Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The UnREAL Reality of Normalcy

I find myself drawn to "reality" shows.  I used to watch the multitude of prime time so called "reality" shows, which really just consist of a group of less than grown twenty somethings consuming large amounts of alcohol and sleeping with a lot of strangers.  I must admit, most of us watch for the same reasons we slow down to survey the scene of a car wreck.  You thank God it didn't happen to you or someone you know and yet for some unknown reason you feel the strong desire to know what happened to the victims and whether or not they will survive.

Will any of us ever survive these "reality" shows?  Now that I'm (gulp) officially in my 30s the "booze it up, get it up" shows hold little to no interest for me anymore.  There's only so much stupidity to go around and how many times can you really watch someone make a fool of themselves in exactly the same manner.  What I watch now are the "unreality" shows that center around families.  Call it another attempt to slow down and survey the damage, but I actually think of it as a way to view through an open window the family life of someone else to compare normalcy.  We all want to feel normal, whatever the hell that means.  We all want to feel like we're doing something right in our marriage, in raising our children.

So I occasionally tune in to some "unreality" shows particularly those involving large families - 19 Kids and Counting, Sister Wives and the like to figure out how the hell one survives more than a dozen kids and multiple spouses.  What I get is this sugar coated attempt at normalcy, the very thing which denies my need to feel normal.  I tune in because previews hint at conflicts, jealousies, potential problems, and what I get is an artificial dose of isn't my life so very normal considering I have 19 kids or 4 wives.  I feel cheated by the whole experience.  What viewers like me tune in for is the hope that someone will say, Good God this is fucking hard to deal with.  Nobody wants to admit that marriage is hard, raising kids is hard, working, paying bills and just getting through life is hard.  Everyone wants to feel normal and so we project our own normalcy onto others.  We are all cheating each other. 

Take me for instance, if anyone was going to show you the real deal it'd be me.  I've long ago, tossed aside any attempt to fake a smile when I want to cry, pretend to be all lovey dovey with my husband when we get into a fight right before company comes over, placate a screaming child with niceties and bribes instead of pulling them out of the restaurant and waiting for the tantrum to be over - theirs or mine, whichever comes first.  I wear my misery on my sleeve and my love on my shirt.  I am stained through and through with the blood, sweat and tears of life and yet no one is knocking down my door offering to film my family.

I want answers just like everyone else.  I want someone to show me how it's done, show me what I'm doing wrong so I can fix it all.  I want to know how women voluntarily share their husband with other women and raise other people's children when I have a hard enough time getting my husband to help with chores and raising two children.  How do they not feel cheated of time, attention, and help?  As for the "look how well we all get along and resolve conflict" I say shut the camera off and wake me when reality calls. 

How does a woman who's spent nearly every year of her adult life pregnant, nursing, and raising kids, say that she never yells?  Give me a break people.  To all my fellow viewers I say don't drink the cool-aide.  They just want what we want, to show the world how fucking normal everything is, despite this amazingly different lifestyle they've chosen to live.  I want to see the child who throws fits because she's tired of being raised by her siblings instead of her parents.  I want to see the wife that wants to fly off the handle but chokes it down because he's got three other women to go to for understanding when he's upset. 

I'll admit that I've thought to myself on many occasions, maybe there's something to this idea of having a wife of my own to cook and clean, and yes even take care of my husband when I'm too exhausted after taking care of two kids who haven't napped all day.  That has more to do with my underlying theory that "wife" and "mother" really mean slave in some exotic language and nobody has bothered to clue me in yet.  I would never, and could never share my husband with anyone, because flaws or not he's mine and if anyone is going to see through my bullshit and still show up than it's going to be him.  I cannot imagine having so many children that scheduling in "one on one" time would be necessary.  I feel enough guilt trying to juggle two kids and make sure they feel special and loved.

So if anyone out there in TV land is listening, wake me up when you do the show about a mom crying in a ball on the floor because she's overworked, unappreciated, and expected to carry on taking care of everyone else when she has nothing left at the end of the day for herself.  I know I cannot possibly be the only mom that feels the cold stone irony of spanking a child because though you've told them a hundred times not to they still insist on standing on the table, counter or dresser and you don't want them to fall and get hurt.  You know that you cannot prevent every injury, but you just do not have the energy to contend with a screaming toddler for five hours in the emergency room tonight. 

Show me the wife like me who is sick to death of hearing that all the tantrums she throws in an attempt to get "help" (that is another blog post entirely) really are hurtful when I just want to say I'm attempting to make it clear that I am completely crushed by the weight of my responsibility right now and I'd really like you to just step off the dirt that's covering me, and dare I dream, grab that shovel over there and take a little of this off me right now so I can just BREATHE.  If you've got any shows like that, I'll tune in faithfully, cause I know that I would love to know how she does it all correctly.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Redefining Happiness

Ask any mom if they were happy before they had children and I'll bet they say yes.  They had freedom, energy, creativity, and their youth was on their side.  A few days before my daughter turned four, my mother said to me, "How is it possible that just four years ago you had no children?"  That was a lifetime ago I thought.  Four years, two kids ago I considered myself to be happy.  I was a newly-wed, coping with being a cash poor home owner.

I was happy at the time.  But from the moment my first child was born, I decided that happiness was a moving target and in fact, I didn't know just what my capacity for happiness was until I looked into the eyes of this tiny person that I had created.  It's safe to say that I had no idea just what I was capable of until I had children.

I never knew just how much I could love another person.  Despite losing my dad at a painfully young age, I didn't know until I became a mom just how much I stood to lose in this world.  It is that ever painful reminder, that gaping hole that losing a parent creates in ones life, that reminds me nearly every second just what can be lost, without warning and without any regard for what I consider fair.  It's the grindstone my emotions are constantly sharpened against.  It's the reality we all know but seldom acknowledge, filtering in with painful clarity when a little blurriness is actually necessary to get through the every day routine of life.

When I was in high school, friends would ask me why I was single.  That was the high school equivalent of being unhappy.  The truth was that I never really cared to be in a relationship.  I actually prefered to watch the high school melodrama unfold from the sidelines instead being caught in the web of adolescent romance whose rules and affections moved and changed with a swift breeze.  Then in college, while wallowing in homesickness I did something I had never done before.  I gave my number and a chance to a boy I had never seen before and didn't know at all.  I don't think I could have imagined at 19 that he would be it - my whole notion of love and trust and the model relationship I never saw growing up.

Falling in love with my husband was to that point in my life, the single scariest thing I had ever experienced.  It forced me to let go, be out of control, give someone this power over my happiness that I had somehow imagined to be the gesture of a weak person who didn't really think that they alone were all they needed to be happy.  Falling in love turned out to be the mirror that I always wished I had.  My husband allowed me to see in myself the person I always wished I was, the person I had been all along.

Tonight while driving home, I looked at my kids faces in the rear view mirror and I thought about how everything I believed about happiness now centers around them.  They made me realize that I will do whatever it takes to spend as much time with them as I can because they define happiness for me now.  The fact that Hannah and Jayden love me, depend on me, and because at this moment in time I can safely say that their happiness depends on me, I have defined happiness as being worthy of them.  I owe it to them to pursue my dreams with passion because I have spent too much of my life thinking I didn't deserve to have all my dreams come true.  I think that despite all my fears that my imperfections as a mother will somehow change them in a negative way, I know that I am one of the only people on this Earth that gets to make them smile and be the mirror that they need in order to see the amazing people that they are.

Being a mom has made it pretty clear to me, this one amazing truth, that happiness is not something I have the luxury of hoping will happen.  I must make it happen.