Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Grass is Always Greener

'Balance' used to seem so easy, or at least much easier, than it does now, and sometimes it seems I can barely keep my head above water, much less glide through it gracefully a la Esther Williams, with smiling face and crisp gestures, assured of flattering light and a warm audience. Sometimes, I'm not waving--I'm drowning.

Obviously, the work work work of new motherhood is a drag on my former bouyancy: all of the usual suspects--lack of sleep, the six-week crankies, mind-numbing boredom, guilt over this boredom, total lack of personal or couple time--weigh heavily on me. My maternity leave sees me missing the first back-to-school in 28 years, something of a blow to my sense of self. Pynchon is participating in a reality television show that requires him to work out for about 2 hours a day, 6 days a week. And this on top of a full-time job that makes fairly regular overtime demands on him. He's tired and run ragged, and we hardly ever get any time together with each other or as a family. This means we have enough trouble keeping the house clean, let alone completing many of our half-done renovation projects. And then there's the health troubles: one weekend we both had the flu consecutively, and then I was seriously ill with salmonella.

In short, I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself lately, to the point where I've fallen prey to GGS, or 'Greener Grass Syndrome', in which, of course, the grass always seems to be greener on the other side of the fence. The good news is that I think I've made the diagnosis before it threatens to become terminal.

Here's what happened. Last week, when Pynchon walked in the door at 5:10, I handed him Miss Baby and hopped in the car to go, well, pretty much anywhere that wasn't my own house. It had been a particularly gruelling day: too-short naps achieved only after a struggle, grumpy babies pooping through several outfits and then getting enraged by the redressing process, and neverending wet and grey weather trapping us indoors. In brief, short tempers and frazzled nerves made our home seem like my prison. Anyhow, I got in the car in the darkening wet gloom and zipped off in search of quiet and calm. I drove through the university area, and my headlights illuminated students, students, students--students in pairs, laughing; students singly, listening to iPods; students coupled, hodling hands. One young woman caught my eye, walking alone towards the library with a hopeful sort of look on her face (from what I could tell, zooming past) and a great big bookbag. GGS hit me with its full force.

What I thought was this: "Lucky girl! She can do anything she wants, go anywhere she wants, sleep if she wants, stay up late and read books if she wants. She's so free. Unencumbered. Lighter. God, I wish I was her."

Now, that's just nonsense, and here's why. Not so very long ago, three short years, in fact, I lived in another province and might as well have been that girl. Single. Student. Bachelor apartment. Footloose and fancy free. At the time, though, it seemed to me that everywhere I went, people were tightly coupled, forming little closed ecosystems of two, or of three if babies were involved. I so, so envied them their tied-ness, their responsibility to each other. Their guarantee against loneliness. The choices they were able to make, together. Their choice to be together. I felt so alone, steeped in a deep loneliness that I joked about when I grumbled about 'dying alone, surrounded by cats.' Only I didn't find it funny, really. Even earlier, living in Toronto, I used to ride the TTC, agog at the mix of languages and ages and ethnicities, full of wonder and terror at the sheer randomness of it: who were these people? Did they have families? Could anyone mean anything to anyone in such a huge place? Nobody knew me and I knew no one. Did anything I did matter at all to anyone? I felt utterly rootless, adrift. Terrified.

Three years ago, Pynchon and I met at a party. Soon enough we fell deeply in love; I graduated and got a faculty job two time zones away, where we moved, got married, bought a house, and had a baby. This is my dream come true. I am living my dream come true.

But still ... the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, isn't it? I can hear myself protesting, "But when I was single I didn't know what the pressures of family life were like ...", or "I wish I'd done more with my time before we had Miss Baby." And besides, now that I'm in a family, I'm tending to forget what single life is like. It was a neverending parade of martini parties, expensive new shoes, close-knit friends, and fascinating personal growth opportunities, wasn't it? Wasn't it?

GGS is a recurring illness in my life. This is not one of my best qualities. Probably the only parts of my life exempt from GGS are my very clear-eyed memory of adolescence (there's no way I'm going to wish for the return of that particular hell) and my attitude toward age (as I become demonstrably happier and more confident with each passing year, why the hell would I not look forward to more of the same in the coming years?).

You know what? Life is, just like my mother always said, hard. That doesn't mean it's not rewarding, not full of joy at the same time that it's full of poop. But you miss a lot if you're always craning your neck to see into somebody else's backyard. I think the only cure for GGS is gratitude, humility, and a willingness to accept responsibility for one's own choices. I'm grateful for the love that my husband has opened up in me, for the love that my baby brings to me, and the depth she reveals in my marriage. I'm humbled by the sheer force of effort required to nurture these loves, and to simply keep body and soul together in a complicated world full of conflicting demands on my time, my energy, and my spirit. I accept that this is the life I have willingly, gladly, gratefully chosen to live. I know, deep in my heart, that I really wouldn't change places with the girl on the street.

And so I bought a Globe and Mail, and read it over a decent solo dinner--my cherished quiet and calm--before returning with lighter heart to my family. My home. My life. And I have to say: the grass over here is plenty green.


bubandpie said...

I remember driving across campus while I was pregnant - what always got to me was the soccer field and all those women jumping up and down. They looked like superheroes with their freakish, unnatural levitation abilities.

I loved your back-to-school post, too, btw. I felt that very much this September. It was one thing to be on mat leave, but this Sept. my only course was online and it always gave me a pang to drive across campus. It feels much better to be back in the classroom again.

Alpha Dogma said...

Whuutttttt? How did you know!? Are you a mind reader?
I too get GGS. From the childless, carefree, newlywed couple next door. They travel all the time. They have hobbies and have the time to pursue them. Their tv is so big I can easily watch it from my kitchen 20 feet away.
But I also know that they are dealing with infertility issues and long for my life with the boys.
GGS is universal and fluid. Just like life. Life changes. Hopefully always for the better.

cinnamon gurl said...

I totally hear you on this one. Early last summer I would walk around town and notice all the beer bottles and cigarette butts on the porches of the student houses and feel such envy and nostalgia. But I remembered that it wasn't all freedom. There was stress, and like you say, loneliness. It seems there are pluses and minuses to everything.

First time here, from the mother'hood. I liked your superbarf post. (I was the other blogger featured there, because my son puked in my mouth the other night.)

I like your blog; I'll be back.