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.

 

 

Advertisements

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.

The feminist blues

I am a bit of a chauvinist.  Growing up in the constant company of 3 brothers left me with an innate sense of female superiority that I have never fully shaken.  From my girlhood vantage point males were surprisingly simple, the whole of their interactions with the world seemingly defined by a clumsy approach to physical domination- a series of clashes and collisions set against a background of jackhammers and farting noises. And I have been convinced for as long as I can remember that the mold of human culture would be far superior if only a much greater share of the shaping were performed by the more gentle and considerate hands of women.

From this viewpoint it’s particularly hard to swallow the reality of gender dynamics. At some point I was forced to recognize that I had been cast in a role that expected little more from me than the embodiment of an ideal of sexual attraction.   I have always found this role, sexually alluring and domestically useful, to be sadly lacking in appeal, perhaps because it is largely defined by that same bungling male mindset that produces the instinct to approach every square inch of the planet with an excavator.

And nobody even bothered to come up with a second act.  After the natural fulfillment of sexually appealing (childbearing), there is nothing.  And so I watch, defeated, as many a woman struggles doggedly to remain desirable well beyond middle age.

I hit a wall when I began my journey to becoming a mother. My particular struggle was exacerbated by the inconvenient perspective that family and personal life carry an importance that justifiably rival professional life, a mindset that clashed heavily with the workings of an institution (academia) that fails to even recognize their existence. I remember looking to women faculty with children for answers to my internal conflict and being frustrated by their failure to respond- a failure that I now interpret in the sentiment- apologies, but I am too busy just trying to survive to begin to address the problems of institutional bias. I didn’t stay in academia, but I now know that if I had I would have felt exactly the same way.

During my time in academia there was something else that discreetly gnawed at me. It was a sense that the institution didn’t fully belong to me, that the values and rules that made it function were not mine. In many ways, this makes sense. Women did not build the institutions that define our public life. In fact, we weren’t even present during their construction. But it has only recently hit me that we have absolutely no way of knowing how they might look if we had. Would they really be better? Would they exist at all? The best that we can do is to imagine how we can influence their functioning as we move forward.

*********************************************************

When I was pregnant, I hoped for a girl.  I now understand that gender preference has everything to do with the baggage we carry as parents and nothing to do with the actual child but I couldn’t yet see past my own experience.  I didn’t know how irrelevant my expectations would come to feel once my had children arrived – here, boys, perfect!

Becoming a mother has expanded my old notions of gender, adding, as if it were necessary, a layer of even greater complexity.  Watching my boys through the lens of maternal love, I am learning to find a greater appreciation for all things male.  You might even catch me playing happily with an excavator.  But I also watch, disillusioned, as I recognize the power of gender bias falling on my children’s generation.  While I want to believe that we have the potential to make great progress by the time they come of age (look at how far we’ve come!), what I actually feel is resignation for the world that so likely awaits them.

Dazzled by the sophistication of the little girls in g’s class, I find that rather than feeling concern for the prospects of g and the many other little boys who trail along behind, I balk at the probability that those little girls will be forced to contend with a world that will narrow over time, all but shutting them out, while the boys will discover, though they hadn’t even thought to look, a world that is steadily widening to welcome them in.  I do my best to fight back the image of these talented young ladies becoming too consumed with concerns over the thickness of their thighs to perform the important work of trying to balance the overly male framework that confines us all.

As a mother of boys, there might even be comfort in all of this.  But I hold out a possibly naive hope that these little girls will one day succeed much better than I have in defining and imposing their own vision on the society around them.  Because I still believe that we would all be better off.

 

 

 

Fear and curiosity in 2015

2015  forced me to come to terms with one of the downsides of getting older.  I’m not referring to the various lines, spots and sags that increase with each year that goes by.   Nor am I talking about that pushy stripe of grey hairs asserting itself on my crown. What I am referring to is an unwanted increase in the companionship of that most paralyzing of human emotions: fear.

I now understand that I used to be something of an optimist.  I approached new experiences with curiosity and hope.  If I slept poorly the night before a big trip or important day, it was generally because I was excited.  Now, I spend those sleepless hours carefully cataloging all of the dangers and traps awaiting me, whether I can prepare for them or not.

I am aware that parenting has a large role to play in this change.  Being RESPONSIBLE for the impacts of ones decisions on little lives should lead anyone to consider the risks involved.  But, I’m afraid that my level of pessimism is starting to get out of control.

Fear was warranted early in 2015 when g underwent emergency surgery.  But it took months for me to understand what I should have known on all along- that kids are a hardy lot and we are fortunate to have access to excellent medical care.

This summer as we prepared for a vacation in Mexico, I thought of intestinal infections, road failures and mosquitoes instead of focusing on the potential of dreamy beaches and sweet towns.  In the end,  the beauty won out.

As our household income steadily decreased due to a strong dollar (G is paid in Euros), I worried about how we would manage instead of remembering that we have always lived comfortably below our means, a fact that makes us resilient.  And we have been just fine.

As Mr D was slated to begin preschool at a new place, I agonized over the likelihood that I had made the wrong choice.  I mulled endlessly over the slew of concerns that had presented themselves at the last minute.  But Mr D did wonderfully from the very first day and has thrived immensely.

And during this holiday season, as we prepared for a snow trip to Yosemite, I fretted over the rainy forecast and cold temperatures.  And then we had a wonderful time.

Over and over, 2015 showed me that my fears too often prove to be nothing more than a useless hindrance. I’m under no illusions that 2016 will be free of challenges but I have decided to clear some space for the possibility of good, even great outcomes. I’m going to fight this aging business in the coming year, a little Botox for the attitude. Because getting old is kind of a drag.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About all that time…..

In my mind I’ve spent the weeks since the boys started school (6+ of them) fighting the battle against both the pressure to collect too many commitments and the risk of squandering precious opportunities to be productive.

In reality, I’ve spent several mornings battling the ants in my kitchen.

Which is to say that life hasn’t actually changed all that much.  If anything, it feels healthier, closer to my personal ideal of slower and simpler.  And I continue to be grateful for my ability to perform the function of the flexible rod, capable of shifting and bending when necessary to absorb the impact of constant fluctuations in the system.

I am content in this place. But work is very much on my mind. I continue to try and carve out a viable space for myself in a job that I began last winter.  It’s unpredictable and undefined, which is fitting for a job in the agricultural sector.  When there is work to be done, it consumes every last one of those wide-open hours.  And when there isn’t it just simmers on the back burner, allowing me to make slow progress toward finally getting my fall garden planted and my closet organized.

Financial demands dictate that I increase the time that I dedicate to the kind of work that comes with a paycheck.  And I’m ok with that.  But I really hope it doesn’t mean that I’ll have to give up this time completely.  Because I’ve already become very very attached.

The honeymoon phase

 

All of this balance is going to my head.

The boys bound off to school each morning, barely pausing to acknowledge my long line of postscripts.  Are you sure you have your sweatshirt?  Don’t forget the extra snack I put in your backpack!  One last kiss? Have a great day at school!

I marvel at the fact that that they are both so well adjusted.  And it makes me squirm a little to acknowledge that they are so much better off without me, at least for a significant part of the day.  I see in myself the plight of the wavering partner who, once rejected, discovers a passion that has never burned so hot.  And so I  smother them with my sloppy sentiments every chance I get.

And then there are all of those hours.  Glorious, wide-open hours full of promise and the intimidating challenge of learning to build with a precious material that I’ve never been able to afford.

Things will change soon.  They always do.  But for now, I’m delirious.

Copy of IMG_5232

Mirror, mirror

My neighbors, who happen to be a saintly young couple, deserving of all the world’s blessings for their gracious tolerance of the pesky toddler antics that our flimsy common-wall does nothing to protect them from, are currently out of town.  In their absence, I have been taking care of their saintly feline, unenthusiastic beneficiary of the clumsy adoration of said toddler.

While scooping out a generous helping of a crunchy substance that my neighbor assures me passes for cat food, I happened to notice that they have a full length mirror.  I am ordinarily savvy enough to know that nothing good is likely to come from a direct encounter between myself and any mirror.  Ignorance is functional.  But today something told me that I was being silly and perhaps it is time to just suck it up.

And so I faced my nemesis.

Yikes.

I have put on a considerable amount of weight in the past year or so and it has distributed itself in the most unflattering of ways.  The drastic changes in my reflection are without question a sucker punch to my vanity but they also serve as a massive obstruction in the already windy road to reconquering my sense of self, a reminder of just how far away my “before” is.

I can’t remember feeling this ill at ease in my own skin since my tween years, struggling to adapt to the havoc that puberty wreaks on an adolescent girl.  I would have expected a little more resilience by this point in my life.

For now I’m trying to take all this as a reminder of the better parts of my former life that I should fight to retrieve: the long walks, the healthy food.  I am perfectly content with the knowledge that no diet will restore me to the person I was before all of this began.  As I sort through all the pieces of my life, new and old,  I remain hopeful that I have the power to build something functional using the better among them.  But sometimes I am reminded that some of my favorites may be so damaged as to be simply unusable and I must learn to let those go. To adapt and move on.

Oh yeah, and to stay the hell away from mirrors.

On this day

3 years ago I underwent an epic transformation.  I left the house a superorganism, my former body drastically rearranged to support the growth and development of a tiny human.  I returned emptied and bloodied, not entirely sure that my body was still capable of sustaining life, particularly if the life in question happened to be my own.

Only 4 months had passed since my quiet evening in a local coffee shop, spent drinking lemonade and beaming, keeper of a secret that, in that moment, was mine alone.  I hadn’t POAS yet but I was several days late and I knew.  I remember marveling at just how easily, how quickly, it had happened, despite my understanding that my aging eggs owed me nothing.  It felt so perfectly appropriate, springtime just barely upon us and me giddy with the promise of new life.

But on this day I remember lying in bed, wounded and unmoving but oblivious to the physical pain, watching the late afternoon sunshine as it streamed through our bedroom window.  It was the bright light of high summer, the color of kickball games and block parties, intolerably cruel in it’s cheerfulness.  I begged for mercy, and the swift arrival of nightfall.  Yet the suns rays were steadfast and beautiful and for so long they continued to taunt me with images of watermelon juice as it dripped from so many tiny chins, reminding me that they were not, indeed might never be, mine to kiss.

Oh please let me die in the wintertime.

Today I can once again invite the sun’s warmth to linger.  Today I allow us to play outdoors a little longer than responsibility dictates and kiss my little chin a little more than its tolerance allows.

And today I’m grateful to have this place where it is safe to speak this out loud.  Even if only for a short time, he was here.  Three years ago, he was my springtime.