By some accounts, things are going fine. I can still make it through long days, and I nap as needed, though that’s not often necessary. Once in a while I tell son to make his signature bean and cheese quesadillas and I meet friends or colleagues for a drink. I’m active on campus, participating in some committees that seem to have meaningful impact for the university community, and for the students. I hosted a really successful event for students this week. My research is languishing, but that’ll be all right; I still pay attention to it sometimes, and I can crank it up again whenever I can just carve out the time.
That’s why I was surprised by the appearance of rage last Sunday morning. Another morning during the week, I felt like bursting into tears as I walked to the office. There’s something beneath the surface that can’t be quelled by good habits, and it’s outing itself.
I do wonder if I’m trying too hard. Not with the basics, but trying too hard to make progress. We’ve gotten through the crisis. Now we’re in our own rhythm. We get by. Admirably, even. But the next step–desire, ambition, long-term plans–is eluding me, and trying to get there is frustrating at best, demoralizing in its more pernicious forms. I canceled plans with a friend who invited me to a live show that will be highly entertaining and laugh-riot good times. The last few shows I’ve been to have only made me realize how much fun I should be having. I fake it. I laugh, clap, smile and resist the urge to burst into tears. It’s so false. I would have suffered through all that fun, actually, because I’m supposed to be getting out of the house, but Daughter and I got seats on the horse and carriage ride. I’d promised her that we’d do it again in the autumn, and I don’t want to let her down. And that’s out of the house, so it counts. Truth be told, I’d prefer to be outside in the dark under the stars. It’s just easier to do this for her than to try to expend effort on my happiness.
Yesterday, in the midst of yet another long, lonely weekend, I figured that it would be better for Daughter and I to attend a stargazing event with the astronomers rather than me sit around, clean, and dip into the wine. The guy who checked us in greeted me by name, and it took me a minute to recognize him as a grad student I had, back in the day. He’s working an office job on campus while his girlfriend works on a PhD. He was so excited to see me. When I ran into him a few minutes later he said he’d called his girlfriend to tell her he saw me. He continued to rave about how much he loved my classes, how much I’d taught him, he was just talking about those classes the other day, and he still reads the books. None of that penetrated, of course. But here’s what was good–I was glad that my daughter could stand there and hear that. She deserves to be proud of her mom. I inquired about some of his career plans, he mentioned talk of a baby, said he wasn’t ready so they’ll put that off, and what I felt was that this nice young couple has so much promise and enthusiasm, and I was just happy for them, making their way. The conversation didn’t pain me.
The stargazing was neat. I watched my daughter as much as I watched the stars. She is so full of knowledge and wonder. She knows so much about constellations and mythology, and there is still so much to learn. We stood on line to view the moon through telescopes. In the darkness, I could make out her form–bundled up in her tweed winter coat–situate at the telescope. I saw her pause. Then I heard a gasp. And I thought my heart might leap out of my body. I carry around a concern that these children have been destroyed, or, at least, their childhood has. When I hear her emit a gasp, I know she has not lost her childlike wonder or ambition. That’s just me.
When we got home I poured a single glass of wine and proceeded to fire up an online show that I could fall asleep to. I found regurgitated human food on my bed. I was mad–that the dogs were pilfering food, that they were lying on my bed, that I had to clean this mess when I’ve been taking care to keep my room tidy and spare, for dignity’s sake. I stripped the topmost blankets and carefully dumped them in the hallway, to be dealt with tomorrow.
I awoke this morning before dawn, natch. I got right to work, but not with the dirty work. I processed the food from yesterday’s farmers market haul. I blended up a batch of pesto, to have on hand throughout the week for a quick pesto pasta for ever-hungry Son. I soaked bowls of beans–pinto, black, and lentil. I chopped up onions, potatoes and broccoli and had a soup base simmering. I blended that up and put it away. One night this week I’ll pull it out and just add milk and cheese. I steamed sweet potatoes and blended those in the food processor. Some will go in burritos with the black beans. Some will get stirred into biscuits to accompany the soup. The kids will eat soup or veggie burgers if there’s cheese and/or something enticing on the side. I rinsed the food processor and grated a batch of beets. Along with the lentils, I’ll have the makings of a veggie burger. I pressure-cooked the black beans, then followed that with the pinto beans, fragrant with onion and cumin and chili powder. As these things cooked and simmered, I thought about the various ways I could include the dark leafy greens into these dishes. The sun rose. I tidied up the kitchen, worked my way out to the hallway and gave that a mop. I started to make piles of papers, a sign that I’m ready to revisit the finances and make another sweep at the bookkeeping, a job I dread, not because of the tasks but because of the import of it.
I finally had to contend with the dirty blankets. I decided I would dump the thrown-up remains-of-whatever-it-was into a paper bag. I’d start by filling the bag with the cardboard in the family room, where they’d torn apart a pizza box. Yes, the other night they pulled a pizza box off the counter and ate the last piece of pizza. While cleaning that up I found the bag of bread from Friday. I thought that Son had gobbled that up, but the dogs had. And another loaf of bread, from yesterday’s farmers market, dragged off the counter last night. What is up with these dogs dragging food off the counter? That’s not on their list of naughty doggy behavior. Hmm, I thought, filling up my garbage bag–pizza, bread, bread, something on my bed. My goodness, these dogs are craving carbs! At the advice of the enthusiastic pet shop owner, we’ve been buying some fancy, paleo, no-grain dog food. I’m not keen on the paleo craze for humans, but I trusted the pet shop owner’s advice. Ends up that the paleo craze may be just as trendy for dogs. Whether it’s for the sweet carbs or the trusty fiber, my dogs are craving grains.
That’s how I found myself scraping dog throw-up into the garbage bag murmuring, “poor doggies.”
I’m proud of myself for not pitching a fit and raising my fists at the universe when I found throw-up on my bed at bedtime. I’ve learned not to exaggerate problems, and how to deal with them or put them off until I have the energy. I’m glad, though, that I’m still attentive to nagging thoughts. The dogs have been sending me clues about the dog food. My lack of happiness is also a clue. It’s not navel-gazing. I’m prone to depression, and if I persist in this state of not-happiness, I’ll slip into a funk that will be bad for all of us. I’ve got to be happier because I’ve got to be healthier so that I can raise my children and do my job and maybe even live my life in the process. I know this. But I can’t force it. I’ve got to pay attention without fixating, to trust my gut about getting out there into the world and know when to pull back.
I guess that’s the progress. I’m not achieving happiness or even enjoyment, but I’ve got to be patient. Limbo is not a nice place to be, but there are worse places to be, aren’t there?