Wednesday, March 20, 2013

In Praise of Messiness (or alternatively, deconstructing zen-ness)

It has been a difficult year.  I knew, going in, that it would be. Because as I've said before, only a starry-eyed idiot embarks on separating a marriage of 13 years, changing gears from stay-at-home motherhood to a Phd, and undertaking the utter insanity that is single (and joint) parenthood without the recognition that some shit's gonna get real messy.

Add to these a couple of extra and intense personal losses, including the permanent loss of some close friends and some mild strains of social ostracism.  (Oh Facebook, you are remarkably like high school). So, in addition to being swamped at school, feeling old and ill-equipt and on the outside of things (because I'm old and can't come out to play), I have also been navigating grief over my failure to make marriage work, two children who are grieving the same, (one child with real and pressing special needs that require a lot of energy and the other who needs extra attention because her sibling takes up so much space and time), and some other pretty real losses.  And some loneliness. And some exhaustion.  I don't think I've yet mentioned the exhaustion. There's that too.  Aplenty.

So what?? What does all of this mean, and why am I telling you?  You will probably be thinking here, 'dear gawd, why the hell is she whining.... again...?'

Forgive that.  I don't mean to whine and woe is me.  That isn't my point at all.  What I am trying to say is this:  sometimes - being a mess makes good sense.

Good fucking sense, I tell you.

Sometimes - though we are trained well to deny this - allowing ourselves to be messy, to feel messy, to admit messy is a sign of strength, not of failure.

I know our cultural trend is toward finding the zen spot, our inner calm, that place of enlightenment, having our shit together.  And from this perspective being messy is, most certainly, a failure of self-actualization. But I have often felt, and now want to publicly state, that I think there is some *privilege* inherent in this way of looking at things. In North American culture, anyways, it seems to me that the project of self-actualization requires some stability, some time and often, some money. None of which folks like me have at our disposal.  I don't fault anyone for trying to find their own unique way in the world, whatever that may be and to the best of their abilities.  I don't. Do whatcha gotta do, friends. I'm just trying to point out that we don't all have the same abilities in this regard, and I resent the hell out of the implication that we do.

I recently spoke with another queer single-mama friend (who single parents full time with less support than I) who is, in her own words, "losing it".  On stress leave.  Breaking dishes in the kitchen and crying all the time kinda losing it.  And my response was - "Yeah.  That makes sense."

Because in addition to being broke, being tired, having no time, little to no resources, trying to navigate dating in a scene that is resoundingly not child-friendly (other than a distantly theoretical way),  we mama's are also dealing with our own painful shit and daily needs, that we constantly have to put aside to deal with our kid's painful shit and daily needs.  Try and find some zen in there - really - I dare you. (Here I want to point out that mine is not a life of abject misery. There is joy and snuggles and bliss and satisfaction and even the very very odd moment of togetherness... Oh - I got some joy, people. But there is no zen.  It's entirely possible that this lack of zen is just a personal failing or lack of will.  But I really don't think so.)

Women in general, mamas more specifically, and single mamas even more intensely, are programmed to put their own needs aside. Because there is so much else to take care of. Because there isn't time. And because those littles need us. They need us whole and together and ready to handle anything that comes our way.

I'll find some zen when my kids get older and I can get some sleep.  I'll find some zen when the world comes out with better resources for kids with special needs.  I'll find some zen when I finish school into a miraculous imaginary world which promises some hope of ever finding a job in my field.  I'll find some zen when I can stop straddling the poverty line and can lose the ever-present fear of not being able to pay my rent.

So to the single-mama warriors out there, I have this to say.  When we can, when those babes aren't looking, we need to let ourselves get messy.  We need to lose our shit.  Let it go. Break every dish in our house. Yell at our empty apartments. Cry until our waterproof mascara runs.

And more than that - we need to start forgiving ourselves.  For failing. For failing to hold it all together. For losing our keys and our bank cards ten times a day because our brain is doing sixteen things at a time. For those times when we yell too much because we are so exhausted and overwhelmed that we could weep. For feeling like we need more than we have.  For drinking a glass of wine too many during the week.  For coping the best we can, and sometimes, often, failing.

All you single-mama readers: tonight, after my babies are settled in snuggly and sleeping deeply - I'm going to raise my glass of red at all of your hot-messiness (and mine).

And then I'm going to hurl a plate at the wall in all of our messy honours.

And then, I'll return to my piles of homework.

Cause you gotta keep on keepin' on... even in the mess.

*with enormous love and mad props to my strong friend, who knows who she is.  You can do it, Mamacita - never doubt that.  But you don't have to have it  'all-together'.  I promise.  Your mess is beautiful.  And it makes sense.  xo


  1. sweet friend,
    i don't know how you do it. i can barely keep my shit together with school, and homework, and my own research, and trying to keep up a personal life. but you have so much more. so so so much more. and you keep on keeping on. i'm in awe of you T, serious-fall-on-my-knees-slack-jawed-open-mouthed-speechless awe. of you how you do what you do.
    so yeah, there's that.

  2. <3 Owen. That means a lot from the friend who works full-time and goes to school full-time. Far as I can tell, you're wildly busy yourself :)