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Feb 05 2014

Many cloaks in the closet

many cloaks in the closetI love my new job. I’ve been working a few weeks now and I am very happy there. I like the people, I like the work, I like the atmosphere, I like the flexible part-time hours, I like the energy there. It’s a very good fit for me and I am so, so blessed to have this job. I also like the “get out of the house and get paid” part, but that’s a topic for a different day. Or not.

Last week we had a staff meeting, and at the end of it I had to hurry off to teach my flute lessons.

New colleague: “Wait, you’re a flutist?”
Me: “Yep, semi-professional-ish, and I teach lessons too. I need to dash to get to my students.”
NC: “Boy, you do a lot of things.” (I had mentioned in the meeting that I did some gifted advocacy)
Me: “Ohhhhhh….you have no idea.”
NC: “Well, it’s always good to have lots of different cloaks in the closet.”
Me: “Yeah, but my cloaks are falling off the hangers and pooling on the floor.”

Laughter all around.

Pretty sure they all thought I was kidding. Not so much. My interests, my passions, my responsibilities, my widely divergent areas of strengths, my multi-potentialities…all those cloaks are jammed into the closet of my day to day life. They’re getting wrinkled and stale from disuse, or worn from overuse, or pooling on the floor from neglect. Oh, the guilt.

I haven’t always been this way, and I’m not terribly thrilled with the stress that many cloaks bring to my life. I wasn’t like this through college and grad school, probably because I was so focused that I had a single cloak and wore that constantly; I’ve noticed this on the days I work, too. Everything else falls by the wayside, at least for the time being.

This being the year I have dedicated to changing my story I decided I had to figure this out once and for all. I’m sick to death of having so much on my plate, of feeling like I can never catch up or get ahead, of having to split my focus so finely that nothing really gets the attention it deserves. I’ve been blogging here for over eight years and a quick scan of old posts show me that I’ve struggled with this for at least that long. This is nothing new for me.

So I sat with it.

It took a few days, but it eventually came to me. And it was a painful and humbling realization.

Parenting.

In 2001 I became a mom for the first time, and began what has become a much longer stretch of being a stay at home (and now homeschooling) mom than I expected. Despite the fact that I wanted to be a stay at home mom, I’ve never been completely comfortable with it. I felt guilty that I wasn’t working for pay, and with my husband working from home the majority of our marriage, I always felt less than because I wasn’t working as hard as I saw him working. This is in no way a comment on him, he has never caused me to feel this way, feels bad that I feel that way, and always stresses that I work damned hard with the boys. It’s all me. So instead of having a job I gradually filled my closet with a variety of passion-driven cloaks, carefully chosen, all loved, all giving me some sense of self-worth and justification for staying home.

In retrospect that backfired.

I found myself as a complex-needs parent. Not high-needs, not special-needs, but an all new category. Complex-needs. A kid described in very few books, understood by almost no specialist, with needs scattershot all over the board. Name it, there are complex issues with that area of his life. I quickly found myself in over my head, a place where I seem to just live now. More cloaks were shoved into the closet, trying to figure out how to help him, help other kids and families, help me. I just never took out any of the original cloaks to make room.

With stress the closet gets smaller. I’m stressed a lot. The cloaks do not shrink.

Parenting a complex-needs kid has also given me Adult Onset Child Induced ADD. My brain has been trained over the last dozen years to not focus so deeply on something that it can’t also keep track of the chaos about to erupt. Even when I’m entirely undisturbed to wrap myself in a cloak and concentrate, I get smacked with the Squirrel! stick and it would be easier to herd wet cats than gather my thoughts. Doesn’t help that the complex kid I’m homeschooling feels the need to share every thought as it flits through his head. Yesterday I challenged him to go five minutes without talking; he made ninety seconds. It’d also be awesome if I didn’t have to hover over him/redirect him nonstop; scaffolding is a real pain in the ass. He’s a work in progress.

So as I work on changing my story and creating a life I want to live rather than one in which I’m just going through the motions, I’m going to start pawing through my collection of cloaks. Not all will survive the upcoming purge, but the ones that do will be the ones that fit me and my life best. I’m sure there will be hurt feelings all around about some of the cloaks being sent packing, but it’s time. There’s just no room left in the closet and I’d rather fully appreciate a few beloved cloaks than fret over the condition of so many.

That’s a plot point of my story I’d really enjoy.

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  1. Attorney At Large

    No guilt. Purge what you have to purge to stay sane. (I like the cloak metaphor better than the juggling metaphor, because then I could introduce moths as people who undermine healthy habits.)

    I am so happy for you that you have a new job that lets you be your professional self. You’ve more than earned it, and besides which, it’s good for your kids to see you in that light.

    (I am also envious. Yesterday I burst into tears because my husband, telecommuting, was having conversation after conversation with grownups in his professional capacity and other than coffee with girlfriends who are lawyers or the occasional guest speaker gig, I don’t get to talk or act in my professional capacity. I have this degree and for what? So our daughter gets a good education, M said, before he realized the correct answer was “I know this is hard and I”m sorry and what can I do?” fortunately before I hit him with my book.)

    1. Jen

      Heh. I love the moths metaphor…

      I couldn’t work until now, it wasn’t possible. And this isn’t even in my degree area or past work history area. But it’s a job I like and I get to talk to grownups.

  2. Donna Leonard

    I can relate to so much of this. I can not imagine homeschooling on top of everything else. It’s okay and even necessary to let other things slide to focus on one (or maybe two) things. Don’t feel guilty about the sliding things. Picture all of your cloaks hung up neatly and ready for your use whenever you need them. Your closet is big enough! It’s just that you can’t wear more than one cloak at a time…at least not comfortably, so why feel guilty about it? I know. Easier said than done. I have to remind myself whenever I feel guilty about neglecting my writing. I tend to imagine it like it’s a plant that is withering from neglect, and I’m wondering why I ever thought I had a green thumb ;-)

    1. Jen

      Actually, this winter the more warm cloaks the better. ;)

  3. Celeste Hill

    Hi Jen,
    It’s hard to give away things you really want to do though isn’t it? It’s like admitting mortality. For me anyway. I love life so much, I want to do everything!

    I’ve been doing the same ‘personal project’ this year. After my daughter’s first full year of homeschool and swinging from “I CAN’T do this!” To “This is so greatest thing ever!” a couple of time a week – it is dawning on me. This – ‘her’ is a BIG project, and I have to throw myself into it. Even though as recently as one month ago, I looked around at ‘any other possible schooling options’ – you know, just as a backup plan – I am facing reality, since my daughter left school – her and anything remotely school-like are moving apart at the speed of light. Its logical, because homeschool allows her to feed that passion, stoke her fires – she’s getting further from being catered for by the school system, not closer!

    So, as you would know, add overexcitability to the mix, in her case, imaginational, sensorial, emotional etc and you have a kid that 1) needs extra emotional guidance – to deal with fears, dreams, worries about the world, etc 2) needs extra practical guidance – so she actually gets clothes on before waking out the front door – and eats – something, anything! Every. Single. Day. 3) needs extra physical ‘training’ because she has the muscle tone of steamed cabbage. It’s BIG job.

    I have yet to work out the biggest challenge – finding ways to cater for a GIANT intellect when no one will take a 6 year old seriously. But it doesn’t help that she ain’t good at behaving seriously. Heck I’ll just do my best for now. SO… Yes, it’s down to me. Parenting must be the priority.

    So I’ve whittled my life back to 2 priorities. 1- parenting. 2 – my study. That’s awesome for me! But [ :) ] I’ve got a technique for funneling as much of my interests as possible through my newfound focus. When I get a chance, I do art that (somehow) focuses on my subjects of study. And since my areas of study are ecology & anthropology – I am of course practicing relevant projects when I pursue sustainable, interconnected living by growing food and caring for animals. See! I’m really doing it! I’m finally focussed. Oh, and doing a little bit of writing – but ONLY about what I’m actually already doing :D But seriously, I do find that these areas are wide enough – yet related enough, to allow me to just stop at that and say no to anything else. Which I’ve been doing successfully for 2 years now. If something doesn’t legitimately fit into those categories, I toss it. It also helps that my daughters areas of interest more or less dovetail with mine – as much as you could expect, from a 6 year old that loves so many things! ;)

    You are great Jen, keep it up.

  4. Heather

    Wow. Powerful awakening for you. I have been struggling to put a finger on what I was doing, but this is it. It resonates. Some of it is just for me because I need an outlet other than the kids, but some of it is the value of what I am doing – I am questioning that. I’m in the process of carefully looking at all my cloaks and figuring which I wish to keep. Thanks for great post!

    1. Jen

      I’m still just staring at my cloaks and trying to figure out which ones I could do without. This is not even remotely easy.

  5. Celeste Hill

    My apologies Jen if my previous post came across as a brag about how wonderful I’m doing and how good life is – with lambs skipping through meadows n’ all. My point was lost in the details. It was an attempt at illustrating how laughably impossible it is for many gifted people to limit their lives to “priorities”. I do think you can do it. But you’d have to be ruthless about it.
    In reality, I have become ruthless in pursuit of my own happiness and fulfilment. That sounds a bit odd, but not if you see where it comes from. It’s really hard to condense the story into a paragraph but I’ll try. At 45 I find myself at University, where I should have been 20 years ago. I have a highly> gifted kid who is not “well behaved” (well, who does) extremely asynchronous and intense. I only found out about ‘gifted’ because of her – because I had to. Neither of my parents went to college. Mum didn’t finish high school. They divorced when I was 3. There were ongoing custody disputes. We moved often, I had 7 different primary schools. Both my parents were obviously gifted, but quite messed up from their upbringing. My dad, an incredibly gifted artist, was dumped in a boarding school at 5 years old. My mother – I won’t even go there, it was worse. And her older brother – her only close friend, shot himself at 30. My own brother is an alcoholic living under state care, because he’s now brain damaged. Despite this, when we talk on the phone he still tries, through slurred speech to share with me his fascination for science fiction and quantum physics. I try not to cry – and I look at my daughter with fear and a determination that people will never know. My partner’s family don’t want to know. They have always held me as being deficient somehow. I’m not normal, that’s all they see. And now in their opinion I’m ruining my daughter’s life by homeschooling her. As I become more determined to live as my true self – and have the opinions and passions I never dared have before, I and my partner become more distant. When we met I was living a life and being a person that wasn’t really me. I was a clean-cut, ‘known entity’ heck – a senior constable LOL. Earning a good wage. Now I’m all sorts of – not that! It’s understandable that he has emotionally withdrawn. He would be scared shitless really. In fact last year he suffered a stress induced illness. And I am heart broken. But I have a job to do right now. Sending my daughter to school would – among other things, necessitate shutting down her life’s passions. I will not do that to her. But I know where I stand. If we run out of money, or have homeschooling problems… if I get shoved in the spotlight of failure, I’ll be there alone. Fine, I’ll take it.

    So back to the cloak wearing. Because I’ve been through all this shit and am accepting full responsibility for everything, I’m am going to damn well live my life like its MINE. I am going to fun myself to exhaustion and people can get the hell out of my way. If any cloaks aren’t part of that, they are in the f%$*ing bin! (or to the thrift shop, cause i really don’t like wasting).

    In order to get rid of some cloaks and make room for yourself, so that you are actually happy and healthy – can you start taking what you are actually paying for? You are paying heaps every day! Take up some of your life yourself. For YOU.
    I hope that made sense. Oh dear.

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