Révolution tranquille*

There is a conversation that I’ve had over and over since beginning life as a SAHM.  It takes on a number of variations but they generally boil down to the same sentiment.  I don’t know how you do it. I could never!  

I’ve had this conversation enough times with enough different people to give me the impression that I don’t quite struggle with this life the way that I’m supposed to. It’s not that I haven’t experienced firsthand the agony of never-ending days with young children.  It’s not that I don’t find some of the work to be repetitive, uninspiring and exhausting. Or that I’m not forced to recognize that sometimes I don’t actually know what I’m doing.  It’s not that I’m not sorry to be missing out on a long list of things because I simply don’t have the time. It’s not even that I am unaware of the nearly nonexistent opportunities for recognition or advancement.  But I have encountered every one of those frustrations in other jobs.  So what is it that makes this particular occupation so unique in so many people’s eyes?  Why is it that I see things differently?

The real reason that I’ve been able to spend several years of my life dedicated more or less exclusively to the running of my family without losing my mind entirely is that I place a high value on what I do.  I am fully aware that raising children falls clearly into the category of work that is not valued by our society.  But I happen to think that sometimes society is an ass hole.

The reasons that I value this work so highly go far beyond the importance of keeping the next generation alive and well or even the opportunity to enhance my children’s potential for “success”. In the workings of day-to-day family life I see the relationships and decisions that establish nothing less than the foundation of culture, the guiding force behind all human endeavors.   On the best of days, I see the work that I do to teach my children to respect other living beings as my greatest contribution to the building of a society built on those principles.   When the stars align, I can see in the simple acts of  watering carrot seeds or cooking dinner my contribution to developing a better food system.  In an hour freely given, I can see how the education of our children and the institutions that provide it rely heavily on the unpaid work of those who care about them.  And in the minor accounting of extra portions for an ill neighbor, I can be part of an alternative system of health care.

This is not an attempt to weigh in on the mommy wars.  It is an attempt to weigh in on the value of work that is too often overlooked.  In reality, I don’t think that any of it should be left to any one gender or individual, biology permitting.  G and I have never seen our arrangement during the past few years as ideal and I am glad that we are working toward a set-up that provides a better balance. But I am also convinced that one of the reasons that it is not easily achieved is that we belong to a culture that doesn’t quite see things the way we do.

And I think that one of the major factors behind this difference in opinion is the fact that the majority of this work takes place outside of the capitalist market system.  Promoting a workforce that both fails to receive a paycheck AND fails to consume a number of services by performing work that could be outsourced is a recipe for reducing growth and tax revenue.  Simply put, this “pink market”** is a problem for our economy.

And yet, I would argue, a system of labor that allows people to focus on the immediate needs of their families and communities is capable of promoting social goods that the market economy simply can’t take into consideration.  And it will tend to avoid many of those negative consequences that capital economies have no incentive to address. I wouldn’t advocate for the total demise of the capitalist system, even if I thought that were a viable possibility. But I do advocate for growth of an alternative system because I think the two can function in complement.

There is a notion that the ability to dedicate one’s time toward the well being of one’s community is selfish and decadent, a domain reserved only for the very wealthy.   This criticism is not unfounded, especially given the fact that it is by necessity subsidized by the market economy.  But it is also true that outsourcing of this work depends almost entirely on low wage labor, which is a major contributor to poverty in the first place.

I know that most people see absolutely nothing revolutionary in dedicating time to snack preparation and storytelling. But it may be exactly this concept that makes it so worthwhile to me.

Just don’t ask me to find anything of value in cleaning urine off the bathroom floor.

 

 

* My thanks to the Canadians for generously “lending” me this title.

**This term doesn’t actually exist in this context and doesn’t do me any good in terms of my goal to dissociate this work with women.  But I can’t deny that it has traditionally been a female domain and the black market is the only other alternative market that came to mind.

 

 

Be my valentine

Dear February,

I am feeling the love. I know that the glorious warm and sunny days that you have blessed us with lately were not meant for my enjoyment alone but that doesn’t change the way that I feel about them.  I credit the plum trees bursting with pink blossoms and our (mostly) unrestricted airways for my genuine feelings of affection for you on this valentine’s day.

I have no choice but to hope that this early taste of spring will be short-lived, followed by plenty more much-needed winter rain, but it has lured me excitedly into the garden.  A little pruning here, a bit of mulching there, a new, roomier home for my beloved baby olive tree.

I don’t ordinarily send valentines but this year I feel the need to tell you that your efforts are not going unnoticed.

 

plum-blossoms-400x600

With love,

Slowmamma

Ok. Let’s start over

Listen February, I feel like I’ve been doing my part to restore our relationship.  I put some real effort into changing my attitude. I planted strawberries and asparagus and got my seed-starting plan together.  I even uncharacteristically bought a duvet cover for the tattered old comforter that we sleep with in the front room/living room/play room/office/second bedroom.  But you responded with………….illness?  Ok, Mr D came down with the virus last week so technically we could blame it on January.  But g’s all-night, screaming-in-pain event on the anniversary of his emergency surgery?  Dude, that was below the belt.

Yes, I know that he has a tendency to be dramatic.  Yes, I now understand that it was almost certainly sinus-related and he seems to be fine.  But I’m exhausted.  And, given the power of understanding to guide a relationship in the right direction, I want to explain why this exhaustion is much more than the absence of a single night of sleep.

You see, parenting a child whose survival is so tightly entangled with loss (What’s that? You’re right, you’re not to blame for the death of g’s twin and yes, I will talk to April about that one) is a particular kind of challenge.  It doesn’t matter that I understand how important it is to send him out into the world to develop coping skills and become strong.  Or the fact that I know that things happen and kids get sick and hurt.  Parenting g is a daily struggle against my desire to dress him in bubble wrap and arrange all the activities he could ever want right here in our living room.

Because I have never fully emancipated myself from the fear that I wouldn’t be able to keep him safe.  And yes, I see that for the most part he’s managing quite well.  I promise you that I’m working on it. I think I’ll get there eventually. But in the meantime?  Please go easy on me.

Ok February, let’s work this out.

Ok February, I know that you and I don’t have a healthy relationship.  For me, you have come to represent a hardship to be endured, one that I mentally parcel out into discrete milestones: the Superbowl (getting started!), Valentine’s Day (halfway!), the Oscars (almost done!), despite the fact that not a single one of those milestones carries any meaning to me personally.

I don’t know when this silent duel began but I do know that it reached it’s peak a year ago when g was hospitalized.  I’ll admit that I’m still struggling to forgive that offense.  And yet there is something about this year that makes me believe that there is hope for us yet. Maybe it is the fact that we’ve had something that we Californians can justify calling a “winter”.  Maybe it’s something about the way that I can detect the subtle changes in light quality in recent days.  But this year I honestly feel like I can see you for what you are, perhaps for the first time- much more than just a prolonged period of short days and nasty viruses, you are a necessary moment of transition, a critical passage in the progression toward spring.

It’s not only the toddlers among us who struggle to embrace the meaning of transition.  We all like tidy definitions- winter/spring, young/old. But life doesn’t comply.  And so I see now that you, February, and I have more in common than I previously understood.

This year I’ve decided to embrace you.  I hope to approach you as a time to prepare, an opportunity to act.  I have plans – for the garden, for my home, for my self.  But I’ll admit that I’m not terribly wedded to outcomes.  For better and worse I will probably be quite busy in the coming days.  To be honest, my “plans” have much more to do with our relationship than they do with any measurements of productivity.  I honestly want to repair some of the damage between us.

And I sincerely hope that you will be inclined to reciprocate.