet another family court motion. I knew it had to be done and I knew exactly what it was I had to file but I just couldn’t do it. I avoided it at all costs, thinking it would just all magically take care of itself. Thinking that if I just waited maybe Liam’s father would make his support payments, that he would follow through on the new Order, that extracurricular costs would be taken care of. I thought that maybe three months after I asked for it and a month after he finally agreed to give it to me that we’d get the necessary forms for Liam’s passport so we can visit my husband’s family in Germany. Much to my surprise, nothing magically took care of itself. Nothing.
Instead of working on court papers I spent time with my son. Instead of working on court papers we went on outings and watched movies. Instead of working on court papers I “took time off” to work and to celebrate my anniversary with my husband. Instead of enjoying this time I was distracted. I was cranky. There was something that had to be done and I wasn’t doing it and the more I put it off the guiltier I felt.
On Wednesday I tried to celebrate my birthday with my guys but I was sick. No matter how hard I tried to avoid it I had a fever and felt awful. Still, that evening I finished my latest round of court papers. Notice of motion, certification, proposed order, evidence, and letters, all ready to be mailed as soon as Liam left for his father’s on Friday afternoon. Upon completion, I did magically feel a little bit better, lighter.
I have been avoiding writing this post about rest and play because it is really hard for me. I do not do play. I do not do rest. For years my online dating profile read “If I could have one superpower it would be to not need sleep. If I wanted to I could lay down and rest, or more importantly dream, but I wouldn’t need it. Think of how much we could get done if we didn’t have to waste 6 hours a day sleeping?” That is honestly what it said and it beautifully sums up one of my biggest problems.
The “to-do list” is never done. Every day, despite crossing plenty of things off, it gets a little longer with more things that need to happen. This doesn’t make me special. This makes me a mom. I work a half-time job but regularly clock more than 30 hours a week because I think it is necessary. I have no boundaries when it comes to my time and work. I love my job and I believe in the organization so it is easy to work and forgive myself the extra, unpaid time. It also gives me this badge of honor that Americans so proudly wear that reads “I AM EXHAUSTED, ASK ME WHY.” Then we can rattle off a list of pseudo accomplishments and feel some kind of worthiness.
As a former theatre manager I am not afraid of hard work or long hours. Raised by a single mom I saw her doing everything around the house and working one full time job then going to work another part time job. At one time in my twenties I was working four part-time jobs in order to make ends meet in NYC.
Despite knowing that I was not afraid to work my ass off, I grew to believe my ex-husband when I was constantly hearing about how lazy I was. I was in school full-time (online while my son slept) and raising an infant entirely on my own. Actually no, not entirely on my own. I was going to school full-time and raising an infant in the presence of a man who financially and emotionally abused me while threatening mine and my son’s physical well-being multiple times a week. On my own I could have done it. With him around it was a struggle. In an early certification to the Court he wrote “while it is true that at one point I agreed that the Plaintiff should stay home and take care of our son, I was manipulated by the Plaintiff into agreeing to that because she agreed to [work at our restaurant] and go back to school while taking care of our son.” So the full-time mother and student thing wasn’t enough to make me a viable candidate to know what work is, he also expected me to work full-time at the restaurant, then MAYBE I wouldn’t be such a lazy excuse for a person.
It only took a couple of years of hearing about my laziness and worthlessness to truly believe it. If I took an hour to spend with one of my few remaining friends or to watch a TV show I would be rapt with this horrible guilt, the shame of laziness, and I would be constantly reminded about having had that break and who gave it to me. Now I work, I have a second job representing myself and my son in court, I sit on committees, and my husband and I have weekly social commitments. We fill our calendars to the point that a night at home together watching “Parenthood” on Netflix feels like a vacation.
After a night of fever-induced chills and sleeplessness I woke up Thursday morning with the initial thought “Oliver has to go pick Liam up from his father’s so I can stay in bed.” But then I got up. I went to pick Liam up from his father’s. Then with a 100+ fever, I kept my word and took Liam to Sesame Place. It rained on us for an hour then we called it quits, not to go home, but to drive another 45 minutes south to Adventure Aquarium. I refused to let sickness get in the way of the day of fun I’d planned with my son. After several hours in Liam’s happy place, we got back in the car and he was asleep in minutes. I could barely move. Flu-like aches in my arms made it almost impossible to drive. At one point I thought I’d have to call my husband to come to get us.
We made it home though! Not only that but I knew that I was going to be able to get more work done for our upcoming garage sale because we got home an hour earlier than planned! More time to work! But we arrived home to a large envelope with a pound of paperwork from my son’s father’s attorney. I was crushed. I got Liam’s dinner ready with tears streaming down my face. All I could think of was “what is next?” I tried to find joy and gratitude in my son’s sweet smile but all I could think of was “he’s going to take you away from me.”
Instead of working on the garage sale and mountains of baby clothes and toys, I put Liam to bed then prepared myself to read. He wants to do another best-interest evaluation to determine whether or not my son is safe with me because my behavior is not indicative of a mother who can properly care for a child. I read the lies and twisting of reality and it came. The crying that is so hard and so deep that you worry your eyes may actually come out of your head came. Along with it came the vice grip on my chest making it impossible to breathe. All of the work I had previously done to prep my motion was now lost. Instead of readying for the weekend’s sale I cried and my mind played out horrible scenarios in which my son is taken away from me. I woke up the next morning feeling worse than I had with the fever thanks to hours of uncontrollable crying and little sleep.
I worked all day yesterday on the sale then spent several hours last night at a party to bid a temporary farewell to two of my favorite people who are spending a year abroad. When I woke up this morning I was shaking and could barely stand but got in the car, went to the store to buy more markers and to hang signs. After a half hour, I came home and collapsed into bed.
I postponed the sale. I need to rest. So here I sit writing which is good for my soul, but still not the rest I need. I am terrible at rest. I am rarely not in “sleep debt” which is two or more nights of getting seven or fewer hours of sleep. It takes me two hours to fall asleep most nights because it so hard to turn off that scarcity thinking about what I didn’t get done today or what I need to get done tomorrow. I lay awake at night often asking myself “how do I make this better for Liam?” I never have an answer before I fall asleep and I still don’t when I wake up.
According to Brené Brown, play is as essential to our health and functioning as rest. I wonder if it is possible to replace rest WITH play since I’m not so good at the rest part. But without the rest part, the play is really difficult. Just thinking about spending time doing “purposeless activity” makes me feel guilty. “But I need to plant perennials, pull up carpet, run a 10K, run for political office, write the Governor about family court proceedings, write a thank you note to the Imagination Movers for writing a song about a three-legged dog…” Turning off that list of things I NEED to accomplish gets in the way of actual play.
Though I am not good at these things yet I really am trying to actively go to bed earlier. Before bed most nights I lay on a back stretcher and try to just breathe and clear some of the garbage out of my mind. I recognize the things that make me really happy to do with my son and my husband and try to do them regularly. But what would play even look like for me? It used to be sale shopping. I could spend hours trying on 80% markdowns and be happy to leave with two tops. Now I give myself twenty minutes in the Banana Republic Factory Store clearance racks and move on. No need to go to other stores.
On Monday night I took Liam and Oliver to see their first Yankees game. Liam went once when he was 6 months old but I don’t count it because he was so young and because I was being verbally abused most of the time we were there for being too whiny, too protective, too… Monday night I remembered what it was like to be at Yankee Stadium, my pre-marital happy place before my ex took over. It was wonderful. The sights, the sounds, the smells. I cried happy tears on four occasions. THAT was play for me and I think that would still be play for me if I went by myself.
But what does play look like? Brené suggests that we DIG Deep and Get Deliberate with a list of “ingredients for joy and meaning,” so here we go. (I am watching what I eat, trying to lose a few of the pounds I’ve gained post-wedding so everything relates to food these days.)
So what brings joy and meaning to your life? How do you play? Now I’m going to see what all the rage is about this “napping” thing.
New to the Journey Back from Shame? Start at the beginning.
The following PDF of the below image is linked to all posts related to my journey with Brené. Enjoy the trip! 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living