Tomorrow — finally, 3.5 months after being laid off, 1.5 months after getting offered this new job — The Man goes back to work. And the Boychick and I go back to hanging out alone together during the day. To say I am not looking forward to this would be both a misstatement and a massive understatement.
We got used to having the whole week together as a family, used to going shopping during weekdays, used to waking up with everyone still in bed, used to sharing and trading off parenting fluidly, effortlessly, and often. I got used to being able to sleep in (while The Man got up with the Boychick), blog and study during the day (while The Man distracted the Boychick), go out and run during the day (while The Man played with the Boychick — noticing a theme here?) — just generally have time to myself, knowing my child was in good hands (the best, really).
While I can’t say it was a utopia — especially the first half, when we were all adjusting, all dealing with the stress, not knowing when or whether The Man would get work again (and we would start getting money more than the pittance offered by unemployment insurance again) — in many ways it was ideal, and certainly closer than what we’d had before, and what we’re going back to. We were both engaged in (albeit unpaid) work that engaged our minds and our interests — both of us together and him alone on finding him a job, me on the blog and on school — both home (and out and about) with the Boychick, both parenting equally, both able to hand off primary responsibility when we needed a break, both able to step in when we could see the other flagging. And we got to play, all three of us, as a family, in ways that are in short supply when he’s working out of the house full time.
Perhaps more pertinently, The Man in many ways became primary parent, especially once his job was secured and it was a matter of meeting the dead-tree (aka paperwork) quota to get started, since he then went more out of his way to give me time to blog, to run, to do the things I won’t be able to as easily after he starts. The Boychick is going to be losing a primary parent 40-50 hours a week. He’ll cope, of course, and adapt, because children are amazingly resilient that way. But in my current melancholy, I cannot help focusing on what he’s losing — and what I’m losing.
This, of course, even more than the funk when he lost his job, is so much privileged whining. He has a job, when so many don’t (Oregon has the 2nd highest unemployment rate in the USA right now, and the highest homeless rate). And it’s even a better paying, higher status job. We weathered this unemployment without going hungry, losing our (rented) house, adding much to our debt, or letting go of our pets or our property. We are so very lucky, and I am so very grateful.
But I am, also, scared. I’m scared that the transition will be harder on the Boychick than I’m anticipating (as hard as I imagine in my nightmares). I’m scared that I won’t be able to deal with him, at 2.5, used to near-full-time parental attention, the way I could when he was just-two and used to 40 hours of benign neglect from me a week. And, mostly, I’m scared as I look back because I wasn’t handling it nearly as well as I thought back then; The Man coming home for lunches, sometimes far too long, was a necessity. His working to 5pm was rare; working past it almost unheard of. And yes, that possibly contributed to his lay off in May (though I will point out he survived the first two rounds of lay offs, never had problems with his performance reviews, and there were only 2 people left in his department after his departure). Between wanting to avoid that again, the desire to make a good impression at the new place, and more practically the transportation and parking situation from working downtown, it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to take such liberties at this job.
My heart hurts just thinking about it.
I am, when it comes down to it, afraid of going insane again. I’m afraid of losing my emotional stability. I’m afraid that I’ll get sick (being bipolar is who I am, and I’d never wish it away; having active episodes of bipolar is an illness from hell, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone), that the new insurance won’t cover the things that will make me well, that all the “extra” money will go toward trying to survive the dark days with hot drinks and dinners out, rather than paying down debt. I’m afraid of slipping back in to a black pit I feel at times so far away from, and at times so frighteningly close to. I’m afraid I’ll spend all my time trying not to yell at, shove, be violent with my precious baby Boychick, and too much of the time failing.
Except for those rare few with specific aptitude for it, and the necessary support network surrounding them, solo stay-at-home parenting isn’t easy for anyone, in this misogynistic kyriarchal culture. But what I hear from my friends (not all of them, but too many) when I try to discuss my ambivalence, my fears, my dread even, is “Oh, you’ll do fine!” or “You’ll get back in your groove in no time,” or “I should be so lucky!” From women who stay at home full time with their children, there’s an attitude of “well what’s the problem? you had your playtime, now it’s back to work.” From the women who work out of home full time, there’s one of “sure that was nice, but you still have it so good,” often with a heaping side of “I wish I could be SAHMing, and you should enjoy it because I can’t.”
Which is a horrible exaggeration and mischaracterization, but I can’t help but hear that in so many of their pat, trying-to-be-nice answers. There there, dear, you’ll do fine, no cause for worry. Except there is. I hope — when optimistic I believe — that the risk for my insanity, my pathological, problematical instability is small, but it is, regardless, real. It cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand, it should not be disregarded as a triviality.
And further, even without my particular situation as a person with bipolar disorder, I have every right to grieve this loss. I am lucky, yes, compared to so many, but I am still a woman, a person, under kyriarchy, and so I am damaged, I am constrained. This is not the life I would choose if I had full free will, denied to me by the corporate capitalist kyriarchical society I live in. I should have close community, allomothers galore, my partner should have work that does not drag him away from me, from his family, his child, for a majority of his waking day — and so should I. We shouldn’t need to work so hard, earn so much, to pay off debt (at crippling interest) we acquired from illness and unemployment, from trying to stay sane in an insane society, from trying to get education enough to get money enough to get out from under the burden of debt.
This grief I’m feeling? This fear? This rage? Don’t tell me it’s nothing. Don’t tell me I’ll get over it, get used to it. Because you’re telling me to accept my oppression, accept the cage kyriarchy has placed me in.
I will, of course. I’ll go back to slogging through, dealing with daily mundanities, accepting the new normal. I will because I have to — have to divorce myself from my pain, tamp down my rage, bury my grief — in order to survive. We all do; we all have to swallow shit at times.
But now, in these last hours before the new reality sets in, don’t hasten to shush my scream of rage and fear and grief because it discomfits you to hear. It may seems such a small thing, such a good thing, to you, having my partner go back to work. And it is, as well. It is. As much as good can be had in kyriarchy, it is good. Forgive me, though, if I wish to yell about how fucking huge that caveat is, before I sleep, and wake to a half-empty bed and an empty house and a child demanding his father, and smile because I must, because screaming then will only make things worse. Let me scream and cry now, because tomorrow, life goes on.