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My daughter’s been feverish for several days. We all slept awful last night. Today has passed in a haze, dozing and watching videos. Her fever’s low enough that she feels well enough to play, but she’s not all better. Whenever she gets sick I always wish there was some way I could fix it. I do this with most difficulties in the lives of my loved ones. Parenting has in part been a series of emotionally high-stakes lessons in accommodating myself to powerlessness and trying to cultivate patience with problems that are out of my hands.
"The doctor said I strained an abdominal muscle while coughing, so no rock climbing for at least two weeks."
"I didn't know you could get hurt coughing."
"Me neither. The doctor said he's had patients tear ligaments and break ribs from coughing."
"That sucks. You're an active guy and now you're laid up and you don't even have a cool story, like 'I was clinging to the wall and I decided to just go for it, so I jumped to the next hold...' I guess this is just what happens when we get old."
Today I ran a 10k, my longest run since last May when I hurt my ankle. I felt tired afterward but refreshed emotionally. I ran until all the stress of work and job hunting and parenting just couldn't keep up. I had to do some work and job hunting stuff tonight so some of that came back, unfortunately, but not like before. I need to remember that when I run I feel better, emotionally speaking. In a sense, running puts more gas in the tank, gives me a bigger tank. It will be harder to run outside in winter, though.
Parenting changed music. "Love will tear us apart" sounds just as good, but speaks to me much less powerfully. I've gained new appreciation for any mention of animals in grown up songs as these moments jump out at my daughter - "he's talking about a cat!" I learned about the fun of dancing with my partner only a few years before becoming a parent (punk delayed this discovery). Parenting removed any hint of sexual overtone from dancing, but made it even more fun, as well as introducing me to the joy of soundtracked housework: "I got so much cleaning done today!"
I made a simple typo and so thought I had three and a half weeks to meet an important deadline when I actually have a day and a half. I came close to a meltdown, and it was right before bed so I slept awfully. My wife said in the morning "you've got this, it will be fine, you've done more than this in less time before" and she's right. I think it's just accumulated stress boiling over. I feel a bit better after some marmite cheese toast and helping my daughter write a thank you card to a friend.
Bus ride to work past spiny leafless trees under a wet newspaper colored sky. A woman with a wet, hacking cough makes a call, begins pleading with someone to let her come to their place to charge her phone. “Can I just come in for like ten minutes? My battery is about to die and I left my charger there.... Okay.... Okay.... Well, will you be around? Okay I’ll just hang out out front. If you’re going to be that long can you give me a ride home? I only got a dollar thirty five and a transfer.”
This morning I lost a week. My wife found and returned it. “Monday is already the 16th.” “No, it’s the 9th.” I jumped ahead in time because the last two weeks felt like four. My daughter suffered through five days of fever, my wife and I through five nights of sleeplessness. I raced, cursing, toward several deadlines. We saw our new baby on the ultrasound and learned she is a she. (We celebrated with pizza.) And the holidays loom from the future, their great height dwarfing the next two nearly ordinary weeks. I wish I had a pause button.
I hate to be overly negative but for the remainder of my morning the result of black coffee plus empty stomach equals divided attention, multiplying anxiety, and exponentionally faster heartbeat.
On our walk to the bakery to get bread and donuts my daughter asked me to push the stroller on the grass for a bit, I think enjoying the bumpiness and the crunch of the snow under the black plastic wheels, and said she saw a woodpecker but it flew away before I saw it. She wanted three samples "because I'm three." She suggested I get cheesecake but I passed.
I had been feeling better after hurting my abdomen coughing. I had about a week of taking it easy physically. This morning I had to pick the kid up when she didn't want to be picked up and was lying flat and now I'm sore again. Ugh. On the plus side, winter storm. Forecast says it could drop up to 15 inches of snow by tomorrow. I don't have to drive anywhere. My daughter and I are going to the park to make snowmen and drink hot chocolate from a thermos. This would be a good day to make soup.
Weather report says from 12 to 16 inches of snow fell in 24 hours. My daughter and my wife and I made a snow cat - the ears make the difference between that and a snow man - and a snow wall in a circle for its house. I am not too proud to admit I was proud that I made the best snow angel out of the three of us, due to my advantages in height and weight. On a bench by the lake we drank hot chocolate, listened to the woodpeckers and watched crows cluster in the dozens on trees.
I sometimes write my 100words on the bus to work. I like starting my day with the writing and reflective thinking these entries encourage. At the same time I always feel self-conscious because I worry that getting my laptop out on the bus will make me come off as pretentious. I’m generally nervous about seeming like I think I’m better than someone. I think this stems from how I grew up, with some of the family slightly upwardly mobile and others downwardly so and no one ever talking about it. I have to think more about this.
I realize my shoulders are tensed in a half-shrug. Then I realize I am doing the same thing with my whole body. No surprise. I have too much to do, too little time, and, I worry, too little ability. In this frantic near-panicked time I am not proud to admit my daughter's needs sometimes feel like a burden. But they are also an anchor. Tonight we snuggled under a blanket with a light up toy while I told her stories she asked for, "make them ones about adventures with you and your grandparents when you were a kid."
I left before my family woke up today so I miss them. Last night they went to see the christmas light downtown. My daughter wanted to pack food to eat while out, but then said almost in tears "will you still eat dinner with us Daddy?" She occasionally will throw a fit if my wife or I start eating before all of us are at the table. That can be annoying if we're hungry and still cooking and such but it's touching as well that she cares so much about family dinner. I should fix something nice to eat tonight.
The rhythms of my day mean I often sit down to write these just before or just after doing things that I don't particularly want to do and that I'm stressed about, so I rarely actually want to write. Sometimes I use writing these to put myself in a more positive frame of mind for the moment. Other times I use them to talk about how I feel. In order to do that, I have to first commit to actually writing, to move out of my sense of exhaustion and inertia into focusing on something I actually feel interest in.
"Sorry, I meant to call you," my wife steps through the door, "but I didn't have a chance, the library was really hectic and then we went to the grocery store."
"No problem. Dinner is just about ready."
"I made the two of you some purple mashed potatoes - garlic mashed potatoes actually, and brussel sprouts with cumin and butter, and some tofu. So we have purple potatoes, green sprouts, and yellow tofu."
"That sounds good Daddy," my daughter nods solemnly. I hand her a chunk of tofu to taste. "I really like it!"
"I'm glad sweetheart."
I tried not to think about work, laying next to my daughter, trying to soothe her to sleep. She whispered to herself, making up a story I couldn’t really hear. I pictured my parents and grandparents. They must have had days like this, stretches of days like this, stretches that lasted weeks, months. Parent-child relationships, so strange. People so important to each other, in a relationship so asymmetrical, unequal. Parents can't understand their children fully, because children don’t think like adults. Children can't understand their parents until they are themselves parents, if at all. But it works.
The lake froze in patches, looking like one large piece of ice had cracked into pieces, when really it had not yet become one sheet. Crows clumped on ice chunks, cawing and flapping. I walked to the edge of the beach, tapping the ice with my toes. I stepped onto the lake lightly with one booted foot, feeling silly for feeling scared. If the ice cracked here I would fall at of six inches but I visualized movie images offalling into deep water covered over with ice. This winter I will finally walk across the whole lake once it freezes.
Job application, Thursday. Finish essay, Sunday. Doctor appointment tomorrow. Meeting Monday. Or maybe Tuesday...? It’s in my email. I stop stirring the simmering tomato sauce.
Paper. No, that’s a crayon drawing. Where’s some blank paper? Okay, Thursday, job - Christ! My pen died! And this pencil is broken! The lid on the pot of boiling spaghetti rattles, spits, hisses.
My wife walks in. “Ooh, smells good in here!”
“Thanks,” I mutter.
“Are you okay?”
“No. I ... yeah. Just tense. You know. Deadlines.”
“Ah.” She fills the electric kettle with water. “Tea?”
“Wait, yes." Deep breath. "Yes please. Thank you.”
I read a micro-memoir about a grandmother regularly fixing extended family Sunday brunch, and remembered many meals at my grandparents’ house, as big as 20 people and as small as just me and my grandparents. I hope have grandkids someday. If I do, I hope I live near them, and am smart enough to remember to move to do so. I pictured myself cooking dinner for my children's families, then imagined looking at my grown up children remembering them as small children. It was a strange sort of hypothetical wistfulness, imagining future nostalgia for a time still under way.
When I got to the lake I’d shed most but not all of the tension that had sent me out the door. I pressed a booted toe onto the edge of the ice until I heard a crack. I jumped. Just an air pocket. I followed it, kicking, enjoying the breaking sound. I stomped harder, hearing a much louder crack. I jumped again as I saw water well up. I looked closely and saw it was only a few inches deep. Smiling, I stomped a two by four hole in the lake’s surface then went home feeling calm.
People hunched over laptops crowd the Amtrak lounge car, updating their facebook status, ignoring the orange and purple sunset-painted river. I would sit with my kid and watch the Mississippi but several such squinting typists, each solo, take up tables meant for four. I consider sitting down right next to one, as a not-so-subtle fuck you. I am not yet this aggressive - it would take a few beers. The trip is too much fun. But not so fun that I am immune to this resentment. I take bitter comfort imagining the misery accompanying their selfish social ineptitude.
Travel delays out of our hands meant that we were in transit over night. Noise at the place we're staying meant we were up way too early. I can barely think. It's like my mind is stuffed with cotton and my whole body aches. There simply isn't enough coffee in the world. This reminds me of the first two weeks after my daughter was born, after my wife's 40 hours in labor. When my daughter was younger I spent weeks at a time feeling like this. I suppose a sense of progress is the silver lining of this painful sleeplessness.
The stroller's blue plastic wheels crunched the snow and ice on unshoveled sidewalks. "I'm excited about going to the restaurant with you!" "I'm excited too!" "Daddy-Daughter breakfast is gonna be fun. Should we call it Daddy-Daughter Breakfast or Daughter-Daddy Breakfast?" "Ummmm... Daddy-Daughter." "Cool. Do you want to go to Round the Clock or Jimmy's? Round the Clock is where your mama used to go with your aunt and uncle when they were kids. Jimmy's is a place me and mama used to go when we first met." "Which one has pancakes?" "Both do." "Round the Clock."
She sits sobbing on the purple plastic potty. “Sweetie what’s wrong?” “I wanna go home!” “Ohhhh. We will honey.” “I wanna go home now.” “What’s bothering you?” “There’s too much stuff to do here!” She finishes on the potty, I help her pull her pants up, pick her up, carry her downstairs. We still hear the Christmas party coming through the ceiling. We climb into the bed with a book. She pulls the blanket over us and turns on her stuffed toy that doubles as a nightlight. “Peace and quiet,” she sighs, snuggling in to my chest.
She frowns, fumbling to grip the pencil. She draws waves on the paper. “Dear Grandma and Grandpa. I hope you enjoy this happy story. Happy Christmas Eve. Peace and quiet is a good word.” “That’s a very nice letter. Do you want to give this to Grandma and Grandpa? I’m sure they will really like this.” She walks upstairs, hands the note to her grandmother and tells her what it says. He grandmother laughs as she repeats it to her husband. Someone hands my daughter another present. She sits and begins slowly peeling off the red wrapping paper.
White guy, crewcut, black loafers, black fleece jacket. Mid 20s? Looking around, frowning.
"Need an outlet?"
"Uhhh... trying to figure out where to sit. I usually like the counter by the window."
My chair's backed up against his spot. "I can move around the table."
"You don't mind?"
"Nah dude, no prob'm." I scoot my white laptop across the table's shiny black laminate top, switch seats. He plugs in his power adapter.
"This kind of interaction didn't exist before laptops. Someday we'll tell kids - 'way back when, we had to use outlets, before computers were body heat powered.'"
My daughter wanted to go to "a fancy malt shop." The fancy part was important - I said "okay, let's go get malts" and she said "no, FANCY malts." I called a few places to find out if they served malts. (I admit I briefly considered lying and saying that a shake was a malt.) It was hard to find one. We got to the place that said it served malts, and my daughter changed her mind - "I want a cone." By that point, I was set on having a malty myself but she said "no you get a cone too."
I have had some minor successes recently. Small ones, inconclusive ones. I hope they will be a sign of bigger things to come but it's not clear yet. I've felt the need to share that with people, not something I usually do. (And I've felt funny sharing it with friends who are struggling as much or more than we are.) I think I've wanted to tell people in part because I'm tired and in part because I want this to be a sign of better things over the horizon, so I need the support of people being happy for me.
My daughter, looking at pictures from a relative's wedding six years ago, is struck by how some relatives - ones who are 20 or so and younger - look really different and some people look basically the same. She's also curious about the fact that she wasn't around at that point. She says "I was born six years ago." "No honey you were born three years ago." It's hard for her to comprehend a time when she wasn't around. It's hard for me too, life is so different now, it's hard to imagine not having her. Can't wait for the next one!
A friend reflecting on a long group project he was part of once said something like “when I think about the limits of what we achieved my impulse is always to ask how I could have worked harder.” I relate to that. How hard I work is one of the only variables I can control. But how hard I work is not an infinite resource. I can often get a bit more work done if I push, but I often can’t get much more than just a bit. That’s hard to admit, it means recognizing lack of control.
There are usually things I should be doing and sometimes I don't have the energy. Other times I have the energy to work but I don't know what to work on. I crave engagement in a project that will be stimulating to pursue and have rewarding results, and where I can say "this, this is what I'm doing." I think in those times part of the issue is that my mental muscles that I use for deciding what to commit to are tired. I could commit to something if someone else would figure out what and just let me know.
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