Sunday, April 13, 2014

running on empty

I used to be one of those people who never let the car go beyond 1/4 tank before filling up. I could not even understand why would anyone need that little light; wouldn't you know that you are almost out of gas? Why do you need that warning?

But this was all a long time ago, before kids, or before so many kids, or before so many life knocks, or before I mellowed out, or before I became irresponsible...

I was driving with the boys the other day, taking them to a Shakespeare Tavern for a free homeschooling performance of Shakespearean language, when that gas light went on. Again. Since I was downtown, and we were running very close, as usual, I just assumed that the light just went on, as opposed to being on for miles and I did not notice. I calculated: I must have enough gas to get us there, and back, so I drove on.

The most crazy experience about almost running out of gas happened last year, when I was driving to the Torah Home Educators conference. I was driving with a friend and we were chatting. I was also driving my husband's car, which used to be mine before I needed a van to transport all the kids. As we are hitting downtown Washington, I casually remarked, hey, what's that orange light on the dashboard? It did not take me long to figure out that it is gas light. I panicked; we were far from northern VA where there are gas stations in the suburbs. We pulled off on the first exit, in a scary neighborhood, and I was frantically pumping gas with the car doors closed, ready to bolt at anything suspicious.

Would you believe that we ran out of gas again on the same trip? Scatterbrained, that's what I am becoming.

But this time I was thinking, this whole running on empty is the new story of my life. There are ways to plan so that you do not run out of gas, and there are strategies to implement once you are out of gas, and lights are flashing, but everyone agrees that stalling because you are totally out of gas is a really bad idea. In fact, when you stall, you need outside help, whether to call AAA or to get a canister and fill up your car, but it is impossible to do it yourself any more.

Rationally, logically I understand that I need to move back towards being aware when the tank is getting low, and when it is time to drop everything and get over to the gas station, because it will be impossible to get to that next thing without any gas in your car. Rationally, I understand that the way I am doing things is just too much, even if this "too much" is my subjective overload and "others can handle a whole lot more". But I keep finding myself running on empty.

As this Shabbos was ending, I remarked to my husband how I do not find it rejuvenating any more. I do not cook for it excessively, I do not serve in an elaborate manner, and I do not entertain on a grand scale. My husband has been kindly taking the older kids to shul on Shabbos morning while 1 yo naps, so technically I have this whole little chunk of time for myself to read, think, drink a cup of coffee in peace and quiet, daven. Yet, despite this very nice and important gesture, I do not come out of Shabbos with my tank filled up and revved for the week. In fact, I feel that the burden of what I have to do after Shabbos starts weighing on me way before Shabbos is over. I start wishing kids to bed, so I can do dishes? Start laundry? Worry whether my husband will round on some patients and I will be cleaning up on my own? One Saturday night my mother called at around 10 pm and asked whether we can get a babysitter and go out. We laughed ruefully: it is too late for us to go out, not to mention that the thought of trying to round up a hypothetical babysitter is enough to weigh down the whole proposition. Going out was the farthest thought from my mind at that time.

Every day I feel exhausted. Every day I find myself reaching for a late afternoon cup of coffee, just to get through the rest of the evening, through the drive to taekwondo and back, through dinner, through bedtime. Every day, when the kids are in bed, other obligations crowd in. Every day I look around in desperation at piles of books which are not being put away, my clothes crumpled on the dresser, winter clothes which need to be switched for summer ones, unmowed lawn, dirty floors, unprinted pictures, untouched watercolor, expired pottery certificates. I am not keeping up with the day's work, I find myself cleaning up yesterday's mess today instead of anticipating tomorrow's mess and reducing its impact.

I am looking forward to Pesach as a great reset. Both of my boys were born around Peach, a time of new beginnings. I like having Yom Tov with the ability to cook.  I like that all outside obligations will have to take a backseat for over a week.

Or will they?

I have made two appointments for 8 yo to see a phychologist: one for tomorrow, erev Pesach, and one for chol hamoed, in hope that after these two, she will be able to give me some feedback on what she sees and how we should proceed. I have invited the only pesach company for Shabbos lunch and first lunch of the last days, but I need to shop and cook for those meals, probably shop on Thursday and cook on Friday. I want to take Thursday of Chol Hamoed to take kids out somewhere nice, somewhere where we have not gone in a while. I will need to decide whether not taking boys to taekwondo the whole week is a wise idea, or will 8 yo bounce off the walls without it? Oh, and I timidly wanted to schedule a massage for myself somewhere in there, as a little treat for making yom tov.

I want to enter Pesach feeling free, feeling liberated. I want to feel freedom. How much of my imprisonment is of my own doing?

There is a concept of "kotzer ruach", shortness of breath which prevented Jewish people from listening and believing Moshe. This shortness of breath was the result of hard labor. What is astonishing is that the Jews were so focused on their shortness of breath that they were unable to receive the message of liberation from the very cause of their suffering! I do not want to be stuck in my personal Egypt because I do not take a minute to breathe and to listen.

For now, I need to go back and refill my car, because the tank is still empty. What should I be putting in my tank?


  1. I'm there with you, sister. Between all the that I have to do and my husband's crazy travel schedule, I am DONE - stick a fork in me DONE. I am going to a huge but relatively local HS conference the week after Pesach. I am taking a hotel room (not as luxurious as I had hoped but that's OK), going to eat at my favorite restaurant several times and going to see some of my HS (non-Jewish) heroes. I told my husband he will have to deal with everybody and figure out if he wants to make Shabbos with me in that city (and make those plans) or do it by himself with the kids as I cannot be home in time since the last speaker is 1 hr before Shabbos. He'll (have to) figure it out. I hope Pesach really will be a reset. If not, try your best to get some time away even if only for a night. Lots of hugs!

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I feel like I could write it myself! An hour drive both ways to get Pesach supplies did not provide the respite I thought. I too spent the time reflecting on all my personal enslavements and feeling depleted. Praying we all get a healthy, peaceful, and happy reset! Chag Sameach!