I took last week off as a stay-cation to spend some time with the new pup, and to catch up on some of the things I’d put on the backburner during my last contract, and it was a good week off, but it wasn’t really vacation. Time off without Ryan isn’t exactly vacation — it’s more like time at home, to do chores, or feel like I should be doing chores, and to worry that maybe I’m not doing enough chores, since he’s getting up every day and going to work, and we need him to do that, and here I am — doing what? Taking care of the puppy? Making a home-cooked dinner some nights? Spending so much time trying to get Gibson tired out that I didn’t get to the dishes, again? Much less, my writing, or meditation, or yoga, or any of the other non-puppy things that help me maintain my sanity and well-being.
No, having a puppy is not motherhood. But I’ve had a few fleeting moments in the last few weeks where I’ve felt like a fucking supermom. One morning shortly after Gibson arrived, I woke up at 6:30 when my alarm went off, took the puppy for an hour-long walk, got home, sliced an apple and peanut butter for Ryan’s breakfast, packed them up for their workday together, kissed them both goodbye AND managed a shower, mascara and clothing application AND made my bus to work on time.
There are plenty of times that she’s the cutest thing on four legs: many of them are when she’s sleeping, after exhausting multiple play companions in a row and then reluctantly coming inside for a nap. Our puppy has got some energy. And then there are the times where I’m on the verge of tears because I just don’t know what to do when she’s having an adolescent meltdown, and we’re enrolled in a school that’s based on positive reinforcement and “saying no to no” because dogs need to know what we want them to do. But what do I do, when she’s repeatedly rearranging the row cover on my seed sprouting pots, with a look in her eye that says, “I KNOW this is naughty, and I’m doing it to get a rise out of you?” Our school would say, “Be boring. Don’t reinforce the unwanted behavior,” which totally makes sense in theory. And in practice, I’m batting about 50%.
At our best, when she’s throwing her nightly temper tantrum because we’re not ready to go to bed yet and she is, and we don’t realize that tonight it’s a slightly different temper tantrum that means “I need to go outside,” and she squats to pee on the living room rug, I spot her early enough in her squat to alert Ryan, who scoops her up and outside in time for most of the damage to be done to the lawn, instead, while I mop up the rug. We’re a well-oiled, calm machine, both acutely aware that this oops was our fault, not hers, and we give each other a squeeze of appreciation that we’re in this together, and we praise her for peeing on the lawn, where she’s supposed to, instead of scolding her for squatting on the living room rug.
After a few weeks of trying to juggle Gibson into our existence, including chaotic handoffs and hurried trips home from the office to check on her, and then last week of trying to juggle at-home time with her high energy, I find myself looking around at my friends with kids and thinking they’re absolute fucking superwomen every single day. I find myself thinking back on some of my childhood times that lead to hard feelings with my own mother, and having a tremendous sense of empathy for what she was going through on those routine, hard, days. I find myself in an unattractive combination of insecurity and imperfection. Insecure because I feel like I’m not holding my own at this, even though the puppy’s getting raised and trained, my must-do work is getting done, and I managed to do two loads of laundry yesterday and get a couple of proposals out the door. Imperfect because good lord she’s a puppy, and she’ll grow into a very good dog someday, and I can’t even seem to keep my shit together… how on earth would I do it all with (theoretical) kids? Imperfect because I haven’t been able to maintain my appearance of cool capability with my partner. My “I got this” spiraled downward into “I don’t know how we’re going to do this” last night, and sure, vulnerability may be important to bonding, but we’ve done plenty of that already, and another emotional meltdown isn’t going to make me feel any better, when the problem is that I’m not tending my own needs because I’m trying to juggle what I think everyone else needs of me and my projected expectations are too many and too much — they come crashing down around me and I feel like a failure.
When really, if I could just smile at Ryan when the puppy’s being a spaz, take a break from the work screen to take her for a walk, appreciate the sunshine on my hair even though it’s March, and then come home and work patiently on teaching Gibson how to settle while I work so that the teaching yields the dividend of the doing down the road, then I would have done what I needed to for the day. No failure. No insecurity. No imperfection. Just the reality of what is.
Lordy. Mom, I don’t know how you did it. And moms: I don’t know how you do it. And “working” moms: holy crap. For real. Mad props.
I’ve been making time to read, lately: all different things. Stories about storytelling, mindfulness, social media and content as well as books and articles about raising a puppy, articles about raising a hyperactive puppy, google search results for “how to survive puppy adolescence,” and the like. Because that’s what I’m doing right now. Storytelling, mindfulness, social media, and trying to learn how to raise a puppy. And in all that reading, stories about women and career and family keep bubbling up in my attention. A few weeks ago I savored a post by Sarah Tuttle-Singer titled We Need to Quit Telling Lies on Facebook which I saw (ironically) on Facebook, about the idealized version of motherhood we see through selective reporting on Facebook. Yesterday I read an article by Emily Matchar asking the question of whether the Pioneer Woman (who I hadn’t heard of, but is apparently Kind Of A Big Deal) is selling a fake image of domestic bliss, based on another blog post written by the person who now holds the distinguished title of having my favorite Twitter handle ever, Melanie Haupt. The conversation has been about how domestic bloggers paint an idealized image of happy domesticity and lifestyle blogging blurs the line between reality and fantasy. And Penelope Trunk wrote a post titled I had to take a Xanax to read Time Magazine this week (and she also popped up in Haupt’s post) about Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer and the career women ideals presently depicted in the major media. And whether you like her or not, Penelope Trunk’s blog posts stick with me, because they’re not just syrup with no nutritional value and no chewing that goes down easy. I wind up really chewing on her blog posts, and appreciating that she’s not just painting an idealized image of happy domesticity. Agree or disagree, she makes me think, and I appreciate that.
So here’s my as it is update, not the how-it-looks-on-Facebook version. Ryan took Gibson to work with him today so that I could have a little alone time, and it’s been a treasure. She and I got up early and went for a nice, patient walk, catching the last of the sunrise’s colors. I packed them up for their day together, and then did the work I needed to this morning, uninterrupted. I took a break to write this blog post, and then next, I’m going to take a real live bath … not the two minute shower I can squeeze in while Gibson’s sufficiently distracted with a Kong to not eat the record player or sofa. I might even dry my hair. And this afternoon, I’ll do some more work, and perhaps take a few minutes to be still, silent, and alone for the very first time since Gibson arrived on February 22nd. And I’m grateful for the system we make together that I can have a day like today, and I’m reminded that I need to ask for help when I need it, and share the load, since one sign that I’ve chosen well in my partner is that he’ll bear burdens without complaint if it means that I’m happy and taking care of myself, and tending what I need to, if I just let him know I need the help. Ideally, at some point before I’ve devolved into an insecure and imperfect mess, when my smile is still genuine and not forced, and my eyes are still sparkling with appreciation and affection, and not dull with self-imposed, unnecessary obligation and guilt.
How do you recharge? How do you carve out time for yourself, amongst all of your many competing priorities? How do you avoid the spiral downward, when it feels like there’s just no way to juggle it all? I’d love to hear from you, in the comments.
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