The Ragged Self

Several years ago I read a book called Trees Make the Best Mobiles. Primarily geared towards first time parents of infants, it didn’t cover a lot of new ground for me, but there were a couple of good reminders in it about present, mindful parenting. I originally wrote about this on an old blog and this week the notion of the “ragged self” came back up for me again. In the book regarding time with our children, the authors write: “They offer us a chance, not only to quell past demons, but to leave behind the pressures of the day. With them, we can be our best selves: alert, vibrant, and generous—and fully alive in the present tense.” And then, with regard to children learning your behaviors: “Make sure that what your child is absorbing isn’t your ragged, frustrated, or furious self, but your best self. And when it’s not, let him know that you know, and that you’ll try harder next time.”

Unfortunately, I think I often do show my “ragged” self to my family and am NOT necessarily my best, alert and vibrant self. It isn’t a “furious” self usually, but sort of a worn out and taut self. My husband “gets” to see this side a lot—I start out the day much more vibrantly and as it passes, I become more ragged so when he gets home, all that is left for him is “scraps.” I hate that. I also feel like my mom sees my ragged self more often than I’d like—aren’t these the people that matter most? Why do “other people” get the vibrant parts?! I try to tell them sometimes that that raggedness isn’t how I am or how I feel for a lot of the day, it is just that which is only “allowed” to reveal herself in front of them.

I’ve noticed the ragged self emerges when:

  • I’m hungry
  • I’m tired
  • I have a headache (sometimes related to the above two)
  • I haven’t had my two hours

What’s this about two hours?

Well, picture that newspaper kid from the movie Better Off Dead and you’ll have how I feel about it πŸ˜‰ Almost every day, my wonderful parents pick up my boys and take them to their house to visit for approximately two hours. If I play my cards right, this is also when Alaina takes her afternoon nap, which gives me two hours on my own to “get things done.” I NEED this time in order to survive—in order to keep up with the other elements of my life besides mothering. I know other mothers swoon with jealousy at the idea of having a regular two hours—they should, my parents are awesome and they are a key factor in how I’m able to “do it all.” They’re my “tribe”—the village that comes to help me grind my corn. I rely on having this time and so when I don’t get it for some reason, I become very ragged and feel like I must quit everything else (surrender). So, sometimes when I start feeling ragged and can’t put my finger on exactly why, it comes to me: “I WANT MY TWO HOURS!”

Yes, that kid’s face is exactly how my own looks when I say it!

Another minute?

From the same book quoted above, the authors write “Each time you say, ‘I need another minute to finish this…,’ you squander a moment with your child, never to be reclaimed.”

I confess, though this is another good reminder, it also annoys me. There is a little too much “romanticizing” of parenting implicit within it. I thought of all the times when I’ve said “I just need another minute to…” Hmmm. Go to the BATHROOM! Finish fixing breakfast, put the baby to sleep, help someone else go to the bathroom, talk to my husband—the love of my life… I guess each could be seen as “squandering” and I have an inner monitor in my head that lets me know that! But, get real, sometimes you really DO need another minute to “finish this” and there is no reason to get all blamey about it! (I also confess that my defensiveness here is also about the times I do say “just a minute” when it really ISN’T that important and I could drop what I’m doing to meet their needs—but is it always actual needs, or sometimes just a nonstop desire for parental entertainment?)

The entertainment committee?

In thinking about entertainment, another quote:

“Keep in mind, too, that life isn’t all entertainment—even when you’re only three…Allowing them to become bored means letting them draw on their own resources. It means trusting them to make their own fun. A child who can reach inside herself for amusement or consolation is a child who is truly plugged in.”

And a final reminder:

“What we all crave is to be seen, really seen, and through that seeing, know ourselves. We spend much of our life—in work, love, friendship, and sometimes even in therapy—trying to achieve this.”


I’ve been having a ragged couple of days and have been lamenting my tendency to turn myself into one, long, relentless, failure-filled, self-improvement project. I get annoyed with myself for always wanting to be “productive” and conclude that becoming more awesomely zen-like is required aaaand! There’s another self-improvement project… πŸ˜‰ Or, that I need to focus on just BE-ing (which as soon as it becomes a “pursuit” the very point is lost! That is just the kind of mental conundrum that makes me spin ruts in my brain). Anyway, yesterday morning I saw the tiny edge of a new top tooth in Alaina’s mouth and suddenly it all became clear to me why she hadn’t been napping as expected (thus not getting me my TWO HOURS!). I would have thought I’d be wise to this pattern by now—unexplained non-napping baby precipitates spiral of despair in mama involving large doses of self-criticism and conclusion that giving up all personal goals is required and then tiny tooth is revealed. Since I’ve done this exact thing with two other kids as well as with Alaina herself just last month, you’d think I’d finally get a clue!

I was trying to come up with a picture to share of a ragged self—you know, sticking up hair and crazy eyes—and instead I felt like sharing a picture of Xena instead. And, sharing these two quotes:

Be wild; that is how to clear the river.” (Clarissa Pinkola Estes)

We’re volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. New mountains form” – Ursula Le Guin

But, returning to the notion of “being seen,” I’ve decided that rather than take a complete break from blogging, I’ve instead got to let go of making long, self-analyzing, personal journal type posts. I don’t know that anyone even actually wants to read them AND they take a long time to write (and make me seem neurotic and needy. Inside my head is an intense place!). This blog didn’t start out in that vein, but as I’ve noted, it took on more of a personal journal feel when I was pregnant with Alaina and in the months following her birth. I think it is time to bring it back from that personal ramble place and just share shorter and more simple posts. I have trouble with short—this is why I don’t enjoy Twitter very much—but I also know that long posts are very unlikely to be fully read. So, this is my last navel-gazing post for some time to come (unless something is already in my drafts folder—I do have 78 drafts in there!).

I got a necklace at the ICAN conference with the image of a standing woman holding her arms up to the moon. Inscribed on the back it says, “the call of the wild is not a difficult song.

Clear the river!


13 thoughts on “The Ragged Self

  1. Those of us who are allowed to witness your ragged self feel honored to be within the inner circle of your tribe…….just so you know!

  2. Feeling a bit ragged myself lately which is especially frustrating as I vowed that this year I would fully enjoy the entire month of December and make sure we did lots of fun family centered things instead of cramming to get presents made and sent like last year. *Sigh* Bit off more than I could chew and have had to deal with a couple life changes that have really affected how everything in our household works. Now the kids have a hard time falling asleep unless I am in bed as well – if I lie down for ten minutes they will usually be asleep but if I stay up for a couple of hours they will continue to pop out of bed to pee or get a drink of water or see what I’m doing. Unfortunately ten minutes is about what it takes for me to fall asleep as well…then I lose my night hours which are the precious hours that I need to get things done (house related or not). I’m sure that we will figure out a good routine for our family it’s just a bad time to be adjusting. Your comments on ‘another minute’ were very timely for me. I said the exact same thing to my daughter last night to which she replied ‘You said that a minute ago.’ She was right so I rephrased my statement to ‘when I’m finished with this’ which I think was a more honest answer. I think I say ‘in a minute’ because that is my intent but I fail to calculate the time involved in some projects/endeavors so when I use more accurate (and easier to guage) reference points they are able to better track when I will be ready to focus on them.
    Sorry this is so long. Obviously short is not so easy for me either. πŸ™‚

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