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

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.

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

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

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.

 

This Happens to Me Every Year

Mother's Day flowers for you, in case everyone else forgot... ©amomnextdoor, 2012

Mother’s Day flowers for you, in case everyone else forgot… ©amomnextdoor, 2012

Once again, alone on Mother’s Day. Alone with my two young children, that is. My Fictional Husband (FH) has gallivanted off to Europe for business, and just about now is probably stepping bleary-eyed and crick-backed from one plane to another. My son went to bed with a fever of 102.5, and we three–the Birthday Girl, Agent 006 and I–are home alone together all day tomorrow, for Mother’s Day.

My FH kept asking me what I wanted for Mother’s Day and I confess I was unable to come up with a good answer. Am I supposed to want to glory in my motherhood, the fevered whining and competitive bids for negative attention from little sister? Or am I supposed to want a break from it all, all the everything I normally carry? And if that’s what I want, who’s going to give it to me?

I’ll settle for a healing full night’s sleep and maybe a side of epiphany. Since I’m too busy momming to come up with anything new for this year’s Hallmark Moment, I’ll have to settle for regurgitating past miracles of wisdom. I write to remember what I know, and this is all I’ve got so far–some of my favorite posts about being a mom, in case you haven’t had a chance to see them yet:

Lao-Tzu Was Never a Mother

Rage, or the Distress Call of the Modern Mother

Ten Things She Can Do For Herself: Apologize (Less)

or simply, The List

Two and the Double Negative

Me! Too!

The Smile That Saves

The Mother’s Day That Didn’t Happen, and the One That Did

For all you moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day! If you’ve got a favorite post about being a mom on your blog or someone else’s, please post a link in the comments below. I’m probably going to need it.

Spring Break Blues

Or, Didn’t Children Used to Keep Themselves Busy?DSC_0150

This is my third time through elementary school. I went through myself as a child, then I taught for ten years, and now I’m back in first grade again, as the parent of a first grader. I’m pleased by the promotion to first grade, because it means I’ve been at this elementary-school-parenting thing for two years now, and for me the second time around at anything is always better than the first.

At least this time I knew enough to be afraid of Spring Break. See, I’m an 80% stay-at-home mom. Eighty percent of the time, I can pretty much be and do whatever my kids and family and home need from me. And eighty percent of the time, being with my kids at home is just what I need and want, too. It’s the other twenty percent we all have to watch out for. If we’re lucky, I’ve managed to time my childcare and work just right, to coincide with those days when I really shouldn’t be anywhere near children, especially not my own. Continue reading

006, Secret Agent

This could be my son in a few years...Photo credit: Cynthia Smoot

This could be my son in a few years…
Photo credit: Cynthia Smoot

Age six has been a miracle for my son and me. If you’ve read about my daughter, the Birthday Girl, turning Three, you already know that

1) my son was Three for two years, and

2) I suck at Three.

Really. I probably wasn’t very good at it when I was Three. In fact, the only story I have of me at Three took place almost exactly 38 years ago, just before Easter. We had already decorated eggs, and I came inside from the front yard looking for my mom.

“If I die, will my Easter eggs go to heaven with me?” I wanted to know. It took her a while to figure out that the reason I had this burning question was because I had just eaten some mushrooms as a kind of morbid experiment. There–now you know all about age Three.

My son had a legitimate claim to his prolonged exploration of Three. I had the audacity to be enormously pregnant or nursing his new baby sister for most of his original age Three, so he quite sensibly stayed Three until I had time to pay proper attention to it. Continue reading

The Birthday Girl

Note: It’s been over a year since I introduced the Cast of Characters inhabiting this blog. I’m an at-home mom who works part-time as a writer, so my world is small: me; my son, Agent 006 (age 6); my daughter, the Birthday Girl (age 3); and my Husband. Here is my daughter.

Notice the defiant legs-wide-apart stance and the partial fist of the left hand...

Notice the defiant legs-wide-apart stance and the partial fist of the left hand…

My daughter turned three a few weeks ago, and she definitely got the memo.  Since my son was actually three for two years (skipped four and went straight to five), from an emotional perspective this is my third round of three. I have the battle scars to prove it. Continue reading

The Obligatory Season

A Magical Rant

Wheel of the Year

Wheel of the Year (Photo credit: nearlywildlife)

No doubt it’s because I’m a pagan. Not simply the “non-Christian” kind of pagan, but an actual, practicing pagan, who knows what Samhain and Beltane are, and has the solstices and equinoxes in bright green on her Google calendar. And because I find the word “pagan” a bit academic and stuffy, I call myself a witch. So there it is. Probably the real and true reason why I hate Saint Patrick’s Day. Continue reading