I'm self-aware enough to realize that it is ridiculous for me to be stressed out. Objectively speaking, my life is pretty easy. I don't live in a war zone, my children have enough to eat, and all my problems sound like whiny first-world problems, i.e., "Worst day ever! Whole Foods is out of brown rice sushi!" The other day I was rushing around the grocery store (my umpteenth visit of the week) and saw an old lady sitting on a scooter and rummaging in the bargain bin wearing a "I'm too blessed to be stressed" t-shirt. That got me thinking: Surely, I'm at least as equally as blessed as the old lady. So, why am I not walking around humming "Happy," with a perpetual grin on my face?
I'll admit that part of it is my natural demeanor. I'm a worrier and a stresser and a worst-case-scenario-seer. I've always wanted to be one of those people who exudes positive energy and happiness, but I think the best I really do is manage my negative energy so that I don't alienate everyone. I'm convinced that, like Lady Gaga, I was born this way and there's not much I can do to change it. In fact, I remember as a kid, riding the bus to school and watching a little girl in the seat in front of me stick her head out of the window to catch the wind in her face. She looked completely relaxed with her hair blowing behind her. I watched miserably, knowing that she was going to get decapitated at any moment. I am still grateful that the bus driver eventually saw her and yelled at her to get her head back inside the bus. (It really is totally dangerous to stick your head out the window. I'm quite sure there are statistics.)
Even with my glass-half-empty outlook, there doesn't seem to be a good reason to be stressed out in my bourgeois, safe, suburban life. But then I read this fabulous article in the "Wall Street Journal" and it was like an epiphany. Jennifer Senior, the author of the article, wrote a book called, "All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood," which sounds fascinating. The article itself focuses on one point from the book which is that when men and women share in household chores, the types of chores that each partner performs are different and often the chores that women perform are more stressful. Even taking away the us versus them slant of the article (I need to keep the domestic peace at home, after all), Senior mentions several things that really resonated with me:
1. Child care causes more stress than other kinds of housework. Informal survey: Women with children, what would you rather do at the end of the day: Put the kids to bed or wash dishes? Give me dishes, every time. Dishes never make you sing just *one more song* before bed. Dishes go into the dishwasher and leave you alone.
2. Mothers typically assume many time-sensitive tasks, such as getting kids to school and to practices and activities. Having your daily schedule filled with these "pressure points" or "nonnegotiable demands" makes your life "more frenetic." This is why my friend's sons all sleep in their clothes. Saving three minutes in the morning can make a difference in your sanity.
3. Having these deadlines forces women to scramble to find pockets of time in which to accomplish their other tasks. This is why one of my friends edits her book manuscripts at soccer practice and another conducts conference calls in the the movie theatre lobby while her kids are inside the theatre. This is why I try to write after my kids are in bed, but then realize I'm too tired to put together a coherent sentence.
4. When you have to subdivide your time in this way, it "creates a feeling of urgency - a sense that no matter how tranquil the moment, no matter how unpressured the circumstances, there's always a pot somewhere that's about to boil over." I've been sitting on the couch watching television and trying to relax when my mind goes down this rabbit hole of anxiety: Ohmigosh, right now I have a pile of dirty laundry that includes the Girl's soccer uniform and if I don't wash it she won't have her uniform and she won't be able to play in the game and her coach will be pissed and she'll let down her teammates and she get demoted to a worse team, and she'll never play in high school and never get a college scholarship and she will live with us forever all because I screwed up and didn't wash her uniform one time. Okay, maybe I've never gone quite that far with the parade of horribles, but I've come close. Yes, it sounds like an insane chain of thought when you look at it logically, but I assure you that it seems quite real when you're in that moment of frenetic panic.
When I think about my schedule, it is absolutely rife with time-pressured activities. Take the carpool. Literally, please take the carpool because I am *this close* to applying for farm permits so that the children can start driving when they turn twelve. Not only are you dealing with the deadline of getting the kids to school, but you have the added stress of being required to adhere to others' timetables with little control of any one's actions. According to the American Psychological Association, this is pretty much the recipe for stress. Carpools involve children and children are notoriously unaware that their actions have ripple effects that impact other people. When one child refuses to get into the car because she can't find her favorite headband, this makes all the kids late to school. Being late means that the carpool drop off is closed, which requires the driver to park the car, walk the kids into the office, sign them in late, and then walk the kids to their classrooms. So, ten minutes of dilly-dallying over the headband results in 30 minutes of wading through public school bureaucracy and all of the associated stresses.
Again, I realize that other people have much higher degrees of stress in their lives, but that doesn't diminish the fact that perpetually feeling like you need to be rushing to something can be very stressful. It's not like stress is a finite commodity that's meted out to only those in war zones or hospital waiting rooms. You can live in a nice house and have a nice family and still be miserably stressed out. As a bonus, no one who isn't also a stressed-out caregiver has any sympathy for you and you simply appear self-absorbed and mentally weak to others.
Some of you (I hope) are reading this and thinking, "Right on, Sister! I'm not the only one." At least I can feel like I've helped you all, because, camaraderie! Some women may want diamonds, but all I really want is validation. Some others of you are probably thinking, "Yes! I understand, but how are we going to fix this?" To you all, I have less to offer because if I knew how to fix it, I'd be writing funny posts instead of maudlin rants about how my life is making me a crazy person. Right now my coping strategy is to dig deep and try to find little rays of sunshine. Like this:
Only 30 more days of getting kids to school on time!