Monday, May 14, 2012

The Pause That Refreshes

I Tweeted the other day that "broke is the new single." What I meant was this: when I was single, I felt shame, worry that I was a freak who would always be this way, envy that others seemed to have figured all this out, and determination that I would always, always remember what this felt like, even when I was no longer single.

I kept that promise to a certain extent. Part of me is just too freakin busy, at this point, to even notice that people feel at loose ends. Yesterday was Mother's Day, and as I lovingly nuzzled my daughters' hair, noticing the difference in their smells and the way their skin feels, I didn't remember -- possibly for the first time! -- that one Mother's Day twenty-odd years ago, when I trudged down into the subway and saw a beautiful family running up and out, the mom adorable in her hippie dress, the dad slinging kids one-armed like a pro, and sunk into a slough of despond. Never mind that that family ended up divorced a few years later (Park Slope is a small town, yo) or that, you know, it just wasn't my time yet, and it wouldn't have killed me to just Enjoy Myself rather than constantly comparing my life to everyone else's. My response to seeing a happy family was worry and a pervasive sense of inferiority.

Now that I really am that hippie mom (uh sorta), I don't miss a chance to feel grateful and lucky, rather than put-upon and resentful. But it's not a constant awareness. It's fading. The same way that "I will always be a smoker, even after I stop!" eventually faded. And that "I will always remember how annoying grownups are!" lost its charm when I realized how self-obsessed twelve-year-olds are. We can't stay frozen in amber. Our policies evolve along with our circumstances.

Anyway, so I'm not obsessively single anymore. I'm not a smoker anymore, not even emotionally. But I retain my outsider status by being hella broke, underemployed, and resentful of my friends who do zany things like have date night or buy pants. And I want to remember always how crappy this feels so I don't make broke friends feel worse when I'm feeling better. I seem to remember an essay by Anne Lamott on this theme -- having to cut off a friend who was kvelling too much about her own good fortune. At the time, I thought she was emotionally stingy. I still would not allow myself to do such a thing -- suck it up, I tell myself, because friends are harder to make than money. But I do see how the emotional energy required to negotiate being too broke to pay every bill, every month, can be so draining, there's no energy left over for applause.

Like a single person obsessing over a new potential mate, I spend so much energy hitting "refresh" on my email account that I have to force myself to actually take the steps to get new work and, you know, do the work on my plate. I'm sure that metaphor could be more elegant. But if I spend any more time on it, I won't make today's deadline.

So here's my vow: Universe, give me enough work to support my family, and I'll keep my mouth shut and clap for my friends when you do the same for them. Deal?

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