It’s as if my brain has been exfoliated, the tanned shell of common sense scrubbed away to reveal soft grey matter, exposed to every breath of wind.
- One of the women has dropped out of my Thursday morning parenting class. At the meetings, she had seemed glowingly grateful, but now she has taken offense. One of the volunteers arrived at her house to offer her a ride (presumably by arrangement, since we don’t have the women’s addresses unless they choose to provide them), and she opted to view that as a violation of her privacy. I review all the reasons that I should not be upset by this. We knew these women had issues – that’s why they’re in the program. It’s not a personal slight – it has, in fact, nothing to do with me directly. But I still feel stabbed by this concrete evidence of how little value she has assigned to what we are trying to do for her.
- One of my students passes a note to another. They smother grins behind folded hands, exchanging furtive glances. I become instantly, absurdly aware of the pouchy protrusion of my postpartum belly, so humiliatingly visible in my still-too-tight clothing. I might as well be a fifteen-year-old slouching down in the seat of a yellow schoolbus, trying not to hear the stifled shrieks of laughter from the popular kids behind me.
- My blog stats take a sudden (and, really, laughably small) turn for the worse. Instead of shrugging it off (my official policy), I look for a cause, detecting a higher-than-usual degree of pedantry in my writing. That exposed brain of mine shudders in the cold wind of imagined rejection.
- We talk about sleep in the parenting class. I’ve brought a Cabbage Patch Kid and a blanket so we can practice swaddling; I talk about nap routines and co-sleeping, adopting as expansively tolerant an approach as I can muster while avoiding the elephant in the room: the dreaded CIO. Finally, one of the volunteers brings it up herself: "Are we going to talk about the fact that it’s okay to let the baby cry?" Sensors go on high alert; I hear a suppressed gasp on one side of me, see a raised eyebrow on the other. I stutter something unintelligible about considering options when you’re at the end of your rope, and cringe at the many layers of my own hypocrisy: how I am afraid to discuss the fact that I let my own children cry, how I am afraid to give these women permission to do the same, in case they don’t know how to locate the line between strategic CIO and outright abuse. My rhetoric of respect-for-everybody’s-choices is more than usually empty today.
I’ve always said that everybody has a crazy-door – that back door in their psyche that usually stays wedged shut until the pressure of events forces it open. Usually, my crazy-door is the fear of bees, a phobia that remains manageable except when I am under stress, at which point it escalates into a more pervasive agoraphobia. Lucky me – it’s winter now, and the bees are sleeping under a blanket of snow. It’s up to social anxiety to pick up the slack; I hear whispers of rejection around every corner, see signals of mockery and contempt in the slightest curve of an eyebrow.
And I know exactly why I am feeling this way, too: next week is Reading Week, Slack Week, Spring Break. My usual schedule of classes will be in abeyance; I’ll have a few free days to catch up on my marking, to renew my license plates and visit the doctor and dentist. Surely this has to be my most pathetic trait – this inability to adapt to any alteration in my routine without the ritualistic nervous breakdown, as predictable as rain. One of the perks of my job is that my schedule changes every few months. I never have to settle into the weekly grind of a 9-5 job, instead shifting regularly from full-time hours, to part-time hours, to the two-month unpaid vacation that arrives each summer.
I really like this about my life – I get to know what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom; I get to go back to work again, though, before that life starts to drive me around the bend. I just wish I could skip these days of unexplained exhaustion, of quivering recoil at every imagined slight.