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It's an adjustment period
When my daughter was 14 months old, she started what in Vienna was called Kindergarten. For four hours a day, she’d spend her time with eight or so other toddlers learning to eat at the table and share toys and speak German, and I’d finally have a few hours to myself. I won’t lie: in that first year of parenting, I did get some breaks. We had a beloved babysitter who came a few afternoons a week so that I could keep my body in one piece by swimming and make a little money by tutoring or, if I was really lucky, write in a café for an hour or two. But otherwise, it was just me and the baby, all day every day.
A few weeks before she started at said Kindergarten, I said to my mother, “I think I’ll spend that whole first week doing absolutely nothing.” Forget about the fact that the baby wouldn’t be gone even an entire day, let alone a week. Forget about the fact that the Eingewöhnungszeit, the “adjustment” or “familiarization” period, meant that I was basically going to Kindergarten with the baby for the first, oh, month, and by the time it was over, by the time she could go to daycare without me for the full four hours, I was so deep into editing some PhD student’s dissertation on the Arab Spring (my job was to make it sound like — not my term — “native English”), I couldn’t rest anyway. But this was my fantasy. After an unrelenting year, I just wanted to lie down.
I don’t remember exactly what my mother said to this but it wasn’t what I’d hoped, which was, “Of course! You deserve it! Lie down! Take a week!” It was probably more along the lines of, “but now you’ll have time to write!” or something; something, of course, I wanted to get to also.
In the end, I do not remember taking a week to lie down. I probably realized very quickly that those four hours were gone in the blink of an eye: I could grocery shop, or swim, or write, or see a friend for coffee, but that was about it. It wasn’t like The Life I’d Had Before The Baby was ever coming back.
I’m thinking about that period now because, almost a decade later, at almost the exact same time of year, I want exactly the same thing: to lie down. To do absolutely nothing. The kid is, once again, finally back at school, we are back in LA, we are crawling toward some sort of semblance of a routine, and all I want from the time I have to myself is a whole lot of nothing.
This is, in large part, because I gravely underestimated the extent of the transition back to life here. Coming home, I was sure, would be easier than going away, but that’s not always the case, especially when you are, once again, responsible for a household (ah, adulthood), and have not the, ahem, warmest feelings about the actual place you are returning to.
Our return started off with big but dull problems: a dead car battery, a broken oven, insurance that had lapsed through no fault of our own, a body that revolted to getting back in the car, a new neighbour who literally yells out the window at all hours of the afternoon and night. Then there were the small, dull things: the long days to get on the right time zone, the fact that our kitchen had to be completely restocked (do you know how long it takes to build a full pantry and that a lot of things actually expire when you’ve been gone for seven months?), all the furniture moved around so an electrician could make holes in our ceiling to rewire various problem areas.
At the risk of boring you to death with Normal Adult Things, I will say that it’s been more than that. It’s that we’ve been living inside so many shapeless summer weeks, since school ended in Cambridge many, many moons ago. Days and days that have been full of joy and fun and all sorts of boring and hard and sad things, too — including a move across the world, so many goodbyes, packing up shop and then unpacking again — but days that have to be made up one at a time, no camp, no family visits. When school was cancelled on Monday because of a hurricane (all we got was heavy rain and an earthquake on Sunday and a perfectly sunny LA day on Monday), I felt like I was having a post-traumatic lockdown response. I just need a routine! Please, God. Make each day The Same!
These are the sort of weeks where Mom disappears — or perhaps not Mom. Mom plays the most vital role, giving every day its own shape and order and cadence. But the person inside Mom — hi, me — gets completely lost. Nothing I need — space, alone time, reading or writing time, a lie-down, a coffee with a friend — is on the table. Which is surely where the exhaustion and the desire to simply give up come from. That ongoing attempt to smooth the way for everyone else — so my daughter can see friends, not get too bored or cranky, so my husband can work, so we have things to eat for dinner, not to mention breakfast and lunch, and oh, remember the oven is (still) broken? — forces me to push my own needs aside. When it’s finally time for me to take stock, to prep for a busy fall, gather my energy, I realize that I have very little left.
Perhaps, right now, in an effort to slow down, I am reclaiming the Eingewöhnungszeit as my own familiarization period, a quiet transition from summer to fall, from full-time parenting to working parent, from our British life to our LA life, a time when I grow more comfortable with the new facts on the ground. I don’t need to jump from one to the other, just like no Viennese parent would be allowed to drop their baby off on Day One after a five-second goodbye and run off to work.
These weeks are sticky and unpredictable and tough — things get forgotten (lunch, homework assignment, an email, an appointment, a pickup time) — and I’m trying to just let them be what they are, an in-between space where nothing is quite settled and I might be really tired and frayed. I know things will soon take off and I’ll be running, too. But I refuse to start the race yet. In fact, I am still nowhere near the starting line; I’m ambling my way there, feeling, with each step, the changing ground under my feet.
A quick note on payment: I stopped monthly payment for the month of August since I haven’t written to you until now. I will start it back up in September but I will not be continuing to send along weekly poems + prompts. If you’d like to continue to support my writing (which is really where the bulk of my time on here goes!), I’d be grateful for your continued support. xxx
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