Follow me on the crazy, hopeful, discouraging, funny, and ultimately successful (one way or another) path to parenthood while facing infertility.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Tale of Two Houses

I decided this summer to take an extended visit to see my best friend. "Extended" is relative -- when she comes up here she can only stay virtually 24 hours (she has three kids 9 and under), and I usually come for two nights when I go down to see her. This past week I got there around dinnertime on Sunday and stayed through midday Wednesday, THREE WHOLE NIGHTS.

Summer meant I could come during the week, when her kids are at camp and we have time to ourselves without employing babysitters or her husband to stay home (he works crazy hours).

I have written before about how different our households are. How she comes up here and revels in the silence, in the lack of people touching her constantly, in the ability to have 24 hours where she can get decent sleep and read a book before bed without being exhausted. And then I go down there and revel in the beautiful chaos that is a home with three young children constantly making noise and scrapping with each other and needing, needing, needing. I get why she needs respite. I definitely am okay with having fewer children (as if I have a choice) after witnessing the whirling dervish that is three.

This time I felt it was even more stark, the difference between my life and hers. It wasn't a bad thing, it wasn't a bone of contention, it just...was.

Having crazy early mornings with insanely active children jumping on me and begging for "hermit crab time" or Memory or Nature Bingo before camp, and then the hush that settled over the house when they left...only to have that vacuum of sound whoosh open when the door spilled all three children whooping and hollering back into the house at 4:30 or so... it was definitely a contrast. Now that they are older there is that small space between when they leave and come back where the house is quiet and things can get done. I remember sitting on the couch at 4:00, and having my friend say... "Oh, only a little more quiet time left" and then realizing how her life is measured in chaos and moments of quiet where she has to hustle to get done all the things that are impossible when the kids are around, yelling and fighting and needing a zillion hugs or stories read or hermit crabs taken out to race out of their shells or cats tormented by being picked up when they don't want to be touched.

I loved every second of it, although I got to see what happens when someone is beyond cranky and there's screeching and whining and you have to get through it somehow. My friend is an amazing mother.

It's just hard to then go home to the quiet. In some ways it's great -- today I woke up at 8:20, went downstairs for coffee and a gluten free bagel with cream cheese, went out in pajamas and bleary eyes to swap cars with Bryce so he could go to work in his car, and then sat on the couch to read and promptly fell asleep for another hour and half covered in cats. No one needed to be coaxed to get shoes on so they could get going to camp. But no one came and gave me a sticky post-breakfast hug, either.

The contrast between our lives was magnified when we went out a couple times. Once to lunch and then to see Bad Moms, which was funny but I thought Sisters was funnier, and once to lunch with other friends from childhood in our old stomping grounds (where no one lives anymore). At lunch before the movie we ran into the mom of a girl who went to preschool with my friend's youngest, and when we said we were going to see the movie, she turned to me and was like, "Oh, are you a mom?" I pasted a smile on my face and said, "Not yet." She then said, "Oh, don't worry -- we went out with a bunch of moms and my friend who's still working on it and she really enjoyed it, too." Later I wondered if she enjoyed it the way I did -- it was funny, but the mom experience is so outside my own that I knew what they were saying but was clearly not "in the club." It was interesting to have that happen in front of my friend, but I'm not sure if she recognized it as one of a zillion moments where I'm called out as not a mom, not in a mean way, but that so many people are and I'm left out. After the movie, my friend asked me, "Do things like that bother you?" It was an interesting question, and the answer was, "Some things hurt, yeah, but overall it was a funny movie and it didn't whack me over the head too much with MOTHERHOOD IS AWESOME...if anything it was more about how HARD it is." And that's where that conversation ended. I mean, it's everywhere. I can't avoid depictions of motherhood, and motherhood is where I desperately want to be. I am just not part of that experience quite yet, and worry that it's possible that it could elude me completely.

This was demonstrated perfectly by our lunch the next day with two other childhood friends, who I haven't seen in forever and my friend hasn't seen on a regular basis, either. It was amazingly fun to get together. It was just really hard when the conversation turned, again and again, to what everyone's kids are doing over the summer, and school stuff for next year, and family vacations, and how hard it is to have a great family vacation, and how old everyone's kids are, and so on and so on. They did ask me about adoption, and I got to yammer on about that for a little bit, but I have never felt so much an outsider. I could not contribute to 80% of the conversation. All of them had 3, 2, and 4 children, and there I was with none. Years and years of trying with nothing to show for it, sitting with a frozen smile on my face as I tried to commiserate with kindergarten cut off dates and the horrors of PTA executive boards and private school vs public school and what happens when your sweet child starts dating someone else. The kids ranged from going-into-kindergarten to going-into-7th-grade.

It was so hard. It was great to talk with everyone, and the truth is, I knew that the conversation was going to be like that. They are moms. That is life -- your life IS camp and family vacation and kindergarten troubles and who got which teacher. It's such a big part of who you are, of how you spend your time. My friend, on the way back up to her house, said, "Oh no, did we talk about kids too much?" and I was like, "No, that's your lives. That's what you have to talk about."

It's funny, because back at my home, most of my closest friends don't have children. I don't go out for dinner and a movie with my girlfriends and hear all about kid stuff (last pick -- Ghostbusters -- which was AMAZING fun and I'm trying to sway Bryce into taking some time off of GRE studying to go see it with me again). A little, as one friend has two kids, but she is in the minority when we all go out together. Everyone else has none, although for very different reasons.

At my house, I am saddened by my lack of children but I don't feel hit in the face with it constantly. I think if I lived closer to my friend and friends from school, that it would be much, much harder. I would feel much more the outsider.

I loved playing with my friend's children, but I also loved coming home to my quiet house. It still hurts, the contrast between the flurry of kid activity down there and the definitely not-kid-filled home we have up here. I am glad that we are (hopefully) having one child, and not a group of them. I would have liked two, because then they'd have company, and after seeing my friend's kids play with each other I felt a little sad that mine won't have that. But then, Bryce was an only child and he says he wasn't lonely, that he could occupy himself just fine, that he could find friends if he wanted to but was perfectly content doing his own thing. I worry about not having a cohort of people who have kids the same age. Even my friends who have had babies recently are probably going to have toddlers by the time things work out for us. We're going to have to find new people for play group stuff and that sets off not a small amount of anxiety in my chest. My friend said, "Well, you don't know, you could have two...you might adopt again and it won't be so hard with a child at home already." I just can't imagine that. I said, probably a little too vehemently, "I don't think so. I just want to be done with this UNCERTAINTY. I don't want to live in this space anymore, child or no child. It's been YEARS of not-knowing, of this-could-be-it and then it-isn't, and I just want to have a family, have our child, and BE DONE." I know she was being optimistic, but the way everything compounds and the weight of waiting for so, so many years through different processes has really made me take a strong stance -- ONE IS FINE. We will be fortunate to pull off having one child.

The visit was a fun one, a packed-full one, and I really enjoyed my kid-free alone time with my friend as well as being covered in a kid pile and admiring slugs and rocks. I will miss my friend in person, but I will talk to her lots on the phone and before the night was over she already sent me a funny picture of her middle child all wrapped up in the memory foam mattress pad from my pull-out-couch bed like a boy burrito. I was proud of myself, because sometimes I cry on the way home, cry for what I'm missing and the contrast between what I'm leaving and what I'm going home to. But this time I was just happy to go home to Bryce, to have a quiet night of Indian food, chardonnay, reading, and catching up on the past few days over a very sweaty, muggy walk. Our two houses are different, that's for sure, but I'm making peace with the fact that mine will never, ever be quite as full of beautiful chaos as hers is. Which is just fine, actually.

14 comments:

  1. I love seeing things through your eyes, Jess. You are so self-aware and self-observant, qualities I admire.

    I remember hanging out with my sister, who had 3 kids under 2 while we were coming to terms with our IF diagnosis. We were with her friends, all new moms, and the conversation seemed to focus only on breastfeeding. It was endless, and I did not handle it well at all. Being in suspense about your own outcome is so hard.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoy my view! Wow, that sounds terrible. It is so hard to hang out with a group of people who all share a common experience that you're shut out of. And yes, "Being in suspense about your own outcome is so hard." It sure is. Thank you for your thoughts!

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  2. I can relate all too well to your story. I visited with 2 close friends of mine on Tuesday evening that I hadn't seen in months. One friend has 2 daughters that are 12 and 14. H My other friend has a 10 1/2 month old daughter that I hadn't yet met, in part because it was too difficult for me. She told me she was pregnant last winter, right at the moment when I was starting to understand that I was dealing with POI. They both know that we tried fertility treatment for almost a year and have now signed on with an adoption agency. It was good to see them and we had a fun time over dinner. Of course, the topic turned to heir children many times and like you, I couldn't contribute. I had to put on a smile and act interested in what they were saying. After several minutes of talking about their children, I think they were concerned about me and changed the topic. It's as if my situation is the elephant in the room, the topic people are hesitant to bring up. Clearly, I felt like an outsider. It's not the first time it has happened and I am slowly coming to terms with it. Even when we have a child one day, I don't know that I will ever truly feel part of that group, since I won't be able to talk about pregnancy symptoms or cravings etc... They won't be able to talk about their children having 2 families or visiting with the birth family, as I will. That's OK, I know that there are others, like you who have/will adopt, that will fully understand our situation.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, although I'm so sorry that these situations come up. I so agree with this: "It's as if my situation is the elephant in the room, the topic people are hesitant to bring up." I feel like sometimes even if someone does bring it up, it's brief or too awkward to continue. I so appreciate when friends take the time to ask about the adoption process beyond "how's it going?", when they ask questions and truly want to know details. I would never say "How's being a mom going?" and leave it at that. I also huzzah your last part of your comment -- the understanding that even when we do become parents, we're not having quite the same experience. That adoption adds so much complexity, so many additional layers of feelings and grief and keeping all the parts together...of acknowledging our child's needs and trying not to let our own emotions and fears cloud their need to grieve what-could-have-been... so many pieces in our parenting experience that are different. I hope to find a play group that has other adoptive moms in it that are open to talking about those aspects, but until then I am glad I have people like you! :) So many hard pieces. Thank you for your thoughts!

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  3. I love how thoughtful and aware you are with these situations. You're far better at navigating them than I was (and still am). I agree, people talk about things relating to where they are in life. It's how we relate and bond. But too often, they also miss how it can be very excluding. And it doesn't need to be to the extent that some do it.

    I'm glad you are processing all of this and seeing these components for what they are. It's hard to do. But it shows how amazing you are.

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    1. Thanks, Cristy! I don't feel all that amazing, but I'm trying. It's so hard when you're in a situation and you don't want to be the party pooper to draw attention to the fact that the last 30 minutes of conversation was totally foreign. Also when there's talk of "the crazy teacher" in all the mom talk and I'm like, "Oh no! I hope I'm not in summer conversations about 'the crazy teacher!' Oh man!" I guess all I can do is bring it up when I can and then explain why things feel the way they do. And process on my blog when I get home. ;-) Thanks for your thoughts!

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  4. You paint a vivid, chaotic, lovely, bittersweet picture.

    Amazing pretty much sums it up.

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    1. Thank you -- your four adjectives pretty much sum up the experience! I appreciate your thoughts.

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  5. The majority of my friends here have kids and it can be hard when I met up with them and they spend so much time talking about their kids etc. Our lives just seem so different now. Though as you say when I meet friends with two or three young kids, it does sound very stressful! I'm glad to hear Bryce had a good experience being an only child. I hate when people say things like they couldn't just have one kid as they would be lonely etc as I think if I can just manage to have one child it will be great

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    1. It is funny how the longer we're at this, the more one child feels fortunate, and plenty. Yes -- I know a lot of only children out there who do not feel like they were left lonely, or that their lives were empty without siblings. I'm sorry that you share this difficult experience... I thought honestly it would get better with time but it just hasn't. It's more a reminder of how time moves on and children grow older and we still don't have any, and so those conversations split and divide all the more (all my years of no children, all the years of various aged children and related experiences). Thank you so much for your thoughts!

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  6. This is really interesting. I have a strange relationship with the way my life is so 'quiet', compared to the non-stop bustle that my friends with kids have. I used to really, really worry that my lack of 'busyness' made me prone to navel-gazing and dwelling on things too much, and might make me self-indulgent. I got a bit obsessed with it: with no kids and a crappy job, I had too much time on my hands to sit around brooding, and I thought that parents with their mad schedules and houses that were always a flurry of activity had it so much better & had fuller lives.
    But I know now that mixed up in all this was just a fear of being alone, of being only one person away from having no one.
    I calmed down a bit recently and I've rationalised it now: I like the quiet with my partner, and I wouldn't have it any other way these days (as long as he is always around... There's another fear for another day.). That's just now though: when I was in the midst of it, I was fixated on how everyone else was happily busy. I think the change in my feelings is to do with the fact that I know now for sure that I will never have kids, and have accepted it. I was in limbo before, I suppose.
    I totally relate to what you say about only being able to contribute to 80% of the conversation. I still object to this, and I'm quite rude these days - I walk away (where feasible!), or get my phone out and look for wifi... I find it upsetting purely because it leaves people out, and also reminds you that you don't have that 'fullness' in your life. But to be honest I also find it boring, and I'm starting to find that people who seem to live a bit vicariously through their children just really irritate me.

    Sorry I have rambled a bit, your post got me thinking!

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts! No worries, I am a rambler myself. I take it as a compliment that my post brought up so much for you. :) This, yes, "But I know now that mixed up in all this was just a fear of being alone, of being only one person away from having no one." I worry about that, too. I have all kinds of irrational fears that I'm just a car accident away from being left utterly alone and no longer eligible for adoption (and devastated by the loss of the most amazing person in my life). My mind cycles like mad. I also fear the loss of my life and leaving Bryce alone. It's not a great feeling. I feel like for me, I think on these things more in summer when I'm not teaching, because I have more quiet space for my thoughts. But, I do really love the quiet. I just wish there was that child chaos there. I would love to direct the conversation elsewhere, but when I'm so much in the minority it's hard. I love your unapologetic "rudeness" -- I don't have the cojones for that. :) Thank you so much for your thoughts!

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  7. I'm so sorry you went through this. It sucks feeling so out of place, and worse than than that, out of place because of a deeply painful thing. I'm a little jealous, I have to admit, because my friends with kids all have babies. You know, like the age group I'm missing and longing for. One of my closest friends who lives 10 minutes away has a baby that was due 2 weeks apart from my first pregnancy. It's utter torture.

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  8. Glad you had an enjoyable if bittersweet visit. Seeing siblings always pulls at my heart, because I still hope for that and don't know if it will happen. But it's good to be reminded that happy families can exist in all kinds of configurations. Also, not all moms want to hang out with other moms talking about kids. *cough* When I was pregnant I worried about how I would meet "mom friends" because the friends and family I'm mainly in contact with don't have kids. A couple of years later, I've realized that I just want friends that are friends. I don't care if they have kids or not, that's not what the relationship is about. So, my advice (this goes for 99% of anything to do with parenting) is Try Not to Worry Too Much About That. It's totally OK to not have the same life as your friends.

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