The Allure and the Tyranny of the White Picket Fence

Our Internet connection has been down almost a full week. I know a lot of bloggers have written about the blessed relief of not blogging, of the exhaustion that writing or trying to write can lead to. That taking an electronic break is a sanity saver so they can (maybe) return, refreshed, rejuvenated. Read books again. Think complete thoughts uninterrupted by checking Twitter for the 20th time that day.

My friends, I am not that blogger. Every day, and many minutes of the day of this enforced “break” I ached to write. I tried to type posts in Word, I tried to tweet and comment on blogs on my ridiculous iPhone tiny screen with its insistent and incorrect auto-correct. (If you got an incomprehensible comment from me this week, now you know why.) None of this worked.

Instead of finishing “Remembrance of Things Past”, I passed hours when the kids napped or slept watching the dumbest TV you can imagine. I watched every single episode of “The Haunted” on Animal Planet. Which is about, er, the paranormal disturbing household pets. I mean, really. Does it GET more bottom of the barrel than that?

Not blogging was a stark reminder of how truly isolated I am. I am housebound as a result of life choices (being a SAHM). My only social interactions were with the other mothers of pre-schoolers twice a day. You (allegedly, maybe) park far, far away from the classroom, and endure the long walk, past cliques of moms either ignoring you or politely nodding. You know some are chilly because you don’t volunteer for the three email opportunities you receive daily (Help us Make Bread! Help us Make Napkins!), because you don’t have the time, because unlike almost all the other dads, your husband works 100 hours a week. That you don’t pay to have classrooms or fences named after your family because you don’t have the money, that unlike most of the Range Rover drivers, you can barely afford the pre-school at all. That you’re also not chatty enough, not adept enough at small talk.

Not blogging made me inhabit fully the life of a SAHM of two challenging, precocious children and their unceasing demands. Being present 24/7 was really, really difficult, something I know those going through infertility aren’t going to want to hear. I can hear you saying, shut up you ingrate! Which is certainly what I would have thought myself. But when your main interactions are either unceasing demands or confrontations, your brain starts to stultify. (Because being a good parent means saying “No”. A lot.) Only by watching stories about pets battling ghosts and poltergeists and demonic possessions could I escape, chomping on way too much leftover Halloween candy.

My whole life I feel I craved this life of a suburban home with two kids and a husband. I certainly busted my ass to be here. So why is it so hard sometimes to BE here?

Lately, as if they happened to another person, I have remembered the travels and adventures I used to experience, the delight I felt in discovering new music or buying an outfit or meeting a friend for dinner at a trendy restaurant, barely able to afford it but feeling so grown-up for ordering goat-cheese ravioli. The nightclub queues my friend and I used to get to brazenly cut because the doorman knew us. The girl who men would stare at when she crossed the street. The girl who would confidently stride into meetings and present powerpoints to important clients, win them over with her arguments.

That Girl would be horrified by the frumpy, “Haunted Animal” watching, Halloween candy-eating, frankly tragic woman I have become, bothered by having to walk down a hallway like some cowed junior high kid.

Virginia Woolf wrote, “Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword.” Basically we can either choose a life of “correctness” of motherhood and wifehood (of course, assuming that we are lucky enough to have children) or we can choose to go to the other side of the sword, where “all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course.”

Life on the picket fence side of the sword seems really harsh and difficult. I feel that mothers are being crushed by expectations, whether they are our own, perpetrated by Dr. Sears, other mothers, or life, that terrible trash compactor which eventually grinds us down through tragedies.

I wish I didn’t have to write or think so much about resilience, or trying to seek joy, or being the bamboo bending in the wind. Why can’t I be That Girl again? Is that possible after IF, after parenting after infertility?

Is this a bunch of BS whining? Am I a total bitch for even writing any of this? Is it possible to live a life of adventure and fun once you have chosen the white picket side of the fence? Or should I consign myself to the fate of Frumpster Grumpster?



Filed under Fear, Parenting After IF, SAHM

16 responses to “The Allure and the Tyranny of the White Picket Fence

  1. Jjiraffe, what an amazing, inspiring, glorious post. Today of all days I needed this, after the 90 minutes I spent crying on the phone to my only friend this morning about the choices I’ve made that led to where I am today. She tried to tell me That Girl was still around, that confident, adventurous girl I was ten years ago. After reading this, I can believe her.

    No, it’s not whining or bitching in any way. No, we don’t have to resign ourselves to frumpery and complacent wistfulness. Yes, we can still have the adventure and fun.

    Thank you. Thank you so much.

  2. Well this is one of those hope it goes through iPhone comments.

    What a wonderfully brave and honest post. I totally get it and I’m sure many others do too. I especially understand the pressures of living where you do, those range rover SAHMs with nannies who live at the gym and salon, and the isolation, all of it.

    Are your kids in school every morning? Maybe at some point we could have a coffee/tea playdate?

  3. Ack! You mean, it’s high school all over again???? Oh, I am so not looking forward to dealing with cliques again.

    Great post, love your honesty.

  4. jjiraffe for president!!!

    No. Not whining just very sincerely touching on the principal existential struggle of motherhood. Wonderful post. I guess none of us will ever be exactly THAT girl that we once were but I believe that if we can figure it out (not easy) we can be BETTER!

    We’ll get there!

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  6. Wordgirl

    I absolutely relate to the remembering, with wistfulness, those times I was unencumbered — and had NO IDEA… I was sad or confused or depressed for a whole host of other reasons. This is tough stuff — to be present everyday and find your way through that thicket of well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) advice — which way is the way? Ultimately don’t we want our children to find joy? Have access to joy? I think about that a lot –that if I failed in all else — I wanted her to find joy in the world.

    Funny, of course, because the world often seems to fraught with dangers — at least in my toddler-parent brain — and my own ability to embrace joy is constantly hampered by the worry.

    Oh, the worry.

    So no, you are not whining. It’s hard. I’ve been trying to forgo media for Z, because in my mind that’s how I imagined I would be — no netflix or Sesame street to preoccupy her while I cook dinner — and it’s SO FREAKING EXHAUSTING…and I have one. And the next day I was queing up Calliou on the ipad with a chorus of voices telling me I was ruining her…arghhh!

    That girl will return —



  7. Esperanza

    I love the title of this post. I love the post even more.

    What a courageous and brutally honest post. There are so few posts, or even articles out there, paying homage to the struggles of modern, suburban parenting. After all, is that what we’ve all work so hard to achieve? To describe it as anything less than idyllic is uncommon, but so, so necessary.

    Thank you for tackling this difficult subject, especially in a community that holds motherhood on a probably unattainable podium. (And I believe it was you who retweeted once: I hope we all get to know someday how hard it is to be a mother). Speaking the truth does not make you ungrateful for what you have. It just makes you honest. And besides, what you’re riling against here is not the precious gift of your children, but the cage that our culture has constructed in which to raise them.

  8. It is hard. It’s very hard. I relate so much to what you write about remembering “That Girl” with amazement (that was ME?) and jealousy/envy (she had no idea how good she had it!). And yes, our children are precious to us and we love them no less just because we acknowledge that this is hard work, and that something of ourselves gets lost, at least temporarily.
    You’re doing an awesome job.

  9. Ditto what Esperanza says about the title of this post. Really resonates for me, too.

    If you’re whining, then I’m whining. I, too, had a life of travel and adventure B.K. and wonder now if that was even really me. Frumpy, ioga-pants wearing me.

    Oh, how I wish I could have coffee with you and Luna!

  10. Although I don’t know what it’s like to be in your shoes as I’m not a mother, I do know what it feels like to want to be the girl you once were. But I believe for the both of us, she’s still in there. She’s just waiting for either the right time to be able to come back out, or for when you pull her out. I think it’s probably particularly hard for you right now because your twins are so young….I think in a few years you’ll see more opportunity to be the woman you once were again. I have faith. And I can even help you get her out! I like goat-cheese ravioli….

  11. I meant to comment on this post earlier, and I’m sorry I never did (the perils of reading on my phone).

    I think so many moms who went through IF give themselves a lot of guilt when they get frustrated with parenting. My son is 3, and it’s a rough age, and he isn’t always my favorite person to hang out with. He’s still my favorite person in the world, yes, but not always my favorite person to be with. And I feel guilty, and I worry that he can tell. I miss my single days, and at the same time I would never want to go back to them. And I’d never ever want to be single and 33.
    So anyway, please do not feel bad when it gets hard, the isolation and the mom cliques. We all know it doesn’t mean for a minute you’re not glad to have your children. You’re just human.

  12. I can so relate to and appreciate this post. Thank you!

    I echo Esperanza’s words in her comment: “Speaking the truth does not make you ungrateful for what you have. It just makes you honest. And besides, what you’re riling against here is not the precious gift of your children, but the cage that our culture has constructed in which to raise them.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. I too respect your honesty and candidness here. I think we can be happy on this side of the “picket fence,” but it is a choice we have to make and work at to make the best of this time in our lives, even if it isn’t quite how we imagined it would be when were were trying to so hard to get here. xoxo

  13. This is definitely NOT ungrateful whining. {{{Hugs}}}

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  15. Kate

    First time here, via write mind open heart. Not whining at all. We worked and waited 6 years to adopt, and I’m in month 23 of being a SAHM. And I love it, wouldn’t have it any other way. And I miss my life too. Before becoming a mom, I didn’t anticipate not being me. I really thought that the backpacking trip through Laos would now be done with baby on back. Didn’t realize that the hours spent meticulously researching (and funding) our next trip would now be dedicated to singing songs about poop and doing my damndest to still be positive, attachmenty mommy after 12 hours of being positive attachmenty mommy. Didn’t really anticipate how severely the drop to one income would wallop any plans to leave town.

    Reading your post was so refreshing because (and don’t get me wrong, I read ’em because I love ’em) it’s hard to find honest-to-goodness-holy-cow-this-shit-is-hard mom bloggers…I’m just not measuring up to the moms who throw weekly dress-parties for their kids and find the pure joy in every single second of every day. I come away wondering wtf is wrong with me? So thank you for your honesty!

  16. Oh my…are you in my head? I have thought so many things like this lately and I work FT. I just “get this”. I felt all these emotions and now on the other side of infertility I wonder how ungrateful I am….or if I am . Could it be that I am just tired? Overwhelmed?

    Either way I am so happy I read this….and I can you a hug in cyberspace. Thank u for hitting publish …thank u.

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