Wednesday, October 06, 2004

My Fantastically Inefficient Life

Today I withdrew my daughter from a school which is about 25 minutes away. It's a good school. We worked hard to get into it. I went to interviews, paid lots of money, wrote essays about how much we wanted to be there. She's in pre-Kindergarten. So, it's already sort of funny to me that it would take that much to be in any school at that age. It's so different than when I was a kid. But then, blahddety blah -- everyone says that.

Anyway, I withdrew her from this school because it takes me one hour to take her there in the morning and one hour to pick her up and bring her home. And her school is not on the way to anywhere for me, I work at home and even where I work-out, it's another fifteen minutes in the opposite direction of my house. In the last month she's attended this school, it's cut into my ability to work by ten to fifteen hours a week. Ten to fifteen hours a week! And it's just too much.

And I feel so bad.

I realized a couple of weeks ago that if I did nothing but be a mother to my one child, who is in school, it would be a full time job. So, I'm trying to squeeze my career on top of my mothering. And it's a career that I really love and want. If only I had a wife! Oh, how I would love a wife! Oh, how my appreciation of wives has escalated! I honestly used to wonder what wives and full time mothers did. Now I know, no matter what their husbands do, their wives work harder and longer. So, I wish I had a wife. If only I were attracted to women. If only I were attracted to men who were interested in being a stay at home dad. Actually, I am much more open to that than I used to be. BUT WAIT A MINUTE. The thing is, I want to be the mom. I want to take Mulan to school, I like to pack the lunches, I want to pick her up -- talk to the teachers, know the other kids. I want to read to her at night and iron her clothes and spend lots of time, the not rushed time, but the serendipitous time that is the pleasure of mothering. The whole reason I became a mother to begin with! I want to floss my teeth with her in the mornings and not skip the flossing because we are already late and it's taken too long to brush. I want to make my bed, or her bed, or even get her to make her own bed, just once during the week!

So, today is her last day at this school. This lovely little school, 25 minutes away. Actually that's the optimistic estimate, last Friday, it took me an hour to get from her school to the theatre that "Letting Go Of God" is at, which is less than a mile from my house -- and a mile closer to her school. Tomorrow she starts again at her old school, three blocks away. The one we used to walk to. The one we will be walking to again.

Okay, I know this: she must go to school very close to where we live. It's to be that way.

When I was growing up, my dad used to drop all us kids off at school which was a mile and a half away. On his way to work. Or my mother would drop us off and then take him to work. Because they had only one car. I know that wasn't an easy thing. They had five kids. It must have been brutal. Now the hysteria and drinking all make so much sense. Now I don't know how parents don't scream and drink every minute! Now I see my parents as heroes for even managing to keep us alive at all. My parents were so upset when I stopped believing in God, but they didn't realize that my non-belief was so good for them. Because I completely changed the way I viewed them.

I used to wonder why God gave me these parents. Not that they were terrible. No! They were not terrible by a long shot. But I wondered, why would God give me these particular parents? It must have been for some reason. I was to learn compassion, I was to learn humor, I was to learn tolerance. I was born to overcome certain obstacles. This was God's test for me. The cards He dealt me, knowingly, specifically. And I always felt I was failing that test, or I was resentful that my parents were not better parents.

But when I gave up all that magical, egotistical, religous thinking, I unexpectedly felt only thankful to my parents. I was amazed I was alive at all. I was overjoyed that my parents even fed me and kept me safe enough to live. Just the mere fact of my conciousness became so thrilling. I let go of all the resentment. I saw my parents as people, with wonderful attributes and flaws, just like everyone else. Just like me, too.

Anyway, I know so much more now about family. I know what it takes to have kids: what kind of time, what kind of devotion, what kind of unrelenting demands. Dr. Phil said on a recent show (I watched the show he did with the George and Laura Bush -- oh, I could go on about that show for a long time!!!) and he said he did a survey for his upcoming book and that 40% of the people he asked said if they had to do it over again, they would not have had kids at all. Wow. 40%. I believe it.

If I knew then what kind of work it was going to be, I probably would not have done it either. But then, I wouldn't have also known about the rewards. So, it's really an unfair test. The truth is, it's more work than I ever dreamed, and it's more rewarding than I dreamed too.

I live each day behind a gun of what I need to do, NEED to do, versus what is possible for me to do. I have ten things that have to be done every minute. I wake up running, doing, serving, organizing, and end each day almost the same way. Well -- I hit a wall around seven or eight o'clock. Then I just watch The Daily Show and feel bad about how messy my house is. It's almost comical how I get out of bed and start working immediately, as fast as I can, as cheerfully as I can be. Oh my god, how did my mother do it?

So here, I am, musing on the reconcilliation between knowing I wouldn't have become a mother if I had known how hard it was going to be with the very true fact that becoming a mother is the best move I ever made. It's given my life more meaning than anything else, by an enormous margin. (I used to joke, "Meaning is over-rated.") But motherhood is now how I define myself, it's the prism through which I view and relate to the world.

Last night I couldn't sleep after watching the Vice Presidential debate and I was surfing the web at two a.m. and read this article about this mother who's son died in Iraq and how she died within the same week. Her grief was so enormous, so huge, she simply died of a broken heart. And I was thinking, as I'm sure most parents think as well, that I would be the same. I wouldn't be able to live if anything happened to Mulan. I think of it, what would I do? I wouldn't be able to breathe. I wouldn't be able to talk. I would just feeze, my whole body would resist life with every fiber and cell. I would be just like this mother.

And yet, there are moments in every day when I think, "This is too much!" Man, I so get it now, now important family is. This is one way in which I have become so much more conservative as I've gotten older, and particularly since I've become a parent. Of course, I don't base this on the blind authority of religion. But I get the importance of family. I get it, you need two parents. Two people commited to a kid. Family should be close, on hand, invested, willing to help out, building those relationships. How did I think I could do this on my own? I used to think: if people you are married to or are related to drive you nuts, why don't you just leave? If your husband is a bad influence, why not hire someone who is a better influence? If your family sucks, why not move to another city and start over?

And now I know why. Because family makes it easier, better. Even when the family isn't all that wonderful. They still are better than hiring someone or making it all up later as you go along. Most of the time.

Last night when I told my mother about my school change (which she was thrilled about) she said, "All those guys you dated, even the worst ones, at least they could have shared the driving a few days a week." Oh, it was like a shot in the gut. To be honest, she didn't say the "even the worst ones" part. I added that. But that's what she meant. And I can see from my mother's perspective that it would make sense. It made me feel like such a collossal failure. But then I thought, "So, being with someone who is not a good partner for me, someone who would make me miserable, would be worth the driving being shared?" Maybe this is a bargain my mother made. Maybe she didn't think about it so much, but just dealt with her situation in the way she could. Staying with the husband, sharing the driving, just feeling resentful and angry almost all of the time. I don't know. I certainly have not made the best choices. I cannot throw stones. I can't even throw pebbles.

I read an article in Salon this week all about how girlfriends are the new husbands. The author was writing about how, since we've delayed parenting by about ten years over the last generation or so, we've developed our friendships during that time and not our marriages. It's the friends we rely on, it's our friends who we weave the intricate web of familiarity and solidarity with, not our spouses -- at least not for those ten years when we are being single and dating with abandon. But the truth is, once you are a parent, you really should have been investing that time in becoming intimate with someone who is invested in your future children. Because your girlfriends are not necessarily the ones who are going to be there to help out, seriously involved, taking the child to school, being there for the child's school plays.

Even though I have actually found a friend, who is also a mother, who is doing that a lot for me. And her name is Julia, and we are the two Julia's. And I am jealous of her smart and funny and talented and hard working husband and her mother who lives with them and who is a doctor (!!!) and her big crazy house of kids.

So, now, after today, Mulan will be at the school three blocks away. I will get ten hours back in my work week. We will be able to walk to school. Then, I just have to figure out what to do next year. The school that makes the most sense is 2.1 miles away (Oh yes, I have map-quested it) but it is a religious school: Episcopal. Could I? Would I? This is how I justify it: since I am outspokenly non-religious, she would get to see what being part of a religion is like, from the inside. She would still get me telling her that I don't believe in that mumbo jumbo, but that the ethics and compassion that are learned at some church's are important. And the hymns are nice to sing. And that the community is great.

Oh dear. What to do.

My life is inefficient because I do not have a husband to share the load, Mulan has no father to share the risk of me. And what I get back is a life without any resentment. And instead I feel like a victim on days like today. Even though it's me who victimized me. It's great not to feel resentment, but it's also feels pretty isolated.

My brother is moving his family from Long Beach to Seattle where he has just gotten a great job. It makes me want to move to Seattle. I would have long, long term friendships there and lots of family who cares very much and who I adore. But Seattle is expensive. Almost as expensive as Los Angeles. And I would have much less opportunity to make money. Plus, I have to say, I have sort of fallen for Los Angeles: this big, gangly, smoggy, overgrown, ugly town. I feel my arranged marriage in life has been with Los Angeles. It's made me grow up and given me my whole identity and feeling of accomplishment. I love having the studios nearby. When I walk on the Paramount lot, I get a thrill, each and every time. I still have ambitions in TV and movies. I couldn't let go, I don't think.

So, here I am.

It's funny. I always thought I would not want my child to grow up around other show business people. I automatically concluded that this would make them spoiled and snobby and not exposed to the real world. But now I have to say I feel the opposite. I have come around entirely on this one. Now I think I do want Mulan to go to a school with other kids who's parents are in show business. It makes them live in a company town. It makes show business a business. When their mothers or fathers go off to shoot something or to do a play somehwere, it's just what parents do. Like if the coal mine started night shifts or something. It makes it all understandable. I want to be the least famous person at my kid's school.
Oh dear. My kitchen is a mess (I managed to make broccoli and egg omeletes this morning) and I haven't looked at my mail for a week. And wait a minute, I think I'm opening a show this week. Yes, yes I am.


Diane said...

I don't know if you read comments on your archives, but I just want to tell you that I love reading about your life and thoughts. I am a recovering Southern Baptist, a mom, and I live 5 hours from my family. When I gave up the church I replaced it with community theatre and classes at the local college. I don't have many friends now since most of them were church friends. But thank goodness for the internet! My husband and I are going to come see your show in New York. Keep up the good work.

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