Thursday, October 21, 2010
How can I stop being totally irritated with my (typically amazing, but often nevertheless infuriating) spouse, the father of my almost-six-months-old baby? We love each other, but we drive each other nuts a lot of the time. We're first time parents, we both work full-time, we're far from any relatives, we feel almost completely overwhelmed by our responsibilities... and we take it out on one another. How can we stop? We've only had one date sans baby since baby was born. Our sex life is nonexistent. HELP!
Dear Post-Partum Regression,
You're infuriated because not only is your husband infuriating (oh, I'm sure he is!), but you've spent 6 months in the most bewildering corridors a woman faces during her lifetime. Like a heroin habit or an unnatural addiction to David Hasselhoff vehicles, having an infant is bewitching and devastating, and no one wants to hear one fucking word about it until they've been through it.
When I was writing the last chapter of my memoir, in which I was meant to explain what big lessons I had learned over the course of my then-39 years without making the reader vomit all over his/her shoes, I also had a full-time job writing for Salon.com and 6-month-old baby at home. Instead of calm and focus and wisdom to impart, all I could conjure were the darkest, most trying moments of all: crying in the shower because I needed to pump milk, meet a deadline, cancel an appointment and clean the fucking house as soon as possible. Or, rushing to load the needy toddler and the crying baby and my snippy husband and annoyed mother into the car, then screeching at all of them that, even though we were all stressed out, as long as I was the one waking up four fucking times a night, they had all better cut me some serious fucking slack.
Anyway, I turned in a draft of the chapter to my editor, who was freshly married but, like most women, slightly apprehensive about having kids. She basically told me that reading it was a nightmare for her. And this is a woman who likes darkness and unraveling sweaters, or she never would've bought my book.
I eventually wrote a chapter that was a little fragile but also reasonably hopeful and forgiving, about how we're all a fucking mess, even when we get older and should have our shit together, and essentially that's what makes us interesting and worthwhile. And now I'm sort of glad that I was a wreck when I was writing that chapter, because it gave me access to all of this vulnerability that I typically spackle over with anger or swagger or self-congratulatory madness or self-deprecation. If I were writing that chapter today, I'd probably be a little bit too cloying or too smug about how I've come a long way, baby, and the reader would probably close an otherwise good book thinking, "Fuck you." The book is all about my most humiliating experiences, my biggest heartbreaks and my most hilariously pathetic moments, after all. To end it all on a self-satisfied note would just be a betrayal, it would be distancing and it would prove that I hadn't come a long way at all. Pride is the enemy of good writing.
Pride is also the enemy of love. Instead of spackling over your beaten-down state as a new mother, instead of trying to cover up your fragility and worries and longing with anger, you need to lean into the surge of emotions you're feeling. Here is the truth: it does take a fucking village to raise a kid, and instead of a village, you have one fucking intolerable jackass of a husband. This is how we feel when we have a baby clinging to our bodies for most of the day. "Who is that worthless man over there, and why isn't he running around in circles, cleaning up messes and vacuuming things, the way I always am in those few moments when I don't have a tiny person sucking the life out of me?"
But that man is not going to do it your way. You can continue to instruct, gently. You can make a schedule. But choose your battles. Explain very carefully the things that you will not compromise on: safety issues, diapering cleanliness. Cast aside listing all of the casual annoyances, the little tweaks to his style you would make that have no ill side-effects and only make him feel browbeaten. Even though you only have affection for the small person, and none left over for him (And how could you? There is a HUMAN BEING ATTACHED TO YOUR BODY for most of the day! This is why whores were invented in the first place.), try to give him some affection here and there. Commit to a babysitter and night out every other week (get the kid used to at least two different babysitters early on, so you don't have just one person you can call when something comes up).
But most of all, you have to get rid of the story that you two are against each other, simply because things are hard. You can turn that around completely, but you have to disarm yourselves. You are going through the same thing (almost) and you're both trying (in your own ways) and trying to stack up his effort against yours is just a way for you to torture yourself and be unhappy. As long as you compare – and how could you compare? You're two different people – you're trapped.
You're both suffering. You're both bewildered. You're both at your worst. You have that in common. Find that common ground. The best way to do that is to really set aside the "you shoulds" and just let yourself be weak. Cry about how hard it is, but make it clear he doesn't have to fix it, you just want to say it. Let him complain about how tough it is. Just try to place yourselves in the same general emotional place, together.
Then, make a few resolutions on how you can be less of an asshole to him, and let him suggest (or you can suggest, gently) a few minor adjustments that might help you. But that's not the big point. The main goal, here, is to say, "We are both having a hard time." And then you look at each other, instead of just grumbling, and you see another human being who is really trying, who is really emotionally overwhelmed, another person who doesn't have a fucking village but needs one.
There's nothing wrong with him, or you, but you hate yourselves right now, you're sure that you're doing it all wrong, and that's why you're hating each other. You wish you were much kinder and more patient and were already putting out, he wishes he were the perfect husband and father. But you're both doing just fine, neither one of you is really that bad. You just feel crushed, and you don't fucking understand how anyone does it. Look, neither do I. I don't understand how we can fucking do it. It's so fucking hard.
But, the second you accept how hard it is, how different your lives are now, the second you start laughing, together, at how fucking insanely fucked up the past few months have been, that's when things will get better. And as long as you're vulnerable with each other, and honest, things will really turn around. I've said to my husband, "Look, I'm sorry, I hate saying this, but there's this thing you do that bothers me, and I feel like such a piece of shit every time it bugs me, but I have to tell you not because it's your fault but because I keep kicking myself over it, and really, it's my problem not yours, but… can you not do this one little thing? Even though it's admittedly fucking stupid that I even care?" That will sound like an elaborate manipulation to someone who's not married, but in fact, what it is is honest, and considerate.You know, intellectually, that your husband is a good guy and he's not annoying by nature. You know that you're short-tempered and overly critical, as a rule. You put that on the table, and the conversation improves. You're allowed to say that you have a bad response to some of his habits. He's allowed to say that you're picky and sort of a bitch when it boils right down to it. This makes you exactly the same as every married couple that has ever walked the face of the earth, but in admitting it, you're both released from your private purgatory and allowed to acknowledge the truth, together, and laugh at yourselves.
Don't let the rage and guilt and panic and despair of being a new mother (all totally normal emotions, by the way) fuck with your marriage. Everything is going to get better. You're really in the heart of the storm right now.
I remember that place. It made me stronger, and happier, and it made me into someone I'm proud of – in a good way, not in the gross, smug way that makes people throw books across the room. You'll be stronger and happier and proud of yourself, too, in about 3 months, and 3 months after that, you'll be even stronger and even happier, and look, that's one of the reasons parents recommend parenthood. You start out in hell and then you climb out of the darkness, into the light, and life is full of fun and insanity. If you're totally committed to going through it all with your husband instead of in spite of him, then your strong bond will only add to that happiness, instead of detracting from it.
You're almost out of the woods. Try to enjoy the scenery. See how the sunlight filters through the pines? God, it's good to be alive. You're right here, together, right now, and it couldn't be more perfect. Or, as the Bowerbirds put it, "You own the stars, you own the thunder, but you have to share. You are free, you are already free."
[A signed galley of Disaster Preparedness goes to the 30th person to send Rabbit a letter asking for advice. If your life is perfect and you don't need any advice from rabbits, consider pre-ordering Disaster Preparedness on Amazon.com. Doing this is also a great way to support the rabbit blog, which has been dispensing long-winded but well-intentioned advice to strangers for close to a decade.]
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
SEND RABBIT LETTER, WIN BOOK
I need some letters around here to keep me busy while I struggle with "Mad Men" withdrawal. Letters about wishy washy boyfriends are great, sure, but I also have a Don Draper-induced interest in unearthing seemingly trivial problems like: how to battle the peculiar nihilism incited by various aspects of modern life, from visits to the grocery store to obsessively checking your twitter feed; whether or not to have kids and whether or not to send those kids to daycare once you have them; whether or not to buy a house when the market is down; how to battle the feeling that every investment decision you've ever made has been poor to mediocre at best (blaming yourself for the global market meltdown); how to battle the feeling that you should quit your job even though unemployment is high and you don't know what you'll do next and you don't have a big enough safety net and you'll probably end up a crack whore if you do. You know, the spoiled questions that occur to spoiled citizens of the Western world.
The 30th person to send me a rabbit letter will receive one free pre-release galley copy of my new book, to be mailed to the location of your choice, signed by the author (who doesn't actually know how to sign books yet but will try not to screw up your copy nonetheless).
You will like my book. It's a funny look at the sad and scary stuff we endure as kids, from fighting parents to shitty jobs at Applebee's.
Send me your letters today! I can't wait to solve all of your peskiest problems. (Email to rabbit at this url.)