Practical thoughts

I often wish I could outsource all the mundane tasks and decisions of daily living. I wish I could have someone tell me exactly what to wear, what to eat, what to feed my daughter, what items need to be restocked in my diaper bag, when to do laundry… I hate even talking about these mundane things because they are not worth talking about.

But this is what my life as a SAHM consists of. At any single moment during the day, these are the thoughts going through my mind: Should AJ wear long sleeves or short sleeves today? How long has it been since she pooped, and how should I time her meals and snacks so she won’t poop during a nap and wake up prematurely? How much sodium is in these crackers, and what should I give her for her next snack in order to not exceed 400 mg of sodium per day? Did I remember to give her vitamins yesterday? Will we be out of the house when she needs to nurse? Does my outfit allow discreet public breastfeeding, or do I need to change my shirt?

It’s not the tasks themselves that bother me so much as the mental energy that must be devoted to thinking about them. I don’t mind the doing—the feeding, diaper changing, cleaning up—nearly as much as the thinking. When practical thoughts fill my brain, they take up all its space and energy and crowd out the thoughts that really matter to me.

An INTP is defined not by what she does, but by what she thinks. What really feeds my soul is thinking about ideas that have no practical value. Philosophy, science, art, and the even more abstract offspring of these subjects that have no names. When I think about only the practical, my soul shrivels and feels dead.

I envy my husband, who spends his day thinking about complex engineering problems. I envy anyone who gets to spend time thinking abstract thoughts that have no direct application in their daily life. Even if I weren’t a SAHM, I would still have to think about these things. I would still have to plan AJ’s meals and snacks, schedule her naps, plan her outfits according to her activities, prepare spare clothes and diapers, coordinate grocery shopping and laundry schedules. (My husband travels out of town for work every week, so he’s not able to help with the everyday thinking.)

The necessity of practical thoughts has been amplified recently as we just moved to a new house. The process of packing, moving, unpacking, toddler-proofing the house, dealing with appliances that don’t work, and trying to stay one step ahead of an active toddler the entire time has totally swamped my brain. I haven’t thought about anything un-practical in many weeks. I think I’ve forgotten how to think. I don’t know where to start.

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Hunkering

I am currently in a state of limbo waiting for things to change over which I have no control. I’m in a holding pattern, unable to make progress. I feel like all I’m doing is converting oxygen into carbon dioxide.

This metaphysical hunkering feels similar to the hunkering I did during a three-month NOLS expedition in the Alaska wilderness in 2008. We spent a lot of time hunkering in our tents on that expedition. Sometimes because of weather, like the three soggy days spent camped by the side of a gravel road waiting for the rain to stop and the river to subside so we could wade across. On other occasions we hunkered while waiting for food or rescue.

Our first hunker was spent next to a makeshift runway we had built in a humid valley, waiting for the clouds to lift so a small plane could land with our rations. We had already been without food for two days, having been unable to get to the site where we had planned to meet the plane for our re-ration. Instead we bushwhacked through a dense forest and traversed a raging river to find a spot where a plane might be able to land, and cut down small trees to make a runway.

I hunkered here.
I hunkered here.

Continue reading “Hunkering”

Thinking en plein air

Before I met my husband, I spent most of my time alone, absorbed in thought. My life was simple, peaceful, and quiet, if sometimes lonely. Throughout my days, no matter what I was doing, unrelated thoughts simmered in my mind. Thinking was my main activity and favorite pastime, and I had the luxury of spending hours every day in uninterrupted thought. I weaved long braids of thought over the course of days or weeks, collecting slivers of ideas from past and present experiences, things I’d learned, things my senses perceived on daily walks and hikes, and vague notions from my dreams. Past experiences continued to unravel in my mind for days or weeks or years, until their full meaning became clear. I could steep in a collection of ideas for days at a time, until it softened and a theme emerged.

My life was a series of themes, each spinning off variations of thoughts. Some became blog subjects, personal writings, or other projects. Each theme and train of thought changed me in some way as it became part of my inner landscape, and faded to a conclusion just as a new theme arose, organically.

For the first year after I met my husband, I thought mostly of him, our love, our future, and our life together. Even so, I was still able to produce long webs of thought. I did a lot of writing, mostly for or about him. Those thoughts were mostly feeling, aroused by an intense romance that was spiritual in fervor.

At some point, as our life together became more real than imagined, my thoughts about the future left the ecstatic realm and entered the mundane. We began to spend most of our time talking and thinking about things like financial planning, car maintenance, home buying, car seat safety, and baby poop. The thoughts that simmer constantly in my mind now are purely practical rather than philosophical. I have no mind left for extracurricular thinking.

Since becoming a mom, I’m lucky if I can continue one train of thought for 15 minutes without being interrupted. My mind is never still enough to fan thoughts into flame. Being a mom of an almost-toddler requires me to be constantly vigilant. When I’m with my daughter, and even when I’m not, I’m always thinking: Is she safe? Is she getting into trouble? Is she hungry? Does she have to poop? Whenever I germinate a thought that seems worthy of weeks of contemplation, my attention is called elsewhere and within five minutes I’ve forgotten it entirely.

I miss the way I used to think. I miss my INTP-ness. I want to get reacquainted with my mind and luxuriate in thought again. If I weren’t breastfeeding, I think it would be refreshing to my spirit to spend a whole day away from my daughter in uninterrupted thought. It would be even better than a day of uninterrupted sleep.

Oh, but I would miss my daughter so much. I would want to shelve my thinking just so I could kiss her chubby cheeks and tickle her and watch her crawl around talking to her toys.

Mornings

My first job after college was doing field work in Oregon, working rotating shifts. In the mornings when I was on afternoon shift, I would set up a tray table and folding chair on my back porch, and eat breakfast while looking out onto the Columbia River Gorge to the mountains across the river. Sometimes I went hiking for a few hours in the mountains, and showed up to work already full of sweat and the scent of spruce.

When I was single and living alone in Alaska, I dedicated one morning every weekend to lounging in bed. I would stay in bed for hours, drifting in and out of sleep and daydreams, reading books, or writing. When I finally rose after noon to run errands or find the day’s adventures, I was sated from soaking in my relaxing bed and all the daydreams I could muster.

My favorite mornings were the weekend mornings spent with my husband, pre-baby. On Saturday mornings we would both sleep our fill and wake up slowly and sleepily. I loved waking up to him, cuddling close and warm with the luminous day settling around us. We talked and laughed and daydreamed with the vulnerability of having not yet been hardened by the world outside our bed. Those mornings felt like the beginning, the dawn of something wide and wonderful where anything was possible.

These days I am startled awake early by a cry on the baby monitor, pulling me fast and far through many deep layers of sleep. The unrelenting cries pierce through all the efforts of my brain to disappear back into the pillow, and I rise reluctantly to go to the baby’s room. She sits up in her crib and looks at me expectantly while I pick her up and change her diaper. Then we sit in the rocker and she nurses hungrily while I soak in her warm baby smell and try to catch the last rays of relaxation, before she wiggles out of my arms and it’s time to start the day’s race.