Category Archives: division of labor

Oh, Hello Again

Hi there. I haven’t forgotten about you.

But it’s late summer, and we were racing the clock as usual, and then we were away for an extremely short week visiting my father. It was sunshine and a bright swift shallow creek, chickens and green grass and the most marvelous livestock auction. Neighbors, soccer, tadpoles, fishing. Late evenings (well, for the boys — as for me, I pretty much went to bed with them every night and slept “late” every morning, until 7 or so).

I somehow didn’t get to spend any time with my father, in the chaos of children and meals and gathering stuff for our outings, and all my sleeping instead of reading the paper together companionably after the boys were in bed, or waking early and hanging out talking. We only had one morning like that, maybe 20 minutes to talk before Max woke up and wandered over to climb on my lap and needed “itch cream” for a mosquito bite and generally got the rest of the day in motion and away from quiet conversation.

And I somehow didn’t get enough time with my children, who were constantly in the creek or fishing or playing soccer or always in a whirl of action, it seemed.

There were two runs, though. As you may know, I often seem to have a running injury. Right now it’s my hip that’s bugging me. Mostly glute, and I’ve been to a great massage person, but it’s still sore, so I haven’t been running much (and also having to lug the laptop to and from work really put a damper on run-commuting!). But I got in two good runs in Pennsylvania and felt like I could run forever (were it not for my glute and for wanting to get back to spend time with my family). The roads are gorgeous rolling hills, country roads, with views of fields and old red barns and limestone houses. Apple trees, roadside blackberries, and the constant shimmering sound of cicadas. It was such a nice change from the city flatlands I normally run.

We got home to chaos, of course (that word seems to keep appearing here, doesn’t it), with the boys signed up for a summer camp that ends at 4 p.m. (oversight!), so we had to scramble for some afternoon childcare. Yesterday I had to leave work at 3 to pick them up; tomorrow it’s my husband’s turn. And this morning I was (and tomorrow I am) on duty for drop-off, meaning that instead of leaving before they wake up, I get to see them in the morning! And get them dressed and fed and out the door. Plus, when I got home today, they wanted to go the park. Of course it was 6 p.m. and time for me to make dinner. They were grumpy. I felt bad.

Then my husband got home early for some reason and I said, “Hey, please, can you make dinner tonight and I take them to the park?” and he agreed! And that load was lifted, and I could just go play with my kids and come home to find dinner ready!!

That, dear friends, is a rarity, and today it was a very much-needed gift. We went to the park for half an hour and they had my full attention, instead of being home and my scurrying to get dinner ready.

School starts soon, and I’m worried about their 10-hour days with someone other than us. I want to be home with them more. I want to pick them up from school, especially on their first few days (I mean, come on, the little one is starting kindergarten! How can I not pick him up on his first day of school? And every day?).

This summer went too fast. Time is going too fast. I want this time with them. No, I don’t want to be home all day while they are in school, doing nothing. Part-time jobs are not so easy to find (I mean, ones that pay a decent wage) but I’m working on it, and I haven’t yet let go of the dream of going back to school.

The current condition isn’t cutting it for us, that’s for sure.

Anyway, hi, readers, if there are still any of you left.

Scurrying: The Things That Used to Be Mine

I’ve had so much to say these past few months, and a list of posts to write (and some half-written). But I’m always, it seems, scurrying. Scurrying around in the morning to drink coffee and kiss my sleeping children goodbye and head out to the train by 7 a.m. (Except on the days when I run to work, when I drink coffee and eat a quick bowl of cereal, then put on my packed-the-night-before running backpack and leave at 6:10 or 6:30 and run an hour to get to the office, arriving happy and calm and feeling good.)

Sometimes on the train I have room to crochet the blanket I’m making for my friend’s baby; sometimes I just have room to read a book. Scurrying the half-mile from train to work. Planted solidly at my desk all day (all day, all day — no on one my team has time for actual lunch breaks). [This past week I finally, for the very first time in my three-and-a-half months at this company, took a lunch break, almost an hour, in which I changed, ran 3.2 miles, picked up the fastest closest lunch I know of, scurried back to the office, showered, dressed, and was back at my desk 3 minutes shy of an hour. I felt like such a fucking rebel…and so much better.]

Is this what you all do at work? Is this a normal work life? I could say a ton more about that but I will not.

At exactly 5 p.m I rush from my desk, race-walk to the train, hope I can pick the fastest line down the stairs to the train (Why are you walking in the middle, so slowly, with your big bag? Move right!!), and get on such a packed car that sometimes all I can do is just read my phone, because there isn’t room to hold open a book. Then a half-mile scurry from train to home, arriving home at 6 p.m., quick low-down from the sitter while I’m starting dinner and listening to variously shouting children and changing out of work clothes, then I try to feed them and ask about their days.

They want to stay outside playing, totally normal if you ask it. It’s summer. It’s light out. Kids are still out, and life is fun. Why come in and wash hands and sit and eat and start the bedtime routine?

After the dinner-to-bed mayhem wraps up sometime by 8:30 or 9 p.m., we do laundry, clean the kitchen, etc. If I’m running to work the next day, I pack my clothes and plug in my Garmin and make sure I’m ready to go.

We’re so behind on everything, and so very tired.

I do not like this pace, not at all. Soon my office will move, in less than a month, to a location that gives me the chance to do necessary tasks such as buy shoes or go to CVS over my lunch break (Lo! I will start taking an occasional lunch break!). My commute will also shorten, thank goodness.

We are just emerging from Birthday Madness, in which we celebrate both boys’ birthdays in less than two weeks, which involves a ton of baking and present-procurement and wrapping and inviting and parties. And hosting parties involves a ton of house-cleaning and shopping and planning and set-up. Not used to hosting actual birthday parties, since until this year Max didn’t want to invite more than 2 kids over, we could have done a better job with his party this year (as in, if you invite a bunch of kids who don’t know each other, a sponge bomb battle might be a terrible idea). For Ben’s party yesterday, I was so organized with so many activities that we only got through two of them (seltzer-can bowling and pin the tail on the donkey — total success!), and though this time we were ready for a post-party BBQ (taking notes from Max’s party), everyone announced (when they arrived) that they had to leave before we’d start grilling.

Come over, all of you readers. We have a ton of food.

Today we had nothing scheduled. Well, except my morning long run with a good friend, and Max’s soccer tournament (who’s happy soccer season is finally over? WE ARE). Then we went to the beach, which seemed like such a brilliant idea this morning (right? we need to relax, it’s hot, soccer tournament in the sun) but the beach was freezing and windy and everyone else was in jeans and hoodies and Max was worried the salt water would hurt the scrape on his knee). The water was OK but the wind froze us, then we went out to dinner and there was a disaster with the haddock [do not try to serve me bad haddock, ever] and we were there an extra hour because of it, so it was a late and stressful evening again, the opposite of what we wanted.

Max was mad, two days ago, when he found out that grown-ups don’t get summer vacation. Apparently he thought we’d finally have some time together as a family.

It’s the first I’d really heard him admit to missing having me around.

We are so very tired, and there’s little room for error. Our sitter is away next Friday and Monday, and we can’t well drop the kids into camp for one day here and there, so C will take Friday off. My mom might watch them Monday but if not I will have to take the day off work, which is not ideal for a million reasons.

I read a few pages of my book every night but there’s otherwise so little downtime right now. I don’t think this is good for any of us. I was supposed to run to work tomorrow but I need some extra sleep and that will throw off my running schedule for the rest of the week.

I can’t care about that right now. I am so racheted down to work, feed kids, get kids to bed, work, feed kids…There seems to be little space for creativity or beauty or friends. I miss my friends. I miss my blogging friends. I haven’t seen them in months. I haven’t seen other friends in even longer. I miss the events I used to go to. I miss going out on weeknights. I miss being bored. I miss finishing my New Yorkers. I miss the Sunday paper.

I miss playing with my kids. I miss the other parents at school. I miss having any control over their lives or taking them to their dentist and doctor appointments now (that generally falls to C these days, not a bad thing 7 years in, but still. I miss doing it).

I don’t know what the answer is, but this isn’t it. Not at all. I miss my kids. I miss my life. I know I am glad to be back to work full-time, but the balance is so far off that this is not sustainable at all.

That’s why my blog has been so quiet for so long. I hate to say that I’m barely hanging on, because I’ve said it before and then whoomph, holy shit, did I think I was busy then? Because now I am super-busy!

We’re going to win this. I just don’t know what the path to winning looks like right now. The end result will be more family time, more flex-time, more time for creativity and errands and life and a slower pace. How we get there, I’m not sure yet. If I have to move us all to Pennsylvania or Maine, I will do it. In a heartbeat.

What I do know is that I am sick of the inglorious scurrying. And of the way it kills calm and creativity and community.

I can change that. And I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fast Pace, Slow Legs

Happy Mother’s Day! It’s actually supposed to be a day of women uniting for rights, I think, not a day about brunch and flowers. We don’t do the brunch-and-flowers thing here, which is fine with me, though the boys usually make me cute cards. And yesterday we had a great day of biking to breakfast and the library, buying the boys new shoes, checking out a new birthday bike (shhhh!) for Max, napping on the couch, and grilling.

My usual Mother’s Day tradition is to go run a local 5K, and my family meets me afterward. This year I’m going extra-early to volunteer at the race. Though I’ve placed in my age group more than once at this race, these days I am SLOWWWWWW as molasses and will be embarrassed about my time because I will probably be 4-5 minutes slower than usual (for a 5K!! That’s like more than half a mile at my usual 5K pace!! Hey, legs, what is going on??).

I’m actually going extra-extra early to meet a friend for coffee before the race, since we never see each other anymore and only have contact via Gmail chat or sometimes texting.

I’m swamped these days, people. Swamped. I got up at 5:30 today to post for a new sitter, since our sitter situation is quickly unraveling. That’s not what we need. We just have to muddle through for another month and a half, somehow.

What I should have been doing, up at 5:30, is working on a presentation I have due on Tuesday (my first presentation since…. a brief stint in a sustainability graduate program in 1998? Unless you count literary readings in grad school, 2003?). And it will be my very first-ever PowerPoint presentation — to about 80 [teleconferencing] people (who thankfully will only see the screen and hear my voice but not actually see me, though my team will see me present).

But it’s been a long work week and I feel a need for a break this weekend. Those of you wondering why I haven’t been blogging, answering emails, or otherwise “responsive,” it’s because I am swamped. If I’m not commuting, I’m working. If I’m not working, I’m taking care of the kids for 3 intense hours when I get home from work. If I’m not doing that, I’m prepping meals/lunches, doing laundry, or cleaning up the kitchen (yes, so is my husband–we are both getting our asses kicked right now by the general nonstop-ness of it all). And this week I’ve then been working in the evenings, too (OK, this was also his week to pack lunches, and he took care of the evening kitchen clean-up, since I was working).

And then 6 hours later the alarm goes off and it all starts over.

So I haven’t had time to hire a sitter, but yesterday I finally got a crocheting book from the library and have made excellent progress on a baby blanket for a pregnant friend (I apparently have only 3 more weeks to finish it, and it’s not something I can work on during my hour-long commute because the trains are so packed). [Justine, if you’re reading this, do NOT look at the picture–it’s a surprise!]

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So far, so good, right? It’s really easy!! and yes, the “bobbles” got a little out of alignment, but that just gives it character. [Justine! I said not to look at the picture!]

So at least I’m making something, and I do get a lot of reading done on my commute, and I even managed to write a letter once when I went to work extra-early and had room to sit and write on the train!

I have yet to write my Boston Marathon recap (in short: AMAZING) and talk about my current state of running (dreadful).

But now it’s time to get ready to go to the race. Here’s hoping another afternoon nap will happen later!

 

 

The Most Ridiculous Week

I’m on the living room floor, crutches next to me, water bottle just out of reach. The front door is flapping open, the sick four-year-old is on the futon with the iPad, and I have no idea how I will feed us lunch.

Our refrigerator died on Monday. The parts were supposed to be in today but the repair guy can’t come until tomorrow, Friday. I had to throw out so much food. We rented a mini-fridge that freezes everything solid, and I transferred the piles of vegetables from our CSA out of our overflowing produce drawers and into two coolers.

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No, seriously, this is my kitchen right now. With a rented mini-fridge and a towel on the floor for any last drippings from the defrosting failed freezer.

Needless to say, packing lunches this week has been tricky at best. I found bagels in the freezer and used the last of our cream cheese on them for the first day. I bought sliced turkey, but it froze solid in the mini-fridge (Plan B: Shredded cheese and baby carrots, failed because the cheese had gone bad when the big fridge died, and the baby carrots had frozen solid in the mini-fridge; Plan C: Hummus, also too late to save it; Plan D: Granola bar and apple, and good luck, kid). [And no, the kids can’t really buy lunch at school; it’s brought in by some private catering company and you have to pre-order and it’s expensive and just didn’t seem worth it. And nut butters aren’t allowed at school, and the kids hate sunbutter.]

Making dinner wasn’t too hard except there’s not much room for leftovers in the mini-fridge, and the veggie coolers are out of ice.

What a fantastic opportunity to really deep-clean the fridge!

What a fantastic opportunity to really deep-clean the fridge!

Then yesterday I finally made it to the orthopedist (both kids in tow, and yes, I shamelessly handed them the iPad and my phone for our full hour in the waiting room—-overbook much, doc?). Dr. Orthopedist promptly ordered an MRI and glanced at the kids. “Do you have any more of them at home?” he asked me.

“No,” I replied, “just these two.”

“Good, because you’re going to have to be on crutches for the next six weeks. Maybe just four weeks, if it’s a stress reaction instead of a fracture, but I think it’s a stress fracture. I mean, obviously you’ll need to make an exception to shower, but otherwise, no weight on the leg.”

He stepped out of the room to write the script for crutches, and I started to cry. See, my leg has been hurting a lot, more and more, and even walking a mile really bothers me. Spinning class hurts. It’s been feeling bad, but since my soft-tissue person thought it was just some tightness, I didn’t think I should worry about it or think about it much. Yeah, it hurt all the time, more and more, but since no one said anything was wrong with it, I was learning to live with it.

It’s nice to finally have verification—even before the MRI has been done—that something is actually probably quite wrong. I can finally admit that my leg hurts! It hurts.

Then I emailed my husband and said that what with my leg and the refrigerator situation, we’d be having take-out tonight. There was no way I was going to try to deal with making dinner. He offered to come home by dinner time and pick up the food on his way. YES PLEASE.

Then—-because oh yes, it gets better—Ben was sick all night, tossing with a fever and wheezing. I tried to imagine how I’d manage school drop-off, trying to crutch up the steps carrying a sick 40-lb child, and I made the quick decision that it would not be possible. No, it would be possible, but for the love of god, I was going to take the day off. I asked C to drop off Max this morning.

And then—did you think we were done yet?—I got up after five fitful hours of “sleep” next to Sicky Coughy Wheezy Boy and remembered that I’d used the last of the coffee yesterday. As in, we’re out of coffee.

Poor sick little Lumpkins. He requested baby carrots, lemonade, and chocolate milk for breakfast. WTF, dear child.

Poor sick little Lumpkins. He requested baby carrots, lemonade, and chocolate milk for breakfast. WTF, dear child.

And then I made the oatmeal and tried to carry a bowl and yogurt and a spoon, while on crutches, to the dining room. We don’t have an eat-in kitchen, and the dining room doesn’t directly adjoin the kitchen. You have to go through the pantry to get from kitchen to dining table and back again.

This is Day 1. I have at least another six weeks of this. I ordered a rolling utility cart from Amazon to use to get food and dishes to and from the kitchen/dining room. There’s no other way to do it, unless I entrust the small children with plates full of hot food or hire a butler.

We’ll live on instant coffee until one of us gets to the store. We’re talking about getting me a handicapped placard for the car, for times when I have to go to the grocery store and won’t be able to hold the kids’ hands in the parking lot (thanks to crutches) and it would be safer for them if I could park as close to the door as possible. It feels like a weird reason to have a placard, though. Mostly I’ll be able to get around fine, but grocery shopping will be sort of more hellish than usual.

My kitchen is also more hellish than usual. I cannot summon what it will take to empty the dishwasher, reload it, and wash the other stuff.

My kitchen is also more hellish than usual. I cannot summon what it will take to empty the dishwasher, reload it, and wash the other stuff. Hello, TaskRabbit?

But today! Today Ben and I lay around all day, not doing much, and it was marvelous. And then my friend and I got into trouble for passing notes to each other (and cracking up uncontrollably, as a result) in our kids’ piano class. And then our friend/neighbor, to whom I gave most of our produce yesterday and also today’s CSA share for her to pick up, dropped off the best baba ganouj I have ever had, all smoky and silky, and a lovely salad, and I realized I haven’t really eaten fresh vegetables since Saturday, unless you count the aging celery stick I fished out of the melted ice in the cooler in the kitchen this afternoon. 

Enjoy the pictures of our squalid life right now. I am going to assemble my new cart now. Then maybe I can clear the dining room table, crutching along as I roll my little cart of dirty dishes to the kitchen, like some unfortunate lesser character from The Hunchback of Notre Dame or something.*

 

* I have no idea why I am in such a good mood through all of this. It’s just funny at this point.** I mean, to have everything kind of thrown down at once like this? It’s great. It really simplifies things, in a way. In a very messy and debilitating way.

** Also, maybe I’ll find a drive-through Starbucks tomorrow. I think the closest one is 12 miles away. Wonder if that is on my way anywhere.

 

 

 

 

The Grief with No Cause

I’ve been feeling like I’m grieving: a deep heavy sorry, quick surprising tears. This has been going on for a month. More. I wake with a heaviness, an aversion to the day. My eyes sting quickly and often with frustration, tension, emotion. I’m short on patience, short on memory. I need to grieve, for someone has died.

I suspect it is me.

The grief has been here before, settling on me, and it usually indicates that my depression is back. But, before now, I’ve never been so high-functioning through it as I am this time. I have to be. There are children, who need breakfast and clean socks and flossed teeth and packed lunches. There was moving to a new town. A preschool application (no, for real, that’s how it works—you have to apply to preschool around here and even have the former preschool teacher or daycare provider fill out some long enormous form about the child). Financial aid applications. Taxes (to submit with the financial aid applications).

One client did not send their 1099 until the very last possible day, the very end of February, but our taxes were due (for financial aid) February 15… and it arrived the day our mail slipped through the forwarding system and went to our old apartment. I’d do our taxes now except we have not finished moving, and I need to spend my days on that. No, and that is not my story to tell, though I’m working my ass off to make it happen, long days in a basement churning with what looks like broken suburban dreams: fishing poles and beach chairs and camping gear, various auto fluids, yard toys, extra furniture. We don’t have room for it all in the new place; nor do we need it. We really expanded there in our former home, with the big yard and the run of the place. Here we’re compressed, houses close together, little storage. Impossible to be our free-range shouty reclusive selves.

yard

This needs a new home by Monday, if we can chisel it out of the snow.

I felt happier by miles when my last project finished, an especially difficult one for me (harder with the snow days, the moving, the designated work time sucked away to tend to matters of the home and family). I’ll be freer still once taxes are done and we’re fully out of the old place, all of which will happen by Sunday despite doctor appointments and two days with kids home from school.

Basement of suburban dreams

Basement of suburban dreams

My left hip is out right now, literally, meaning my leg is turned out. My foot is turned the wrong way. My stride is off and I cannot support weight on my bent left leg. Running is out right now. I’m broken until I see my chiropractor tomorrow to put my SI joint and the rest of my hip structure back into place. I think, if you care to hear, this is because last week’s race stressed an already-stressed hip flexor or quad, which ended up pulling my SI joint out, causing intense pain, which I tried to fix at home, so now the SI joint is no longer screaming but the hip and leg are totally f*cked up.

Not running kills me in so, so, so many ways. It doesn’t help, here in my low point, that my friends are getting faster than ever, PR’ing in every race, every distance, while I get slower and now can’t run at all. My nonrunning friends are landing great jobs. Another friend, from my MFA program, just got into an exclusive writing group. Everyone is celebrating their awesome, because they are all awesome skilled, fast, honest, excellent-writing people. And I’m, you know, cleaning stables right now. Bitchily.

Despite feeling like “always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” I’m very happy for them. I have some super-powerhouse running friends, and I’m proud of their dedication, natural speed, and how their hard work is paying off.

I wanted to take some time. “Slack tide,” my sometime therapist calls it, and she approves of the idea. Time to settle into our new home and unpack, finish the big tasks on my plate, find a job. Time to not make many demands on myself.

It’s hard to talk about much here, in this space, at this time, because I can only tell my own story but I’m obviously so enmeshed with others. It is, at present, blurry and messy and painful and boring and tedious and stressful, and it will wash out to smoothness soon enough, I hope. I’m trying to hold on, to ebb and flow with it all, to finish this week’s horrible big impossible push, and then next week I will actually be able to start applying for jobs. Full-time jobs. Sorry, children, sorry, husband, but it’s time. We’ll all have to figure out how to shift our schedules and tasks a little bit.

 

 

Shoveling It On

In case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been lately, I got a job. 20 hours a week or so. That may not seem like a lot, but I also started a class. That, too, may not seem like a big deal, until we run the numbers.

Let’s say your usual workday is from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. If both kids nap and their naps overlap enough, you might get a 45-minute break in the afternoon. OK.

Then add to that 20 hours a week of deadline-driven work, with lots of emails and such in between your actual worky stuff. Still with me?

Also, begin a boot-camp style writing class. You will tell your kids “Just a minute” a lot; you’ll fill your coffee mug, hassle your husband out of bed, and hand him a baby as you retreat to your desk, hoping to get some work done before he has to get ready for work. You try to get up extra early, but your snuggling preschooler insists on getting up with you and then insists that you to play with him (also, he’s a total bear if he gets up too early). You occasionally rely on videos and have found your baby eating things he probably shouldn’t be. Running takes a backseat; so does sleep; and the dinners you’re cooking for your family kind of suck.

Oh, because did I mention there was no babysitter? Right. I’d been in such denial about our wonderful sitter’s impending departure for the summer that I had not found a replacement. No one could replace her.

But someone had to. My first week was…challenging.

So with all my newfound spare time, I interviewed many people, online and in person, and will spare you the details. I found someone who is so heartbreakingly excellent I’m beside myself with relief. She took the kids to the library today and picked out better books than I ever managed to find; she drew elaborate pictures with Max. Ben thinks she’s wonderful and didn’t mind playing with her while I was still home, working–he knew I was home but didn’t care! (Or, you know, maybe it’s not that she’s wonderful and he’s well-adjusted; maybe, instead, he has serious attachment issues to me.)

So now I have a sitter, which helps a mighty whole hell of a lot. The only problem is that she’s not available all the time, which would be great. Of course now I’m fast-forwarding to all the time I’ll miss with my children and all the adventures and outings we won’t have because they’ll be having those adventures with the sitter instead of me. *sigh*

There is no winning, is there?

I am very happy to be working again and very happy to be writing hard for this class. Of course I also have two birthday parties to plan in the next three weeks (the lads are turning 1 and 3!), one camping trip, one family weekend, and my head is spinning just a little tiny bit.

I shall now return to work, even though I’d rather drink a beer and read and go to bed.

“Knock It Off!”

One who listened to Max this morning and yesterday would think he’s being raised by some horrible person.

“Knock it off,” he tells me. “Stop it!” And today’s priceless moment, as we were heading out for a walk and (I thought) getting along swimmingly: “I’m really upset!”
“You’re upset?” I asked him, as he was walking down the stairs.
“Yeah,” he said, breaking out into a big grin. “Pahhh!”
[“Pahhhh!” is the sound he makes when he thrusts out his arm in a gesture reminiscent of a person casting a fishing line, or tossing a ball for a dog, or–perhaps–striking someone with a stick, or–again, perhaps–urgently beknighting someone. I have no idea where he learned this gesture (daycare? playground? something inherent to small boys?), but it’s a “kidding around” sort of thing that he does for fun.]
He wasn’t upset. And there was nothing for me to “knock off” doing or stop. What he’s doing, though, is echoing me…me at my worst, when
  • the baby is crying and
  • his diaper is dirty and
  • Max is whining nonstop and spilling his milk on the floor and
  • the kitchen is stacked with dirty dishes,
  • there is no clean laundry,
  • the bread has gone moldy,
  • there’s an essay I’m dying to write,
  • my husband will not be home for 9 hours,
  • I’m trying to get us out of the house,
  • it’s not even LUNCHTIME yet,
  • and Max–still whining–is climbing up the side of the changing table and throwing clothes on the baby’s face as I’m changing the baby’s diaper.
So, it possible–quite possible–pretty darn likely, in fact–that I might, just might, after trying my absolute most patient maternal best to use positive reinforcement, deep breathing, gentle encouragement, distraction, and redirection, simply give up and snap, “Knock it off!” to my toddler.
Go ahead and judge me.
OK. Now let’s move on.
So yesterday Max wanted a post-nap snack of granola. I make granola; he loves it. I’m happy about this. I gave him a bowl, with milk. He ate half of it and then when I left the room for a minute dumped the rest onto the table and smeared it around.
I wasn’t happy to see this. I insisted he help clean it up. He wiped it around and then onto the floor. Then he stepped in it. I asked him to move out of the way; I also moved his chair. He kept pushing his chair back into the mess, tracking more granola around. I got fed up and picked up Max and moved him across the room and told him to stay there until I cleaned up the mess.
He walked right back into it. I was furious and told him I was very upset.
Somehow we muddled past this incident with no yelling and not too many tears and several hugs and some cuddle time on my lap.
Later, at dinnertime, after I’d cleaned up the granola mess, suggested activities for Max, cared for and nursed the baby a lot, played with Max, and made dinner, I put our dinner on the table and–yep–had to leave the room for a minute (what I wouldn’t give for an eat-in kitchen, or at least a view between dining room and kitchen). I returned to find him studiously crumbling his cornbread all over the table and floor.
“I’m making a mess,” he announced.
I stayed calm. “I see that. Why are you doing that?” I asked.
“Because it upsets you,” he said, keeping his eyes on the crumbs.
I was stunned.
“Why do you want to upset me?” I asked. He didn’t answer.
I’m not sure what to do here. I’ve been trying to give him my attention as much as possible; I also have this stupid “housewife” part of my current job description and have to tend stuff like laundry,* kitchen, cooking, and dishes–not to mention a two-month-old baby–during the day. Plus I sometimes check email and make a quick phone call to make an appointment for baby vaccinations or my knee doctor or something. But I’m otherwise engaged and present and trying to come up with fun activities and outings for Max.
So what am I doing wrong? What more can I be doing for and with him? Is this just some reaction-to-new-baby behavior, or is it typical two-year-old behavior, or am I a horrible mommy who is ruining a perfectly sweet boy?
What I could do is get a full-time job so that our housework responsibilities are more evenly divided, the kids and I get a break from each other, I get to do something tangible and creative with my intellect and energy, and we all end up happy. Right? Except for the initial months of stress I’m sure would ensue from such a change, plus a possible bad case of “the grass is greener.”
* Our washer and dryer are down in our moldy basement. We live on the second floor. To do laundry, I must make sure both children are safe before heading down, or else take one with me and hold him while I do laundry. Max hates to be left upstairs (or be carried to/from the basement), but by the time I put his shoes on, let him walk down the stairs, keep him from getting into anything grody in the basement, and let him walk up the stairs again, the baby is wailing. Doing laundry during the day is Nigh Impossible most of the time, but there is only so much laundry one can do when one starts at 8 p.m. and hopes to be in bed by 10 or 11.

Why the Scary Mommy Thing Bothers Me

There’s a Scary Mommy contest going on (see previous post). The rules:

“What is a Scary Mommy, you ask? I believe a Scary Mommy is a mother who doesn’t leave the house wearing lipstick at all times. A Scary Mommy loves her kids to death, but will admit to feeling totally overwhelmed and exhausted by the gig. A Scary Mommy doesn’t really care what other people think, and a Scary Mommy thinks that all mothers win when we admit our weaknesses. How would you describe it? It’s up to you!”

I wonder if perhaps I (and many others) have misinterpreted what is meant by “Scary Mommy.”

The original description (and many responses via other bloggers’ posts) seems to celebrate all the ways in which we supposedly “mess up” or fail as mothers and women: Our children eat cookies for breakfast, or we let them play with the nail clippers to give us more time to check email, or we don’t wash our hair, or the cat has gone feral, or what have you.

This points to a larger cultural (or countercultural? though it’s practically mainstream at this point) celebration of being a “bad mother.” Note Ayalet Waldman’s bestselling Bad Mother. Or the various drinking-mommy blogs and books. It’s all the rage to be a f*ck-up Mommy (or Daddy), to have a messy house, instant food, and–perhaps–a stiff drink during playdates.

I wonder if this is all actually just a backlash against our perceived expectations. I hear from so many people, “Well, MY mother managed to raise five kids, and she made all our meals from scratch, used cloth diapers, kept our house spotless without any housecleaning help, did all her own canning and jam-making, made pies all the time, plus she made quilts, volunteered at the hospital, and was happy.”

That’s wonderful. But for whatever reason, I’m not like that, and nor are most of the mothers I know. Modern life is different. Maybe it’s partly due to the choices we make–urban lifestyles, careers, later childbearing, communication via email or text–or the breakdown of American community or the (slow, slow) shift in gender roles. Maybe it’s partly due to Winnicott’s concept of the “good-enough mother” (and how that’s been adapted in pop culture), but times have changed.

We’re often frazzled.

So, we’re accepting this about ourselves. We’re lucky to have choices. We’re lucky to be able to pursue our own interests, to focus our energies on something other than Pure Housewifing, to devote attention to other endeavors as well as to our children.

It’s great that we can accept the changes and our different standards. It’s also great that we can find time to enjoy our children and our families, and we can get a good meal on the table, and our home is messy but not filthy and that’s OK.

But let’s not focus on that.

I’ve read some of the Scary Mommy contest entries, and I’m struck by the tone of them. There’s frequently a defensiveness about how dysfunctional a mother thinks she is. I admit my own entry post leans that way: “My toddler swears!” Is that something to brag about? No. I’m not ashamed of it, either. I’m just aware that I need to watch my language around him…and I really hope he drops the word before we get together with my family for Thanksgiving.

Why don’t we all just accept that we are who and what we are, and we don’t need to try to compete with each other about our collective dysfunctions? Maybe it’s time to focus on the beauty of parenting, as in the lovely ChildWild blog, in all its facets and forms. Our own dirty floors and laundry heaps shouldn’t even be part of our discussions.

Let’s just assume we’re all Scary in some way and move on.