Sunday, November 29, 2009

But I Feel Safe Behind These Walls

I was grumpy this weekend. Irritated, prickly, and quick to annoyance. Looking for a fight, or at least a reason to be mad at someone. I finally realized it yesterday as I was standing on a ladder outside the garage, replacing a light fixture in a hurry before the rain came. It took until bedtime last night to work out why.

Time warp. I spent my weekend in do-over mode. When my brother-in-law showed up with his family I suddenly had two babies in my house. Two gorgeous, 12-month-old girls who were busy crawling around, getting to know the dog and entertaining us all. I kept my distance at first, letting Eve and Lola play with the girls, hold their chubby hands, figure out what made them giggle, and carry them around the house endlessly. I busied myself cooking, cleaning, making sure our contributions to Thanksgiving were ready. By Thursday afternoon I was defensive for my sister-in-law. By Friday morning I was just plain defensive.

When my girls were babies my relationship with my in-laws existed outside the walls I had built. These walls were erected to protect against any criticism they might aim at me - was I too vegetarian? Too ambitious? Not good enough for their baby? Fitting in to this family was tough and I waffled between working my butt off to squeeze in to the puzzle and just saying "screw it." By the time I added being a new mom to my life my walls were fortified. But somehow, I still felt the sting of the arrows, imagined or not.

I should let Eve cry herself to sleep (fling). I shouldn't nurse her so often (swish). I was praised for quitting my job and staying at home with her. No, she was too young to feed baby food (thwack)...

Bubba's parents had waited forever to be grandparents. We had fielded the questions that turned to pleas that morphed into outright demands for six years as we desperately tried to keep some semblance of privacy in our marriage. By the time Eve arrived they were like shoppers who had waited, staring through the windows of the department store, since midnight for the doors to open. They were slobbering with delight. They couldn't wait to get their hands on her.

I was stingy. I was in love with my baby and used to my independence (read: control) and I didn't give her up easily. I had no idea what I was doing, but I wanted to make my own mistakes and I figured as long as I loved her enough I couldn't go too far wrong. I felt fortunate to live five hours from my in-laws so most of the time it worked out. Except for holiday weekends.

On holidays things fell apart. Eve didn't sleep because there was so much stimulation. Every time she began to get sleepy and rub her eyes, someone picked her up and bounced her and tried to make her giggle. Every time I laid her down, a door would slam, the ice maker would rumble, the vacuum would get turned on. I was grumpy. I was irritable. Prickly.

If she woke in the middle of the night I was desperate to get her to sleep again so she wouldn't disturb the entire house. If she cried during the day I scrambled to explain why, to prove that I was a good mother. I just knew that if everyone left us alone, I could do this thing right and they wouldn't have an opportunity to criticize. It was them, not me!

When I finally got my hands on one of my neices this weekend those old toxic feelings filled my veins. I knew I could just get this little one to sleep and I just about had her there, until she heard her mother's voice. Later in the day I saw her sister begin to get drowsy, quieting down on Grandma's lap and staring off into the distance. I nearly screamed when Grandpa came swooping down, snatched her up and began tossing her in the air, squealing in a high-pitched voice because "she's too quiet today, this little one!" "NOOO," I wanted to say, "she's in the sweet spot. Let her sit quietly and she'll go to sleep on her own instead of screaming herself to exhaustion." The knot in my belly was only matched by the tight connection between my molars as they ground themselves to dust. This feeling was familiar.

And, strangely, not unwelcome. There was something righteous about watching my in-laws with babies again and listening to that voice inside my head, "They have no more idea about what is perfectly 'right' for these babies than anyone else! They are so critical of their children and the way they parent!" Feeling defensive for myself was one thing, but feeling defensive for my sister-in-law somehow felt benevolent. I was defending her this time, even if only in my head.

Lying in the dark at 2:00 this morning, listening to one of the babies scream, I realized what I was doing. All those walls I thought I had done away with are still there. I can't just disregard them because my girls are no longer babies. Having these babies around just stoked that fire and it turns out I still hold anger and resentment toward my in-laws for the judgement I thought they were handing out when my girls were babies. The power of those old arrows lives on in my heart and unless I think on it some more, I have a feeling Christmas is going to be rough for me.

Guess I'm off to take down some walls.


Go Mama said...

You're working through a doozy here... How about loving yourself for being who you are, while still staying open and self-reflective.

If we all had it figured out, we'd all have it figured out already! (That means everybody on all sides of the equation.)

Carrie Wilson Link said...

"Take it down, down, down, take it down." Kris Delmhorst!




Deb Shucka said...

It sure seems as though there is a theme running through your life right now. That's the good news. Making the necessary changes is not so easy, but I know you have the power and the will. You can do this. Love. said...

"Feeling defensive for myself was one thing, but feeling defensive for my sister-in-law somehow felt benevolent."

Benevolent defensiveness. I LOVE this line. And I so get this post.

Anonymous said...

This struck a chord with me. I had a terrible when my kids were little. My in laws had very different ideas about babies and kids and I was angry much of the time. I wonder if it would be different now?

But everything you said, I remember now feeling that way as well.

Miss Devylish said...

Sometimes I just wish you were free of that.. I get defensive for you.. I feel it.. Give me your anger.. I'll take it on for you sugar.. and then you can be the nice one. :) xo

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