Approaching equilibrium

You know, every once in awhile you just hit a real bump in the road.

So many of us “manage,” we do the best we can every day as spouses, as parents, to try to keep our fingers in the old dyck for as long as possible. But sooner or later, the water just gets too high, and your carefully-balanced house of cards is in danger of being washed away. When that happens, it’s time to stop and re-assess priorities before you lose touch with your life altogether.

Priorities in this house are: 1) safety and well-being of each person; 2) roof over head; 3) food on table. These are the same priorities I often share with my clients who are panicking about what to do. These three things you MUST have–the rest can come when they will.

No question here that everyone is safe. They have a home, a bed, their clothing, a wide selection of toys. (Grownups too.) The clothing is not always new. We buy, I’d guess, two-thirds of our clothes from Ebay, consignment and thrift shops for two reasons: the first, because they cost less, and second, because it conserves world resources. This is why we also donate our gently-used items back to the thrift shops as well. This may horrify some of my colleagues, whose children prefer to shop at Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister. Well, get over it.

We don’t drive new cars, though we each have a vehicle, because we work in different cities. Our house is over 100 years old and isn’t in a spiffy new subdivision. We may have eight computers in the house; all but one are recycled and repaired from someone else’s use. The adults can’t afford health insurance (the best quote we got was $800/month). We don’t vacation in the islands. For an attorney and a teacher, actually, the scope of our lifestyle is pretty narrow. The only real “luxuries” we enjoy, to rate ourselves against the news stories these days, is the privilege of dining out a couple of nights a week. That’s more to deal with the exhaustion of work and child care than the joy of something fabulous.

So the bills get paid, not much else, while both adults work out of the home, me about 5 hours a day, the Cabana Boy an average of 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday. (Even at that, my pay scale dictates I bring home about twice what he does.) He drives 70 miles a day to work–hello gas pump! Weekends are usually a blur, trying to catch up on all we didn’t get done through the week.

Now this is probably no different than many other two-career families in this “more, faster, now” society. But here’s the bump: we’re losing each other. The adults have almost no time together because of work hours and kid commitments, and resentments build over time when one or the other of us feels like we’re being neglected or put-upon– although we know the other is trying so hard just to keep up that we suck it down and try not to complain.

So what do we do? Someone has to be available to make sure all the therapy and appointments are made, prescriptions are refilled, kids everywhere they need to be. We can’t both work full-time, unless we had a nanny who lived in. Our needs are minimal; maybe we should both work part-time. It would put a pinch on, but we could deal with it. With summer coming on, there will be a lot of garden work to be done, again to save money and promote health, and kids out of school. Can we both keep up this schedule and still make it?

Where is the point at which life balances–enough time, enough love, enough resources? What can you give up and still survive? Who takes care of the ones who care for everyone else? Where do you get answers to these kind of questions?

I never thought I’d be quoting Martha Stewart, but this is apropos: “When I got married and had a child and went to work, my day was all day, all night. You lose your sense of balance. That was in the late ’60s, ’70s, women went to work, they went crazy. They thought the workplace was much more exciting than the home. They thought the family could wait. And you know what? The family can’t wait.”

So we’ll be talking about those priorities. We’ll see you on the other side.

What they say is true: parents, too are casualties of their child’s autism.

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13 thoughts on “Approaching equilibrium

  1. Isn’t balance a chocolate chip cookie in one hand, and a chocolate bar in the other? (wink)

    I’m in the same boat. With my graduate school, depression, trying to keep up with everything that is going on at home, I have not only lost my connection with my husband, but I’ve lost myself as well.

  2. We too are trying to figure out how to bring me home. It’s just too much. Two kids with special needs, and my elderly parents. It’s just too much. At the rate we’re going, I can’t come home until 2012. I’m not sure what to do, because it seems so far away – but at least it’s not the indefinite it was before.

  3. To me, it sounds like you are helping and supporting SO many people around you. Maybe you could cut this down a little, and by that way get some more time for the family?(but keep writing comments at MY blog! 😉

  4. Is there anything Cabana Boy can do that’s closer to home? Dropping the commute cost and time sounds like it would help you both, even if he made less.

    We get by because our kids are right in the middle of the clothes-sizing hand-me-down chain, because we bought our house before prices went insane so we’re paying a reasonable mortgage instead of a nightmare rate, and because between what he brings home and what I make online we can have a little cushion. One car we’ve owned since we first got married, the other we bought new last week because we traded in the minivan for something with better mileage while we still could get a decent price on it. But dates are rare, even with a sitter we trust nearby, and we argue about money and about what’s going to happen to Boychild, and yeah. I don’t tend to write for the site until the kids are in bed because I can’t focus while they’re around, and even when they’re not there’s so much work to get done around the house, which also makes us fight when he thinks I’m not doing enough and when I think he’s not doing his share. Balance is hard.

  5. what you describe was a key factor in my divorce, after being together 25 years. we were so overwhelmed with ‘life’ that we didn’t catch that ‘growing apart’ thing until it was too late. might not have made it anyway, since i was only 19 when i moved in with him (and he was 26)…

    with 3 special needs children, and the circumstances you describe, this is not even as simple as the most challenging “two body problem”.

    i wish you luck – and there seems to be great hope because you’ve identified that something needs to change. in fact, that is perhaps the most important part.

  6. The fact that you realize what’s going on in your life is more than so many other people with similar situations.
    I don’t think you really need advice. You have your head on about as straight as anyone I know. But I guess sometimes there are things that come up that we just can’t figure out how to fix. Busy is the only word we know. As my husband says of me, if I have a spare 10 minutes, I’ll find something that takes 20 minutes to fill it with. Lots of people have the same problem, and it overtakes their lives. And it’s not like we go out looking for those things. They come to us because we are capable, and people know we can get things done, and we take on more and more. Although I don’t truly know you, I know this happens to you because of who I can tell you are by what I read.
    And you have the added stress (and joy) of 3 kids–special needs kids no less.
    So something has to change, but what is it? Probably a lot of things changing would be the most beneficial, but that’s usually impossible. I always try to think of ONE thing that is attainable that will make things better. (I recently came to the conclusion that the busyness in my life was WAY out of control, so I tried to eliminate 2 things for which I’d somehow volunteered. It was by default, I think–the volunteering. Anyway, it was only possible to eliminate one of them–the small one–but it has made the most marked difference on that part of my life and even my life as a whole.)
    Find one thing that you can manage and do it. I don’t know what it is. You can figure it out.
    And I have to go back to “date night.” You mentioned it recently and longer ago something about most of your date nights being at home in front of videos. To me the home watching videos is just as good. In fact, often my husband and I would prefer it to going out. We only go OUT to a movie once or twice a year, when the movie really will be worth it in our hopeful opinion. (‘Iron Man’ this weekend.) But our Saturday nights are usually spent with a movie at home after the kids are in bed. And if other obligations make that impossible more than a couple of weeks in a row, we both get really crabby about it. It’s OUR time. We relax together and have a very good time.
    Make sure you have that kind of time–be it doing whatEVER–at least once a week most of the time.

    So I said I didn’t think you needed advice, but I just spouted off a long comment full of it. Mainly I think you need to know that you CAN figure this out. It will take some effort (maybe a whole lot), but I have so much faith in your ability to think straight and act on it.

  7. Thanks, one and all. The advice is just what I need, even if it’s stuff I already “know.” Sometimes hearing it from other people makes it more real and viable, somehow. Knowing I have folk out here who care enough to toss in their two cents? Priceless.

  8. I have a plan! You and me pack up and got to a beach and check out hot guys for like a week! Yeah, I like this plan. Too bad we don’t live in fantasy land, though.

    Every couple goes through this. Been happening with me and the French Boy, and we don’t even have kids yet…and that’s one of the things we’re fighting about.

    You guys will get through this. You’re just amazing.

  9. From the great mind and musical musings of Patty Griffin:

    “You could cry or die or just make pies all day. I’m making pies”

    Even if they are faux apple. 🙂

    Hey, you’d never have known that was zucchini instead of apple if your sister hadn’t spilled the beans–or squash, as it were….

  10. Hi, Babs! Just dropping in to say hello and your post, as always, shot straight to my heart. I can truly empathize.

    We’re always Mother and Father to our kids that sometimes, I forget I am P and he is A, and we were once best friends and lovers and playmates. It’s hard to “play” when you have a thousand concerns swirling in your head.
    Of late, however, I’m retraining myself to breathe again, to force a stop to the madness of work and school schedules and play dates and therapies, and to decide which of the things in my platter will even matter ten years from now.

    So, breathe, my friend. I send you best wishes from across the globe (and lots of HUGS)!

  11. Great post. It tugged at my heart for you AND me. The comment, “we’re losing each other”. so to the point, so painfully true. yet sometimes we are doing all we can and it is just a painful reality. so we take time for the small things that help reconnect us and help us hang on.

    You wrote, “Where is the point at which life balances–enough time, enough love, enough resources? What can you give up and still survive? Who takes care of the ones who care for everyone else? Where do you get answers to these kind of questions?”

    I have been asking myself some of the same questions. A recent hour-long crying spell was a frightening wake-up call. I started pruning things from my life, even good things, trying to leave energy for the BEST/most important. It is hard to do but necessary. I just can’t do it all. And as far as who takes care of the caregivers…I think part of it is we have to ASK for what we need, and also just flat out TAKE it. Accept help, as well as claim time just for ourselves once in a while.

    Happy Mother’s Day to you. I wish you rest and joy!

    As much as we keep telling ourselves we can handle things, every once in awhile it becomes clear we can’t quite. It’s difficult to admit that weakness, you know?

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