Pre-motherhood, I was a bit of an anxious person. Anxious in the sense that I have a hard time convincing myself everything’s okay, everyone’s okay & I’m okay. I have this irrational set of fears that I’m unwittingly hurting someone’s feelings and/or acting without all the information and/or people tolerate me but behind my back wish I would go away and/or i’m being misinterpreted & people think I’m a horrible person. Yeah, yeah I know it’s all ridiculousness, I know I shouldn’t waste energy like that, who cares what people think, yadayadayada, but let’s be real – everyone has those internal happiness-squashing demon voices & they’re hard to kill. I do alright to keep them gagged for awhile, but they usually figure out a way to break free, ruin my day/week/life & then I have to subdue them all over again.
What does this bad self-talk mess have to do with motherhood? I’ve learned that if my normal anxiety & unnecessary guilt are the Greyhound bus to the next town of guilt-trips, motherhood is a first-class seat on the on the Carnival guilt-trip cruise. All-inclusive with a pre-determined schedule of worries totally out of your control. And sinking the ship seems near impossible, especially with global warming knocking out the choice icebergs. Okay now I think I took the metaphor one sentence too far. Eh, leaving it.
So my current spiral of guilt & evaluation of self-worth was spawned by improv comedy of all things. Improv is pretty important to me. Actually, really important. It helps me shake out of my head, I tend to feel better about myself when I regularly practice & perform improv, whether I bomb or not this night or that night because just the act of risking it is good for me. In LA, I’m pretty sure weekly improv was a key factor in keeping me from drowning in whiskey & self-loathing. So naturally, improv was the first thing I attempted to pick back up after having a baby.
I’m a “play as much as I can get myself there” member of a couple improv groups – Brentwood Towne Centre’s Exit Stage Left & the just-formed Yes And group, both of which I love being a part, and appreciate the opportunity to play every time I get to participate – but my main group that takes up the most time is Nashville Improv Company. We take ourselves a little more seriously than necessary for being a short-form improv comedy troupe based in a secondary market with an all volunteer cast. But that’s part of what I like about it, the aspiration to be something big, to become an entity. I like that it’s fairly well organized & established, I like that I’m not in charge of said organization & establishment & I like that I get to work with a super talented group of supportive people, including a whopping six fearless females, which as far as improv groups go, is a high estrogen count. So I made the effort to get back to NIC as soon as I could.
And it has not been smooth.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that my return to my three-hours twice per week – maybe three times some weeks – unpaid responsibilities is a mild transition when seen next to career women going back full time by choice or necessity. In fact, I was hesitant to bother publishing this post at all because comparatively speaking, my stress level for life-juggling pales in comparison to most of my friends with kids. My friend Lauren already composed this beautiful essay on the subject of getting over the guilt associated with the choice to go back to work, so I’m aware that my voice is certainly not the most qualified voice on the subject. But screw it, I’m talking about mom guilt & worry I’m wading through, so I’m not going to now add “creating repetitive web content” and “financially able to choose to stay home with my baby” to the list of things I’m feeling crappy about. If Buzzfeed can create trite list after trite list with out questioning their societal worth to the internet, I can lament my relatively minor plight.
Anyway, improv… NIC rehearsals are in East Nashville at 6:30p on Monday nights. I live in West Nashville. Prior to baby, no biggie. Just leave at 5:45p. Or at 4:45p, beat traffic & eat dinner on the east side. Practically never late. Literally cannot remember ever being late.
Post-baby? Holy crap, it feels like aligning the stars. Libby is exclusively breast-fed, so to be gone the 4 hours necessary for rehearsal & not have my breasts leak all over me during rehearsal, I have to feed or pump as close to leaving as possible, plus I’ve got to make sure Brian has a bottle ready to go for while I’m gone. Then there’s Brian getting home in rush hour traffic by 6pm, baby not spitting up or pooping on the one clean outfit I scraped up that sorta fits my post-delivery body which I put on while my baby cried that I wasn’t holding her because 5p is half-passed-I’m-overtired-and-needy in baby time, oh & did I make myself a water bottle to take with & did I remember to actually take it with because if I’m dehydrated so is my exclusively breast-fed baby, and I don’t need that guilt on top of this guilt, and what can I grab & shove into my mouth in the car on the way so I don’t pass out by the end of rehearsal & crap there better be gas in the car I don’t have time to stop….
Needless to say, the juggling is a learning curve & I have been failing at catching the balls. I was even late for a show call-time, which is something I truly hate because it cuts into my pre-show prep, which I value. So I got the official warning from the director this Monday – “You can’t be late anymore.” In addition to my tardiness being understandably annoying, she’s nervous because I’m teaching a class starting on Saturday and she’s seeing visions of flakiness.
I fully empathize with her concern. If I were in her shoes, I’d feel the same way. So I assured her I was aware it was a problem & I was actively taking steps to remedy it. She should not worry about Saturday afternoons, because they are infinitely less stressful than Mondays. Fewer moving pieces, more available helping hands. I would never have agreed to teach a class if I wasn’t confident in my ability to be there for the students.
What I didn’t say is that I’m doing the best that I can. Mainly because I feel in most situations where you’ve let people down, or given people cause to fear future let-downs, excuses are irrelevant – either I can meet the requirements of being a cast member or I can’t, and either they choose to cut me slack because they don’t want to lose me as a performer or they don’t, understanding the why of how the situation was created doesn’t really matter. So I didn’t tell her I was crying when Brian couldn’t make it home in time for me to get across town by 6:30p, and how then I felt guilty for making my hard-working husband feel bad that his rushing out of work effort “wasn’t good enough.” I didn’t tell her I spaced out on stage because I chose being dressed in the dress code sans spit-up stains, making sure my daughter was fed, & getting there for at least half of warm-ups over finishing my already cold dinner that I had tried & failed to steal the time to eat. I didn’t tell her that improv is kind of the only thing I’ve got right now where I feel more human & less food source/baby comfort item so when I miss a rehearsal, or go & feel like I didn’t grow or feel connected or have fun, then I not only feel guilty for wasting that time I could have been at home with my husband, who I’m averaging spending time with two times a week at this point because of his work schedule, I also feel like I missed my few hours a week to feel like a functioning member of society.
So yeah. It’s important to me too that I not be late. I’m trying to learn from my mishaps & get a routine together. This is, after all, my first child, I cannot be expected to know what I’m doing from the get-go. I’m exploring babysitter options to cover that I-need-to-get-ready-to-go-and-leave-but-Brian’s-not-home-yet gap on Mondays and, even though I anticipate no problems, a code-red back-up plan for Saturdays just in case. And I’m going to prep as much as possible the night before.
But the bottom line is while I can do my best to only make commitments I can keep, babies are unpredictable. And in a cage match of my daughter’s ever-changing needs vs being a dependable member of an improv troupe, my tiny currently helpless daughter will win over a group of adults totally capable of functioning without me. Every time. It is what it is.
And, because feeling guilty for being late for commitments is just the voyage christening of the guilt cruise (you knew I wouldn’t resist bringing that metaphor back) , & also to not be outdone in web content composition by Buzzfeed, here is a trite unorganized list of other worries & guilt inducing situations:
– anytime I leave my baby crying in someone else’s hands
– if I cut her feeding before she releases on her own because I have to leave
– because I exclusively breastfeed, everything I eat feels judged
– If she’s sick, why didn’t I do x, y or z to prevent it
– am I making her do enough tummy time? Or too much?
– did we read a book yet today?
– Do I have enough clothes on her?
– have I bundled her too much?
– letting her sleep in a drooly wet outfit because that’s what she fell asleep wearing & I don’t want to wake her
– feeling guilty enough about the wet outfit that I end up changing her & waking her
– leaving her strapped in the carrier asleep even though I’m home because I really need to pee/eat/do the laundry/ just sit in the quiet & stare for a minute.
– forgetting an extra outfit in the diaper bag in case she drools/pees/poops through the one she’s wearing, so she ends up only wrapped in a blanket
– Not having the laundry done yet to have another outfit to pack
– neglecting friendships
– being uncomfortable making the long trips to see family
– all the pressure on my husband as the only bread-winner
– because I can’t understand her babbles & she seems so desperate to tell me something
– letting her sit in a dirty diaper a few more minutes until we get home because she freaks out if someone flushes a toilet while I’m changing her in a public restroom
Okay, I feel better now. Demons successfully gagged for the time being. But I have a feeling the mom-guilt cruise has just barely begun, because I only have one kid & she’s not even a toddler yet.
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