Spring: Coming Up For Air

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It has been a long winter.

The first week of this year 2008 I gnashed my teeth at trying to take care of a child with pneumonia at the same time as write no less than 20 college letters of recommendation. What an ugly blur of a week that was! I felt I had to choose between taking care of my sick daughter struggling to breathe clearly and taking care of my students and their college needs (taking care of myself was not on the agenda). It was dark and rainy; I didn’t sleep much; all I felt was pressure and stress. It was much more “crisis control” than considered action.
It seemed dark all the time, and that particular week passed in an anguished blur. The rest of the winter passed much the same.
But spring is upon us and last Sunday we all set our clocks one hour ahead. The bad? Waking up bleary in the dark at 6:00 a.m. and stumbling to the shower? The good? Leaving work, reading the newspaper, and still getting home in time for a bike ride before the sun goes down. I did just that yesterday, and it felt wonderful – as if the claustrophobic, horrible winter is waning with the summer lying carefree and happy in front of me. The sun is shining again and we can exit the “cabin fever” of winter.
We can go outdoors again.
As a teacher I enjoy/suffer the “all or nothing” academic lifestyle where I hardly have one moment to spare for a few months, and then I have the entire summer off. I am overwhelmed and stressed to the point of dysfunction, and then I have nothing to do for longer than I need. This winter was a blur of sickness, stress, and nonstop work. This Farch snapshot captures it succinctly:

Click to enlarge picture

Overwhelmed by work and family obligations, I got on my bike a total of two times in the past three months. I did not take care of my health; in fact, I hardly thought about my health or a healthy lifestyle at all. The results were predictable.
Nevertheless, last Saturday I rode a 50 mile bike race in a tad over three hours – not bad, considering my lack of training and that I still suffered a touch of a sinus infection and blew my nose constantly during the race. I did not feel strong in the least, but I consoled myself with the following: “You have to get back in the saddle, and now is as good a time as any.” Next week and the week after that the bike rides will come easier, as my legs and heart adapt to new demands and I get back in shape. I begin to see the outlines of the upcoming summer.
With my students I refer to the February and March of the academic year as “Farch”: it is the time of the year when everyone is exhausted and tempers grow short. If anything unfortunate were to take place, it will take place in Farch. Year after year I get no better at being less exhausted during Farch, but I know better how to adapt and endure. (Not that it is easy…). But the world looks like a different place the other side of Spring Break, and then the stress does not really build again until October. As I prepare to enjoy my spring and summer and to recover physically and emotionally from twelve hard months.
I even bought a new road bike for my wife, helping her to emerge from intense, almost constant motherhood back into the realm of looking out for one’s own health, as well as that of baby. In a perhaps tiny but important adjustment, we can get a bit of our own lives back. As all the veteran nurses in the delivery room claimed: “Healthy and happy mother equals healthy, happy baby.”

Julia at one year of age

One final note: this Friday marks one year that we have been parents! And in my four long weeks of recent sickness – in rolling in bed with feverish dreams, among other flu and cold symptoms – I came to the conclusion that I need to relax and take it easier as a parent. A person can operate on adrenaline for three months with no problems, but after eight or nine months the body will break down: and such was my case, I am convinced. My conclusion: being a parent of an infant is hard enough, so why add to the hard work by stressing over that which cannot be controlled? Roll with the punches; don’t lean into and fight them. Live in harmony with the rhythm of events, and don’t gnash your teeth and wring your hands. Have faith.
This in no way means I will be less attentive as a parent. The responsibility for a baby is on myself and my wife, and that responsibility does not go away. Nonetheless, I will take it easier from now on and trust in the process – having faith. As a parent, my feet are firmly on the ground now. I move forward confidently, not fretfully. I can exit “crisis mode” and become again the person I have always been. I can “come up for air” and reconnect with friends I have not seen since baby arrived. It is time.
Is this why they so often say “the first child is the hardest”? Is this what it means to be a “veteran parent”? Do I have my “sea legs” underneath me?
I almost think it not hyperbole to say that surviving the pregnancy and “break-in” period as a new parent one of the larger challenges in life. The enormous responsibility, the lack of sleep, the disruption in family life – it has taken, and will continue to take, a good chunk of my life’s energy, and I will never be the same (nor will my wife).
But still parenthood is not the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. That honor belongs to being an inner-city schoolteacher – the most depressing, difficult, and dispiriting thing I have ever done. It is one thing to pour one’s soul into a project where success and growth take place. It is another to put your all into something where failure and frustration are the overwhelming result — where it seems as if you are part of a train wreck in progress, and there is nothing you can do to stop the disaster taking place right in front of you in slow motion.
At any rate, the sun is shining here in California and the good times they lie just ahead. I intend to heal myself physically and emotionally over the next few months.
Let it begin!

Maria and her new road bike.