Kathy took a vacation day today to hang out with me the kids. As we were walking home from dropping the kids off at school this morning, Kathy observed that we really do need to call the termite people to come make sure our house isn't being eaten by wood-devouring insects. As we were trying to remember whether the termite people are supposed to come every year, or every other year, I sighed, "This is the problem with a house. If it's not the termite people, it's the chimney cleaning people, or the air-conditioning cleaning people, or the furnace people, or the plumbers. Every month there is some routine maintenance that costs a few hundred dollars. And it's so tight already." Even though it was sunny, and I was drinking yummy coffee, walking through our neighborhood with my love, my mood soured.
Each Wednesday, I go into the city to see my therapist. It is one of my favorite days of the week; I get to hang out with Kathy at her office, see friends or my sister in the city, go to Weight Watchers (which I actually like!) and generally get back in touch with the world. But for the last two weeks, the same thing has happened. When it is time to come home, I have gotten really angry and nasty.
I feel like I have legitimate reasons to be hostile, angry, resentful, and frustrated. The thing is, Kathy is embroiled in a heated custody fight with her ex-husband. It has been going on for YEARS. Literally, years. As in four of them. As a result of this, her ex-husband is not technically so much her ex-husband. They have lived apart for ages, the kids and neighbors think of them as divorced, but because they can't agree on custody, they are technically still married.
Yesterday, I noted how, when it comes to battles between man and nature, nature comes out on top. This is almost universally true in literature on the topic, and tends to be my experience in life as well. Who am I, in battle against a tenacious dandelion, after all?
Why is it then, that the other big literary theme -- good vs. evil -- doesn't seem to me to go the same way?
Kathy and I have a very similar value structure. We both value integrity, and standing up for the little guy, and things of that nature. I won't even call in sick to work unless I am really, actually sick. In spite of some less-than-stellar moments in my past (we all have those), I actually think I do a pretty good job of living life in line with my values. I know from personal and professional experience (we used to work together, isn't that juicy?) that Kathy does too. And yet, it doesn't seem to have helped either of us much in life.
In the battle of man vs. nature, it's commonly understood that nature is going to win. It's like this in every book where man (and I do mean MAN, usually) goes up against nature and tries to survive/tame/whatever - nature always comes out on top.
For this reason, I don't know why I bother with things like dandelions. They seem to crop up everywhere, and the latest place is each and every crack of our back patio. They're heaving the paver bricks up and out, and trying to pull the beasts merely results in a handful of leaves, with the stubborn taproot still firmly in place, under the patio.
Since today seems like it will be the last of our unseasonably warm days, I've relocated myself out onto the patio, which is what makes me think of it. Posting a picture feels like one of those ads for Fosters beer.
Me: Do you ever wish we still lived in the city? Kathy: No. That's not the answer you expected, is it? Me: Not really, no. I guess I can tick that one off the worry list; I thought you were going to want to go back. Kathy: You mean like get an apartment? No. We can still go out in the city, we just go home now. Me: Hm. Well, I was kind of worried that later, once we don't have kids, you were going to want to move back. Kathy: Well, I didn't say I wouldn't want that. Me: It's just that I would be desperately unhappy if we went back. (Not melodramatic or anything, am I?) Kathy: Well, then, I don't want to go back. But do I seem unhappy here? Me: No, it's not that. You just seem so much more lit up when we're in the city. Kathy: Lit up? You mean animated, or drunk?
Now, even if I meant drunk, I can't very well say it, can I?
Me: I meant animated. You know, lit up. Kathy: Well what is there to be animated about out here? You want to go skipping down main street? Wheee! Want to go by another house? Another one?
It turns out, I suppose, that I have been worried about the wrong things. Before I quit my job, I spent long hours talking to Kathy, to my therapist, to anyone who would listen, about how, even when I quit, I would still have a schedule, I would still have things to do, don't worry, I won't come unmoored.
As it turns out, having this schedule, all these things to do, was the problem all along. I've cleaned my closet, I've cleared out and bleached the fridge. I've spread mulch and watched tulips push their way out of the soil in the garden. I've kept my appointments and made lunch plans. I've stepped up when the nanny was ill and attended school events (including one for a neighbor kid when both his parents were working). I've called my parents, I've spent the day in Brooklyn with long-neglected friends. I've kept busy.
And I feel a panic similar to the panic I felt while working, that there aren't enough hours in the day for all of these obligations. That if I don't get up now, I will waste the best part of the day, where there is a moment of silence, and the obligations will come crashing in. In my obsession with keeping myself busy to fend off the depression everyone promised (myself included!) would follow quitting a job which consumed the vast majority of my life energy for the three years I worked at it -- as well as the three years I trained for it -- I neglected what my soul was telling me as it ached to just quit in the first place.
Yesterday was Earth Day. Not that I need an excuse to work in my garden lately, but I take what I can get. I am such a novice when it comes to all things garden-related, but can't believe how much I've been loving being out there and getting my hands dirty.
Since it rained yesterday, and I was in the city yesterday anyway, I tackled my Earth Day project today. This year, I'm really committed to getting more than one lousy tomato out of my vegetable garden. In my book, that starts with leveling the garden so that all my seeds don't wash downhill this year after the first good rain.
For perspective, this is what our vegetable garden looked like today before I got started. That is not garbage in it, for the record, it's cardboard and wet newsprint, which I was using to smother the weeds before planting time, a tip I learned on Margaret Roach's gardening blog, A Way to Garden.
Incidentally, those are also my supplies all piled up around the vegetable patch. I found the 2x10 (which is 10 feet long - exactly the length of the existing vegetable patch, as it turns out) under the deck, which is what inspired this project in the first place. I went to the Home Depot and picked up another 10 foot 2x10 and and eight foot 2x10, which they nicely cut in half for me. Those two pieces of wood plus a box of nails was around $20. I spent about another $10 or so on dirt, but I would have had to buy that anyway, whether I raised the bed or not, so I don't have to count it, right?
1. Now that I quit my job, I will have nothing to say.
2. At the end of the year, I will have to go back.
3. I don't actually want to have a baby, after all (I like my sleep).
4. The current family drama will go on and on and on.
5. The nanny will quit, and my year of time for myself will be spent on full-time childcare (especially the summer).
6. It's all downhill after 30 (T minus 33 days).
Our firepit. We built it ourselves, last weekend, in the back yard. I took a bunch of process pictures for a how-to post. We'll see if I get around to posting it. Anyway. This is what happened next...
Kathy: We need to order wood for the firepit. Me: Okay. I'll call the tree company. I'm also going to see about getting some mulch. Kathy: Okay but not too much. Budget budget blah blah blah... (okay, so maybe that's only what I heard) Me: Yup. Got it.
Me: How about mulch, how much is that? Tree company guy (named Ed): Well, it's $20 per yard. Me: Cubic yard? Ed: Yes, cubic yard. And it's a 5 yard minimum. Me: I think that will be enough, but I'm not sure. Ed: Don't worry, if it's not, we can send you more. Me: Okay, well, I'm not supposed to get too much anyway, so yes, let's go with five. Ed: We'll drop it off tomorrow morning.
Kathy: Wait, what?? You spend $100 on mulch? Me: Yes, that was the minimum. And it's so much cheaper than buying it in bags. [Rationalizations, rationalizations]. Kathy: Ugh.
For about 2 months, I have been so jealous of otherbloggers' posts about spring's arrival. Finally, FINALLY, I feel like it is here in our zone.
Today, I spent the day working in my garden, and, while struggling with a particularly strong taproot, remembered the first piece of gardening advice I ever received. When I was about five years old, I asked my mother, "Mama, how do you tell if it's a weed or a plant?" Now, I realize that weeds are actually plants as well, but she knew what I meant. She responded, "Sweetie, if it comes out easy, it's a plant; if it comes out hard, it's a weed." This leads me to believe that some of the stuff I was ripping out of my garden were "plants," rather than weeds. Oops.
And now, without further ado, Spring, in our gardens, so far...
Being a step-mom is complicated. Not even being a step-mom is even more complicated. My relationship with the kids is many things -- exasperating, rewarding, loving, fraught. And much, much more than that. It isn't now, and will never be, simple.
It's the knife-edge I walk between parent and friend that makes it complicated for them. I live in their house, but they can see I need more personal space than mom. At the same time, there are some things that the girls, at least, being older, are more comfortable discussing with me than with Kathy. But all with the lingering awareness throughout the discussion that I am in some ways a proxy for Kathy.
It's the knife-edge I walk between parent and not-my-kid that makes it complicated for me. It has taken me until now to train myself not to defer to Kathy on every question that does not involve an established rule and trust my parenting judgment. My heart swelled when B addressed her letter for the parent-teacher conferences to "Mom and Mom." But I would be lying if I said there was never a time where I thought, "If I have to go to one more [insert child rec league sport] game, I am going to scream." Sometimes, I think that I lack the patience required to raise children entirely. Sometimes, I admit, I just want everyone to GO AWAY and stop asking me questions. Then I wake up the next day to big brown eyes blinking at me from an inch away, and short, fat arms thrown around my neck. And I'm really, really glad they didn't go away.
Today was the kind of day I quit my job for. It was 80 degrees and sunny -- that unusually warm day that always seems to occur in early April and then not again until late May, or even June. And yet.
I went for a run in the sunshine, and my legs felt like lead and my lungs felt like I was underwater. I cut some forsythia from a bush in the backyard, and put them in a vase inside, and did other yard work. I cleaned out the car, which I had been meaning to do for ages. But at the end of the day, it felt like something was missing.
I once read on a greeting card or something that happiness is not having nothing to do, it's having lots to do and not doing it. Maybe that is the reason for my vague feeling of dissatisfaction at the end of the day today. I'm cranky and irritable, and pretty much everyone around me is on my nerves. I don't know why.
I realize that not every employment-free day will be wonderful, but today I did exactly what I wanted, and I'm unhappy. I feel sort of cut-off from the rest of the world, but incapable of doing the things that I am pretty sure will help, like calling someone or even checking my email. The thought of calling my mother to ask her a question about a W-2, which I promised Kathy I would do, gives me a sinking feeling. Frankly, sitting down to write this took just about everything in me.
(contemplating life on the roof of a hotel in NYC, many months ago)
The severance package offered by my firm gives me a year's worth of (significantly reduced) compensation and health insurance. That will take me through March of 2012. I can't really afford to go back to school without some funding, and I am not willing to completely finance more education with debt, the way I did with law school. The timing should work well in one sense, because I will find out what my offers are with respect to school at just about the same time that my severance money will run out. And at that point, I will have to actually earn some money. This, of course, panicked me.
The last two days, Kathy has worked from home. Despite my best attempts, she has steadfastly maintained her position that just because I quit my job, it doesn't mean that she has. Which means, UGH, she has to actually work when she works from home, not just hang out with me all day.
So today, I sat down at my laptop in the office to write this, and ended up instead just sort of surfing the web. Kathy got on a work call. I swear, she has spent half the call laughing.
We have been under inordinate amounts of stress lately, due to some, um, issues in our family life. There has been lots of love, but not a lot of laughing. Hearing her laugh on the phone with her client has actually just made my day. She likes to complain a lot about her job, but she actually loves being a lawyer. She might not like some of the crap that comes with working at a law firm, but she does love being a lawyer.
Yesterday was my last day as a Biglaw associate. My going away party started at 6. At 6:15, I looked at the items remaining on my desk. I stuck the bottle of Frank's Red Hot and my pedicure flip-flops in my purse, and basically swept the remaining items into the garbage. I turned off my computer, and walked out. Because my party started at 6, I was the only one leaving at 6:20 -- people were either already there or not ready to leave yet. As I rode down in the elevator, I thought maybe it was fitting that I leave alone, as I walked in alone on my first day of work. I was lost in thought, pondering the symmetry and poetry of walking out the front doors and looking back at the building.
I was so lost in thought that I accidentally walked through the security gate of the side door. I paused. I had already turned in my badge and couldn't go back. So I had no choice but to walk out the side door, where the smokers congregate under the overhang. I walked out through a cloud of smoke, next to a dumpster. The air was heavy and grey, and a light rain was falling, but I didn't have an umbrella and the smoke and dumpster smell was so unpleasant that I didn't pause. I didn't look back. I just walked the three blocks to the bar with my hands in my coat pockets, hurrying so my hair wasn't soaked by the time I got to the party.