Friday, December 23, 2005

"I don't know how you do it"

My life seems to elicit strong reactions from people I meet. It's not that I appear bizarrely out of any mainstream, or that I spend a lot of time expounding on my views -- I seem to be a sort of blank slate on which people project their thoughts. I don't know; maybe everyone is, really.

But I get variations on the title of this post a lot. Sometimes it's for something I've done, sometimes for something I am. Hand someone a small gift for the holiday? "I don't know how you do it!" Read and talk about a lengthy book? "I don't know how you do it!" Be outed as a mother of four children? "I don't know how you do it!" Admit that I knit and even finish some items (despite those many children)? "I don't know how you do it!"

Some people sound rueful, like they'd like to do something like it, and some sound amused that I even attempt whatever it is they're remarking on. Some sound like I probably shouldn't bother, given the results I'm getting.

Mostly, I don't know what to do in response. Some days, I go for humble, gosh, golly-gee toe scuffing kind of response: "Oh, I don't know, you don't see the bad days." And sometimes, I want to get all up in their faces and say, "Yeah? You don't know how I do it, huh? Well, let me tell you -- I also make all of my own bread! Yeah, I do! and I homeschool these kids! AND we have chickens too!" Then I want to walk off, cackling. But then they'd probably conclude that I "do it" by being stark raving crazy.

Thing is, I don't know how people do most of what they do. By "know," I mean know in any visceral, I-have-walked-in-your-shoes way. Who does? I don't know how women who doing structural engineering for a living do it. Or those who play badmiton for fun. Or those who have grown, successful, happy children. Although those folks, well, I wouldn't mind finding out.

What it all boils down to, I suspect, is that the phrase is code for something else, but what it is varies. It could mean, "I admire what you're accomplishing." Similarly, it could be, "I'm feeling as though I'm not doing much these days and I wish I were doing more," or "You seem utterly overwhelmed -- I'm impressed that your shoes match." It's like the time, back when I only had three children, a friend said, ". . . since you have so many children." This friend had two children at the time. That's right, one more than I did. Still, to her, it seemed as though I had many.

I admit now, I have many. And they seem like more.

But it's a hard phrase to respond to, given the multiple layers of meaning it can have. I know the places I fall so far short of what I want to be, or to accomplish, and I know the places I'm doing well, according to my lights. Mostly I just put one foot in front of the other and do the work at hand. Any joy I can stumble on on the way? Bonus. Any kindness I can remember to do? Even better. I don't know if there's karma waiting for me, or a judgement, or just oblivion. It's immaterial. I do what I do and it's not performance. It's just me.

I am, however, wildly pleased when I finish something.

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