Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Maybe Not Overwhelmed, But Definitely Fully Whelmed

My husband and I spent a full month in Thailand in early 2006, as part of our big "Circle Pacific" trip. This was really only a little over a year after the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. We stayed a couple of nights on Ko Phi Phi, which had been hard hit by the tsunami. There was construction everywhere, as the locals worked to rebuild their tourism infrastructure and therefore their economy. It was a moving testament to the human will to pick up and move on and the warmth of the welcome we received on that island (and really, everywhere we went in Thailand) is one of my favorite memories from that trip.

One of the "must do" things when on Ko Phi Phi is to take a boat trip to see some of the surrounding small islands. You go on a small longtail boat, driven by a guide. The water is warm and clear, and the snorkeling, even after the destruction to the coral from the tsunami, was amazing. (This zenbit picture was taken on that boat trip.) Our guide was as friendly and welcoming as the stereotype for Thais in the the tourist industry promises, but his eyes were profoundly sad. We guessed he had lost someone in the tsunami, but felt too awkward to ask him about it. One of the other tourists on our boat apparently did not feel the same way, and asked the question. Our guide said that he had lost his wife and young son.

I've been thinking about that man lately, as I've been following the news from Japan. To be honest, I haven't been following the news that closely. My memory of the sadness in that man's eyes tells me that I cannot really comprehend the anguish of the people in the affected areas right now. I'm not sure that I see the value in trying. As I said in a comment on Liz's excellent Mom-101 post about her reaction to this tragedy, I don't think we should feel like we have to take all of the tragic news in. It doesn't help anyone for me to do that, not the people in Japan, not my family, and certainly not me. I've taken to just checking in with the site the nuclear engineering students at MIT put up (because I swear that most of the mainstream media is more interested in scaring me than telling me what is actually going on) and scanning the headlines on BBC or CNN once a day. Even that can send me into a tailspin at times.

But mostly, I am just continuing on with my daily life, caught up in the petty troubles that I'm honestly very lucky to have: I'm in my third week on my new job, and have entered the phase where I have enough projects to keep me really busy, but I don't feel like I have a handle on them yet. They are amorphous and complicated, and resisting my attempts to add structure and to comprehend them. I don't feel like my to do list is correct yet, so every day when I leave, I wonder if I will walk in the next day to discover that I've forgotten to do something important.

I know that this phase will pass, and soon I will be happily busy but feeling mostly on top of things. But I hate the unsettled, slightly panicky feeling that I have during this phase. Having to go through this phase at the start of each new job is perhaps the worst thing (for me) about the employment volatility inherent in my chosen field.

Meanwhile, at home, we're struggling to get back into our "two working parents" groove. Dinner is often late, and "ignore toddler tugging on your pants and crying to be picked up while signing that she wants to nurse (even though you just nursed her 5 minutes ago)" is apparently a step in every recipe I make. I can't get my morning routine worked out, and am therefore always rushing out the door, and arriving at work a little later than I want. We're trying to get our chores schedule updated and in place again, but can't seem to get that finished off- which would be funny in an ironic sort of way if it weren't causing us to snipe at each other about stupid little chores and who is doing what.

Pumpkin is throwing at least one tantrum a day, and although I know that this is developmentally normal- or at least not hugely abnormal- and I see that she is managing to avoid melting down over many things throughout the day, the slammed doors and screaming always make me feel like I've some how failed in how I handled whatever situation set her off. Petunia is in a weird place with sleep where she's sleeping for longer stretches, but seems to need to spend at least an hour awake in the middle of the night. I'm debating whether I prefer that hour to be at 2 a.m. (like Monday night) or 4:30 a.m. (like this morning), and can't decide. Luckily, my opinion doesn't matter on this one. She has also been hard to get down for the night. She wants to be held and rocked, but she twists and squirms and head butts until I'd swear that I'm trying to rock a wild animal to sleep.

But, despite the tantrums and the sleep issues, the kids are my sanity saver right now. If I make the mistake of reading a tragic news story at work, I click over to the site where we keep our family photos and smile. At the end of the day, both girls greet me with big smiles and open arms, and my worries about any forgotten work are themselves forgotten. Just tonight, I watched Petunia stand on her tiptoes, trying to reach the books on her bookshelf. I went over and held her up so she could choose a book. Then I put her down, and sat down cross-legged on the floor in her room. She walked over, book held out at arm's length in front of her, carefully turned around so that her back was to me, and then backed into my lap so that I could read her the book. I kissed the wispy hair on the top of her head and was thankful for all that I have- troubles and all.


  1. You're already in week 3 of the new gig?! Wow - that went fast! Your thoughts on Japan were stated beautifully, and you're so right - at times like these, hug your kids tight.

  2. paola5:32 AM

    I feel I have reached saturation point. After all these recent disaster (like the QLD floods and cyclone, Christchurch and some local tragedies) and less recently (Haiti), I feel more numb that anything. Sometimes I confuse this numbness with heartlessness, but maybe it is only the minds way of coping with pain. I count myself lucky that none of this is happening to me or my family personally, although I do know people in the areas that have been affected and that pains me. And I certainly agree that having two happy little faces to come back to at home is a sure fire antidote.

    On a lighter note, I'm totally over the 4s. Zoe is still her pigheaded little self, but with better language and deception skills. I swear the other day when she was mocking me (imitating every word I was saying) it felt like I was having a run in with a 14 year old and not a 4 year old. To make matters work she has been waking at night too ( and earlier int he morning). Obviously the fat lady hasn't stopped singing yet.

  3. Anonymous8:25 AM

    Monkey is definitely the source of all my sanity right now. The little faces he makes, his excited arm waving when he's playing, the way he is constantly examining the world around him (even while nursing - so cute). It makes everything else go away for a little while.

  4. "Fully-whelmed" - I love that! Am going to borrow, if that is okay.

    I had totally forgotten about the extreme cuteness of DS as a toddler backing his big diapery rump up into my lap for storytime until you mentioned it here. Something to look forward to with DD.

  5. It is too much sometimes to think about the pain of so many other people. I'm just trying to appreciate the time and life I have and do what I can, when I can to help. And hugging my kid tight!

    Those new job learning curves are tough but at least you know you will eventually reach the other side. Bright side of not being 20-something anymore. :)

  6. the milliner6:32 PM

    "I don't think we should feel like we have to take all of the tragic news in."

    You know, I was just thinking the other day that maybe we (as humans) are not capable or even meant to take in all of the stressful and heartbreaking news that we do now thanks to round-the-clock-repetitive media craziness and the interwebs. There's gotta be some mental fallout from being this informed compared to our predecessors in the times of newspapers and radios.

    Thoughtful post and a nice balanced counterpoint to repetitive newscasts (which I've been avoiding).

  7. Thanks for the nice comments, everyone!

    And @Jac- feel free to say you're fully whelmed anytime you want.

  8. Yes, to that panicky feeling of starting a new job. I hate it too, and am contemplating making a change.

    A friend of mine told me that the first 3 months of a job generally suck as you figure stuff out, so you just need to accept that. It's actually helped me quite a bit, so I don't get into that "why am i feeling so dumb??" mindset.

    BabyT is also doing the crazy awake thing in the middle of the night. she's perfectly content to get out of her crib and play, or read books, etc, but will scream bloody murder if I try to get her back to sleep. Sigh. Good luck to you. I'll think of you when we're up playing at 2am :)

  9. I love this post, Cloud. You've said so much of what I've thought.

    Yes, I don't think we're meant to take all this tragedy in. I think it was easier, in a way, in those long ago days when it took months for distant news to reach you through the post, and the only news people knew of was the local news, and the only tragedy to react to were local tragedies. Not the relentless round-the-clock global news of today.

    Those little ones making it all worthwhile and preserving your sanity (even as they test it!)--oh, you have that so right. And so cute, Petunia and her little bum.


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