"Mom, to hide the bomb bird, Oliver stuck it in his pants."
Ol: "Where is it?"
J: "In your butt!"
"Mom, Jack tried to touch his pwivate awea to my eye!"
"I DID NOT. YOU TRIED TO MAKE ME!"
Friends, I am today quite tired. Of that sort of dialogue and sibling rivalry and of having to manage those things atop the rest of life. A life I very much want to engage in and enjoy, by the way.
The meeting that ran an hour over today but was really inspiring. Writing a letter of reference for my dear housekeeper, Imelda, because she's finally gotten word that at the later stages of the citizenship process, letters will help. Finally! Walking Percy so as to tend to him and avoid house pee. Slowest.walking-dog.ever. Ordering holiday cards while the coupon is still valid. I love holiday cards. Shopping for tomorrow's third grade potluck dinner. Packing for Percy to sleep over with friends. Visiting with a friend I don't see enough and who had good news. Making the time to be present and really share in her good news. Attempting to corral the boys' ludicrous afterschool energy so that I could actually hear her good news. Making good on the second Friday Family Party by building and lighting a fire, serving dinner in front of and continually stoking and keeping children out of said fire. Attending to important questions via email because yes, although my parents association job is a volunteer one, I take it seriously and want to. Starting dessert for tomorrow's potluck. Ask-forcing children to dust-bust the explosion of corn chips that now litter the floor which was just vacuumed. Telling them for a second and third time that while they might feel the chips are picked up, I -because my mom-eyes work- can actually see about one pound still on the floor. Go back. Do it again. If you did it right the first time this wouldn't be a thing. Telling my oldest that I spoke to one of the moms of the girl he wants to have over for a playdate; she can come. Feeling immense pride in him and hope for the future in general when he responded, "Two Moms?" Me: "Yep." J: "No Dads?" Me: "Nope." J: "Ok, like X has two dads and Y has two moms? Great. When's our playdate? She LOVES Minecraft too!" Pouring a fresh glass of wine and giving up on the fire as well as T making it home before bedtime. Toasting and husking the hazelnuts for tomorrow's dessert. Remembering to flip the frozen pizza crust for a quicker thaw. Trying to steal three minutes to read the newest Ebola headline and grieve for the families who continue to lose so much. Submitting work for Sunday's writing class. Wondering if it was wrong to tell kids the title of the song, Fat Bottomed Girls, when it came on during the Joan Jett playlist during family party, and I declared it one of my favorites. Remembering that The Imitation Game (Benedict as Alan Turing, y'all) opens soon!
Considering again the gulf there sometimes seems to be between "Dream big, women! You can do anything!" and the realities of having committed, albeit happily, to being an at-home parent. Wondering if that messaging is both inspiring (it is) and somewhat impossible (me thinks it also is); if both (seems to be), what are the implications of that very mixed message to women as they enter into careers and motherhood?
Women in America are often taught to reach for the stars. But doing so is often, ultimately, realized to be a choice rather than an all. Those who don't have and can't afford child care, those whose children have special needs, those who want to parent well and also remain in the workforce, those who choose to stay at home but truly had no idea just how little time would be left for their selves... The slow realization of the ways in which the laudable claim of having it all isn't going to be entirely possible for them/me can be difficult to accept, even if they're/I am ultimately very happy with where and who they are/I am.
Did y'all read that recent HuffPo Parents piece, The Default Parent (by M.Blazoned), that went viral? One cursory read and I knew immediately why that bit's been "Liked" 425,000+ times and shared by more than 81,000. Because it strikes a chord, no matter how happily married and/or mothering you are.
When I read it, I was home with a sick baby, tired as balls, bleeding profusely from not one but both nostrils (I had a cold and had blown one too many), trying to get J to school on time and help him with his homework later while keeping Ol's fevers at bay. Tom works hard and long, the cat had a leaky UTI, the house was a mess and I was canceling stuff left and right. Again.
I am most definitely the default parent, and although I enthusiastically chose stay-at-home motherhood, I do sometimes wonder just how I got there. Here. What happened?
I've had several of those Twilight Zone experiences over the 8+ years since my oldest was born. The first that I clearly remember was at a nursery school Back to School Night. Sitting in the auditorium listening to teachers talk about our tots' early childhood development, I remember thinking, "Wait, what? I'm so young. Am I really at a pre-school event? Aren't I going out with friends later?" It was totally surreal for a few minutes until I realized that yes, I was still 32 and happily in the right spot.
That sort of dissonance continues to trip me up periodically. Sometimes it makes for a good chuckle, and other times it plunges me into a state of frustration and sadness because I realize anew that for years now, and likely for years to come, my own life and my own dreams aren't primary. The non-momwife me lives and dreams in tiny spaces carved out during the day or week not filled with parenting.
Would I feel better if I weren't the one wiping Ol's steaming forehead and tummy with cold washcloths night after night? Not at all. Am I grateful that even though Jack argues with me about his homework, sometimes screams that he hates me and later apologizes with teary eyes and a big hug, that I'm the one on the receiving end? Yes.
BUT, and this is where too many people lose the nuance in this conversation, my "No" and "Yes" don't mean that I don't miss, terribly, time for me. I can be both happy and sad, grateful and frustrated, bored and excited. Indeed, those are the poles in between which lies a hell of a lot of gray space. That's where life is really lived. It's not always easy or happy or smooth, and to pour platitudinous chicken soup on top of people struggling to live and express themselves authentically is just not nice.
What's easy for some is desperately hard for others. We get this in terms of varying academic and athletic abilities, but we don't seem to be able to apply the same sense of open-minded understanding to women who find motherhood less than completely fulfilling. I find it overly simplistic and, in fact, offensive when I hear of parents being told things like, "Love the life you have! Be grateful for everything good! This time is so fleeting- how can you not love and appreciate every moment?!" Those comments never ring as remotely true or comforting to me. They seem like superficial, obnoxious slaps in the face.
Bottom line is that I think many at-home parents feel vexed. They feel simultaneously grateful and WTF?! They wanted to preference kids over else but didn't realize what that might feel like. Or, if they're like me, parenthood enabled them to realize their truest passion. And if, like me, you now feel a little stuck, like "thank you for helping me realize myself but wow, it's painful to now have to put self on the back burner for two decades," you might feel real tired sometimes.
Some may read this as a complaint, as many of the comments following M.Blazoned's excellent essay on Default Parenting suggest hers was read. But a different, and in my opinion more accurate, perspective is to instead acknowledge that the rosy ways in which most of society talks about motherhood and its joys does a disservice to many parents by NOT sharing the very real and constant ways that parenthood is sometimes impossibly hard. It is unending, often exhausting, frequently stressful. Add any of the innumerable challenges that come on top of typical developmental stuff, and parenting is that much harder.
I'm just saying and processing and sharing. Off to -happily- make a ganache!