By Claire Bischoff
“Mom!” At the sound of my four-year-old’s voice, my eyes snapped open. “It’s your turn.” Turns out I had fallen asleep sitting up in the middle of our checker game, in the middle of the living room, in the middle of the day. With an internal promise to allow myself to take a nap once my son went down for his, we finished the checker game (with me struggling to keep my eyes open the whole way), I read him a few books, and then I tucked him in for his nap.
Then, rather than take the nap my almost 30-week pregnant body was craving, I started playing Candy Crush on my husband’s old iPhone, a phone with so many cracks in the face that you sometimes can’t get certain finger swipes to work. I told myself I would play “just one game” before lying down for a nap. Thirty minutes later, I admitted to myself that I would keep playing until the game locked me out for the day and that I would not have time for a nap before we had to pick my older son up from school. Even as I was playing, a line from the book of Romans kept cycling through my brain: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want…”(Romans 7:15).
I am a bit perplexed by my seeming addiction to Candy Crush, as I have never been a “gamer” in any sense of this term. In Romans, Paul goes on to write: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:19-20). Certainly, it might be going a bit far to call an innocuous game like Candy Crush “evil” and to relegate my playing of it to the realm of sin. And yet countless times over the past month, I have found myself, phone in hand, playing this game even though I was not really enjoying it or using it to avoid facing head on parts of my life (emotions, relationships, arduous tasks) that would have been better dealt with now instead of in that ever-receding future of “when I beat the next level.” Inasmuch as there are times when I am swiping away, yet not feeling in control, I wonder whether concepts like sin and evil, which have fallen out of favor in many Christian contexts, might be of use in understanding our complex relationships to the (addictive) media of our time.
And yet even as I contemplate kicking the habit for good, or at least taking a good long fast from it, I do not want to be too hard on myself. If I have learned anything in my work this past year to heal from an eating disorder, it is that the behaviors that turn out to be maladaptive in the long-term often start as our well-meaning, albeit doomed, attempts to meet our very real needs. So while Candy Crush is currently getting in the way of writing projects that are past deadlines and actually connecting with my husband (instead of the parallel playing on our respective devices that marks many evenings in our house), at the beginning, I wanted to be playing it. I was attracted to it for some reason. So what needs did this downloadable phenomenon meet in my life?
I feel more than a bit sheepish admitting this, but the first thing I get out of this game is a sense of accomplishment. I actually feel proud when I get past a level that has been giving me a hard time. Conversely, in my work as a part-time stay-at-home mom and part-time adjunct professor, I very rarely feel accomplished. The endless cycle of clothes to be washed and folded, meals to be cooked and served, and surfaces to be cleared and cleaned leaves me exhausted and overwhelmed, not proud and satisfied. Just as I am ready to pat myself on the back for coming up with a creative solution to a recurring problem with my sons at home, a new developmental conundrum sneaks up to bite me in the you-know-what, leaving me with the sense that I am always behind the learning curve of parenting. And in my teaching I strive to be an engaging and relevant presence in class and on discussion boards, but I rarely get to see the growth that may result from the seeds that are planted in my courses. In this sense, my Candy Crush habit may be signaling that I need to find a leisure activity that would bring me true enjoyment (rather than mind-numbing, time-passing lethargy) and a much needed sense of getting something done well.
Second, playing this game gives me a much needed excuse to rest and do (next to) nothing. As I suppose is the case for many parents, I often feel as if my whole day is dominated by to do’s. If my sons unexpectedly decide to play cooperatively together, I pay a few bills. If I somehow finish grading student papers before the meter on the baby-sitter runs out, I catch up on laundry. And this sense of always having something to do is only reinforced by being part of the academy, where the ideal is that we constantly are researching, writing, and presenting (and maybe even improving our teaching). Both as a parent and an academic, I have not learned well how to rest or how to appreciate doing nothing as something positive rather than a sign of my lack of self worth. In this sense, what I need is not more time to play Candy Crush but rather a practice of keeping Sabbath to help me resist my tendency toward too much work. While it seems unimaginable to cease from work for one whole day a week (what would I do with my children?), it may be possible to practice a daily and abbreviated Sabbath with the purpose of more actively giving myself permission to just be.
I hold out hope that as I seek other ways to feel accomplished and attend more to the place of rest and true leisure in my life, the hold Candy Crush has on me will lessen and eventually fall be the wayside completely.
by Claire Bischoff
“I am tired of the emotional tyranny of the holidays,” the woman the next cash register over was saying, with clear vehemence. “I do not feel merry or happy and do not want to pretend I do just because Christmas is coming. And did you see the headlines in today’s paper? I cannot believe what the Catholic church is doing…” She jabbered on, loud enough for anyone checking out at the busy grocery store to be accosted by her rant. I internally rolled my eyes at this woman speaking like no circumspect Minnesotan ever should in polite company: not only talking about religion but, even worse, stating her actual (and critical) opinion about something to complete strangers.
Yet since that morning buying groceries, the anonymous woman’s words—emotional tyranny—have echoed in my head on numerous occasions. The first time was when I took my cousin out to dinner to celebrate her recent engagement. As we dipped our bread in olive oil, I asked, “Are you excited to be engaged?” After putting down her bread and taking a sip of wine, my cousin responded, “Honestly, and I don’t feel I can tell anyone else this, I am sick of having to put on the gushing school-girl act whenever anyone asks about my engagement. Certainly, I am looking forward to being married, or I wouldn’t have said yes. But getting married includes lots of serious and stressful stuff: finances, the question of kids, trying to merge our two lives together when we both have been living as independent and single adults for 20 years. Heck, we both still have our own separate laundry baskets.” In a culture that puts so much emphasis on the blushing bride-to-be planning her dream wedding day, my cousin found there was little space for her to talk about the more sobering realities that marriage entails.
Similarly, over the holidays, my husband and I were able to share the good news about expecting our third child with family and friends. “Oh, that is so exciting! We are so happy for you!” went the typical refrain of well-wishes. And I am not complaining about this; I would hardly want news of my third pregnancy to be greeted with a grunt and a “Sucks to be you.”
But as the conversation moved beyond the initial congratulations, I was hesitant to share my ambivalence about this pregnancy. Certainly, I feel blessed that if all goes well we will welcome another child into our family in July. And I feel this sense of gratitude against a backdrop of knowing and loving so many people who have struggled to conceive. Yet alongside this gratitude is no small amount of terror. If I am having trouble falling asleep at night, usually it is because of the tickertape running in my head: “I just finished my dissertation two years ago. I just started adjuncting a year and a half ago. I am supposed to be working on this Mother Matters project. I am just starting to feel like a professional adult and that taking care of my two boys is getting easier instead of harder and now I am going back to the 24-hour a day demands that come with the first few months of an infant’s life. I just started to feel like I was getting my life, really myself, back and I am afraid it is all going to go away again. And what if I cannot bounce back from it this time?
As I have worked to understand this fear, I realize that a large part of it is related to the emotional tyranny that has ruled so much of my tenure as a part-time stay-at-home mother to my first two sons. I felt blessed to be in a financial and career situation where I was able to be at home part-time, so I kept quiet about how excruciatingly boring it was at times and how isolated I felt. Used to being “successful” in the professional realm, I projected an image of a successful caretaker, not letting on to the constant questions about doing and being enough for my kids that plagued me day in and day out. I felt that mothers were meant to be supportive of their children, so I ignored my own likes and dislikes and played chess with my three-year-old following the real rules and one-on-one football with my five-year-old, even though I despised these activities enough that I could not make it through them unless I was accompanied by a pocket full of M & M’s (a sign of an eating disorder that I am just beginning to understand).
A few weeks ago, Annie Hardison Moody wrote on this blog about the importance of asking people in our lives about how they are feeling and how we can be supportive of them, as a way to make sure that we do not jump to conclusions about what we can do to care for them. As I think about the emotional story lines that inhere to important life events, like marriage and having a child, and to important life roles, like parenting, I think the accompanying point to the one that Annie made is that each of us has to be brave enough to speak the truth of our emotional existence. I am the first to admit that I have too readily lived under the emotional tyranny of particular images of motherhood—the selfless mother, the perfectly content at home mother, the has-it-all-together mother—images that have ended up being harmful to me because they have meant that I have not been honest with myself and others about my experience as a mother. So in an effort to live into my own image of motherhood, if you were to ask me how I am feeling about expecting a third child, I would honestly answer, “I am thrilled and terrified at the same time.” It is a place to start practicing speaking the full emotional truth.
What are the emotional aspects of motherhood that you are hesitant to speak about? We invite you to name them here, in solidarity with all mothers who experience much more than they feel permission to speak out loud.