Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Reason, A Season, or a Lifetime

I feel like I'm going through a transitional period in my life. Friends I thought I'd have forever are fading into the mist, I'm entering a new phase of my marriage as we look toward becoming homeowners, my parents are, unfortunately, entering a new phase as well due to layoffs, a slowed economy and the mortgage crisis. Times they are a-changing, and I often feel quite lost.

It's during these transitional phases that I start questioning why I'm here. It's a question, perhaps a conundrum, that is more difficult, I think, for the childfree person. Parents have an easy default answer: I'm here to raise my kids and be a good parent, they'll often say. But when you don't have something that the world at large finds so valuable, so central to their own lives, how do you find a place in the world and say what your purpose is?

In the past few years, my husband and I have boarded displaced friends and family members. But is that our life calling? I don't think so, especially when the overwhelming evidence shows that we haven't made a difference in their lives once they emerge from under our roof. C returned to her abusive home after beginning to become a grown-up (at 28) and immediately regressed to her destructive childish behavior. E responds to attempts to help with a blanket "you don't understand me" and continues to refuse to take accountability for her actions. J, our current boarder and my husband's cousin, is doing better, but after being removed from the drama and destruction of her family home, I'm seeing her begin to seek it out elsewhere, as if her life is incomplete without the constant dysfunction.

I used to wonder, and still often do, whether we might have it in us to be foster parents one day. My experience helping these troubled friends is talking me out of it.

"Sometimes somethin's so broke can't BE fixed."

I used to feel like we made a difference in the lives of these people we take into our homes, the friends I take into my heart, but they fall back into their same destructive patterns until I'm so exhausted I don't know how to help, that I need to admit defeat because I was never the one who could save them in the first place. We've shown people who've never seen a healthy relationship what one looks like, we've shown them love, and it's never enough because sometimes somethin's so broke can't be fixed.

Deep down I know that the problems are due to mental illness, to broken minds paired unfortunately with good hearts, but often I wonder if I could have done more. If I didn't out of laziness or fear, if there was a magic way to reach them and encourage them to get the help they need and I just missed it.

I expect too much. I want it to be easy, but it's not. I cannot save them all, and I cannot save who doesn't want to be saved. I find it so difficult to distance myself from the damaged person I care about, and just when I think I'm being a good friend, helping someone make major changes, they go back to the abusive home, the self-destructive promiscuity, the relationship-wrecking stubbornness, the debilitating depression, and I feel like I've failed, especially since I'm resented by the very person I tried to help out of pure love.

It's not in me, I couldn't deal with that. It's hard enough dealing with it from friends and family, but to experience it from a child placed in my care... I cringe thinking about it because deep down I don't want to care for a child, I want to fix somebody. I want to say "see, I turned this person into a better person," but I want it to be easy and that's just not realistic.

I think a lot of people enter parenthood with these idealistic goals. They want to raise a good person and they want it to be easy. What does my outlook say about me? Does it say that I'm enlightened, knowing myself enough that I wouldn't be able to handle such pressure, or does it say I'm a defeatist, giving up before I try when there's a possibility to do such good? I don't know.

I just know that there's nothing in this world that I hate quite as much as when I feel this way, when this powerlessness overwhelms me, and I sure as hell don't want to subject myself or my husband to a life sentence of this uncertainty. This, this right here and now, this will pass soon and I will feel better because the root of it will be gone soon, faded away with the friendship as sad as that is. Friendships come and go. A child never really leaves. There are no do-overs, and there's no saying "oh well, I tried my best and this failed. Better luck next time."

I know that I am going to be in the somewhat unique position of challenging myself to find the quick answer to the question "why am I here". And, to be honest, I'm glad for that. I'm glad because instead of just defaulting to an "easy" answer, my life's quest will require more thought, consideration, and an adventure totally unique to my husband and me.

As the seasons end for some of my friendships, many of which I thought were "lifetime" ones, I'm reevaluating everything. It's painful, but I know it's giving me strength. I can only hope it does the same, on whatever level, for those that I've loved.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Just a simple question

I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and hope that it was a rhetorical question. She’s long been befuddled by me not wanting a baby, but as she bounced her six-month-old daughter in her arms as I paged through her admittedly adorable baby book, she mused about already wanting another, and another, and another. She pointed at a particularly cute photo and said,

“Seriously, how could you not want one of these?!”

I chuckled and moved along and nothing more was said, but the comment stuck with me more than I wanted it to. I had a thousand reasons why, a big one from just an hour earlier as we sat down for our amazing dinner cooked by her chef husband. Delilah got fussy, and we had a hard time sitting through dinner without her dominating the table. And while I hadn’t seen my friend since her baby shower and she excitedly referred to our visit as some much-needed grown-up time, it really wasn’t. Sure we all shared a bottle of wine, ate fancy food and hung out as adults, a great deal of the evening was about the baby.

I expected that to be the case and embraced it. I wanted to get to know her daughter – we’ve known each other since we were 5 years old. My husband and I had fun watching the baby while she and her husband went out on the balcony for a smoke, but were left thinking “my god, how would we possibly entertain this child for even an entire day”. Hell, even an hour would have been challenging, because Delilah is still at that stage where she’s, well, not terribly interactive. There’s only so much you can do with an exercircle and, well, while it was super adorable when she started mimicking our faces and the way we clapped our hands, the novelty eventually wore off and we got bored.

And there is a bit of a rift there, the unspoken awkwardness that I usually feel with friends who are new moms who haven’t really seen me interact with kids. It’s subtle, possibly imagined, but it’s there. It’s there and it makes me wonder if her question, “how could you not want one of these?”, was her reaching out to see if there was a connection. Perhaps it was the accusatory “if MY baby can’t make you want one of your own, then something REALLY must be wrong with you” thing that I’ve felt before, perhaps it was just disbelief, perhaps it had nothing to do with me and it was just an expression of glee about her baby, which I’m hopeful it was. Except I feel like it wasn’t that simple. It’s that little chunk of “us” that I suspected would be lost when she became a mom coming to life, saying “remember when we dreamed of our kids growing up together when we were little? We can still have that. It's not too late.”

But that hurts. So instead I’m going to pretend it was a rhetorical question and struggle to put it out of my mind.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

You've got it all wrong...

It happened again; or, rather, it happened for the first time at this office. My coworker with whom I share an office brought her 8-month-old child in for the first time. And nothin’. As people crowded my space to see the baby, beg to hold the baby (who clearly didn’t want to be held by anyone other than Mommy), talk to the baby in babytalk and just stare, I quickly went back to work. Wrong answer, apparently.

“Not a big fan of babies, are you?”

Oh no gals, just have a bit of a migraine, I lied. I didn’t want to hold the baby. Sure he was cute and my tiny little Filipino friend was adorable with her son. But the way everyone just ogled and stared, I just didn’t get it. I greeted him, then turned around to work until I started to feel self-conscious that I was not ignoring everything but the baby.

My childfreeness has come up a couple times at work, where it seems to be more accepted than in my suburban jobs, but moments like this just single me out and people start asking uncomfortable questions. It seems weird when I don’t pay attention to the kid. I just don’t care, and sometimes I wish I did at least a little. I can appreciate a cute baby, but it’s a glance and move on sort of thing. I’m the same way with puppies. They’re nice to look at for a bit, but then on to different things. Apparently this makes me weird.

And it was noticed.

Usually my friend opens the day with a funny story about the baby, and it’s cute. It’s part of who she is. Since this incident (and it feels like an “incident”), I initiate conversations about him. It’s like a rift was erected… oh, SHE didn’t want to hold Anthony, she didn’t want to play with him or goo-goo-gaa-gaa at him. What’s her problem?

And it makes me sad. I’m glad we’re moving desks next week and I won’t be sitting next to her, because while I’ve really enjoyed sitting beside her, there’s a palpable awkwardness that’s just stupid and it doesn’t need to be there.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

This is STUPID. Can we go back to the hotel?

The hubby and I both love museums. We love exploring science museums, analyzing art and ogling oddities of all sorts. When we decide to take weekender trips, usually it’s to see some exciting new museum on at least one of our days. Our recent trip to Cleveland took us to the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Science museums are a blast for us. We’re both passionate about learning and, spoiled perhaps by the Museum of Science & Industry here in Chicago and the MOSI in Tampa, have enjoyed long days wandering around the exhibits. We excitedly added the GLSC to our list of destinations. The website made it seem interesting enough, though smaller than our favorite in Chicago. When we arrived we marveled that we seemed to be the only ones there not toting small children. It was only after we bought our tickets for the IMAX movie and the museum that we realized why that was the case.

The GLSC is a glorified playground. It was filled with noisy children running completely amok EVERYWHERE. Instead of using the displays as a tool for learning, 90% of the parents were using them as tools for distraction. Let’s not teach the kids WHY this is making noise, let’s just let them make their noise. And let’s not talk about the parents who shot sidelong glances to tell us that we were lingering at a display too long and not giving their kid a turn. It was insanity and within 15 minutes I was nursing a migraine. And in under an hour we had explored the ENTIRE place. The exhibits were almost exclusively designed for children, and the second one piqued our interest we were stared down or, twice, shoved out of the way by impatient children. We resisted and said EXCUSE ME, to which the children sheepishly responded with an “excuse me”, but it was insanity.

The IMAX film about the Mars rover was also filled with hundreds of children far too young to understand what they were seeing. So, of course, they got bored. Then they got wiggly. Then they got noisy. It was, all in all, a truly awful excursion and we were thankful it was only a couple of hours with the movie.

The next day, we headed out to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’m a huge music trivia nerd, and my husband is a music lover, so this was an exciting place. (Granted, I enjoyed it far more than he did.) The thing about this place is that it’s marketed as a fun-filled place for EVERYONE, when, in fact, it’s like any niche museum. First-off, it’s filled with stuff. That’s right, just stuff, with the occasional video presentation. Many of the attendees were so disappointed, as if they were expecting to come and meet David Bowie instead of looking at the costumes that spanned his many personas. And all but one child was bored practically to tears.

Because, like it or not, most kids could not care less about museums, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum included. Surrounded by shinies and sparklies that they cannot touch, that hold little to no meaning whatsoever to them, their parents tried to explain it to make it sound interesting, and it was sad. I could tell how excited many of the parents were to be there, and I read the frustration in their eyes, in their furrowed brows, as their kids moped and begged to go back to the hotels. A 9-year-old doesn’t know who ZZ-Top was, why it’s super cool that the Eliminator, the car they used in all their videos in the ‘80s, was sitting right there, or why it was so impressive to see Hunter S. Thompson’s actual manuscript from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (some of the best lines of the book and film, right there, in their original format). They certainly don’t think that seeing the actual guitar that was smashed in the cover images for London Calling is one of the coolest things ever and they don’t care about the evolution of the BeeGees or why the Beatles and the Stones were so influential for the same reason they don’t care about a painting painted 200 years ago or ruins from the 12th Century because it doesn’t feature blinking lights and freaked out animation.

Parents, if you want to spend some time at a museum, then spend some time at a museum. If your kid is not the type to be impressed by history of any sort, don’t force it on them. It’s painful for you, you won’t enjoy it as you deserve, and it’s painful for those around you who have to deal with your kid’s incessant whining about how “this is stupid.” You’re not going to make them suddenly appreciate it, and it’s okay that they don’t.

That said, the rare kid that was excited about the museum was a treat to see. One scruffly-headed boy of about 12 ran to every guitar display and got really excited – clearly he was raised knowing a lot about the legendary guitarists. Another little hippie girl was so excited about seeing the Beatles stuff. These are the kids that really belonged there.

Bored children or not, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum was a total treat for me. And, as we stopped at a pub for dinner and drinks afterward, and out to the club for a late night, we lamented about how we were able to appreciate it as we wanted to. We get to do what WE want to do without considering the kids and what we’ll do with them. That’s pretty awesome, I think.