Saturday, May 12, 2007

a taste of what's eating yer drunken old housewife

I've been so depressed lately, with only my book about human evil to cheer me up (and I'm on the penultimate chapter, so that's going to run out). There's no one big reason I've sunk into this morass, nothing like cancer or death of a loved one (although the other great certainty, taxes, figures into it). It's a series of insignificant-in-the-big-picture things which are stressing me, and I personally find that shameful. I should be more resilient. (Oddly enough, when it has come to the Big Things, I have been fairly tough, weathering divorce, death of loved ones, being the victim of violent crime which triggered post traumatic distress in me and my ex, etc...) I will share a small taste of the stress with you, but I'll spare you much of it.One large source of stress is that I'm constantly running about, ferrying the children hither and yon. Our schedule, the one for the children and me, is so ridiculous it has conflicts built right into it. The most blatant example of scheduling madness is that Iris Uber Alles has a piano lesson which directly conflicts with picking Lola up at preschool one day a week. (So why not stop the piano lesson? Because she really wants to play the piano and practices so willingly, and if we screw around this teacher, a very talented young pianist who lives five blocks from Iris's school, we'll never find such a conveniently located one again. And because we started piano on the advice of Iris's music teacher at school, another longish story). So one day a week the Sober Husband has to leave work early -- and of course it's one of the days he's required to be in Palo Alto an hour away -- and deal with one of the children. I'm always stressed that he won't remember (and indeed, the man does get involved in his work and lose track of time, relying upon his celphone alarm to startle him out of his consuming focus, but sometimes he forgets to set the celphone alarm).

We also have just re-started speech therapy for Lola, which conflicts with Iris's loathed softball practice. And of course, this falls upon a day the husband must be in Palo Alto, as well. This is a short-term conflict; softball is close to an end, but in the meantime, it's another source of stress.

Then there's Tuesday, where for eight weeks running (eight! weeks!), I've been scheduled to work at Lola's preschool. That makes Tuesday mornings stressful for us, with me having to chivvy poor Lola constantly to hurry along, as we have an extremely tight schedule to get from her delightful child gymnastics class to school early (working parents are supposed to arrive fifteen minutes before school starts). Normally I try to "plan for success with my spirited child", as the parenting catchphrase goes, and my planning for success largely involved allowing Lola a ton of extra time. She's a dawdler, an extremely slow walker (although, in a marked display of lack of self-knowledge, she proclaims herself to be "fast as a squirrel" and is completely puzzled over why the other children are able to get to school before her when she is walking as fast as is humanly possible). I like to allot half an hour to make the 1/3 mile walk to her school (and no, driving it is not possible, because the whole point of this preschool is that it's located in a quiet canyon where children and dogwalkers cavort in nature away from the hectic city). When we can't do that -- as in these eight consecutive Tuesdays -- our walk is transformed from the most relaxing part of our days (Lola and Mommy in nature! observing red-tailed hawks! looking for the baby owls which were born in a eucalyptus tree right by the trail! walking on logs! picking leaves off the stinky monkey flower plant!) into nasty old Mommy nonstop nagging poor, poky Lola. "Lola, we have to walk faster. Mommy has to work today and she's going to be late! It makes your teacher unhappy when Mommy is late! Please, Lola, for the love of God can't you keep walking?? Godamit." And of course, once I am at the preschool, I need to be patient, calm, cheerful, energetic and observant to work with the children, plus I need to keep my normally truck-driverish vocabulary G-rated.

There's not much time in the day for me to be alone or with other adults sans children. Iris's alarm goes off at 6 AM. Lola goes to bed around 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. That is a loooong day. (Don't start with me about how I am a bad mother letting Lola stay up so late. Lola is one of those freaks of nature, like Bill Clinton or Thomas Edison, who require very little sleep. As a baby and toddler, she was a non-napping paragon of wakefulness. In addition to her relatively tiny appetite for sleep, the child lives for the time of day when Iris is already asleep and she, Lola, rules the roost). Some days, I have a block of time of nearly two hours of free time without children, and I usually squander it going to the grocery store or running other mindless errands.

I used to relieve stress and maintain morale by a series of money-wasting beauty treatments (pedicures, professional eyebrow shaping, Brazilian waxes, expensive haircuts, etc...) plus buying books almost as frequently crack addicts buy rocks of crack. Then the Sober Husband and I had the realization that we were living way beyond our means, and the first thing to go on the economic chopping block was the poor old Drunken Housewife's personal appearance. Sigh. (Less sadly, I rejoined a delightful private library, enabling me a better source of books than the dreary and depressing public library).

This leads us to our next source of stress, the Almighty Dollar. We were recently hit by an astounding tax bill, which was completely unanticipated by stupid old us because we'd just paid a large amount of money in estimated taxes in January upon the advice of our tax attorney. These are taxes upon extra income earned in the distant-seeming past by the Sober Husband from doing some side consulting work, work which has dried up and indeed work from which we are owed $25,000 in unpaid fees (this is an entertaining story in its own right which I have long meant to get around to telling). Currently we are living outside our means, and Something Should Be Done. Of course, the most natural possibility that comes to mind is that the Drunken Housewife get off her curvy rump and obtain paying employment, but given that we already cannot get the children through the week without making the husband come home early from work at least one in five days, how the hell am I supposed to manage getting to a job? Not to mention that I am currently unwilling to do the work for which I am trained (litigatrix), and I'm woefully over or under-qualified for anything else. (I have graded practice bar exams for cash, as it's something semi-flexible which doesn't require putting the children into daycare, but it sucks in its own right. There's nothing to cause one to despair for the future of civilization like being put to grading a few hundred essays on a more obscure subject, such as corporations, which the aspiring attorneys of tomorrow have completely failed to master. And then again the pay for this is not generous, and indeed collecting it requires numerous long-distance phone calls and emails with increasing tones of nastiness. Funnily enough the bar preparation people are completely capable of receiving all emails EXCEPT the ones with my paysheets, which invariably are not received no matter how many times they are sent).

The last straw recently was when, on a day when I was already stressed and depressed and had only enjoyed about 2 hours of sleep, due to chronic insomnia (and indeed, it was a Tuesday morning, the worst time of the week), I received a note from my mother-in-law (with whom I have a spectacularly stressful and crappy relationship):

Dear family,

I will turn 70 next year, and I would like to have a first-ever family reunion sometime in the summer. You are all invited with families, spouses, significant or even insignificant others. This is a heads up way in advance to get your input on available dates during July-August 2008. Do you have any specific plans for those months that would prevent you from coming?

Here's the general plan: I will rent a place for a week, big enough for everyone. I'm looking on Martha's Vineyard but probably won't be able to confirm rental for 6 or more months. Whatever I get will have beach access and other activities available. I'm hoping everyone can be there for a big cookout on a Saturday night, vegetarian and vegan options available. Then you can stay for as much or as little of the rest of the week as you wish.

I look forward to hearing from each of you.
And here's your Drunken Housewife on the Martha's Vineyard ferry to the "first-ever family reunion":

Now why should this bother a reasonably sane person? First, the last time I went to one of these family reunions (this is actually not the "first-ever" one; there was one for a landmark birthday for the husband's now-deceased grandmother), it was one of the worst experiences of my entire life. Secondly, at least at that one (horrific as it was) I had insisted upon staying at a hotel, so I was able to have a few bits of time here and there where I could escape from the inlaws and stare blankly at the walls in private, contemplating death as a feasible escape and pondering why, why, why did I think it was a good idea to carry that particular family's genes forward into the new millennium. I was so horrified at the idea of having to be in a house with these people (and a statement that it will be "big enough for everyone" is meaningless coming from a person who thinks a one bedroom house is large enough for a family of four to visit comfortably, particularly as they could use a futon in the basement) that I completely missed at first the spine-chilling fact this was a house on an island. Not just any old, conveniently visited island, but one with no bridges and only an infrequent ferry. Thus if yer crabby old Drunken Housewife were stressed and wished to escape, there would be no escape short of wading into the sea.

But most of all, the fact remains that we haven't had a vacation in over three years, a proper vacation. We did go to Camp Mather last year and will return this year (Camp Mather is the city-subsidized mountain get-away, consisting of extremely rustic cabins by a pond in the scenic Sierras), but that is a vacation for the children, not their cranky old mother. Our last vacation was wonderful, a couple of weeks in Panama (so underrated as a destination. Just as brown is sometimes the new black, Panama is the new Costa Rica), but that was years ago and poor Lola can't even remember it. Travelling abroad is the most important thing in life to me, my greatest joy and pleasure, even eclipsing reading and drinking (and of course, you can read and drink abroad! discover new and exotic alcohols!). Due to monetary constraints, international vacations are not part of my life as a stay-at-home crab, and there are no conferences or calls to action for a cranky old Drunken Housewife to heed which would entail flying her abroad. At the present time, going from California to Martha's Vineyard is completely not in the budget and would conclusively exterminate any hopes of a more enjoyable outing elsewhere in the foreseeable future. I can't live in a world where my only vacations are spent being miserable with my in-laws. What mistakes have I made to put me in this position?

I am not being paid enough to be cooped up on an island with people who hate me. On "Survivor", at least they have tropical splendor to gaze upon and the hope of winning a million dollars... and the joy of voting out despised enemies.

And today, as the icing on the cake, my mother-in-law arrives for a visit. I am so dreading any discussion of this "first ever family reunion." If things get bad, I am going to have to run away from home (readers: I am entertaining offers! I have a valid passport and credit cards, albeit no ability to pay them off).


Green said...

Weren't we supposed to meet for lunch oh say ... six MONTHS ago? Perhaps we should get going on that some time this week, yes?

I'm sorry things are so rough lately. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

With total humorlessness I say, you need to set the limits that you need to maintain your sanity. Isn't that dry and boring advice?

You can-not prevent your husband and kids from going to the family suffocation event, but you can refuse (politely) to attend. And you should. You should NEVER do things which you will resent or hate, and nobody on earth is going to protect you from those things but you. And don't say, "but, I have to!" because I'll pull you by your home-dyed hair.

All you "have to" do is breath, sleep (HELLO!) eat, stay out of the elements when the weather is bad, and protect your own sanity (and now that you have kids, protect their basic needs to, which includes, taking care of their mother.)

You must switch your pre-school work day (you've already acknowledged that you could have had a bigger influence on the schedule, but that you were being compliant to not make waves.) Again, who will protect you but you?

You must switch piano. You are the payer of fees. She needs you more than you need her.

And, most importantly, you must make a minor shift (in my opinion) in your family's prioritizing. The Drunken Housewife, needs to move up a notch. A few seasons of missed "enrichment" for the kids at the benefit of the Drunken Housewife's sanity will be better for them in the long run.

The common element in all these situations is that the Drunken Housewife agreed to scenarios which were unworkable from the beginning.

There. Bad Friend Post. The worst kind of reply. I gave advice and failed to reflect. Sorry.

Here's my token reflection..."Sounds like you are really overwhelmed by all the minor stressors building up and robbing you of the calm and control that you need to stay even. And, not sleeping enough, that's a big problem for your health, it sounds like!"

You bossy friend,

the Drunken Housewife said...

Actually that made me smile: pull me by my home-dyed hair. That's a good one.

The common thread of these is that the Sober Husband set up these scenarios and I didn't force a quit. I did the other day, when he told me he'd scheduled a plumber to come between 1:00 and 3:00 the next day. I could only be home between 1:15 and 2:20 at most, and I said that, so the plumber was cancelled (and now will not return the husband's calls, off in a plumbing snit).

I am determined not to go to the family event, and indeed I suspect at least one other significant relative will not attend due to living on the West Coast and refusing to travel by air, allegedly due to some 9/11 issues. Even the husband going without me will bust the family bank, and I'm feeling pissy because he took a vacation last year to go to a wedding in Chicago, using my last frequent flier miles, and when do I ever get to go anywhere for personal fun?

the Drunken Housewife said...

p.s. There are only three more weeks of preschool, so if I can hang on that long, my life will get much easier.

Susan said...

Well you can always come to South Carolina! Certainly you won't encounter any inlaws here! Not even mine! HA!

I totally feel for you. I've been in much of the same boat lately. Working in speech 3x a week, plus our other responsibilities, conflicts with just about every mommy-type activity out there. I'm really missing that adult interaction! WE NEED THAT! Hey, it's great to be a SAHM, but by golly we need adults too!!!

And you know I totally get the inlaw family vacation thing. Heaven forbid if my inlaws ever try to reinstitute the annual family beach trip. (Which of course would just mean that we were invited, because everyone else still goes.) HECK NO! I need vacations for relaxation... not more stress.

My FIL's 70'th birthday is next year too. Must have something to do with the year. 1938 was a bad vintage, huh? Just didn't age well. I'm desperately hoping that we don't get subpeonaed for his birthday too.

If you ever want to "chat" off-blog, shoot me an email. I think we're feeling a lot of the same things....

Silliyak said...

You know those chronically inflamed eustachian tubes would contraindicate flying. Sad, but the SH and the girls could go, leaving you to mope around the house, being consoled by friends over lunch.

Anonymous said...

I'll be in SF from June 22nd through July 28th, house-sitting at various houses. I know much of the child-shuttling mind numbing will be over for the summer, but still, I will spend some time helping you drink your wine, if you want. :)

Freewheel said...

You need to schedule time for yourself. That's not being selfish; we all know that a happy mom = a happy family. You need some getting-away time. Do you have a dependable babysitter?

Amy said...

I have the perfect solution!

Tell your MIL everything she wants to hear. Then, the day before you are supposed to leave, you are going to become dreadfully ill. Much drama and phone calls of increasing franticness will ensue. At the last possible moment, it will be found that your ailment (while very serious!) is not quite so bad that you cannot be left alone. In fact, a week in bed recuperating, sans children, is exactly what you need. Reluctantly (but heroicly!) you will decline and selflessly urge your loving husband and daughters to attend this dream vacation without you. Friends and neighbors will loyally pledge to check in on you to make up for this awful depredation.

Feel free to make your health problem mental. Anyone with a history of depression nowadays has been on medication of some sort, and a pre-existing condition always makes such farces more believable.

hughman said...

although i love all the Super Secret ideas, i think you should just tell the truth and tell the SH and your MIL that you can't afford the time or money. if she desires, she can sponser the SH and the kids coming but otherwise, sorry.

from what you say, she may be relieved. more importantly, you will be. you have nothing to apologize for. this is just the way reality is. nothing to argue with there.

also, i think you should expand on some support group. you are obviously a charismatic, interesting person. i'm sure there are many out there who would be willing to help you. if i were in SF, i would in a heartbeat. you have so much to offer. what about the gay couple next door? make cupcakes. cupcakes go a long way.

i'll come and stay at your house for a week or more and take care of the kids if you want to get away. kids love me. uncle hugh would be glad to entertain them. i hope they like to dress up.

Anonymous said...

Hughman said exactly what I think, which is part of the reason why I think he's so brilliant. (The other that he has a lovely and adorable dog he takes on outings.) I've been at ballet recital photos for four hours and on my second glass of wine recovering, so I'm just going to go with his wise words.

The Munsch painting was a brilliant analogy. Best laugh I've had all day.

Hang in there. Hugs--Missy

Anonymous said...

On the vexed issue of slow-walking small people, oh boy have I BTDT. (My older daughter, around age 4-5, would slow to a crawl in anything like spring or summer temperatures, claiming that her stomach was too hot for walking ... or, more mysteriously, that she had too much energy). What worked for us was skipping - yep, the same kids who couldn't muster faster than snail's pace would streak ahead skipping, and could even muster a fair pace walking backwards.

oh - I too would run a mile from the family-in-law reunion thing. And even though it will take money, if the Sober Husband takes the girls you will at least have some quiet self time, eh.