I’m a fortunate lady in that my husband and I don’t spend months apart from each other. Neither of us are in the military or travel for work or even have 24-, 48-, or 72-hour shifts for work. We almost always have a guaranteed day off together.
But…these past couple of months have been hellish in a way I can imagine starts to approximate what these families feel.
Andy was in tech for his last show of the season. It’s a disco musical about Imelda Marcos called Here Lies Love. I saw the show on Tuesday and had some feelings about it, mostly good. The process along the way did not leave me with good feelings, both as an organizational development professional and as a spouse.
Here was my Facebook post from Wednesday morning about it:
Andy was in tech for essentially 2 months. He worked roughly 8a to 10p, 11p, or midnight Tuesday-Sunday until opening.
“Oh, but the money must have been really good,” is usually the response I get.
That’s not the fucking point. I actually really, really like my husband. I wouldn’t be a parent if I didn’t have him to parent with. I would have happily remained single with a cat in my studio apartment for the rest of life if it weren’t for this dude. He made me understand what a true partnership looks like and the desire to be a mom was mostly fueled by the thought of being a parent with him.
So going this long without him was uncomfortable in a way that is hard to describe.
For one, we have a lot of messages in this country that tell moms that they should be able to suck it up. Work is king and parents who want to be with their children are missing the love of work and the almighty dollar. How many characters in pop culture glorify work to the detriment of personal relationships? My favorite women on TV are CJ Cregg of The West Wing, Liz Lemon of 30 Rock, and Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation. All of whom love their work and are rarely seen having romantic relationships or children.
So there is a lot out there telling women that if their (often cis- hetero- male) partners work a lot, well then they should be able to handle the house and the child(ren) and maybe even their own careers…or not, we are conflicted as a culture about how we feel about stay at home moms.
During this extended tech, Ronan experienced his first bought of stranger danger/separation anxiety. This meant that a kid who was previously ok to sit and play by himself or bounce in his jumperoo now needed to be carried and held and taken everywhere with Mommy. Even putting him on the floor next to me while I worked at the kitchen sink was no good enough. He need to be in my arms all the time. Of course this meant that there were many, many tears shed so I could prepare food or pump or fold laundry. He learned a lot of lessons about how you won’t always get what you want from Mommy because she has shit to do.
I spent a lot of time talking to him, explaining what I was doing. Whether he understood it or not, it clearly made no difference since it often meant he would just cry harder.
He also went through a sleep regression. We’re lucky because his sleep regression don’t upset nighttime sleep except to make it a little shorter sometimes, but it makes naps harder or much, much shorter. So when he would need a nap he would cry and cry and I would have to choose, do I go in and try and soothe him to sleep or do I just let him cry himself to sleep? A few times I would get him in bed with me and sleep with him. And by “sleep with him” I mean he would fall asleep next to me and I would lay in the dark contemplating how much I hated theatre or I would try and read articles on my phone with the screen turned away from him so the light wouldn’t wake him up.
I tried to visit Andy at work as often as possible. We’d go and have dinner with him a couple of times a week. So in the 168 hours in a week, we would see him awake for maybe 12. Most of these would happen on his day off where I would take Ronan out of the house on Monday mornings so Andy could sleep in. We’d reunite around 11a after a morning nap and then would have lunch together and maybe run an errand or two before retiring at home for the evening.
Maybe this kind of interaction works for people who feel poor to middling about their partners. For us, this was hugely devastating. We have developed a household that requires an interdependent partnership. While I can do dishes and keep the house sort of clean without Andy around, there is no joy in it. I felt both listless and buzzing with untapped energy. Caring for a baby 24/7 took a lot out of me and down time was not spent working on my own business or projects, but rather trying to relax and recover from being attached to Ronan all the time.
Ronan also started to really take to solid food during this time. Rather than do what I used to do and just make meals of smoothies, scrambled eggs, and yogurt, I wanted to make sure I developed his taste for a variety of foods and had to cook every meal for both of us. The benefit is he got on a very regular eating schedule and was able to halve his milk consumption, so I dropped from 3 to 2 pumpings per day and am now dropping down to 1.
Putting my personal life on hold during this time was the worst. I was lucky as a new mom that I never felt fully like I lost myself. I had to deal with a lot of new feelings, but felt firmly rooted in my personality during the early days. During this process I sacrificed working or had to work during time I wanted to be with my family and had no time to get ahead on marketing and sales or to write.
So not only was I missing out on personal expression, but I couldn’t even access the self care tools to managed that lack of expression.
Workout out went out the window because I was so fatigued. Not exhausted, which implies a physical lacking, but fatigued. My brain was constantly fried from all the logistics and while I’m sure a good workout would have helped, I could not muster the energy or wherewithal to put a DVD in while Ronan was napping. Working out would mean having to shower, which would mean dealing with a baby who would scream about separation, even if he was in the shower with me.
I didn’t and haven’t meditated since this process started. Any attempt could only be right before bed and I would fall asleep immediately.
I think I ate maybe 5 vegetables the whole time? I don’t know. Not many vegetables were eaten.
I envied moms who could go to work during the day, but then thought this was an example of the grass being greener. They likely envied my ability to be with my son all day.
I just wanted a fucking break. Many days I still do want a break from being the lynch pin in my family. So much revolves around me to keep everyone healthy and happy and at their best. I can’t imagine not doing it because doing things like tracking toothpaste and stressing over a lack of vegetables is just what I do. I was raised to do this both by my family and my culture. So when I was complaining to a friend and she offered that I “just not do it,” I honestly couldn’t imagine that.
Did I mention our cat died during this?
Yeah. Our sweet almost 17 year old kitty took a sudden turn on a day when I had a phone interview for a job I really, really want and I had to schedule a vet appointment in the 10 minutes before the interview and then rush him over there after. I called Andy on his dinner break and we decided to put him down. It was awful in a way that words cannot capture.
I thought a lot about the cost of art during this. We joke about artists suffering for their art. People imagine van Gogh cutting off his ear or the deep depressions and slight eccentrism of characters like Beethoven in Immortal Beloved. But there is a point where the cost is too high. I think this is my upper threshold. Art is worth it provided mental and physical health doesn’t end up on the line, as it did in this situation for our family.
What kills me is that my work is all about making organizations as effective as possible and I consistently saw and heard things that made me cringe thinking about the wasted money and effort on certain aspects of this show. I heard about lighting in greater detail, so I can’t even imagine what was happening in other departments at the same time. Organizations like the Rep that want to grow seriously need someone like me on retainer, or at least to come in after things like this to run postmortems. Otherwise little learning gets done and we are doomed to repeat the same (preventable) mistakes.
Now the show has been open for 2 weeks and we are just now starting to feel like normal. Andy and I had a day date yesterday where we split a burger and took a leisurely walk on the beach while the nugget was with my mother in law. I no longer feel desperate or fearful when he leaves the house–a symptom of my postpartum depression that I managed to keep at bay. I no longer feel deep irritation over small things because he is now reintegrated into the management of the household. We’ve even made some progress on small projects around the house and I have had 2 successful job interviews and started working with 2 other clients.
Parts of me are still very, very angry about this situation, as evidenced by the nearly 2000 words in this post. I desperately want a call from the powers that be at the Rep to bring me in to help them do better and actually learn. My knowledge of the people, the process, and love of the organization would make me perfect to facilitate this.
But, I know that the Willhelm household will be running our own postmortem one of these Mondays so we can hopefully be better prepared the next time a show of this magnitude and impact comes along, as it very well should if we hope to see theatre in Seattle grow.