I conceived of this post in the middle of the night, when I woke up with insomnia of the social remorse variety, so it’s still a little unformed.
The background: I’m the co-chair of my son’s cooperative preschool. It’s an amazing place, but I’ll let you in on the dirty little secret of co-op nursery schools: it’s a shitload of work to keep them running. And, because almost everyone is volunteering, on top of being moms and dads with jobs and lives, stuff falls through the cracks. Interpersonal things get intense. Budgets get interesting. Meetings can drag on. On top of that, you still have to “participate” every week and show up for work days twice a year.
Since becoming co-chair, I’ve been wrestling with this feeling of not being good enough. I had two meetings this week, and after each, I came home feeling like I’d made mistakes. After the first I thought, oh why did I make that one comment? Was I inclusive enough? Do people like me? Am I doing a good job? And after the second I thought, oh why did I make that one comment? Was I inclusive enough? Do people like me? Am I doing a good job?
That last question I verbalized to The Hubs after I got home: “Do you think I’m doing a good job as co-chair?” To which he replied, “Why are you agonizing over whether you’re doing a good job as co-chair?” To which I replied: “Isn’t that my point in life, to agonize over whether I’m doing a good job?”
You’d think I was kidding. Sadly, I wasn’t.
In the middle of the night this came back to me. I thought again about the meeting I’d had and whether things had gone down the way they were supposed to. Then, bizarrely, I remembered how in college, when I edited an anthology of women’s writing for my senior project, I failed to correct a grammar mistake in one of the poems. Embarrassingly, what I did do back then–in 1995, nearly twenty years ago–was attempt to edit another poem that was perfectly fine as it was; in fact, I read the other day that this woman went on to get her PhD and has published several books of poetry and has a tenure-track job somewhere, so clearly the joke is on me.
I lay there in the dark, thinking about all these ways in which I haven’t done a good enough job. And I realized that I have been doing this my whole life: looking back on mistakes I’ve made, and regretting them. Often, in the middle of the night.
Lately, whenever I have a moment that, back when I could afford therapy I would have taken to my therapist, I now take to this little compartment in my brain labeled “mindfulness.” I think how Buddhism is helping and not helping with my sometimes-debilitating anxiety. And I don’t come up with many answers, truthfully. I do see that now, I notice these really unhealthy patterns of behavior, and I notice how intensely difficult it is to change them. I notice now when I wake up in the morning and feel like I’ve been beating myself up all night, and I can maybe, on a good day, remind myself that this is illusion.
What I truly hope is that eventually, I’ll stop doing it altogether, and sometimes, I see a glimmer: I think to myself, why don’t I just stop remembering how “sung” should have been changed to “sang?” Why don’t I stop remembering how hurtful I was to my 9th-grade boyfriend? And a tiny piece of me lets go.
But another piece seems to snatch onto it again, to hold it, like I need to keep torturing myself until I learn to do a better job. I’ll be forty in two weeks. Do I really need to do this for another forty years? What, exactly, would that accomplish?