The Hidden Work of Housewives

What Didn't Get Done, © amomnextdoor, 2014

What Didn’t Get Done, © amomnextdoor, 2014

Periodically Mr. Banks says to me, “I just don’t know what you DO all day.” He can’t understand how he could possibly come home from a day at the office to find unwashed dishes, rumpled laundry, strewn toys, and cranky kids. As he recently pointed out, “You have fifteen hours in a day! How can you not have enough time?”

Hmmm. Well—setting aside that fifteen hours dedicated to house and home would take me from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. with no meals or tea breaks (and certainly no writing time)—how to describe the intensity of day after day with children to someone who’s never done it himself? I’m not sure it’s possible. But for my own gratification, for my own sense of self-worth, I found myself keeping track one summer’s day, of all that I did with my time.

A day with children is a day spent teaching and learning. Some things I teach them directly, some by expectation, some through modeling, and some by opportunity. All of it I teach with as much deliberation and thoughtfulness as this mama can. I find being present with my children in such a way both deeply draining and relentlessly rewarding. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Things I taught my children today:

  • How to exercise daily
  • How to commit to a goal and follow through
  • How to be patient
  • How to contribute to the family
  • How to play independently
  • How to play together
  • How to brush teeth properly
  • How to clean up after brushing teeth
  • How to give privacy to people using the bathroom
  • How to pursue one’s passions and interests
  • How to sew: how to plan a project, use pins, thread a needle, cut a thread, make a knot, make a whip stitch
  • How to share underlying feelings
  • How to listen deeply
  • How to take responsibility for one’s mistakes
  • How to be married
  • How to take time for oneself
  • How to give others space
  • How to respond to an invitation to connect
  • How to speak one’s mind
  • How to keep a house organized
  • How to tidy
  • How to reuse
  • How to recycle
  • How to roll out the garbage cans for collection day
  • How to core strawberries
  • How to break eggs
  • How to cook an omelet
  • How to load the dishwasher
  • How to close a sliding car door safely
  • How to treat clerks and service workers
  • How to behave at the checkout stand
  • The value of a dollar
  • How to negotiate
  • How to wait
  • How to notice the world around
  • How to give and receive love and affection
  • How to be an audience
  • How to hold back
  • How to laugh
  • How to be silly
  • How to create
  • How to imagine
  • How to have fun
  • How to love

That gets us to about lunchtime. I guess the laundry will have to wait until the afternoon.

What Happened Instead, © amomnextdoor, 2014

What Happened Instead, © amomnextdoor, 2014

Advertisements

30 + Summer Activities for the Kids

© amomnextdoor, 2013

Summer’s over, but some great ideas are eternal. Besides, here in the CA Bay Area, we have a solid month of summer weather left. I had to reblog this post, just to have it handy for easy reference. You’ll find my own ideas for keeping little ones engaged with their world in my post, Spring Break Blues.

Welcome to 2nd Grade

© amomnextdoor, 2013

© amomnextdoor, 2013

Agent 006 (age…6) brought home this second grade humor a few days ago, and already his sister, the Birthday Girl (still age three), has worn it out. From today:

BG: Do that look down thing!

006: (big, reluctant sigh) Ooookaaay. Look under there!

BG: (who is supposed to say, “Under where?” Get it? The joke already happened, and you missed it) Look up!

006: Oh, brother, I hate this joke!

BG: It’s just for fun!

006: (dramatically) I’m too old for this!

(Pause)

006: Mom, how do you spell “eye-cup”?

Magic Apple for Teachers

DSC_0007Yesterday my son, Agent 006, got this letter in the mail from his soon-to-be-second grade teacher. It included Magic Confetti,DSC_0011 to help him sleep well on the night before school.

Thanks, Mrs. J! My son is not the only person who will be starting school totally confident that he has the best teacher in the whole wide world. I slept like Mama Bear in her cave last night.

So here’s a special wish for all teachers today–may your first day of school be promising and fun! Thank you for all that you have already done for the families and children you lead deeper into a learned life. You are truly appreciated.

Kids Reach For Confetti

Kids Reach For Confetti (Photo credit: librarianjill)

This article is part of amomnextdoor’s Magic Apple series: sharing ideas for magic moments with kids.

Long Flight, Short Attention Span: the Kindertainment Kit for Little Travelers

Airport Lines

© amomnextdoor, 2013

I recently sat in an airport waiting area and watched an eight-year old girl play contentedly with her fingers, albeit in a slightly bored sort of way, for fifteen minutes. She may have  gone even longer than that, but I was too busy entertaining my iPhone-addicted three-year old to notice. And a three-year old in full withdrawal ain’t pretty.

I always feel like a rotten parent when I hand my kid the iPhone. Yes, it’s so cute how the tiniest one-year old already knows how to swipe and tap. Mildly amusing when the two-year old accidentally calls the Philippines. Only a minor hassle when the three-year old deletes seven apps and all their data. Sort of embarrassing when the four-year old happens to find an indiscreet photo in the camera roll. Really embarrassing when the five-year old reads aloud from the iPhone screen, “Mom, what does l-i-c-k spell?” And a royal pain-in-the-ass when the six-year old throws a temper tantrum because you have to use the iPhone to, like, call someone, then spends the next thirty minutes in jittery, aggressive withdrawal from his favorite video game.

Yes, that’s what we used to call them—“video games.” “App” sounds so innocuous by comparison. I haven’t yet run across the slew of articles titled “Apps Increase Violent Behavior in Children!” Yet I feel uneasy with the amount of screen time my young kids get, when screens are so portable and absorbing. So I decided that for this flight to Grandma’s, we were going to try old-fashioned entertainment. Thumb-twiddling and looking out the window would do for a start, but I was insecure about traveling completely deviceless. So I put together an Airplane Entertainment Kit and decided to use the three-hour flight for beta testing.

Kindertainment Kit

© amomnextdoor, 2013

Continue reading

Fallow

Fallow Field

So it turns out that I don’t write much in the summer. You’ve noticed.

Our family is now fully steeped in its current incarnation: Agent 006 in elementary school, about to start second grade next week, and the Birthday Girl (still three in spite of intervening birthdays which refused to have anything to do with her) in preschool twice a week. With the help of our marvelous babysitter, I manage to extend those few childless hours into a ten-hour-a-week writing practice (not including late nights and “I just have to go to the bathroom” quick ducks into the writing studio for stolen moments with the page).

But somehow children and travel have completely absorbed my time and attention this season, rolled up my writing practice like an old wool rug nobody needs when it’s hot out and the lawn sprinklers call us to summer’s baptism of heat. And it’s impossible for me to feel guilty about it. I know what’s really happening.

Summer is my growing season, but story doesn’t grow on the same schedule as the vegetal world. Travel, my children’s inches and appetites, long, sweet hours at the pool and beach–I can feel myself soaking it all in like the browning of my skin. The fields of my story lie fallow in the summer; the children and I play together in the rich dirt. My fields may look as empty as the pages of my journal or as inert as my blog statistics, but I feel small creatures stirring underground. I feel the bursting of seeds, straining toward the light of back-to-school fall routines. Soon, I will be able to water these fields once more with scattered showers of solitude. With just those scraps of nourishment, and the discipline of the hoe, the stories will grow forth again.

Please stay tuned for these new series of articles, and more, coming this fall:

Little Travelers: Tips for parents and kids on traveling to destinations near and far, exotic and quotidian.

A Writer’s Passage: Wisdom shared from the June 2013 Book Passage Conference for Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, as it intersects with my life as a writer and mother of two.

The Beleaguered Kitchen: Ideas for creating nutritional family meals under duress

Bites from the Magic Apple: Strokes of parenting genius shared

See you soon!

Photo credit: Thanks to Paul Schultz for adding “Fallow Field” to the Creative Commons.

Bite From the Magic Apple

Apple with a bite taken out of it.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

A Recipe for Parenting Panache

Exhausted. Cranky. Worn down, worn out, used up.

Kids at the table bossy and ungrateful, impolite and obnoxious.

The Birthday Girl and Agent 006 are already snarling at each other over the breakfast cereal. I am parenting alone, again, unloading the dishwasher and delivering delayed eggs to the table. I have twice already invoked my ironclad rule of home dining—only polite and grateful children permitted at my table—and sent the children to their room for a time out. Now they are back; they don’t realize it is their father’s absence that is making them feel grumpy and out of sorts. They think it is my fault. I need an ally. Out of desperation, I start grumbling to the apple in my hand. Continue reading

Friday the 13th Protest

As a former teacher, I’m often asked by other moms what I think about the education that’s happening in our California public schools. I can go on and on, but it comes down to this: Money matters. Thanks, Mr. Peabody, for your rousing call to action. Personally, I’ll be nursing the Birthday Girl‘s 103.8 fever, so if you can get out there and tell our legislators to put OUR money where their mouths are, do it!

Mr. Peabody

Fellow Teachers, Parents, Citizens and California Neighbors,

We have cut our schools to the bone and then into the bone and Prop 30 and the Governor’s budget are not going to do more than stem the bleeding. The bones are still weak and have been weak since Californians passed Prop 13 thirty-five years ago (almost to the day). From overcrowded kindergarten classes to overpriced university classes, we are paying for our financial mistakes with the miseducation of an entire generation, the decimation of our schools, our libraries and our cities.

One field trip could change all that. Enough with the cutting of librarians, arts in the schools, music programs. Enough with overworked, underpaid teachers, and classroom conditions which do not and will not foster the critical thinking and innovation we need to save our economy and environment! Mark your calendars:

Let’s takeover Sacramento on Friday the 13th, 9/13/13, and demand…

View original post 363 more words

Disneyland for the Fainthearted

Sleeping Beauty's Castle

We have clearly failed as American parents. Our first family trip to Disneyland must honestly be registered as a flop. Maybe it’s because we have supremely sensitive children, who just really don’t go in for the whole “sharks-in-the-water” vibe. Maybe it’s because my Fictional Husband (FH) hates crowds, hot dogs, popcorn, roller coasters and noise. But most likely it’s my fault, my own deeply divided nature. I wore the princess dresses my father brought back from his trips abroad, took ballet, and avidly watched the Disney shorts of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan that he screened on his old reel-to-reel in the downstairs den. But I also played football and basketball with my brothers, and didn’t fail to notice that Disney princesses—with the notable exception of Cinderella—are almost always pictured without feet. So I guess it’s no surprise that my under-inoculated family didn’t jump eagerly into the “Happiest Place on Earth” and emerge with the requisite contented smiles plastered on their faces. Continue reading

A Mother’s Day

DSC_0011

11:00 p.m., Mother’s Day Eve–I creep into my children’s bedroom to take my son’s temperature as he sleeps. He tosses his head irritably away from the thermometer, but I still get a read. 101.7, down from 102.5. According to Tripit my Fictional Husband is about to board a preposterously tiny plane from Frankfurt to Dusseldorf, so it’s down to me if the fever spikes. Still, I think it’s safe for me to go to sleep at last.

4:00 a.m., Mother’s Day–Dink dink dink dink thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk. The Birthday Girl comes scattering into my room, followed closely by her big brother. We all cuddle for a little bit in the big bed, then I lead & carry them back to their beds. I know I’m going to need my sleep for 1-2 sick children, wide awake in just a few more hours. I tuck them in and lay with my hot boy until he falls back asleep.

(I find out later that he had woken up scared in the middle of the night, crying. Me sound asleep at the other end of the house. “What did you do?” I ask. “I called for my sister. She woke up and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I told her I was scared to go through the dark house. She said, ‘Come on, I’ll take you.'” And so the three-year old led the six-year old safely through the frightful night.)

6:00 a.m. The Birthday Girl totters into my bedroom, crawls up in bed with me, and falls promptly back to sleep. She’s too tired from night duty to even cuddle.

6:45 a.m. Agent 006 is back. He comes in loud, in his hands a homemade card. I’m so touched I just hold it and gaze at him, stroking his arm, now thankfully a bit cooler. Finally he says, “Cards open, you know!” so I sheepishly open the card. It’s double-layered, one page from my son and the other from my daughter, facilitated by the babysitter who’s been taking care of our kids since she was twelve and is going off to college at the end of the summer.

We read the card together, Agent 006 lying next to me for the barest minute. Then he leaps out of bed and my eyes drift closed again. I dream to the metallic clatter and bang of vigorous kitchen activity. A short while later, he comes back in, two bowls sliding precariously on the cookie tray he’s carrying. In one bowl are washed cherry tomatoes. The other bowl has a grapefruit, crookedly sawed in half, each triangle of fruit carefully loosened with the grapefruit knife.

Over a three-way breakfast he narrates making breakfast for me, how he knew I wasn’t eating wheat so he couldn’t make toast, and he couldn’t toast it anyway since he’s not allowed to use anything that makes heat. I love hearing the rambling story of how he arrived at grapefruit–which he could only cut with the grapefruit knife, since he’s not allowed to use other knives unsupervised–and cherry tomatoes for breakfast. Sweetest of all he said,
“At first I thought my fever would ruin Mother’s Day for me because then the mom would have to take care of the kid and it’s supposed to be the other way around, and Mother’s Day only happens once a year! But I got rid of it.”

8:30 a.m. Breakfast entertainment over, facing a long Sunday with a still slightly feverish boy and energetic little girl. Grass is still wet outside, so I start by showing the kids selected shorts from the Ironman movies, just the lab scenes where Tony Stark is inventing or trying out his new suits.

9:30 a.m. Run the hose to the sandbox, where Agent 006 constructs a river and dam in spite of his sister’s interference. I finally get her productively engaged at the outdoor easel. She starts with blue and yellow, and suddenly shouts, “Green!” Her brother overheats, so I set him up inside with a bath and the audiobook The Cricket in Times Square, which we got from the library.

11:30 a.m. Sister joins brother in the bath, mostly for the pleasure of splashing or talking over the story.

11:45 a.m. Two children crying in the bathroom. Agent 006 is cold and miserable. The Birthday Girl is rejected and miserable. Really, they’re both just hungry and I’m late with lunch, instead arranging stems in the annual Mother’s Day garden bouquet.

© amomnextdoor, 2013

© amomnextdoor, 2013

12:00 p.m. Kids gobbling the carrots, hummus, olives and cucumbers I have slapped on their plates while I finish boiling water for pesto tortellini. They are quiet. We are officially halfway through the day.

1:00 p.m. I tuck the Birthday Girl into her bed and set  Agent 006 up on the couch with plenty of blankets and books, hoping that in separate rooms they might both actually sleep. I am the only one who manages to nap, a refreshing 45 minutes of silence in the house–the outer limit of my children’s capacity to control their need to be with me every instant of the day. But their long experience with awakening Tired Grumpy Mama prematurely has actually taught them to enjoy having some down time to themselves, so “Rest Time” is now officially established for the summer and for ever.

3:00 p.m. More movie time. Yep. Again. This time they watch by themselves while I get the audiofile of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban set up on my iPhone, since I’ll no doubt have Agent 006 home from school with me tomorrow, and Cricket will be done by 9:51 a.m. Normally a work day for me, but maybe the sitter can watch both kids here while I barricade myself in the studio to get some needed revisions done on my manuscript.

4:00 Sitter cancels. She’s afraid of fevers.

4:01 We all watch a consolation movie together, Monsters vs. Aliens. I have not previewed this movie, and would prefer that my children had never seen agents entering a secure facility via “butt scan,” but…the homemade popcorn is good.

5:10 We all pile in the car to go get take-out Indian. I have a coupon–the curry will last for days of no cooking. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, both my children put on their shoes and are waiting by the door when I ask them to get ready. I am floored. Cabin fever?

6:30 Back outside after dinner. Agent 006 falling apart and Birthday Girl having a tantrum. Lack of naps is showing all around. I bring the boy inside and tuck him into bed. Tantrum continues outside.

6:32 Sudden silence.

6:33 “Mama?” from outside.

6:33 Two large soft poops on patio by easel. I lead a dismayed and distressed three-year old inside to the potty.

6:35 Both children brushing their teeth, in bed.

7:00 Agent 006 laments his day as I snuggle with him in bed. “That was my worst Mother’s Day ever! We couldn’t do anything fun because I was sick.” “Well, I had fun,” I tell him. “Really? What made it fun for you?” he asks, genuinely surprised and relieved. “I think it was fun because we all just did whatever we needed to do in that moment.” My son feels the truth of this in his body, which relaxes against mine. I kiss his brow and climb into bed with the Birthday Girl. She hooks her hand around my bicep to draw me closer. I feel her eyelashes on my collarbone. She rubs her feet together against my shins, just the way I rub my own feet together to soothe myself to sleep. (Note to self: Cut children’s toenails tomorrow.) “I love you,” I whisper. “I love you, too,” she whispers back. “Happy birthday.”

It has been a good day.