Margot Merrill on modern parenthood and the writing life


Stuff and stuff

It's easy to be overwhelmed when you're surrounded, as I am at home, by stuff. Small stuff. Big stuff. All mixed in.

Take any container of any size, and fill it with random toy-bits. Put that somewhere. A kind friend gives you more toys. Give 'em to the kids. They explode into a billion plastic pieces. Put those pieces somewhere, like into a bowl from the kitchen. Later, put the bowl into a box of more stuff.

We're generally clean. There's just too much stuff.

An organizer's mind

I look at a box of stuff, and feel a need to reunite one shitty plastic palm tree with all the other shitty plastic pieces of the beach set we bought at an airport one time. I can't scan all of this stuff from a distance. I see each and every single thing. Worse, I want each thing to be with other things like it.

I want to organize. But there's no time to organize our family's stuff. That wears on me: the shame of having stuff, and wasting it.  The desire to do something good with the stuff, to share it–and yet how? To whom should it go, and how can I make it easy for them? Should I really spend the next 3 weekends sorting through stuff? What about, like, playing with my kids instead?

It's not just me

I'm not alone in feeling nutty about stuff. There's this article, which says UCLA researchers found:

"The study found that our need to reward ourselves materially may actually increase our stress—at least for moms. In their video tours, mothers use words like 'mess,' 'not fun' and 'very chaotic' to describe their homes."

And a friend of mine, Meg, just shared this article on Facebook: Let's Cut the Crap and Kiss the Goody Bags Goodbye.

Making it better

Yes, I am down with rejecting the goody bags! Forget the damn plastic junk. Forget giving it and forget taking it. Let's just stop turning our hard-earned dollars into plastic landfill.

Oh, and I hired a home organizer. Things are already improving. More to come!

- Margot


Going Back

My sister and I spent at least a couple of weeks every summer at Grindstone Lake in Minnesota. We gorged ourselves on sugared cereals, cherries and grapes, Saltine crackers and shiny American cheese. We fished from the dock, catching the little “sunnies” and walleye. Hooking them and letting them go. We took the canoe out, usually sticking close to “our” side of the lake. We argued less than we usually did. Sometimes we paddled across the lake to catalog the other cabins, or to crash someone else’s float: a wooden deck atop four creaking and rusting oil barrels. We’d tie the canoe up to it and jump in, then sun ourselves on the rough wooden planks, wary “they” might come home and look out to see someone’s kids–not their own–playing on their family’s float.

We’d return to the cabin with wet bathing suit butts. (“Close the screen door! No sitting on the couch in a wet suit!” Our grandpa Al, who moved from his chair in the living room only for fishing or golf, frequently had to re-remind us of The Rules.) We'd go out in the mosquito- and taxidermy-infested garage to the big white freezer. Dig out another big Ziplock bag of ginger cookies our grandma Ruth had made, and bring them into the small kitchen with its avocado-green appliances and the wooden table around which we’d drink milk, eat more and more cookies, and play cards. Maybe later we’d watch the Price is Right, guessing how much a can of tomato soup or a washer-dryer set cost, and willing the poor fools to pick the door with the car or RV behind it.

The lake: in the early morning, a quiet and gray light upon it, the water was glassy and cool, waiting for the heat. By late morning the sun would be shining brightly, the orange day lilies by its side were moist and open, and the water sparkling and inviting us to wade. We’d find clams the size of our hands, and organize them into families, only occasionally killing them by leaving them on the dock too long. We’d swim out past the drop-off, where the sandy ground under our feet suddenly leapt into darkness, and the water turned ice cold and black. Turn around quick! Get back to the warmer water! We didn’t want the big fish our grandpa and uncles caught in the middle of the lake to catch one of us.

Twilight: the pink and purple hues of sunset, the cooling-back-down again, the buzz of insects coming out to get us. The spraying and re-spraying of Outdoor-scented, DEET-laden Off over our already bitten arms, legs, and feet. The rinsing-out of bathing suits. Perhaps a little walk to check for newly ripened raspberries by the mailbox? An early dinner inside prepared by our grandmom and aunts. White rolls with butter, some frozen corn or mashed potatoes, also with plenty of butter. (Though more likely it was margarine.) Ham or freshly-caught fish dipped in egg, flour, salt and pepper, then fried. More cookies for dessert.

It was crazy to arrive back at the lake now, at age 37, with my own two-and-a-half year old son, and a baby in my belly. Though my grandparents have passed away, the cabin is still well-used on weekends and maintained by my aunt Sue and uncle Freddie. It's frequently visited by my cousins Abbey, Kyle, Matt, and Tia. It was as open to me as it’s always been. And while there was a new TV and couch in the living room, the swirly green-and-blue wall-to-wall carpet, which has hid decades of cookie crumbs and lake drips, remained intact. Alejandro and I slept in my grandparents' room, which I’d never done before, since one or both of them was always there. But everything else looked, felt, and smelled the same as it had when I was little. There were even ginger cookies in the freezer, thanks to Sue.

I felt loved.

I’d forgotten what family feels like, my family, my mom’s family. Ali and I were accepted, whoever we were. I didn’t have to try to be anyone. In my modern life, in my pursuit of independence and identity, I’d forgotten what that was like! My uncle Loren and my aunts–Sinde, Sue, and Sondra–all engaged Ali, drew him out, laughed with me at his funny little phrases. My cousin Abran took him fishing, gave him his very own bucket of night crawlers. (Which as we all know in Minnesota, is truly a sign of love.)

And all I had to do for a week was to care for Alejandro–which wasn’t half as hard as it is here, when I’m working and constantly running around–and to show him the small things I remembered: the dock, the clams, the constant need for life jackets and bug spray.

He was completely happy, himself, and like me, surrounded by love and the gorgeous quiet green beauty of the lake. At night the baby moved in my belly as I lay in my grandparents’ bed next to my sleeping boy, and I knew I was blessed.

I saw my cousin Abbey get married on Saturday. She looked radiant and gorgeous. I watched her new husband put his arms around her as they danced. Everyone said they are right for one another. Having held Abbey as a baby, I felt even more blessed to have witnessed one more circle completed, as it should be, in Minnesota. Our grandparents would have been so proud.

Going back was exactly what I needed. I’ll never forget this week, this suspended moment in time.


Knocked Up and Feeling Down

You're not supposed to be depressed when you're pregnant. You're supposed to feel lucky and blessed to have the Power of Breeding. You should feel smug, as this song, recently shared by a FB friend, reminded me: “Pregnant women are smug. Everyone knows it. But nobody says it. Because they’re pregnant.” It’s kind of catchy. If I wasn’t so depressed, or pregnant, I’d laugh.

I apologize to anyone who's reading this oddly public format, thinking: "Margot's pregnant again? Why didn't I know?" Well, it's because I suck. I probably haven't talked to you in months. I've been holed up trying to figure this out while I work full time, feeling a continual pillow of sleepiness pressing down, trying to be chipper for boundless-energy Alejandro. Rafael's also had two out-of-town jobs in the last month, which means I've been a single working mom while he brings home some bacon. Frankly, I'm a mess.

And let's face it, I don't look cute. I look bulbous and exhausted. The $500+ I spent on rushed maternity clothes had horrendous results. I have three pairs of pants with the appeal of paper sacks. One needs to be hemmed. The shirts are either schlumpy, oddly tight, or ruffled and pleated. All also bag-like. I have one decent dress, and have already explained to my co-workers that we can have only one important client meeting every week, wherein they can expect to see me wearing wrap-around teal.

Of course the clothes don't matter, and how I look is a matter of opinion. I'm schlumpy on the inside. I'm full of guilt about my depression, and anxiety about my impending second-motherhood. If I can't manage my current life, I reason, how the hell am I supposed to be a good mom to another small human? And to the one we already have? I've told Alejandro we don't whine, but here I am. I have so many conflicting emotions.

Of course, I am happy, too. Absolutely blessed. Hopeful. I hold my belly and speak to him/her, willing them to be okay. I promise him/her that mommy will figure stuff out before they're born, that I want want them, and will do my very best. And we did always plan on having a second child. I want Ali to have someone to commiserate with about how nuts we are. Isn't that what siblings are for?

I just wasn't ready. On the contrary, we had just planned to wait for a year. Back in March, as I realized I could evolve my job into something that would make me happy, I decided to concentrate on that, and set myself up for a future when yes, we would have a second child, and I wouldn't be returning to the same old grind. "We've decided to wait." I told about 20 people in about three weeks. I admit it: I was smug about the decision to wait. And I was pregnant the whole time.

At the heart of the issue: having too much to manage. Guilt over having too much, period. Why couldn't sperm-meet-egg for one of my friends trying so hard to have a baby? It's been such a hard road for many: scientific timing for sex, hormone injections, rushed trips to the sperm bank. Waiting. Hope and disappointment. The stress of it! These people too are in pain, and quietly suffering, waiting every month for the opportunity to love a little one, and to experience the back-breaking and mind-bending act of parenthood. To them especially: I'm sorry that I'm depressed about our good fortune. I'm doing my work to approach this with the joy and celebration it deserves.

I know on the other side of all of this–on the other side of depression–there's healing, and great positive changes to be made. A future with more balance. As I mentioned in my last post, it's the swimming in the muck that motivates one to seek higher ground. But God, it's mucky. For now, I can only keep dog paddling, and float on my back when I'm really tired. I can make an appointment with a therapist specializing in these issues, hoping she's a life vest that will fit. And I can write this post, even though it's humiliating and I wish I was being more uplifting.

But it always feels better to write, and to be honest about what's going on. I'll get to the other side. Have patience, Margot. Have patience, friends. And please don't be mad at me for where I'm at now, nor where I'll be when I've seemingly figured it out and it all looks so easy from the outside!