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Guilt and Everything After.

Am I the only person out there that walks through her days with this constant load of guilt? I swear it’s why my back hurts all the time. My personal sack of guilt is so heavy that during the few moments of the week when it lifts, I think I should step on the scale. I literally walk through town with my shoulders drooping. I often have to remind myself that no, whatever I am doing at that moment is fine, so strong is the feeling that I should be doing something else.

I’m not working.
I’m not doing math flashcards with my kids.
I’m not filling their day with happy memories.
I’m not calling my mom.
I’m not emailing my best friend.
I’m not planning the birthday party.
I’m not checking to make sure the vacation will go just so.
I’m not writing my blog post.
I’m not pitching that new editor.
I’m not organizing the pantry.
I’m not walking the dog.
I’m not training the dog.
I’m not reading with Rory.
I’m not building elaborate Lego robots with Sam.
I’m not savoring every charming moment of Wyatt.
I’m not spending any alone time with Lily.
I’m not working on my book proposal.
I’m not riding my bike.
I’m not putting the bathing towels in the dryer.
I’m not spending time with my husband.
I’m not getting a new box of Kleenex for the bed in the guest room.
I am not making a scrapbook or sorting online photos.

You can see why this is a problem. Even if I manage to be doing any one of these things (and most of the time I am not), I am not doing the rest. I tend to spend a lot of time meditating on how very much I suck.

Now, I get that the commenter instinct right now is to go tell me no, no, you do plenty! You do lots! It’s all good! Please don’t. ( And if I should happen to be someone you know personally, resist. Seriously.) I know that. I get it. Blah, blah. I don’t really feel this guilt intellectually, and so I don’t need anyone to point out that it’s silly. (Seriously.) I recognize that I am doing just fine, broadly speaking. I want to meditate on why I do this to myself.

Every so often, I get a moment when the guilt lifts, usually when I have checked off a pile on my to do list, and sometimes just when a good song comes on the radio and I am singing along in the car. (Sadly, I think that is partly because when you are driving the car, you are affirmatively not supposed to be doing anything else) the load lifts. I am happy, I am good, I am rolling (or singing) along. Why don’t I just choose to feel that way all the time?

After all, this is really about me and my personal emotional reactions to my situation. No one is making me feel any of the above. No one ever–well, rarely–says to me, hey, you really should be doing such and such. And if they do, I’m unusually capable of blowing them off, so much so that I often tell people that I never get any of that unsolicited and annoying parenting advice people complain about. I think I actually don’t listen. So why is this my reaction of choice? What’s really going on that I need to dump on myself this way?

I think I feel empty, and thus like I should be doing something that I’m not because, in the broader sense, there’s nothing going on. For years–decades even–I have always had one single, overarching goal that so clearly trumped all others that I always knew which of the many tasks at hand I should apply myself to. I should finish the project, draft the thesis, apply to law school, make the Law Review, get the job, get another job, get married, have baby, get another job, have another baby, write book, move, move…and so on. And then, of course, adopt Rory.

And that’s all done. And I won’t be embarking on any of those again soon. I don’t want to move, I like the husband and jobs I have, and I have pretty clearly Peter Principal-ed myself into more children than I can actually handle. There can be no overarching goals of that kind. And one key thing about those goals is that they came with external deadlines, particularly once launched. Even “write book” had a co-author and thus more specific requirements than are usual. And now, for the first time since childhood, I don’t have any of that, and I don’t know what to do with myself.

I think the mature answer would be to learn to live in the present and enjoy the day to day process of living rather than planning my life and indulging in the artificial sense of busy importance created by looming deadlines, trips and events. And I plan to work on that. (Oh, great, look how I put that. I’m going to work on that! Can I have charts and a list to check off whether I’m properly living one moment at a time? Ummm…)

But I’m also going to go ahead and let myself get sucked back into the world of the major project, albeit on terms that will require at least some of that above described maturity. I’m going to get back on the book proposal I’ve been juggling for some time, complete it right, and resolve the looming agent question. The thing about that project is that with no external deadlines and no joint practitioners, it’s going to require something different from me–it’s going to require me to put first something that, in fact, most of my external world doesn’t see as an important thing at all, but rather as the one thing I can easily do tomorrow. That isn’t going to be easy.

The book project is specific to me, of course–but this guilt, and this blankness–I think that’s not. I see at least a few fellow adoptive parents dealing with it (you know who you are)–this what do I do now moment, when the urgency of creating the family and bonding into it has slowed down, and there’s only day to day living to be done. I see fellow parents with a last baby heading off to all-day-school in the same boat. I think we all like our projects, and I think, for everyone, there comes a time when you find you need to begin defining your projects, goals and rewards on your own terms. I’m there.

Cross-posted at No Hands But Ours.


3 Responses to “Guilt and Everything After.”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I am currently there myself.

    We decided to sell our house, buy a new one, and I am throwing myself into all of the projects that go along with it. Might not be for everyone, but I am loving it.

  2. Are you coming to Chatham again this year? I know we haven’t interacted much since last time, but we’d love to see you again. And you could meet Cloud.

  3. Paula says:

    Nope, you’re definitely not alone. I’m a special ed teacher and am off for the summer (students go to summer program but I opt not to work that) so I started the summer with a list of things that really need to get done either around the house, for my mom, or for my family. That long list is still extremely long. I do feel guilty that it’s not getting shorter or at least not as quicky as it should.

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