Tuesday, August 20, 2013

no more blueprints: an end-of-nursing-school post

Now that I am done with nursing school:

1. I can volunteer more -- with Health Homes, where I'm orienting today, with the Visiting Nurses Association (in October), with the long-term care peds unit, with the shelter moms

2. I can write in my blog without feeling like I should be working on a blueprint

3. I can go back and reread all the things I read, and cared about, back in Med-Surg I and II and III, before my spirit was kind of broken by nursing school and its crazy assortment of bullshit

4. I can work on my youth development program full time, my trip to m-effing LONDON and PARIS notwithstanding

5. I can focus on my child in such a way that, m-effing London trip aside, he will hopefully not hit age three with the suffocating sense that he is always on the edge of Total Abandonment that has been so central to my own growing up process,

6. I can return, hopefully in a someone less rapid-cycling-bipolar kind of way, to preoccupations like:
  • the existence of God, and What That Might Mean for my life, 
  • sexuality, and my feelings about the development and production of Sexy Dancing Shows   and also art, and the development and production of shows, period, 
  • what it is, now, that I hope to do with my RN/multiple college degrees/ time/ ability/ life. Who needs help? What can I be giving? 
  • whether or not there are things I can do that don't constitute direct responses to the needs of others, and that I can also feel good about doing? Can I just, like, make meatballs for my child? Go running? Write a story? Make art?

One of the tremendous new nurses I have the privileges of knowing, who is not a mom or a Christian or, as far as I can tell, anxiety-disordered, turned to me after a solid ten hours of mutually not mothering or serving others or studying, and said, "you're just Amanda right now!"

For me, sidestepping a categorical kind of identity has always plunged me headlong into the kind of dismissal of any self that I associate with religion, and with which I have had a pretty tortured relationship for the past three decades. 

I don't know what it means to be just Amanda, because basically, the moment after I stop defining myself in terms of my grades or my weight or my resume, I remember that God doesn't want me to think about myself at all, as anything; I should be thinking about others, or Jesus, or whatever. (This revelation never seems to show up on time to interrupt my self-flagellation over my many and varied failures of character). 

But here I am: done with nursing school and its structure and constant stream of negative feedback, so useful for keeping me in my place -- which sounds unhealthy and unpleasant unless one is familiar with the profound anxiety engendered by belonging no place and being no one -- and also no longer convinced, or even intent of convincing myself, of the kind of God who can provide me with "an identity in Christ".

It's not that I stopped believing in God over the course of the past year; I just don't think God exists to provide me with a comfortable, coherent sense of my identity, or my purpose, or the world in which I live. Whatever the hell God might be doing, I don't think He's doing it in an effort to provide me with a comfy, prefab worldview: You are X  should be doing Y and avoiding Z. 

I don't have to be, or do, anything; don't have to study for any more tests, and also don't have to wrestle my mind into the undersized jeans of literal interpretations of Genesis or contemporary faith-talk or the big-H History of rationalism and its claims to universality. In a literal, terrifying, unstable-feeling sense, I can do whatever I want. That awareness has been there for awhile, but my compulsion to get through nursing school has provided a sort of structure as my evolving faith kind of shape-shifted into something less reassuringly constrictive. 

Strangely, my belief -- in the old-school, extra-cognitive sense of the world -- is stronger than it's been since about 1990. It's just that the God I believe in, now, is of limited use in the making of day-to-day decisions and construction of comforting little totems: this matters, and this, but not this. My sense is that this is a better, richer, space in which to live. But moving into it now, when I'm also letting go of all the pet obsessions that have dominated the nursing school experience -- the checking of Prime and endless iterations of study guides and select-all-that-apply practice questions and (oh my God) the effing list serve -- it's overwhelming, too. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

parenting lessons

So, I had to stop posting for the summer because so much else was going on, between nursing school (which is done in a week and a day, and I didn't start feeling this way until about June, but I'm so ready, now), booking three hundred free, subway-accessible, between-the-hours-of ten-and-and-one field trips for the twelve hundred kids my agency served this summer, and, mostly, my son becoming a toddler and the challenges this posed to my marriage, followed closely by the realization -- a cliche for almost everyone else who is married, I guess, but relatively new for me, even five years in -- that marriage takes work.

Basically, after a decade of dating people who acted like children -- because it allowed me the sense of invulnerability enjoyed by bullies everywhere -- I married an adult, and was able to enjoy the license that afforded me to act like a child, myself, as I worked through the collection of slights, real and imagined, that I've been carrying around like fetish objects for most of my life. And then an actual child, a human being who wants things and really can't understand why he can't have them, who needs things and still expects that those needs will be met, entered the picture, and my extremely patient husband aside, our hip little apartment was no longer big enough for both of our drama.

And T-Mac, this new permutation of our son, has drama to rival half a dozen seven grade lunchrooms plus a reality tv show. This is a child who has no compunction about full on flinging his face onto the nearest surface, be it dirt, wood, concrete, or freshly-smeared tar, because I ever-so-diplomatically inserted myself between his body and the brewing pot of coffee/box of cat excrement/oncoming traffic into which he is so purposefully header.

And this is the maddening thing about parenthood: it's a one way ticket into a universe into which rights, justice, and cause and effect have no meaning. It is not fair that, after a solid hour of attempting to operate a stove in an unconditioned, ninety-eight degree house, cleaning as I go, desperately attempting to redirect a toddler away from our patently unsafe, blazing-to-the-touch stovefront, I wrestle the kid into his high chair just in time to function as an audience as he full-on flings a fistful of the food in my direction (thankfully, his gross motor coordination is still undeveloped enough that I can remain fuzzy on whether or not he was going for the eyes), then, casually as your textbook sociopath, pulls the overpriced, suction-equipped, frog-shaped bowl from ikea off his tray, adducts his right arm, and watches as the aforementioned labor of love plops onto the floor. In a perfect world, my son, and not myself, would be subject to teeth-sucking from our various neighbors when he appears in forty-eight degree weather without a hat, since I am not the one who repeatedly rips the many hats that have been purchased for me off of my head and drops them onto the street when those charged with keeping my head covered are negotiating Park Slope sidewalks (and, let's not play, occasionally texting). One is tempted, in one's darker moments, to believe that simply dumping one's screaming child into his crib "for his own good" since he is clearly in need of a nap, or giving him a time-out for not listening when one reiterates that the cat box is dirty and mommy does not want to pull any more of her textbooks out of it, might be considered something other than totally self-serving.

But it's been the absolute best thing for me, as a (one-day) nurse and current youth-developer and volunteer walker/changer of diapers/spoon-feeder of disabled and medically fragile kids. Because Mac's total inability to cope with not getting what he wants and needs stems from an absolute lack of awareness that sometimes you just have to deal. Whereas, for most of the kids and adults and clients and students with whom I work and hope to work, life has been a long stretch of dealing with everything from being talked to as though one's presence is a personal affront, to having one's food mixed together and shoveled into one's mouth like an animal, to being handled xeroxed copies of word searches out of a third grade textbook by one's special education teacher. And for all the fun dialogue and talking points about those kids who deal by remaining defined and dominated by outrage, and all the havoc that population perpetuates on the lives of others, I'm equally stricken by those kids who, like my kids in the pediatric nursing home where I volunteer, just stop crying and kicking and screaming over it.

The indifference seems totally intractable at some point, and I've outgrown the sanctimonious rage, blind in the truest sense of the word, that I once felt at nurses and techs and everyone else who lets people suffer. I can't absolve them for failing to act as though their patients are human beings, however hard they may work and whatever the conditions; but I recognize now, that absolution is not useful and is not mine to give, anyway. Some people can be saved or sustained by a single person, at least for awhile. Most can't; certainly the kids I work with can't. They need lots of people to recognize they are human; they need their nurses and speech pathologists and every single tech they encounter to recognize it. And the only way to get to a world in which that need even bears articulation is to focus one's life, over and over again, on the reality that what one does, matters; to see the needs of others, not as whims they need to learn to suppress or as deficits, the cure for which is maturity and some imaginary virus or "doing without" that those with more are so eager to recommend to those with less, but as real, their method of dealing with them notwithstanding.

However deserved a given episode of pain or loneliness or grief might be, I don't want my son to have to experience it if it can be avoided, or to go through it alone, if I can be with him. And the fear of "spoiling" a child notwithstanding, I've found that the world delivers all of the above to even the most cared-for, privileged children with some regularity. I don't ever want to be a nursing student again; but I do want to be a nurse, more than ever, although the path seems longer now than I'd thought and although just finishing the degree with my excellent child en tow almost killed me. Because while everyone eventually learns their needs can't always be met, no one, least of all little kids, should organize their worldview around the belief that their needs do not matter.