Do Your Job

“Do your job.”

So, ugh.

I’ve been a frazzled, overwhelmed, resentful woman, wife, and mother.* I apologized to my family today but only after I blew up and said something so mean-spirited and ungentle and terrible. And it just really sucks, because of course an apology can’t un-do the thing I said, or the way I’ve been feeling and how that’s likely affected my family. Because: of course when I get to a place where I’m this pissed and pent-up and all, by then my family is usually acting like asses because they rely on me (probably too much) to be a good Mama and a decent person. So it’s kind of like a Square One kind of deal. And I need all the help, good will, and good fortune I can get.

^^^ Me, during better times, and incidentally with my hair, not the chemically-altered version. & my boy. Telling me a story. & I love him.

* Yes, despite – on Thursday – having a wonderful 33rd birthday full of friends and family treating me very, very well.

Organic as Fuck

notes from a full kitchen

Today when I picked the kids up from the roller skating rink I recognized the kind of safe yet vaguely Lord of the Flies environment most kids enjoy, but is perhaps best not a steady diet.  Sophie was eating some huge amount of bright blue sugary candy while staring glassily at the game of tag on the floor, and Nels – who’d long removed his skates, apparently – was under the pinball machines systematically trying to suss out how they worked.  I told my daughter to take her skates off and get ready, then I approached Nels with that sort of wary expectation – because each and every time I have to ask him to leave somewhere he’s enjoying it takes the effort and cunning needed to break a young mustang.  As I talked to him he scurried around under the video game tables, intent on his own little mission, and I heard a loud and almost scary electric Pop!  The thing is, I know my son pretty well, and in that millisecond at some level I knew he knew what he was doing and I didn’t even have that jolt of fear I so often do when my kids do something startling.  He did know what he was doing, as it turned out: he had found how to power down the machines and was exploring to see if this resulted in a regurgitation of quarters (which it didn’t, of course).

My son makes me crazy because so often he simultaneously exposes my limitations and aggravates me in equal measure.  In a case like this every fiber of my training wants to tell him Don’t. Just don’t! Don’t turn off the pinball machines.  What is wrong with you? It’s as if this reflex of mine proceeds my frontal lobe processes, because I want to tell him (and sometimes do) Don’t even before I’ve thought: is this actually dangerous, or wrong, or douchey in the slightest?  Is this something that makes sense for him to do? Why is he doing it, anyway?  Can he un-do it after he does it?  No, I want to say Don’t because life would be easier for me in the short term if my son just, you know, didn’t do stuff.

I dislike this about myself, that although I have two perfectly normal, intelligent, strong, curious, and fabulous children I still often parent from the basic impulses of fear and the desire to avoid suffering (even if the “suffering” at most would have been an employee of the roller rink asking me to tell my son to stop fooling with the equipment).  I’ve been a mama for almost eight years now but this impulse within me is still strong.  And I could go on and on about why I think this is so (mostly, I guess, being overly-socialized as a child, rather than trusted) but I certainly cannot account for how I still haven’t escaped this limitation.  In a way my son has been a wonderful lesson for me – one I am grateful for.  I think I wouldn’t be as brave as I am now without his influence; I mean to tell him this at my next opportunity.

Stepping back from Good Mom vs. Bad Mom and all that, I think of the amazing things I’ve learned from him: he is almost categorically always being “safe” – that is, operating within his own well-known limits in such a way where he will likely not be harmed nor harm anyone else (this is another one I hear spoken to him often:  “Ooooh, be careful, I don’t want you to hurt yourself!” – spoken by a friend in my own kitchen just a few minutes ago near the stove, an appliance he well knows his way around) and – perhaps most relevantly – he will not obey Don’t.  He will not obey Don’t when it is backed by threats, cajoling, grabbing, yelling, pleading, or lecturing. He simply has to discover for himself why things do what they do.

He’s a brave soul, really.  I’m not sure I know anyone who knows his own limits and confidently stretches them as well as my son does.  It reminds me of how he taught himself to swim – carefully wading deeper and deeper into the water before he could keep himself afloat, testing on his tip-toes with his head stretched up and the water kissing at his lips.  This alarmed some lifeguards (those that hadn’t been watching him previously), but was permitted by others (those who’d had experience with him).  It was kind of crazy for me because I think of Learning To Do Something as the sort of thing an Expert teaches you, and there are kind of right and wrong ways to go about it.  Yet here was my child going about it in a very different way that was entirely effective (the little guy can swim now, after all) and completely his own.  Never once did I worry about his drowning, but I couldn’t relax and let him to it, either (Don’t!). Really, so much about observing him is really mind-blowing.

As it turned out my Sunday was rather eaten up by cooking, cleaning, errands, and various housewifery – I barely got time sewing up on one of my daughter’s birthday presents, a project I’d been looking forward to since before our company came Thursday.  Well, sometimes my weekends go that way.  Ralph recorded music in the afternoon and while he did this I busied myself making, for the first time, onigiri.  Cooking something new almost always cheers me up – even if, like today, the process ends up being messy and/or painful (scalded palms! Damn sticky rice is treacherous!) – but ultimately, successful.  For dinner I served the onigiri along with a donburi (chicken, carrots and broccoli), garlic green beans, miso soup, seared mushrooms, and green tea; our friends Jasmine and Flo joined us and Flo brought a lovely, rich pineapple upside down cake. We drank beer and talked about David Bowie’s package in the movie Labrynth.  And other stuff that was also fun but slightly less memorable.

thank you for your public service, & yet i have some thoughts i’d like to share

Last night my daughter was escorted home by a policeman.  Officer Cody, I believe.  Why?  Well, some “well-meaning” person called when he/she saw her walking down Riverside – this would have been about 7:30 PM.  She was on her way home from the YMCA; after her swim team practice she wanted to swim swim swim some more.  I asked if she wanted to stay longer and ride the bus home; she said yes. She asked me to stack four quarters in her locker and she told me where her locker was, then ran off to swim swim swim some more.

The bus system here?  Not so much.  Not so great.  After my daughter finished her swim, dressed, and walked to the bus stop she waited.  And waited, waited, and waited; and finally began walking home (it’s about a 1 3/4 mile walk).  She was fine with all this;  so am I really (I am sad about our bus system which has very long delays, ugh).  Sophie always has bus and phone-fare with her (no cell phone – I want her to learn how to think instead of calling me over every little thing and Hey, about that safety stuff?  All those teens walking around crossing streets with their heads down as they text? No Fanks).  Officer Cody, after getting the call about this little girl walking at all hours of the night, or whatever, found her, parked, walked over to the sidewalk, and asked if she needed a ride.  “Sure!” she said.  A few minutes later she was home and we received the officer, assured him we knew where she was, and thanked him for his kindness.  He said something like, “We just like to know parents know where their kids are – you know, with all the goings on in McCleary.”

Right. You mean all the people around here extra-keyed up about child abduction – although they hardly need a local event for that sort of hysteria, given our media prods the kidnapped (and/or murdered) child meme with more grotesque exploitation than a Girls Gone Wild video series.

I’m tired of arguing statistics in my head whenever someone writes our local paper and says you cannot leave a child unattended for ninety seconds (no really, this happened a couple months ago), or I read in Dear Abby’s advice column the tactic of giving your kids a walkie-talkie to use any time they enter the public bathroom (dear reader, just sit for a while.  Think on that one for a few moments. It is truly breathtaking) and taking a picture of them each time you shop because they may be snatched – and that way you have an up-to-date photo (I wish I was making this up!).  I’m tired of pointing out that the odds are greater for lightening strike, that there are four million children in America – and about a hundred are abducted by strangers each year. I’m tired of pointing out crimes rates against children have gone down since the seventies and eighties: if you feel you had a “safe” childhood but today it’s “different”, well, you’re correct – in terms of crime it’s actually safer for your child today than it was for yourself.  I’m tired of putting down the media and the “CSI” television shows (one show is all about rape! Wheee!) and the graphic portrayals of child torture and molestation – some of our worst fears exploited cruelly for ratings.  I’m tired of pointing out there is no age restriction on unsupervised kids in this state (and only two states have that in effect) to the many, many who think there are.  I’m tired of asking people, “Hey, do you know how long you’d have to leave your kid outside out of supervision if you wanted them abducted?”* and how the person I’m talking to doesn’t care (ever!), because that person wants to believe the world is scary and that I should do this or that to prevent bad things happening to my kids- whom they think they care more about than I do (P.S. at the point you’re believing that, you’re an asshole, see the end of my post for more information).

No.  Because those who want to be fearful do not want to hear facts, or maybe my facts seem suspect but television’s seem real (!!!).  All I can tell you is: I’m not trying to sell you anything, or titillate you, or even convince you to parent the way I do.  I just want to be allowed to continue my way.

And I would, really, like to address this Good Samaritan, or more specifically the kind of person I imagine might have called in – or perhaps the people who watch or read here or see my kids go out and about and think, “I would never let my kid do that.” Because even though the anonymous call-ins cause some trouble for me, I’m trying to hold some goodwill, and I’d like to share my own thoughts, since you voiced your opinions on my choices.  And if in any way I could help anyone think a bit differently about our Children and Danger and ZOMG it’s a Scary Place Out There! I will feel I have done something good today.

I find the “I will do whatever it takes to keep my child safe” mentality is actually rather common in my (white, middle-class, American) sphere; few parents rise to overcome the fears and hurts buried deep and disguised with “I care so much I will always err on the ‘safe’ side” – which feels so good to say, and it feels so good to believe you can keep your child safe from Life or the horrid, horrid things that sometimes happen to Innocents.  Few parents do the hard work of examining the harmful effects of this type of parenting – which can last a lifetime for children – and making sensible changes.  Few parents think about the logical extensions for that sort of thought process, which (though humorous) make our desire for Security and Control so painfully self-evident and to me betray that in so many ways, so many parents haven’t really grown up after all.  Most parents do what the herd does; if they hear you can’t let a kid unsupervised until twelve they believe that’s true, believe that law makes sense because it’s a law (oops! it’s not), and decide to follow it.  After all, this means they don’t have to think too hard and it fosters the [false] belief that if they follow the rules their children will remain safe.

And these parents?  I do not call them names nor point to their children – unable to bicycle or walk to the kinds of things they’d love to go do, passive to the point of boredom and constantly needing sheep-dog parenting, unequipped to handle money or catch a bus or do much besides crave video games and television and entertainment – living a curious life devoid of the joy that is innate in almost every child fed and loved and allowed to grow freely; later in life, adults and oddly afraid to take risks, entitled and bored and feeling the world owes them entertainment and a living, not understanding how they are buried in student loans with no idea what they want to do with their life, feeling a nameless dread and anxiety about going out into the world – with scorn.  I really don’t.  I feel compassion and I invite these children, young and adult, into my life.  Regularly.

Because I understand, I really do, why their parents raise(d) them this way (and by the way, I’ve been that adult child described above).

Back on point, and hopefully to demonstrate how much I get it: I understand you love your kids.  Or if you’re child-free, you think people should take “proper” care of their kids.  For the moment you believe I don’t love mine or I’m not properly caring for them, but let’s put that aside for now.  Because I really do think I understand you, if you don’t yet understand me.

I understand how comforting it is to believe that because you do not allow your child to walk to the corner store or go anywhere alone you are assuring their safety.  I understand how nice it must be to believe, driving in your mini-van to their scheduled activities, that there are naive and irresponsible parents (hi!) and those are the people who bad things happen to (and they kind of deserve it, even if their precious children don’t!) and that these things won’t happen to you and your kids because you are a parent smart enough to care and precisely avoid risks – even though, of course, but it bears mention, being the passenger in a car is the number one killer of children.**

I want to take a minute to remind you that you are operating from a position of privilege in this regard.  Since you are parenting basically according to a publicized mainstream, your many “safe” choices (like the driving, and teaching kids that danger comes from menacing strangers, while Oops! avoiding the unpleasant likelihood it’s more likely their babysitter, or your brother or father or neighbor, who might for instance molest your child, and the very act of teaching children to always “wait for a grown-up to help you” repeated over the years puts them in the position of always deferring to “trusted” grown-ups who are pretty free to betray that trust) will not be constantly vilified or called into question.  If you teach kids, “Don’t let anyone touch your privates, EVAR!” many adults will sagely nod that is the Right Thing To Hammer Home and you Can’t Say It Enough.  I mean, nevermind the uncomfortable reality that kids’ privates are theirs, really, just like the rest of them and soon enough they’ll actually want someone to touch them in the crotchal regions, and feeling a lot of shame about how PRIVATES are  a source of secrecy and a coveted prize for hordes of perverts such that anyone who wants them is a Big Scary Creep and under no circumstances until marriage should anyone have access – even when you want them to, and um, how should I figure out when that is OK? – might be a bit confusing when they start thinking about their own sexual agency, because I hate to tell you this but when people feel shame and secrecy around sex they get up to all kinds of trouble, Oops! again.  My point – at least in this paragraph – is you operate from privilege; you get to parent in such ways that the majority of our public social sphere will tell you that you are Right and Good to take these (over-)precautions, and that is a big factor that’s allowing you to operate daily without too much stress in these regards – or less stress than if you choose to do things differently – and may be influencing you in a way that’s really not best for you or your kids, because if your ideals aren’t called into question much then you don’t need to examine them and take the risk and do the work of painful change (a process that can be called “maturity”).

And even though I do not agree that the deep dread of danger and hurt at how shitty the world can be should be an organizing principle in the amazing, wonderful privilege of stewarding and raising our children – who are so goddamned precious, they really fucking are – I also understand how, in today’s culture and social climate, that organizing principle is so tempting for so, so many.  And I imagine it must be nice to never or rarely have your “just in case!” overprotective parenting choices called into question for their very real effects: the risk of depression in teens and young adults, for instance, who haven’t experienced enough freedom and autonomy, or kids who run into trouble using drugs because they can’t feel joy in life otherwise, or girls who turn into women who are doormats, because we’ve authoritatively douched up so many of their choices (see: PRIVATES, above), or girls who are told they’re too Bossy to be Liked, so they lose their authenticity and their willingness to take risks because Mom or Dad told them being Liked is so very, very important, or boys who grow into date rapists because they learn the world is organized into Creeps and Those Who Weren’t Wily Enough To Avoid Being Victimized, the latter blamed so often for their own victimization.  At times I envy your position in that you will never have the police called, or television programs constantly yammering on and on about what a bad or stupid parent you must be for being so “safe” and so caring in raising your children according to these principles. (I do not envy your position that you own and watch television, however; my life is far better without.)

It also must feel nice to be so safe (a privilege I share): let’s face it, as a white middle-class American (as I imagine the majority of my readers are) things are pretty good for your kids.  Why not jump into the assumption that things are or should be perfectly safe and that you must stamp out even the smallest risk to make life easier and more comfortable?  You know, for your kids.  Like a friend who told me, “I want her to take risks, but while I’m watching her.” (Pssst! Those aren’t really “risks”!  Sorry!)

I understand it’s too hard for some of you (childfree or no) to be a “village” for kids.  Here is how I see your thought process:  kids are scary and confusing for many of us, since we were raised rather segregated and aren’t used to them.  Some kids behave badly, and they’re just Shits and someone (else!) should deal with that.  Even “good” kids are unpredictable and seem kind of fragile (whisper-P.S.: they’re not, especially when they’re allowed the process of Growing!) and impulsive and they need to be controlled and corralled.  They should also be protected at all costs, because protecting them is right, even if they never learn how to walk or fly or be strong or protect themselves or advocate for their own needs.  The “Good Samaritan” who sees my kid walking does not want to do the work of pulling over, heralding the child herself, and asking if the child needs help.  No, it is far easier to pick up the phone and dial a simple number, report the incident to the police.  The authorities will surely straighten it out; the “Good Samaritan” can go her way feeling she did what she should (and she’s a good person!), and maybe she will believe there are so many crazy, irresponsible parents (hi again!), and someone should be sorting that all out, even though she’s too unsure how to do anything much of all. So in a way, Samaritan, you are wailing and gnashing your teeth and “What about the CHILDREN?!”-ing, but you yourself display a terror and lack of competence and experience that is truly profound (although I’m sad to say, common); I would be happy to share my thoughts with you on how you might be more helpful, effective, relaxed, and joyous, if you’re interested.  (You’re probably not.)

Let me point out: this is only how I imagine you, Samaritan, to be, based on previous experience and accounts of these actions from strangers.  Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Now, I’ve probably lost you a bit.  You probably don’t like the way I’m characterizing your actions.  Let’s see if we can agree on one point at least:

I understand that the Monster, the hideous most terrible thought of Pedophile & Child Killer, is horrid.  He’s so despicable most of us wish he wasn’t real; most of us would do anything not so much to protect ourselves but to Eliminate The Possibility It Will Ever Happen To Me Or Anyone I Know And I Won’t Have To Admit Life Can Be Awful.  I understand your revulsion and I share it.  When I think about someone hurting my kids or holding my kids against their will I get crazy-stabby and I feel like I could kill, not just feel anger but really really imagine myself a murderess (weirdly, the closest I’ve yet come to having my children removed has been calls by strangers to the authorities re: my kids’ “safety”).  I am not immune to this fear; some nights it grips my chest in an icy hold as I lie next to my sweetly sleeping child.  I know the thought of such a being – this monster – is so scary that it is tempting to live a life according to his spectre in the desperate hope we and our loved ones could avoid pain because (despite what Dalton says), pain hurts.

The difference between you and I…  well, I don’t live as if the monster is hunkered behind every bush, because that would do my kids a great disservice, a lifetime of disservice, which I could go on further at length (but won’t, for now).  I do the hard work of paying attention to my kids and giving them every freedom possible when they’re ready even if I don’t feel I’m completely ready. Oh, and I really do know when they’re ready – more than you do, Stranger.

Others have said all the above many times, and better than I can; somehow the topic wears me out, but nevertheless I try to communicate it.

Oh, and let me remind you, I really do love my children.  So much more than you care about them.  Just in case you were, you know, completely and willfully ignorant.

Last night a few hours after Sophie got home she lay next to me sleeping and her hand found mine while she slumbered.  She threw her arm, then a leg over my body and sighed in her sleep; she seemed troubled, although she’d had a happy and active day.  I rubbed her back and whispered, “I’m here, it’s OK…”  and I felt tears in my eyes, because every day my children astound me. Because Yes They Can, they can do so very much, and they can be competent and strong and live with a deep happiness that is a privilege and a joy to behold.

At least in her sleep last night she was clingy and wanted me; when she’s like this, I hold her when I can.

And when she wants to fly, I let her.

* 750,000 years.  No, really.

** No, really.

Ralph, Sick; Nels, Nursing  (... Cats, Sleeping)

more than one type of affirmation

This morning at 8 AM – a full two hours before I’m normally up and about – I was dressed and sipping coffee.  My large, well-worn grass basket held fresh oranges, bagels with cream cheese, and water.  The kids’ clothes were packed in there as well, two blankets stacked on the carseats, and the kids themselves enjoying their last few minutes of sleep before my mother arrived and we packed everything in her minivan for a trip.

I wish I didn’t have to drive out of town to purchase fabric – but I do (or order online).  Last night in cutting a dress pattern I had mis-cut and squandered the bit of yardage I had remaining; I instantly knew I’d have to travel to Olympia (fifty minutes away) to buy 3/4 yard of Bemberg rayon. I knew my mother had an errand to run there as well so last night I called her and we made the date.

My mom and I find so much to talk about when we are together.  Truthfully, I feel like I do more of the talking.  Or rather, I tend to wind myself up in rants and she listens through and offers her own enthusiastic input.  My mother is one of the handful of people in my life who supports, I mean really supports, almost everything I do as a parent, everything I think important – and so much of it different than many of my peers.  She has stood by me while I made so many choices differently than she and my father: homebirthing, extended breastfeeding, quitting my job to be home full-time, home- and then unschooling, and – my latest and most exhilarating challenge – allowing my children their deserved freedoms out in the world.  My choices as a parent say so much about who I am.  My failures as a parent say so much about what I struggle with.  Sometimes I forget what a wonderful thing it is I have such fierce support from my husband and such loving and constant acclaim and feedback from my mother. I am truly fortunate.

I love fabric shopping.  Even if I am there for only a zipper or thread, it is a pure joy to meditate over the sundries and supplies of my craft.  I often allow myself the purchase a few yards of something if it catches my fancy and I have the money: today this was a tomato-red knit that is destined to be something special for my husband.  I have learned in the last few years that when on a limited spending plan it is best to relax a bit, pick the fabrics and patterns that appeal to one, collecting them here or there when the grocery budget permits (that said, my stash pile of fabric is very small – in fact, much smaller than many people I know who collect and buy fabric but rarely make anything with it) and trying not to think about the vast, overwhelming lovely choices out there had I more money and time.  Time to sew comes eventually and there is a laundered and folded pile of wonderful fabric waiting to be transformed.

Fabric shopping with my mom is more fun still.  She doesn’t sew very often, and she didn’t sew very often when I was raised in her household.  However, she’d learned to sew as a young woman and the joy and confidence she gained always showed through.  I tried sewing with her as a child and young adult; I mostly remember arguing with her and I hated so much of the process – like the pinning and cutting out, which seemed to take forever.  But the craft either runs in my blood or her example was enough to pull me back into it – not to mention her gifts of fabrics and accoutrement.  The year before I was married she bought me a Kenmore machine of my own; two years ago she upgraded my life with a new Juki.  In fact, although at this point my tailoring and technical construction skills have surpassed hers, I have not grown into the satisfaction I observe in her when she sews for herself.  I am still a perfectionist; I am still struggling with knowing how to voice myself in fabric and how to accept my body and learn to clothe it expressively.

Today, though, the acquisition of fabric, conversation, good coffee, and a stop at the barbecue restaurant served as wonderful ways to hide from a rainy day.  Tonight the red knit is washed and folded; the patterns are tucked in with the others; the tracing medium carefully folded and pinned onto the cardboard bolt I store it.  My studio awaits when I am ready for it.

***

Last night I groused about the weather as we drove to Sophie’s swim team.  My daughter said to me, “I know you don’t like the rain, but April Showers bring May Flowers.” A beat passed as I considered sarcastically remarking it was only January, about a hundred more straight rainy nights to go, when she continued: “Do you know what May Flowers bring?”  I said, “No, what’s that?” (without much interest) and she said, “Pilgrims.”

I rarely laugh at wordplay but she got me there.

Nels takes care of his father. The cats take care of themselves.

Nels takes care of his father. The cats take care of themselves.

wash, dry, rinse, repeat. try not to drink too much.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that when I can articulate a problem – often here in this journal in writing, but sometimes in person to another live human being or several live persons – the problem is almost always facilitated, solved, or changed in terms of importance and urgency.  And I do mean pretty much every time. So let’s be honest, I need to own a problem I’m having which is:

I’ve been feeling utterly defeated by my responsibilities in life. Very suppressed.

Because the fact is my kids need me right now (and so do, to varying degrees, my husband, my cats, my chickens, and my mother’s dog who is our ward at the moment and also ill from a possible allergy and confirmed infection). They need me and for about a week I’ve been suffering, because I haven’t wanted to give what they need. Reluctantly, reality has won out, and I’ve shifted. The last several days my sewing room lay fallow as I’ve spent my days looking to all our needs – the care for, feeding of, cleaning, administration of medicine and attention and affection. This has always been a lot of work – and it is necessary work. Right now my family is relatively high-need, as far as my family goes. I wish I would have tuned into their needs a wee bit sooner as the last week or so I’ve suffered a lot as I’ve tried to avoid my small dilemma.

Honestly?  With two children aged five and seven, there was a part of me that had been behaving as if life should be easier than when they were, say, one and three. I should have been considering the time I had to myself in my sewing room as blessed, fortunate, wonderful, and definitely not a given – not any more than anything else in life. I should not have allowed myself the envy and despair that reading the handful of craft and sew-blogs I do inspired in me. These assholes with their one-to-one income ratio! Their lack of mouths to feed! Their ability to buy fabric and go into a room and listen to music – not listen to their kids tear apart the house! Yes, these last few weeks I’ve been pining to sew; yet in the few minutes I’ve had to do so I’ve felt crushed with the sense of responsibilities elsewhere: I need to spend more “quality time” with the kids, wash the dishes, put away the laundry, plan for, shop for, prepare the meals – but especially, spend time with the kids.

What I know about my family life is things change, evolve. There have always been times of sweet solace and rest since I’ve had my children. In fact, since we’ve become a family on one income, I would venture to say rest and respite have been there for us – albeit in unexpected ways – more than when Ralph and I both worked. But there have been times like now: where the needs of my children are pressing and it is foolish to pretend otherwise or to spend time wishing it wasn’t so. As babies, their needs were physical and intimate. Breastfeed a baby and you are more or less forced to sit or lay down; you cannot also scrub the bathtub or drive to the store while changing a diaper (even if, sadly, you allow yourself to feel intense pressure to somehow have resources you do not). These physical needs were so intense in my childrens infancies. I have come to believe these requirements were both a boot camp-style lesson in the rigor and hard work I would find inherent in caring for my children – but also, they were opportunities for me to see my life changed for a number of years. I know it was wrong and foolish for me to expect my children not to need so much from me – just because they are toilet-trained and can read and take walks to the grocery store. I stand corrected, and now that I’ve altered my perception, I expect to suffer less; I also expect that soon enough time will open up, and I will be back in my little sewing room crafting from wool and cotton and lovingly folding yardage. As it was, so it shall be, all in good time.

Today the children and I sat on the floor of their room and played a rather involved game of Legos. I had to accept that sitting on the floor with my kids was good for all of us: it wasn’t “less than” my long chore list in the day. It was so hard not to jump up after a few minutes to do the dishes, or IM my husband, or knit on the hat I’m still making. Over a period of an hour and a half I grew to enjoy our time together; my kids liked it even more still. They are so incredibly creative and clearly loving; I even found myself interested in the construction of a small ship and the character of an Intergalactic Horse Thief. I don’t know if I’ll ever reclaim my long-buried (or lost?) sense of Play; but I know it is in there, somewhere. The important thing for me in sitting on my kids’ room floor and playing wasn’t that I try to be someone I’m not; it’s that I show up for my kids with who I am, and really be that person with them.

“I didn’t say it would be a GOOD story”

“Daddy Daddy DADDY!” My son, abruptly, screams from the bathtub.  This is normal: the kids have baths every night, a nighttime ritual.  Nels will play for the better part of an hour by himself and then suddenly be overcome with either fear or imperious need for my husband.  His scream makes me want to hammer my own skull in.

I’m tidying up in the bedroom and I watch Ralph pause in the living room.  My husband has his back turned to me so it’s impossible to tell if he’s irritated or resigned or perfectly happy to enter the bathroom.  Nels’ demanding scream is a near-nightly occurrence.  He doesn’t do it to me, oddly, which is just as well.  Tonight Ralph waits a few beats then travels to the bathroom and addresses whatever it is our son needs.

A few minutes later while Ralph vacuums the living room (a near-daily necessity for a wife who spends a lot of time on the sewing machine) the kids find an online video game, something based on the old Space Invaders (or perhaps Asteroids) and called, unbelievably, Arse Race – including floating human posteriors that need some sort of rescue (the game is perfectly PG, just asinine).  I get praise from my friends and family for my mothering, but truth be told I am often rather torn.  Sometimes I feel like kids “should” be doing chores, “earning their keep”, washing dishes or sweeping if we’re doing the same.  Other times I think, fuck it, why not let them play Arse Race?  My brother and I did very, very little in terms of housework growing up.  I remember feeling a vague disapproval from my parents – sometimes a sarcastic remark from my father or a wheedling plea to do a chore from my mother.  And really, what of it?  We grew up, learned what it was like to keep our own lives, and we both do fine.

So when I think of it that way I often come to the conclusion the best thing we can do as parents is model cheerful, hard work when it comes to the house.  The kids can partake or not; if they don’t want to help in the evening, when they’re tired, they must also wait for the nighttime snack of homemade applesauce – or get it themselves – and know we won’t be snuggling up with a story or a B-movie until our work is done.  For the most part, cheerful, hard work isn’t hard for me during the day because I enjoy keeping house; especially when it’s part of my daily rhythm, of running, sewing, swimming, cooking, running errands, reading, cuddling with the kids.

It seems it’s the evening that housework can be the hardest; Ralph and I are tired but committed to order.  One day – and honestly, it will come so soon – our children will be out of our house and we will likely have all the freedom we occaisonally pine for now.  This is something I should try harder to keep in mind.