Sometimes when I return home from a trip-wait, no.Typically it’s a unit of “we” returning home from a trip; let’s start again.When an Amtrak riding Mom travels alone to DC, what will she do?
I went to a town that I love more than any other town, funny because it’s not even a town. Or a city. Or, hell, even a state. The founding fathers were weird.
DC: where my past visits have often included at least an hour of aimless, destination-free Metro-riding. Just sticking my fare card into the slot makes my heart do the electric slide. But when I hop a line without having to double-check the map, that’s when my brain does a boogie woogie. Once, years before the Small People entered Life, Stage Left, I rode the red line from end to end while JB and our friends went to a museum.
So happy. (Offers cheese and crackers to the fare card sitting next to me on the couch.) Okay, I’m weird, too.
What does the first day of school look like for a SAHM with no kids at home?
Disclaimer: I can talk about this because, for years, I have said the same to other SAHMs. Hell, I did it THIS year.
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Polite, medicated, socially capable me responds like this:
“Enjoy your day off!”I sure will.
“I can’t wait until all of my kids are in school all day!”Oh, aware that my kids are actively listening to my response, it IS exciting, but I sure will miss having them home with me.
“Are you going back to work?”For pay? Not this year.
“What ARE you going to DO with yourself for an entire day? All that free time!”Well, I have this book that I’ve been trying to write for a year– it’s such a great story, but fiction is hard. And I volunteer a lot…
My mouth, both good and bad, often flies solo. It’s true, I just open my lips and watch the appropriately vapid responses stream out. After all, these aren’t people stabbing me with a passive-aggressive-interest-knife. In previous years, I’ve spoken similar words and received similar vapidity in response.
This is what I meant when I said these things to other SAHMs.
What would my life be like if I wasn’t white? If I didn’t benefit from white privilege? Certainly being female provides me with a tablespoon’s-worth of inequality perspective, but that’s nothing when it’s measured against a gallon’s-worth of racial inequality.
When I consider how charmed my life has been– not by virtue of a lifetime’s worth of law-abiding, responsible decisions, no– due to the invisibility afforded me thanks to the color of my skin. No one was paying attention to a middle-class, white, teen-aged girl as a potential law-breaker. In point of fact, my teen-aged self only caught law enforcement attention when I was with my black friends. Because then, and only then, was I suspect.
Nevermind the evening I was (illegally) drunk in public (also illegal) at the MacDonald’s of my local mall. Despite knocking over one (three) of the tables, no one ever called security on me. That same mall, several weeks later, I shopped, sober, with a black friend. Security followed us the entire time. Though they weren’t really following us, something blatantly evident when she and I would wander into different sections. A bizarre choice on their part; after all, of the two of us, I was the only one that had ever been caught shoplifting.
Let’s talk about that for a minute. At 12, I discovered the adrenaline rush that comes from deliberately leaving a store with a product for which I had not paid; I was a thief. I was eventually caught though it was many months after I had begun. Back then I remember thinking I was just that good, but in reality, I was just that White. I recall the police officer being justifiably disgusted with my actions, but I was not arrested, nor was I taken into custody. He called my parents and released me to them instead. He did refer me to juvenile court, and later in the week, those same parents accompanied me to the juvenile court intake officer. She looked at my grades, at my parents, and listened to my tearful apology. She determined that I “had made a stupid mistake, but they were going to let this one go.”
They were going to let this one go. How lucky for me. I don’t remember the dollar amount of my unpaid purchases; more than $100, but less than $500. My point here being that I had stolen far more than a tube of lipstick. My privilege had saved me from what could have– what should have– been the start of a relationship with the juvenile court system.
For every example of risk I face as a woman I can counterexample with a time I got away with something I wouldn’t have had I been black. Of the times I drove through road checkpoints with an open container of alcohol–twice. Of the time, in college, that a busted taillight resulted in my being pulled over by two police officers that, though they could smell beer in the car, accepted my (not sober) explanation that I had not been drinking and was, in fact, driving my drunk passenger home.
I’m not proud of these moments and my rather public sharing is causing me no small amount of anxiety. Will people think differently of me for my admissions of younger-self stupidity? Theft, drunk driving– what kind of person am I?
The kind of person privileged enough to have my mistakes not count, thus allowing me the chance to grow up and to grow out of the tendency of making bad decisions.
Imagine my life story if any of that teen/young adult stupidity had stuck? If they had been treated as the criminal acts they actually were. If both my skin and class privileges hadn’t provided me with seemingly unlimited get-out-of-jail-free cards.
People see what they want to see. Nothing about my average height, average looks, and skin color ever resulted in closer scrutiny. Even later, when I wasn’t breaking any laws, I enjoyed the oblivion of privilege. When the TSA agent searched my carry-on and found 10 bottles of Alum, a white powder used for pickling, he joked about my having “lots of spices” and then sent me on through security. He never opened one of the bottles; he never asked why I had 10 bottles of white-powdered pickling spice in my bag suggesting that it never occurred to him that I had anything else in those jars other than alum. It was post 9-11, why didn’t he check?
I’ve struggled with how to explain this reality to my children, two middle-class, white males that will never experience a life without that privilege. What affect will it have on their own lives? To a lesser degree, I’ve already watched it in action in the classroom; the known/expected behavior problem kids spend the day over-scrutinized with the resulting disciplinary action, while my known/expected well-behaved kid slides through similarly minor infractions without acknowledgment.
Privilege, of a sort, is already happening, and I’d be a fool to think he doesn’t notice.
Similar to the disjointed absurdity that I felt during twitter’s #YesAllWomen movement, that I was a woman that has never been sexually assaulted, I find myself quietly accepting feeling that same gratitude for being mother of white males. Because while I can certainly worry about their increased likelihood of being murdered (Males, irrespective of race, comprised 76 percent of homicide victims between 1980-2008) I will never experience that fear from the perspective of a black mother. Or to reverse mirror image the words of Stacia Brown, “Their truth is not our truth.”
I can read the stories; I can weep for the losses of innocent lives; I can rage at the injustice. But I cannot live in that reality and so I cannot truly understand. That is my privilege.
Something happens when you become a parent. Things that once personified disgusting aren’t a big deal anymore. I mean, I don’t love poop and I would much rather avoid being confronted with someone else’s feces, but I’ve cloth diapered two kids. Poop has lost some of its power.
Same thing with snot. Once, while talking to my neighbor, a young, newlywed (at the time), guitar-player-in-a-band-guy, I reached over and used my hand to wipe the twin streams of snot off Zach’s face. That memory, one I’ve written about before, still makes me giggle every time I see him.
Then today happened. I did a little trash can diving. You see, I was trying to empty the Dyson canister, which wouldn’t normally be a huge deal. Except the sock that I had lazily vacuumed rather than picked up? Sock was stuck in the vacuum canister.
General Sock fronted a strong legion of The Dog Hair Brigade. How would I counter-attack? With a stick? With my… hand.
After all, it seems obvious that Sock lost his partner to the Canister Wars, perhaps he’s heard that I use hand-in-canister as a very last resort.
So I (gently) banged the side of the canister against the side of the trash can and waited for my victory.
Then bottom of the stupid canister fell off (I think Sock dislodged it on his way out)…settling itself against the side of the empty-except-for-an-odd-liquid-substance trash can.
I’m not tall enough to reach the bottom, even with long barbecue tongs, and instead of walking the 5 feet to get a sturdy chair, I chose instead to balance on a large, up-turned flowerpot.
No, I did not fall in, but that was the result of luck, not sensibility.
What makes any of this story notable is that it all went down sort of in front of that same neighbor. I cannot decide if these situations are coincidence, or if I’m subconsciously trying to warn the young people away from the life where one animates socks and dog hair, imagines a vendetta, and then acts it out in the driveway.
Me, presenting the children with a short list of semi-exciting local opportunities for fun-times today.
Them, with faces a mix between wishful hope and doubt, countering my offers with “how about chuck e cheese?”
Me, eyes-rolling, considering, “we do the Chuck for about an hour, and then both of you spend the afternoon engaging in the brain enrichment activity of my choice?”
Them, “please guv’nah… we’ll do anything for the Chuck.”
Me, wondering how much longer I will get to enjoy the ease of trading what is small for me and big for them with something that is big for me and small to them. These sorts of negotiations being the small moments upon which relationships are built.
Me, remembering similar conversations between my 14 1/2 year old self and my mother– where she would exchange complaint-free room cleaning for getting to back the car out of the garage and up to the top of our driveway.
If you need me, I’ll be the woman pretending that I’m losing at skee-ball to make my kid feel impressive. When, in truth, I’ve always sucked at that game.
The first version of this post happened way back in March 2013 and starts down below the line.
And now The missing Village has returned. Let me start first by agreeing with the author that the isolation of child-rearing is real; that navigating playground politics/parent dating creates a whole new level of pressure. Walk into any Target at 10am on a weekday… the silent gangs of mothers pushing carts of loneliness and goldfish-bedazzled, unhappy toddlers suggests an unfulfilled need. Speed dating for moms? Speed *lunch* dating for moms?
But even with this idea that our society becomes more personally isolated I question the craving for this Village Full of Supportive Adults that comes around. When did it exist? The 50s decade of June Cleavers?
I am sad for the people that feel isolated and alone in their own neighborhoods. My children have just recently gotten old enough to run around the corner to play– and I admit that, despite my tendency toward hermit crab-ness, I enjoy the back and forth of these kids in my house, too. Before that, before my oldest started kindergarten, I had a core group of like-minded friends with like-aged children.
What is it about the alluring call of the village? The freedom from the minutiae of playing yet another round of sea horse versus alien? The freedom from the children because they are roaming the ‘hood like feral bees?
I spent years 4-6 roaming the wilds of military base housing in Ft. Dix that way. Most of it a hazy blur of stolen crab apples, crossing a busy road to go to the park, playing in something called the sand pit. Of wetting my pants, a lot, because to leave the pack to go inside to the bathroom meant being left behind, packless.
I had my Village– of *kids*. I don’t recall the moms hanging out together in some sort of pickle-canning giggle fest. Maybe it’s the idea that there were more eyes on the children, so the children were safer to roam? Because, um, we didn’t have eyes on us. And you can’t have eyes on children now without those eyes calling the cops on you.
I sympathize with the author’s feelings of isolation, but this craving for a mythological village fuels a “glory days” type thinking that does none of us any good. Sometimes you just gotta go stock your own village.
1) Mothering now is harder than it was 100 years ago? If I were to TARDIS my family back to 1912 to visit one of those super-lucky, village-having moms? Not the romantic one some folks think about, but the real one. You know her, she shucked oysters all day– for a dollar; had a baby every year (birth control, what?); with a husband that didn’t do NONE OF THAT BABY REARING.
My first thought on her reaction?
After she handed me (and my kids) some oysters she’d slap me in the face for complaining about things I read, since no one wasted time putting no learning on girls.
Then, her eyes narrowed into furious slits, she’d realize that I had time to 1) worry about something other than physical survival, and 2) had a husband that knew how to change a diaper.
I think we can agree she might not see my life as particularly difficult.
This idea of a village? It’s been a long time since humans lived tribally; that village became diluted and isolated by agriculture– those farms weren’t close and no one had smartphones.
Or cars. Or time.
Oh– when the girl-people got themselves hitched, they moved to their husband’s farm. To the village run by their new mother in law’s.
And the industrial worker village? I guess, since the kids were working with their parents, not pottery barn kitchen work– but actual for-survival work…
This gut-emptying craving mothers have for being reassured? What the hell, ladies?
Check it out. Sometimes I do a great job. I rock the parenting thing like it’s my job (snort, snuffle– because it IS) and my family spends the day grinning and cheerful.
Please note, this rocking of the job almost always happens over the simplest of things, like playing tennis in the driveway. It almost never happens when I let them use power tools, deliver unto them prepaid Great Experiences, or cheerfully allow them to destroy my house with their gluttony of toys.
What my Small People see as parenting successes are the Simple Things. Figuring that out saved me (and later them) thousands in therapy bills.
Saying yes more than I say no. Not talking shit about them to other parents when they are clearly close enough to overhear me (for real–how often do we all do this?). Following through on my promises– and recognizing that Small People hear each utterance of, “yeah, building a sky scraper does sound cool” as “we’ll build a sky scraper RIGHT NOW. This VERY SECOND!” Remembering the importance of reading a particular book, be it the first, or thousandth time. PUTTING DOWN THE DAMN PHONE. Photographing the big stuff and not every single other minute of their lives.
Those are how we all rock it as a parents.
Then the days (weeks, months) I fail. When I’m overtired and cranky. When my head is pounding with a migraine, and they deliberately screech at me like the sociopaths they often resemble. When they are entitled, demanding, and self-absorbed. When they are whiny and belligerent and…
In other words, when they behave like children.
My personal parenting goal isn’t to make sure that they grow up to be adults that never resent a single parenting choice/mistake I’ve ever made. I’m human, my husband is human (I think), my children are human. Part of a child developing an identity separate from the safety net of their childhood requires a certain measure of young adult discontent. Otherwise you risk raising your own Stuart Smalley, then paying for him to lay in bed all day eating fig newtons.
I make mistakes; sometimes I behave badly. I throw temper tantrums. I lose my patience–with them, with my husband. I huff and I puff.
Later I often apologize and then– say it with me people, I let that shit go.
Because that’s what humans in relationships do– they love, they laugh, they fight, they cry.
Anything else is fake-ity fake fake and serves my children no purpose.
My husband’s family doesn’t argue. No screaming matches. Just quiet anger. My family argued, but my Dad preferred stony silence. Not polite passive anger, but Angry Anger that followed him around like the smell of a bad fart.
Neither method teaches actual conflict resolution.
I do crazy things, like accidentally volunteering to sew 25 seat cushion so that ALL KINDERGARTNERS REST THEIR BUTTS ON A SOFT PLACE. Not because I’m “that” mom, trying to outdo everyone else. Not because I’m an expert seamstress.
My only motivation, as it is with most things, is boredom avoidance. Learning new things like, how to sew a seat cushion assembly-line style, prevents that muscle called my brain from atrophying into a gelatinous mess of carefully removed sandwich crusts and dirty yoga pants.
Of course, you can’t then ever un-know how easy it is to sew these things, forever preventing you from spending $11 on any sort of stuffed seating thingy.
Double-edged sword, people.
I let my kids use some power tools, because I think it’s fun to use power tools and enlisting them as “helpers” means I have a shot of accomplishing something during their waking hours. And do you know what my children think? Because using power tools exists in their reality, they are NOT IMPRESSED WITH USING POWER TOOLS.
Or, despite having spent a full 6 hours completely engaged with him and activities of his choosing; spearing him with the love laser of my undivided attention, I still got attitude for taking an hour to write this post.
Self-absorbed twits, all of them.
I’m almost certain that the mom up there would shove me under a bus, to steal my TARDIS to come enjoy my luxury life of popping hormone therapy and facebooking my discontent. I’m completely certain that I’d be utterly miserable shucking oysters (a shellfish I adore) all day.
Be in the now! Be present! The mantra for creating a meaningful (read, better) life.
I see the point of being in the now and I can even agree with the intent. Sort of. For other people, maybe.
Here’s my mantra– Be Absent. Check out. Allow yourself the distance so that your heart may grow fonder. Find your inner Alice and follow that rabbit.
My children are in camp this week. Both of them, gone from morning until late afternoon. A little peek into what my life will actually look like in a few months when Elliot starts kindergarten. A full year I am taking, to write my book. To find myself. To do… whatever it is that privileged middle class women get to do when they don’t have to immediately go back to work.
In my anticipation of Camp Awesome (that is the name of their– and my–camping experience) I created wish lists for myself. Eight full hours of freedom– oh, the possibilities for productivity.
I also re-discovered something about myself: more free time often results in giant holes of time wasteland. Or is it wasted? I rearranged some shelves– which turned my dining room table into book mountain. Which made 3 dinners turn into picnics, something that is probably super cool to other kids, but happens far too often to be cool for my kids.
As a book hoarder, culling the herd requires I be in a specific state of mind. And still most often the herd ends up being relocated into sealed boxes for a day in the hazy future time. I get angry when people (Joel) try to make me get rid of books.
Why? Because book hoarders create delight, that’s why. When it came time to pack up Joel’s Great Aunt’s house, everyone else was ankle-deep in bedroom suites and blanket chests. Where was I? Packing dusty books into boxes like they were gold. Without Great Aunt Ann–and me, Joel didn’t even want them–we wouldn’t own a 1911 edition of The Mothers’ Book, compiled from essays and articles dating all the way back to 1907.
(Click photo to enlarge)
Some of these lines beg to bumper stickered.
Y’all. This book. Maybe you’re making some assumptions on what’s included in an early 20th century mothering guide. Maybe you, like me, prepare yourself to eye-roll over examples of out-of-date ideas and principles. Pfft– these 1907 women, what could they possibly know about child development and how best to gently guide their offspring? They were all about beating some children, which is why all of those previous generations are so much better than right now, amiright?
So, wait. We AREN’T beating the children? We’re teaching free will? What year is this again– 2007?
Now there are some eye-roll with accompanying deep sighing. Three words and a number: gender roles in 1907. But when they discuss just regular children (you know, before they need to be normalized based on genitalia) it reads as very progressive. I guess it’s progressive– I’m making assumptions about 1907 parenting theory. And maybe parents were progressing right up until the Depression hit and everything went to crap.
I’ve quoted some of my favorite little nuggets. And by quoted I mean verbatim, even the one overflowing with semi-colons.
“Remember all the time that you are simply helping the child grow right. He cannot grow fast. He cannot grow evenly.”
“The best way to make a child trustworthy is to trust him.”
“Home work is one of the evils a parent has to meet all through a child’s life. It is a pity that a small child should ever have to know its meaning, for after six hours in a school, or even less, the rest of the day should be spent out of doors, or at home, playing.”
“It may be doubted whether the present custom of none month of schooling followed by three months’ idleness is the wisest that could be made; would it not be better to study right through the year, with four short intermissions annually, thus accomplishing in three years what now takes four?”
They hated homework and long summer breaks, too?!
“Obedience should be considered as only a temporary thing, for the attitude of infallibility that parents assume must sooner or later be abandoned; it is merely the training of the children,not blind obedience in itself, that is the aim.”
“The so-called good child may merely be under-vitalized, anemic, and so indifferent to most things. He obeys because it is less trouble to do as he is told than to think for himself; and the child who disputes every command, and shows self-will and is disobedient, may be merely strong, vigorous, pushing in mental as well as physical ways, because he is growing in both.”
“If a father is so harsh as to make his boy afraid of him, then he must expect the child to lie to cover up a wrong, and if he does, it is really the parent who should be punished.”
Wait– so blind obedience wasn’t the goal? I mean– I agree, but I’m feeling surprised.
“One mother devised a system by preparing little squares of blue and white paper; when a child had been naughty it had to put one of more blue squares in a box; and when it had been good all day it put in white ones at night, at the end of the week if the white squares predominated, there was a reward, and if the blue, none at all. Nothing could have been more simple, but it worked to a charm.”
Hunh. I think I saw this reward system on pinterest. I mean, it was ridiculously more complicated than what this mom did, but they weren’t competing with a hundred other reward charts.
“…there appears sometimes a violent, destructive anger, very hard to reckon with. In these emotional paroxysms the child destroys anything within his reach, screaming meanwhile at the top is his lungs: and Mrs. Washburne rightly regards a child in such tantrum as temporarily insane. There is certainly no use in arguing with him, and still less use in threatening.”
Yes, yes– a thousand times, yes!
“He is more careful than you think. He has, like other animals, an instinct for self-preservation. Let him climb. He is ordinarily a better judge of his ability than you are.”
They even had helicopter parents back then? Dude. Mind. Blown.
“A girl’s dress is a means of education to her, and her good taste in any direction in after life depends largely upon her being dressed appropriately and daintily in her early girlhood.”
Gender issues, of course, because, 1907.
Okay, if mamma was sewing or actually baking, maybe. But she likes to work at washing dishes? I’m calling bullshit, 1907 mamma.
There is some talent to a chapter dedicated to convincing parents about the importance of telling children the truth about where babies come from– no stork– without once using the words: sex, reproduction, babies, penis, or vagina. The truth is never dangerous, but the words? Oh myyyyy.
In the end, they remind us that the whole mothering thing is hard, but that a minute IS time. That we can do something meaningful with that minute; that it is important to be present in the now:
“…nor her thoughts busy with anything but the children’s talk. Silly as that may be, they are the keenest of observers; they will know instantly whether it is only mamma’s body that is with them while her mind is far away.”
For me, I cannot choose to be present without viciously guarding my need to be absent. And I’m cool with that.
I decided earlier this year to start moving my more political posts over to stephanielormand.com because the current political climate seems so well-suited with fiction writing. Most of the time I wish the news reports were actually fiction.
Zach loves a good rally. He asks really good questions about why we are there, and with the innocence wonder of a child (and, okay, many adults) wonders, “but WHY would they DO such a thing?”
Elliot has two very specific political positions:
Why can’t they just stop so I can stop wasting my Mondays here?”
Will there be candy?
Poor kid, he can be very shy around large groups of adults. Except for that time in DC when he saw that NEW JERSEY gave out, not tiny peppermints, but FULL SIZE boxes of M&Ms. With his powerful swagger and rakish good looks he waltzed right in there and asked if he “could, hey, maybe get some of that candy.”
I waved at the dude from the hallway– if someone was going to tell an over-tired 4 year old “no” it wasn’t going to me.
But then? Today? In NC? Someone trumped NJ’s M&Ms with ice cream. That’s right, my friends, he spent the first 30 minutes rocking out in the NCGA with his own personal NC State ice cream.
A NC flag lapel pin, which he accepted with the same enthusiasm as a kid at Halloween getting the toothbrush. His “thanks” was a perfect mimicry of my own sarcastic use of the word.
But it wasn’t until we were a few stops short of my much-anticipated (but not actualized) visit to Representative Tillis’s office that Elliot really just came out of his shell.
Rep. Leo Daughtry, reading the paper, while his assistant makes conversation with Elliot: “You’re so handsome. You’re going to grow up and just have your pick of pretty girls to marry.”
Elliot, from around a mouth stuffed full of jolly rancher from the previous office: “Nope. I’m going to grow up and marry my friend, Landon. And maybe a cat. Most of the girls like princess stuff and, well, I just don’t much care for wearing a dress.”
I smiled at Elliot and said, “I hope you can marry Landon someday, if that’s what you want. Don’t know about the cat.” Then I winked at Daughtry, thanked his assistant for the candy and moved on to the next delivery.