Farewell to the Ghost of Christmas Future

As is typical for me, with a new dawn springs a fresh slate on the "mood" front, and I'm in a much brighter place than yesterday's depression-fest. Still facing the same problems with figuring out what to do with my life, but it's not psyching me out quite so badly.

Photo credit: rayarooo (Flickr)

Tomorrow had dawned into today, and the black cloud has dissipated, leaving the stark realities behind. I still have to figure out what's next. I've had advice from several corners, most of which has served only to make me cranky again. That isn't fair at all, and I'm actually doing pretty well at getting myself past the grumpiness and taking advice in the spirit that it's offered. I'm still just not sure about anything.

Am I failing to find jobs because I'm selling myself short and not applying for stuff at a similar level to my last job? Or am I failing because I'm under-qualified and need more training and education? Is the weirdness of my background coming through too strongly in my resume, not emphasizing my skills well? Or am I not doing a good job convincing people that my differences are strengths?

It's still confusing, is my point, and I'm still not certain what it is that I need to be doing. Add to that a complete lack of insight into what it is that I want to be doing, and I'm kind of a mess.

I had meant to take this time where I'm getting unemployment benefits and use it to position myself for a career that I actually wanted. Six months of partially-subsidized existence is a lot. But I haven't done anything that I need to do in order to figure my life out, and now we're to the point where we would like to be making long-term plans like buying a house, but we're stuck by my indecision.

I hate making decisions. Fully-committing to a course of action closes off all other actions, and I've got a good imagination: choosing a thing means losing all those other things that I can see so clearly in my mind. Sure, it's gaining a real thing from a sea of phantasms, but those possibilities are almost better than the real thing.

They're hope. They're the promise of the future. Without that promise, what's the point?

Which of course is ridiculous, when taken to its logical limit, as I'm doing right now. If you never make a choice, then all those possibilities remain ephemeral forever. You can dream of their sweetness, but never taste it. And while you're dreaming of sweetness, the things around you spoil.

I wish that knowing that made it easier for me to bid adieu to those dreams, but it doesn't. I still hate making choices. But it's time to cowboy up: I'm miserable, I'm making those around me miserable, and I'm standing between my family and our dreams of the future. No job, no house, and we have such dreams for our home. Until I let go of a few of mine, at least for the near term, by choosing a career path, we won't have that kitchen with the concrete countertops, or the playroom where you can see the kids while you're making dinner. No swing set in the back yard or place to chuck the ball for the dog. Just... limbo.

I turn thirty-four tomorrow. Maybe I'll get myself a sense of direction for my birthday.

I didn't write this for you

I hate doing blog posts that are all bad news, which is why I haven't posted for a while.  But sometimes you just need that metaphorical scream, and this is the best I've got. It's September.  I've been collecting unemployment since June, and my last week to collect comes in December.  Three months down, three to go.  No job.  If I don't manage to turn things around in a few months, no job, no money.  We can coast on Elana's salary, but something like buying a house would be difficult if not impossible.  I actually get along quite well with my mother-in-law, but everybody's going to be happier when we've got our own space.  Which means I've gotta find a job.

I don't know how.  Every time I've tried to find a job that doesn't require a security clearance, literally every time since I was nineteen years old, I've failed.  I turn thirty-four in two days.

Photo credit: e-coli (Flickr)

Fifteen years of failure is a lot.  That much losing gets into your head.  Fifteen years in which, every time you've gotten your hopes up, they've been dashed.  Stuff you wanted so badly, like when we were in Portland and I just needed some job, any job, in order to be able to stay at a place we loved, a place that represented freedom and joy and living life without being yoked to the only place I'd ever been a success.  I got turned down by Wal-Mart out there.  Wal-Mart.  This latest time was at least a higher category of rejection, but when they're telling you that you can't sell an iPod to someone who came into the Apple Store already wanting to buy it, it's an unlovely feeling.

I see myself as talented and capable.  At every job I've ever had, I've excelled.  When I talk to people from my last job, which I left almost four months ago, they tell me that they still miss me.  I could give you a set of sterling references as long as my arm.


So what's next?  Flipping burgers?  I almost don't dare hope to think I could convince someone to let me make a latte.

Fifteen years worth of failure are a lot.  They live inside you.  They tell you that you can't.

I'm not one to believe that I can't.  The very first job I ever had, I got by cold-calling my way down the "computer" section of the phone book, because, well, obviously I could do that, right?  And I was right.  I could.  Just like I could sell you an iPhone or stack pallets of toilet paper that would let you save money and live better.  I am capable.  That isn't the issue.

Frankly, I'm not sure what the issue is.  I thought my interview yesterday actually went pretty well.  After all the times I hadn't even gotten as far as an interview, I'd been telling myself that once I got to that point, I'd be a shoo-in.  I speak well.  I communicate a can-do attitude and personal standards of excellence.  People remark on my confidence.

I'm confident that, if I could just figure out what the fuck is wrong with the world, I could fix it.  I'm running out of confidence that I can do that.  And I don't know what to do.

Because I have three kids.  Because I don't want to live in my mother-in-law's house for another six months.  Because I want to move on with my life instead of just coasting along aimlessly until the heat death of the universe.

Just whining about how hard everything all is... that's not helpful.  I know that.  I hate whining.  I hate being a whiner.  When I write, I like to tell a story, something that isn't just all middle.  Hell, writing is the one thing that I've always been able to count on.  It feels dirty to pollute it like this.

If you've read through this, I'm sorry.  It's a profoundly selfish act that I've committed, putting these words down.  I didn't write this for you.  I'm not trying to give you anything.  I'm just praying that, maybe, possibly, getting these words out of my soul and into the world will help cleanse out some of the gunk down there and make room for something better, something breathier, something that rhymes with but bears no resemblance to "mope".

Someone once promised me that there's always a way, and I believed him.  I mope he was right.  I mope.  He was right.

We'll see.

Seriously, you can get it at the grocery store

Elana got to sit in a puddle of urine; I got five hours of shrieking cats. That was our drive to Cleveland. First, the urine wasn't hers. The Boy had been running around in varying degrees of nakedness all morning, and during one of his bouts of "no pants" time also found himself in the front seat of the minivan, which in his defense is shaped just like a toilet if you have the imagination of a two-year-old. We at least were able to find an old diaper pad, which meant that not too much of the piss soaked into Elana's shorts, but that is the kind of thing that you tell yourself in a desperate attempt not to cry. Try it: "Hey, at least my shorts aren't completely covered in piss!" See, it just doesn't work.

Thinking I was getting off easy, I carried the cats out to the car. One was boxed up already, and because we couldn't find the other box, I was just going to let the easygoing one chillax with me in the cab of the moving van. She'd cuddle on my lap, maybe look out the window with her little paws on the glass and nose leaving wet marks behind... it'd be adorbs.

That particular thought balloon got popped by venom-coated kitty claws of freaked-out vengeance, as did my face as she Wolverined her way up it. My very well-meaning mother-in-law tried to help, as Elana was getting the kids strapped into the pee-van at the time, but (a) Spike doesn't trust Robin as much as she trusts Elana, and (b) Robin's not a big animal person, which you have to be in order to reach right into the spin cycle of razor blades that is a terrified tabby. I may have been a bit overly terse when I instructed her to get my wife. At the time, I had multiple puncture wounds that still had the things that did the puncturing inside them, so I only feel a little bit bad about that.


Luckily for me, a neighbor had iodine, because cat claws are right up there with toilet seats in terms of things that you don't want to lick or have shoved inside your body. Luckily for the cat, another neighbor had a box. And duct tape. Elana just went ahead and took care of that, and if she got scratched while doing it, had the good grace not to complain about it.


So she got to drive from DC to Cleveland in a pool of The Boy's urine, and I got to listen to a chorus of angry cat howls for at least five of the seven hours. They did quiet down on occasion, usually for long enough that I'd juuuuust started to let blood return to my knuckles on the wheel before some bit of road grit would skitter down the undercarriage, sending them back into a howling tizzy all over again. At one point, the truck in front of me started losing some kind of blue, padded cloths, sending them into the roadway. The instinct here is to avoid that stuff, even after running over the first one to no effect, so that meant that I took the van over the rumble strips. Let me tell you, kitties do not like rumble strips.

We made it to Cleveland, where I more or less fell into a coma for several days. On the first day here, I tried to help a ninety-year-old neighbor lift her broken, 400-lb garage door with predictable results. She tried to pay me as a consolation prize and then tried to offer me food, because the Midwest and ninety-year-olds are a little weird like that. Several days later, I'm starting to feel quite a bit more myself (i.e., grumpy and unhelpful), which is a funny thing to say at five o'clock when you are sitting in the kitchen in the dark only having had the two or three ounces of leftover coffee from the day before because you don't want to run the grinder and oh god no wake up The Boy, who bee-tee-dubs didn't eat his dinner last night and got up at least eight times complaining that (a) he was hungry, and (b) he wanted teal fingernail polish. No, better to just let him get some sleep.

Sometimes, for Father's Day, all you really want is an hour or two of peace and quiet. And, like a good father, I know that the only way that's going to happen is if it starts at o'dark thirty.

It's been a busy couple of days, and I'm looking forward to settling into a bit more of a routine. Elana has to study because she's got a job offer contingent on passing her national board exams in PT, so we'll need some kind of a schedule. I should probably also look for jobs; the unemployment people get tetchy when you don't do that.

Those needs do fly in the face of all the fun that our kids are having. There is a ton of stuff for the kids to do here, and I think even on the most boring day that we've been here the kids got to go on two walks and visit a farmer's market. Admittedly, said market had only one farmer, but she did have a brownie with Reese's Pieces, so that turned out all right. They've also been to the art museum (verdict: awesome, both because it was apparently great and because daddy got to stay home and try to sleep) and the pool (verdict: two out of three kids agree that it's awesome, but Little Sister, who has no real respect for authority figures and a dislike of loud noises, thinks that lifeguards and their whistles are bullshit), and we have at least a playground on the agenda for today. The Botanical Gardens will probably show up on the radar soon, plus more pool (sorry, Little Sister), the Children's Museum, the Zoo... actually, I'm getting tired just thinking about it. I'm kind of a homebody, really, so all the activity is tiring me out. Maybe I can teach them to play video games? All the sun can't possibly be good for them; The Boy is paler than me, if you can believe that.

No, really:


All in all, things are good. I may have my work cut out for me explaining the proper term for the fizzy stuff in a Coke bottle, or how to pronounce "Monticello" (hint: apply the well-known English rule where when you add "o" to the end of a word starting with "c" the "c" becomes a "ch" sound), but hey, you can buy whiskey at the grocery store, so if all the friendliness gets to be a little too much, I know where to get help.

Straighten up and fly right

There's an ugly satisfaction in forcing one of your kids to do as you tell them. To start, you're angry.  The little you-know-what is being a real little you-know-what, and has just done something monumentally stupid.  How freaking hard is it to figure out that you don't [insert ridiculous thing here; recommended: dump oatmeal all over the kitchen and dining room; pee on your chair; hit his sibling; wake up the baby]?  It's time to straighten up and fly right, junior.

jaws and kids

You outweigh the kid by a factor of five or more, depending.  If they're really freaking out, that makes it complicated, but it just makes you madder and stronger and less concerned about being gentle.  Getting them to do what they're supposed to - or at least, to come physically under control - well, it's not like you're a cop trying to subdue somebody on Angel Dust.  The kid is done for.

Then what?  Getting them physically rallied is only step one.  After that you've gotta make sure that they actually comply, actually do what it is that they're supposed to do.  Wheedling with them and cooing at them is long past.  This ain't the time for, "hooooon-ey, it's time to [insert correct course of action; essentially boils down to 'quit being such a dumbass']".  Best way at this point is fear: you've already just thrown them around a little.  Now it's time to impress upon them your godlike power to wound them where it counts.

A little lip quiver.  The kid is tough, but you are the parent.  You've seen them cry a million times, basically daily since they were born.  Not gonna stop you.  They needed a little discipline.  Not like you slapped anybody around, just grabbed them by the wrist and hissed at them a little.  You can't let them turn out like that bratty one your best friend from college has.  They need to show a little respect.

Four hours and a glass of Jameson later, you pinch the bridge of your nose.  Part of you has been wanting to apologize to the kid since about two minutes after the encounter.  Part of you is really, honestly struggling with the balancing act of being a good parent versus just being so goddamned tired and stressed and worn thin at how hard you're trying to be a good parent, spouse, employee...

Look into my eyes...

You love this kid.  Love like you never knew was possible.  To say that you love them like they were a part of you is trite and stupid; you don't love your nose like this, not even close.  You love this kid enough to put up with them sobbing into your chest at two in the goddamn morning when they've had a nightmare, and you've got an important meeting the next day and are giving a presentation and have absolutely got to be sharp but here you are anyway and it is exactly the perfect thing for you to be doing right then and there.  You love them enough to wipe the snot off of their noses when they're sick even though they scream at you and writhe like you're trying to pour fire ants up that poor little stuffed-up nose.  You love them enough to really truly get panicked when you see a power cord in their little hands, even though you have never in your life been electrocuted by a power cord nor ever known anybody who so much as got a tiny shock from one, not even that kid in first grade who used to eat glue.

You are not qualified for this.

You are not equipped to love so much, to carry so much responsibility for another person's life on your shoulders.  You did pretty well at wiping butts, and even managed not to drop the kid too many times onto anything hard.  Keeping them alive?  Check.  There have been more close calls than you'd care to think about, but you've pretty much got this one.

But there's this whole other layer on it, because just keeping them on life support is not going to come anywhere close to cutting it.  That kid looks at you sometimes like the whole world could just go crashing into the sun, and it'd just be the two of you sitting out there in space, wrapped up in how much they love you, and you'd be fine.  If pure, raw love were a thing, there'd be nowhere to hold it, no place you could possibly keep all that stuff they are feeling at you.  You're perfect.  Perfect.

But you're not, and sometimes you want to shake them and yell at them and scream into their little ears that they are so fucking stupid to trust you this much.  You are going to hurt them and fail them and disappoint them, because nobody, nobody deserves what they are giving to you.

Well, shut up.  That's called parenthood.

There's no easy answer, not to anything, not anymore.  How many more carrots do they have to eat before they can get dessert?  Who the hell knows?  Where is that written down in a parenting book?  Mostly you just do whatever you've got the energy left to do, and pray that it's good enough.  And that little kid who loves you with such reckless abandon... whatever you've got, they'll love you anyhow.  You can grab them by the arm and hiss at them and make their little lip quiver, and the next morning they'll give you a big hug and tell you how happy they are that they are not a robot, and did you know that spiders are arachnids?

You don't deserve that.  I don't care who you are.  You can't possibly.

But you can try.

Not a one of us has got it figured out, no matter how many letters we've got after our names.  Props to the parents of twelve, but don't assume you know my kid or that he's like any of yours.

But I do know this: you've almost always got two seconds to remember those hugs.

Remember them, and you won't fly too far off course.  Maybe you'll even get it right a little more often.