I've been thinking a lot about balance lately, spurred on in part by this post. My friend Chris sent it to me on Monday, and it was sort of an "ah-ha" moment. Not that I want to move to a one-room cabin in the woods and sew all my own clothes, but it does make me question (again) living in the rat race. Having suffered from depression after the births of both of my children (and during my 2nd pregnancy quite severely), I wonder how much of that has to do with the isolation and meaningless of modern life. My darkest days were when I was alone in a new city with a 20-month-old, with Bill commuting back to LA to work the last few weeks of his old job. I got myself back into healthy head space and then decided that just staying home with my kids wasn't enough. I still had that drive to "make a contribution to society". So I started designing.
The nice thing about working for yourself is that you can control the amount of work you do. However, in order to keep yourself from sinking into a deep, deep hole financially, you need to do a lot of work. I have one more year to run at a loss before I lose my professional status in the eyes of the IRS. I need to figure out if I want to focus on designing for others or for myself - it doesn't seem to work that well to do both (everything suffers, but my own line is what's easily put off when a deadline is looming).
I miss having time to read, or to just play with the kids, or snuggle with Owen on the couch right when he wants me to instead of putting it off just one more minute because I have an e-mail to quickly send before I forget, or a contract to pop in the mail. I put him in front of the TV so he'll give me a half-hour of peace and I can get a few things done. This does NOT make me feel good about my parenting skills. It would be one thing if I only did it a couple times a day, but I'm often yelling from my office "GO WATCH YOUR SHOW!" when somebody wants a little attention.
In some ways, I'm more worried about Bill & I than I am the kids. They're good kids, and I think that they won't have problems until they're older if at all. But what about the grown-ups? What does it say about us that we're always a little bit cranky because the house is a mess, the kids are clamoring for our attention and all we want to do is zone out in front of the TV every night? We don't have family dinners - we eat in front of the television. On weekends we often stay in the house, catching up on our shows. And then we wonder why we never get anything done. I love TV, seriously, but I'm seriously considering giving it up. Why do I need to watch The Bachelor? So I can see yet another guy claim that his top priority is a great personality when in reality he picks his girls based on breast size and hair length? Do I really need to know who the next Apprentice is? I don't think we'll be eliminating our TV all together, but we can certainly reduce our watching to a few shows that can be seen in an evening.
I'm also taking a discussion course from the Portland-based Northwest Earth Institute called "Healthy Children-Healthy Planet" which kind of goes down the same path as the Casaubon's Book post. It's all about how kids aren't happier when they have a TV in their bedroom, designer clothes, elaborate birthday parties and everything that commercial culture is telling them they want. It gives lots of practical tips on how to protect your kids from the extremely aggressive advertising that comes at them from all sides today, one of which is to (obviously) limit their commercial television watching. It also talks about the importance of doing things together as a family, building family traditions and rituals, and fighting to keep them going as the kids get older and are pulled away from their family by their peers.
All of this is made even more poignant by the happenings at Virginia Tech earlier this week. Even as my whole heart goes out to the families of the victims, I can't help but feel sadness for the shooter as well. Why is it that mental illness is so marginalized and ignored in our society? Why is it that in Virginia, someone can buy a gun by attesting that they've never been diagnosed as a danger to themselves or others but no further checking is done? I mean, who is going to look at that form and say, "oh, wow, I don't want to lie so I guess I can't buy a gun after all"? What drives people to such a desperate level of unhappiness that they feel the need to pull out a 9mm and start shooting? It makes me think of a scene in Bowling for Columbine when Michael Moore is asking some kids in a cafeteria what causes school violence, and they point across the room to a big, bullyish-looking guy and say "that guy". Not that this was the case at Virginia Tech (and I don't advocate blaming the victims, no matter how crappy their former behavior towards the perpetrator), but it does make me sad that ours is the culture of The Sopranos and The Real Housewives of Orange County and Friends, and we wonder why it drives people to drink, shoot and kill themselves with meth. How are you supposed to deal day-to-day when you're just not smart, funny, skinny, or rich enough and, according to the television, everyone else is?
I sure don't have the answers, but I'm going to continue trying to find my way, for my kids' sake. But now, it's a beautiful day, so I'm taking my kids to the zoo. I will be bringing my knitting, just in case...