I never considered myself an anxious person… until I wasn’t anymore. After my divorce, a sense of peace fell over me and the noise in my head silenced. A couple friends said they had never known me to be so calm, and until that moment I had never realized that I wasn’t calm before.
It’s funny – you live with something long enough and you think it’s normal.
I carried that peace with me for years and throughout my pregnancy, thankful that my child was going to have a calm mother who could provide a home with serenity and stability.
Then Quinn was born. And my old anxiety came roaring back without warning.
It felt so familiar, I didn’t notice it at first. I slipped back into it naturally, like an old sweater. I felt overcome with responsibility and my utter lack of qualifications to take it on. The perfectionist in me panicked.
And I began to spin.
Once again, I found myself spinning plates on poles, running frantically from one to another trying to keep them all balanced. The knots in my stomach tell me that I must stop this insanity. But I can’t.
On top of these spinning plates, I balance Quinn’s needs for comfort, brain development, stimulation (but not over-stimulation), sleep, nutrition, physical health, education, down time, play time, social skills… the list is endless.
All of the sudden, every tiny detail became crucial. Like, Quinn’s nursery must be kept at an exact temperature, and I obsess about what combination of heater, sleep sack and pajamas to employ. Because when everything is spinning out of control, at the very least I can control Quinn’s temperature while he’s sleeping.
When the doctor told us that Quinn was under-weight at his nine-month appointment, I started one of my famous overly-anal-spreadsheets attempting to document his exact calorie intake every day. Because if my son did not weight enough, it had to be because of something I was doing wrong. Of course, all the calorie documentation in the world couldn’t make the kid actually eat. But with my spreadsheet, I took control of what little I could.
And I carry these burdens alone. The responsibility to take on these tasks and meet my son’s every need resides solely on me. Not that my wonderful husband doesn’t care – he cares very much about Quinn’s comfort, development and health, and he’s a fantastic father. But Hubs doesn't obsess about every minute detail the way I do. Like, he only has one sun shade up in his car, and I have four in mine. He doesn’t have the impossibly high standards of perfection that I have. He’s normal.
And so I spin.
I’m attempting to read this book (I can’t even find the time to read anymore!) called Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, by Judith Warner. I’m only in chapter two, and I don’t necessarily agree with everything I’ve read so far, but it’s definitely given me a lot to think about. If nothing else, it’s nice to hear someone admit that anxiety and quality of life are common problems for mothers (whether they go to work or stay home), and we need to do something about it. She describes the feeling as “not depression or oppression, but a kind of too muchness.” That sounds about right.
In the first chapter, Warner writes:
At social events, the men and women separated out into two groups, the men discussing sports and stock prices and the women talking about their children. On vacation, the fathers took advantage of “their time” away from work to disappear for whole afternoons of fishing. The mothers continued their daily grind in a new locale.
This passage resonated with me. I feel consumed by motherhood, and if I’m not consumed by it, I’m not a good mother. Says who? I don’t know. Me, mostly. The absurdity of it is obvious once I see these words written down. So why can’t I stop?
Because if I stop, who will obsess about the temperature in Quinn’s room or whether the sun is in his eyes in his car seat? Who will keep track of his calories in the spreadsheet? No one.
And so I spin.