The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.
- Albert Camus
I begin with a disclaimer that for four consecutive days last week, I put on make-up. Two of those days, I stood, make-up on my face, serious business attire donned, before roomfuls of community college students who are already asking silly, redundant questions that indicate they do not listen when I speak.
I've also developed a recent habit of watching ridiculous movies from my childhood. I blame Netflix, who streams these movies, making it all too easy to hit 'Play,' eliminating the need to even rise from my bed & walk the few feet to the DVD player. I've discovered I'm willing to give just about any movie a go if I am not required to move anything other than my thumb to make movie magic happen. I think replacing heavy reading with these cinematic gems is affecting my thought processes. I can feel parts of my brain softening. I say all this to let you know that what follows may not be spectacular, but I'd appreciate you giving me an A for effort.
One of the immediate lessons you learn when you bring your first babe home from hospital is the true value of time. You don't know the agony of feeling you've wasted time until you've cared for a newborn, knowing that at any moment, day or night, rain or shine, fourth & goal or not, what you're attempting to do (cook, clean, read, eat, bathe, sleep, or simply be alone with your thoughts for a minute) might be interrupted by the demanding cry of your child. Every now & then, when it's quiet in the house late at night, I allow myself to think about the absurd ways I spent my time before I had kids, & I grieve. Do you know I read more now than I did then (yes, even when you factor in my new, time-consuming, brain-draining movie habit)? I exercise more now than I did then. I've been forced to prioritize, & it has been good for me, I think.
Sometimes I wonder if it is worth it to sit & blog, to type it all out, to try & reread & catch errors before splaying it all for the world to see. By "the world," I mean a handful of people who're interested in my kids & what's been irritating me lately. I sat for about an hour one night last week & began working on a blog that I well knew I might never post due to the controversial nature of the subject, as well as concerns over how my opinion of it might be received (admittedly the latter is rarely a concern that plagues me). By the time I'd hashed it all out with myself, I decided I likely will post it eventually simply because it took me upwards of an hour to type it all out. I've almost quit having the "to blog or not to blog" debate with myself because inevitably when the time presents itself, & the kids are asleep, & the decaf is brewing, my fingers twitch for the keyboard. As Flannery O'Connor once said, "I write to discover what I know."
Wasted time, wasted effort, vexes me, as I'm sure is the case with most industrious folks, & certainly the case for those of you with small children who demand twenty-three of your allotted twenty-four hours each day. Futile efforts have smacked me in the face again & again this past week. For starters, & because I know you're wondering, the red coat I ordered from Macy's, the red coat I decided to purchase after an exhaustive search that included extensive online research as well as an ill-fated trip to the mall, did not fit. I did manage to avoid the return via mail hassle as I sold the coat to someone, so that's something. Bottom line, though, is I have no red coat.
On Monday of last week, trudging ahead with no red coat, I felt I ought to straighten the house & do some laundry & basically get myself in gear seeing as it was the eve of my return to teaching. Brand new year, brand new semester,
brand new red coat, blah, blah, blah. I wish I could think of a more poetic analogy to explain how I feel about cleaning the house & washing the kids' clothes, but "hamster in a wheel" covers it, I think. I am, of course, the hamster. I run in circles all day (literally, as the layout of our home makes a nice circle). I pick up four balls, only to have two thrown at me while I walk toward the toy basket. I find all the puzzle pieces, & as I'm putting them back in their proper box, I hear clatter in the next room, a siren alerting me to the next cog in the hamster wheel.
Lately I've become pretty zealous about spending my "free time" doing exactly what I want to do, rather than what my anal retentive self thinks I want to do (she's a bit of a shrew at times). I've almost convinced myself that I would rather read or write (or watch a bad eighties movie) once the kids are asleep than pick up toys, clean a toilet, or fold clothes. I love for the house to be clean & organized, but the levels of cleanliness & organization I seek are not possibilities at this time, & with the help of Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle, I am embracing this idea.
I am going to assume you've all seen Dirty Dancing & are familiar with Baby's It was all for nothing! scene. Baby, portrayed by Jennifer Grey & her former nose, has been surreptitiously dancing with, & sleeping with, Johnny Castle all summer while on vacation with her wealthy family in the mountains. Johnny's a professional dancer, which creates this absurdly ridiculous faux class warfare scenario between Johnny & Baby's doctor father, portrayed by the amazing Jerry Orbach (whom you might know better as Detective Lenny Briscoe). Johnny is accused of stealing from some of the resort's clientele, & this forces Baby to admit her sins to her father, as she's the only alibi Johnny has. Johnny is cleared of any criminal activity (aside from helping his former dance partner obtain an abortion that was illegal in 1963, but that's a whole different blog). But, guess what? Johnny is fired anyway for sleeping with the rich doctor's daughter, which sets up what might be one of the most ridiculous exchanges of dialogue in American cinematic history.
Baby: I knew it would work out. I knew they'd have to apologize.
Johnny: I'm out, Baby.
Baby: They fired you anyway because of me.
Johnny (with noted sarcasm): And if I leave quietly, I'll still get my summer bonus.
Baby (pacing in an overdramatic way): So I did it for nothing. I hurt my family, you lost your job anyway, I did it for nothing!
Johnny: No, no not for nothin', Baby. Nobody has ever done anything like that for me before.
Baby: You were right, Johnny. You can't win no matter what you do!
Johnny: You listen to me. I don't wanna hear that from you. You can.
Baby: I used to think so.
Whew. High drama. I wish I could tell you I had to check a source for that dialogue.
I did it for nothing. That's a dreaded phrase for a parent (or a teacher, or a Christian) to think, to utter. I felt that way so many times last week. Every week. It's horrible to feel you've labored in vain, particularly when your labor ate up valuable time. I'm teaching myself to redefine time spent in vain. For example, I enjoy searching for things online. It relaxes me, so maybe the red coat ordeal wasn't a total wash. Sitting & watching a ridiculous movie relaxes me, & that is sometimes more important than finding all the puzzle pieces, particularly when there's a high probability they'll again be missing before the sun sets.
Every few weeks, I resolve to stop arguing with people on Facebook (particularly people I don't even know, like a friend of a friend whose
asinine comments show up in my newsfeed because they've replied to a post my friend made). I tell myself it's a waste of time, but I keep doing it.
I've decided it's not always necessarily a waste of time. Maybe I am seeking justification for juvenile behavior, I don't know, but on a few occasions I've been forced, thanks to interjecting myself in conversations (one of my many special talents), to articulate my beliefs on important issues. I've been forced to think about where I stand on various ethical issues that oftentimes I don't contemplate because I'm busy with kids, & I'm tired & want to escape & read fiction
or watch Adventures in Babysitting rather than ponder divisive issues.
I need adult conversation (my interactions while teaching don't necessarily count . . . again, same hamster wheel, only the hamster's wearing make-up). While Facebook debates are admittedly not always adult in nature, it's not like Reagan & Henry are going to discuss the recent naming of a Muslim Congressman to the House Intelligence Committee with me, or commiserate with me over the mounting dread that threatens to overwhelm me as subpar candidate after subpar candidate hints he's going to seek the Republican nomination. I am of course shoring myself up for the mother of all Facebook squabbles now that the Supremes have agreed to consolidate & hear four gay marriage cases. I'm waffling between jumping in the thick of it, or deactivating my account the week SCOTUS hands that decision down.
It's only fair I let you know I'm rereading Chopin's The Awakening. I'm in an odd position as I finished this month's book club book, Hugh Howey's Wool, about a month ago (another contributing factor to the recent movie mania). I think the book club is going to read The Awakening this year, at my urging, & so I want to reread & make sure it's something we'd all enjoy as it's been a long time since I read it. I'm not going to summarize it for you (not now, at least), but I think rereading it is influencing my thoughts as much as Baby's riveting I did it for nothing! speech I cited above, perhaps more. At present, I'm actively seeking permissions for myself (from myself). Don't worry; I am not going to abandon my kids or my marriage (or have an affair with Robert LeBrun), but I might continue to take advantage of the array of movies Netflix streams into my bedroom & neglect laundry.
I am going to stop worrying so much about whether every minute of my time is spent as efficiently as possible, or, rather, I am rethinking my definition of efficient. I'm going to quit wondering if my efforts were wasted, be it my efforts in the classroom, in online interactions, in my own home, or with my kids. It's frustrating to know, but important to recognize, that often we won't know if our efforts were worth it, or if our time was wasted, for many years, & perhaps not even this side of Heaven.
You never know. You never know who's watching & listening to you, who's reading what you write, & cataloguing every last thing you say. You may feel like you're spinning your wheel, but someone might be impressed & inspired by your willingness to keep going, to keep moving, especially in the absence of tangible results. You never know, teachers, who you're teaching. You never know, mothers, who you're raising. You never know, Christian, who you're influencing.
Do you think when Nelle Reagan read the Bible to her son, she knew he would one day place his hand on it & swear to uphold & defend the Constitution of the United States of America? I bet, had she known that, she would have been greatly comforted & encouraged in the moments she felt like quitting, when her kids were fighting, & the house was a mess, & she had no outlet for her feelings, nowhere to rant, as there was no Facebook, no Netflix, no such thing as a blog. If someone had said, Nelle, it's okay. He's going to lead the free world one day. He's going to win the Cold War; he's going to free half a continent from cruel governments who deny people their God-given freedoms, I bet that knowledge would have done a lot for Nelle's morale.
Nelle died in July of 1962, nearly two decades before her son was elected president. I hope she knows. I hope she had a front row seat during the years her efforts paid dividends for America, & the world. Maybe she knows there's a little girl in Louisiana who boasts her surname, her son's surname, because the son she raised is so beloved by Miss Reagan's parents.
This is Nelle Reagan's Bible where it now rests in the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. I doubt, when she turned to it for comfort many years ago, when she picked it up to instruct her children, she had any idea of its eventual destination:
Friday was the one year anniversary of Reagan's diabetes diagnosis, & so we all went out to celebrate Miss Priss. Surprising no one, we ended up at Cracker Barrel, as it's one of the few places where Reagan can eat, get a dessert, & then pick out a toy.
A few attempts at a photo of me & Reagan. These turned out exactly as I imagined they would.
I struggle constantly with wanting to see results of my efforts with Reagan's health. It's a lot of work to keep her ticking along, not too high, not too low, & on days when the meter readings mock me & my efforts, my frustration knows no bounds. I suppose "not ending up in the ER" is one measure of success, & I mean that in all seriousness as it's always a real possibility for a diabetic. The A1C number every three to four months is what I think about most of the time, but sometimes I think beyond that. I think about Reagan at eighteen, graduating high school. I wonder if she'll still be pumping insulin then, or, if not, what science has in store for her, & other diabetics. I think about her at thirty, maybe with a baby on her hip, & wonder what life will be like when her diabetes is her diabetes, & instead of checking her number all the time, I'll be bothering her about how her numbers are running. Maybe when she's thirty, there won't be a number to check; maybe she will be a former diabetic. It's possible. Maybe she'll call me when she's fifty to tell me she's going to run for the Senate, where she'll siphon money away from Planned Parenthood & a few other Orwellian government funded programs to fund diabetes research. I don't know. It's the not knowing that's hard sometimes, not knowing if the daily turning of the wheel is making a difference.
The bottom line, red coat, clean house, Johnny Castle, & A1C numbers aside, is that I want my kids to go to Heaven. I pray that day in & day out, my hamster run, while it often seems to get me nowhere, points them to Heaven. Even when I fail them, fail to act or react as a Christian should, as I have in the past & certainly will again, I hope they see that I am trying, & see that I get up again & keep spinning the wheel. Do not wonder, children, for whom the wheel spins, it spins for thee. Live in such a way that when you die, Christ will have no need to reflect on His momentous sacrifice on the cross & say, I did it for nothing. He did it for you, Reagan, & for you, Henry. Where your lives are concerned, I want Him to say, It was well worth it.
I'll close by telling you about a little rumor that has surfaced. Word on the street is that another child/Trey/Grandmama/Grandaddy sleepover is in the works. I can guarantee you that that night, Oreos will be eaten, terrible movies will be watched, & nary a thing will be washed, folded, or cleaned. Anal Anna has already signed slothful Anna's permission slip.