Not quite barn-bound
My email inbox this morning had a message from “Luka's Mommy,” Luka being our young son and Mommy being, well, the woman with whom I conspired for that particularly delicious vintage some four years ago, Luka being now three years and three months old; the message was a link to a parenting web site that looks like a blog, "Babes in the Woods: A Vermont Mom and Her Two Daughters," written by a certain ex-Olympic snowboarder and English expat named Betsy (that's her to the right) who's been writing weekly of her Lewis & Clarking through motherhood. The link pointed to a particular entry in that blog: Week 21, or Tsunami Mommy. Or hormonal Mommy. Or Insurgent Mommy. It, and I, read:
Sometimes — like right now, for instance — I think it's a total joke that I write a parenting journal. Lately I'm more hissing snake than purring, licking lioness. I explode all the time. I'm unpredictable. I have no patience. I lack sympathy and empathy. I'm no fun. I'd rather have my fingernails peeled off than play hide-and-seek or "monster" with Esther and her playdate. Isla's neediness irritates me and sends me to the bathroom to shut myself in and breathe.
I scold, lecture, scowl, and judge. Sure I can act as if I have it together, but when it comes down to it, I'm floundering. If I chose to get all New Age about my situation, I would describe it in terms of ebb and flow. And I'm in the midst of a major ebb. People around me should escape to higher ground, because it's very possible a tsunami is coming.[...] And then there was my overwhelming desire to make and drink a huge
kamikaze on the rocks. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we didn't have
any lime juice. If that didn't give me the clue that Aunt Flo was due
for a visit, I might have caught on during the tantrum/breakdown I had
in the barn. I woke up that day smiling but swiftly shifted into my all too familiar
"this house is a nightmare" mode, frantically folding laundry and stripping beds and throwing shoes like a spoiled child. Unfortunately for everyone involved, I seem incapable of cleaning my house without wearing the martyr mantle.
In the barn Betsy was shoveling her horses' shit, a task that usually doesn't bother her, but in this case became the trigger for a crying fit that, the way she described it, evoked a yet unshot scene out of an Italian movie by Bernardo Bertolucci.
The pitchfork does it. Cheryl and I, like Betsy and her presumed and unnamed husband, have two children, one of them an early adolescent whose moods can approximate the innards of Mount St. Helens in her 1980 fit of adolescence. My days are claimed by the newspaper, hers (Cheryl's, not Helen's), when not claimed by ther string orchestra she runs, by the two kids, our daughter having been salvaged from the local school district for a couple of years of home-schooling (our own version of Katrina recovery, considering the intellectual wasteland she sustained the years she was in school). We don't have a barn with horses, although there's plenty of shit-shoveling: suburban parenting, single-parenting especially (given that that's what Cheryl's situation adds up to the days I'm held hostage to the GDP's demands) is a barn all its own, and when Aunt Flo does hit, there are no such things as high grounds in Florida. Not that beating Napoleonic retreats like that becomes anyone, or that. “I can't help wondering,” Betsy continued,
if this premenstrual angst is some sick form of
cosmic punishment for each egg that's wasted. What exactly is the
psychology behind the biology? I've noticed that my perfect husband
becomes fatally flawed in my eyes right around this time. Do I
subconsciously expect him to fertilize each and every egg that comes
down the tube? Yikes.
That's where Betsy and Cheryl part company. No yikes here: there's nothing more we'd like than to go against Bill McKibben's suggestion in that 1998 Atlantic essay that “now — now may be the special time. So special that in the Western
might each of us consider, among many other things, having only one
child — that is, reproducing at a rate as low as that at which human
beings have ever
voluntarily reproduced. Is this really necessary? Are we finally
against some limits?” We have two. If we could afford it, if the future bore less uncertainty with our immediate concerns (my own newspaper's future, independent from one chain or another, seems to be hanging by a thread, my future with it) we'd have a few more, we'd adopt half the orphaned population of Iraq for starters, maybe a Lebanese or two along the way and a couple of Kansans for good measure. Fertilizing eggs is exacly what the moment demands, but the fatal flaw in the story is our own freedom's limits, limited by the very things that mock assumptions of freedoms. To think about those things is to take stock of the narrowness of the concept, of the jangle of chains around it. Those limitations are what make me hormonal, pitching fits forks and furies at the winds, although it appears I've conveniently changed the subject, stealing the martyr mantle from Betsy and Cheryl. Betsy should at any rate count her blessings. She lives in Vermont, half-way up the ladder to heaven's gate. Suburban life is an alien concept up there. No matter how shitty the barn gets, it's not the end of nature, which is to say, it's not Florida, the States' best argument against fertilization.