so where are you going to i don’t mind / if i live too long i’m afraid i’ll die

Insomnia. Again. No external culprits: no late-night caffeine, no alcohol. Exercise earlier in the day. No illness. Just nerves. Alone, abandoned, sad. Listening to my family sleeping. At least the cats are outside cold (yes, I’m about to let them in). At night I tell myself that in the morning I’ll feel better. It doesn’t help much but, of course, eventually I do sleep. If I was prone to ulcers I’d have developed one.

My days are good. I have been so busy lately – in a good way. I’ve been working really hard at helping my daughter’s class in their learning and enjoyment of school. Her teacher is awesome in that she will help me integrate a food or food activity into the lessons they do during the week. Ever since we started dong this stuff my little bird-brain gears spin away, bordering on the way-too-involved. Today was pumpkin pie day, pumpkin pie being the food the kids voted on earlier in the week (I’m sad they didn’t vote for the soup, which would have been more fun to make!). Two-dozen individual pies and one large one for the teachers. The kids sat and unfolded a napkin and we listened to a song about manners while they all ate. It was a nice scene.

Next week I’m even worse. I am currently cooking recipes and planning a little school unit on bread-baking which includes book holds at the library, a Sesame Street video podcast, and a book the kids and I worked on today.

I have been putting together my zine (website pending) which I must finish before I allow myself to sew again (post-Halloween resolution). I am on the preschool board and run little errands for that which aren’t rocket science but nevertheless take up a bit of time. Ralph and I have had two meetings each this week (I missed one), being more active in the film / theatre community here. And just trying to keep on top of housework and stay happy with the children and take Sophie to her swim lessons and enjoy peaceful evenings at home. We’re hitting it dead-on this week, for a change. No strain, just fun.

Here’s the thing: anytime someone tells you they’re busy it’s easy to not care, to tune out what they’re doing. But the point is I decided these things were important. I decided I cared about them, I committed to doing them. It’s different than a paid job where someone gives you a formal accolade or a formal paycheck and says, “Yes, that’s what you should be doing.” It’s a good groove though; I’ll admit. Today after baking pumpernickel bread my children opted out of playing together to come back in the kitchen and help me make two-dozen rolls (homemade burgers tonight for my dad’s dinner). One nice thing about having an at-home parent is your children learn so very much from you. It is truly an honor and inspiration to have them as pupils, too.

The hour grows only later and my body does not feel ready for sleep. Nevertheless I shall try.

of ire and misplaced laundry

Today my husband sends me this Newsweek article regarding something any traditional (that is to say, two-parent) family knows: that even in dual-working families, mom is doing more of the family work.

There are two potential reactions to this newsbit. There are those without families who read this or hear of it and they simply don’t care. Maybe they think it doesn’t really matter, doesn’t really affect them. If they start families of their own someday their tune will change and they’ll be fighting over this mundane shit. Even if they don’t start a family, these issues affect them. Cultural and societal expectations of men and women regarding work and the home infuse our entire experience of living, whether we are aware of it or not.

I found the article mostly a waste; under-explored, trite. But the subject itself is very much with me and has been for the last half-decade. In fact on Monday I sat on my counselor Cheryl’s couch in our first-ever session without Ralph and this was part of what we talked about – the societal function and personal experience of housewifery. I expressed my growing frustration and disillusionment, an ennui that in part stems from a lack of acknowledgment within my community and larger culture. Cheryl asked me to provide some examples of this and I had so much to say I almost choked on the words: the categorical assumption that my time is valueless and fluid; an observance of how when mommy starts feeling ready to work her income is deemed “supplemental” and therefore any childcare expenses are de facto deducted from her earnings (as opposed to a combined income); how in most blended families I’ve known or experienced it is stepmom, not bio dad, who manages her step-children’s school, doctor visits, social calendar, care and clothing – she is merely expected to do so and in fact Daddy often quickly sits back and lets his former and current mate to sort out the messy issues between families. Some of my examples had no relevance to my personal life (we are not a blended family and I have not seriously considered working out of the home, for instance) and most of my examples have so little to do with my own family (Ralph and the kids are genuinely full of love and acknowledgment) – but these examples and others have everything to do with an oppressive and depressing outer reality.

These issues are not a problem for breeding females alone. Whether the other caregiver (hereafter called “daddy” for ease’s sake) can express it or not, he suffers as well. Speaking in generalities I have seen how the lack of know-how, competence, and ownership that daddy feels will create – often, not always – a father who feels out of their element, constantly nagged or perhaps just not ever “getting it right”, and tempted to carve out limited space (his shop, hunting trips, the game of airplane referenced in the article) where he can experience life with his children in a meaningful way. Daddy feels a stranger, intruder, or bumbler in his own home; perhaps he is resentful or believes his partner over-exacting or on the opposite end of the spectrum, a slovenly housekeeper (my husband, having spent a year being housekeeper and caregiver – not merely a weekend here or there – never makes this erroneous charge). Daddy pines for time to himself or out with friends while often not fulfilling an egalitarian view of time at home. Neither mommy or daddy are truly satisfied and both feel frustrated with the other and sometimes, their children.

I notice Daddy’s consistent contributions seem to be alternately glorified or denigrated. If I hear one more time how “lucky” I am that my husband can and will “babysit” the kids I’m going to deliver a cock-punch (altho’ it’s usually females that tell me this). On the other hand, when is the last time we ladies earnestly thanked our partners for some of their consistent and not-so-glorious efforts for the family? For instance their willingness to drag the garbage can out in the freezing morning rain, to take a late-night drive to the store (and yes A., I know M. really likes to do that; most people don’t), their tireless efforts to actually accomplish tasks on a list that we make for them (I would not like to do that, myself). Have we thanked them for their good spirits when the fact is their work – whether they love or hate it – is made liquid into cash which is devoured, literally, by those in their household? Have we stepped back and marveled at their ability to eschew powerful cultural expectations of being lavicious, selfish caveman lusting afer boobage and instead remain faithful, sexually available, and loving to us for life?

I am grateful to my husband for everything listed above and more. But when it comes to the distribution of household work, I honestly feel like if I worked outside the home it would be easier to know when I’m being taken advantage of for being Mama. Because as it stands, it is right and good that I am doing more work than Ralph. Ralph has his fifty or so hours away from home and during that time I’m expected to do my job – cook, clean, launder, run errands, and mess about with the kids by grooming, loving, reading to, feeding, disciplining and encouraging them; an endless series of repetitive tasks, none of which are rocket science but the balance and coordination required to pull them all off can be by turns draining or exhilarating.

I imagine in dual-earning families it often just seems like a heck of a lot of work when parents return home; both of them tired and wanting respite, wanting time together, time alone, time as a family. Frustrated by projects or housework that is never done to one or both’s satisfaction (ask my brother about, “This house WAS looked good!”) but at least a fair bulk of the work needed is not definitely placed in one parent’s sphere (as in the SAHM’s case). I feel like if I worked outside the home as much as Ralph did I sure as hell wouldn’t meekly accept more of the dishes than he does.

I have some thoughts regarding the deficit in husband / daddy care – opinions that are based on my own experiences and that of close friends (literally three minutes after Ralph sends me this link a friend (mother to two) says via IM, “Kelly, I need to ask you a question. How clean is your house? … [I]f you are busy now, I would really like to have this conversation with you at a later date. I trust your opinion and know we are coming from a similar place as domestic workers.”). I’m sure I’ve exceeded Chris’s word count tolerance; I’ll step off the soapbox in just a minute. Here’s my summation, since the article above came nowhere close.

First, let’s have some acknowledgment of one another. People – especially you boys – take some time off to say, “Thank you” to your Mama, even if only in your own mind and heart (in person would be better). The truth is, your mom probably worked too hard without enough self-care and respect for what she did. Perhaps she never took the time to find out what she wanted for herself. That’s her deal. But in the meantime, thank her for her efforts.

Men, put your minds to how you can help out at home. Diminishing the significance of the ongoing argument about where the dishes go after they’re washed is Assholian. You benefit from these systems as does your children. Man up. You have a big brain in your cavity; you are not a clueless Homer Simpson even if you sometimes use it as an excuse to be lazy. Still not convinced? To be over-frank, putting your mind into your household will get you laid. And I mean your wife will buy something slutty and do something really dirty
to you. Do you want that or not?

Ladies, ask your man what he might need. Let your kids be dirty or unfed or screechingly loud for a few minutes to focus on your man. It may surprise you. Maybe he doesn’t need a night out with friends or more time at his hobby. Maybe he needs more sex (that goes a long way for lots of men), a nicer dinner on the table, or ten minutes to himself when he gets home – after which point he should focus his ass on the family a bit more. Ask more from him and rather than nagging or complaining or accepting his hangdog I-fucked-up routine, meet him with clear-eyed questioning and don’t let him off the hook. Don’t look at this as you being a Mama to another (adult) child; look at this as an adult who has an agreement with another adult.

And ladies, since you’re kind of an overworked mess, take time to acknowledge your needs. Quit pretending that’s anyone’s job but your own.

Kids, maintain. You’re doing good. We love you.

"Oh yeah, ’cause we all sell apples ’round here, don’t we?"

Today my day started out like this:

This morning I’d looked forward to a half-day trip with my parents and my children to Olympia (hereon out called ORLY) [ that’s good! ]. Instead I get an eleventh-hour bailout from my mom [ that’s bad! ]. I mean, I don’t want to get too personal or TMI but she basically had some sort of shitstorm going on that meant she couldn’t be more than ten feet away from a commode. So suddenly I find myself with my mean ole dad and my son, and no Mom nor the pleasure of her company nor the gravy-train Visa card of hers for lunch, and no help wrangling The Boy, on my way to a more-than-half day errand which I have to run because my dad has fainting spells so it’s not safe for him to drive himself.

I sure hope she had fun on that crapper this morning. Oh, and to be fair; she retained Sophie and took her to school and afterwards too.

Tonight I got a date I’d looked forward to; I went out with a girlfriend for dinner and a movie – dinner at Ocean Shores’ Galaway Bay (a caesar salad and Fish Tail Ale for me), the movie Hot Fuzz. I laughed so damned hard during the entire protracted ending, which achieved levels of satire combined with heart in a way I had previously never seen. I would have re-watched the movie instantly afterwards and I can say I haven’t really felt that urge before. I can’t wait for Ralph to see it.

And speaking of Ralph – he sent me this article today (in part of his effort to write a Father’s Day editorial, an idea he stole from a friend of mine). I have always loved Carolyn Hax and this is just more evidence. I almost got teared-up reading what she wrote. And yeah – “That’s good!”

st. dorothy mantooth

Today I got to have something I wanted. My husband and children accompanied me to my normal set of markets as I “forced” them to participate in errand-running rather than goofing off or relaxing a bit more. I guess my children are regular attendants often enough, but specifically I invited my husband into my world of planning, shopping, cooking etc (all food-related). I did not let myself feel guilty I was infringing on their “play time” (we made sure to play today, too). I talked about my food concerns and expected him to care (altho’ not necessarily requiring him to remember all of this – that would not be fair) even though I sometimes feel insecure that this is, indeed, most of my day-to-day living and it’s rather mundane. We spent the day having just as much fun as playtime would normally be, and I felt heard and experienced.

When we got home Ralph volunteered to make dinner (Cabbage Rolls and mashed potatoes) and left him in there, by himself, not helping nor bossing. He’d say, “Should I put these in this pan?” and I’d answer or tell him to figure it out, mild in my manner and not really thinking much about it and letting him do it (he was working off my recipe). By the end of the (somewhat laborious, especially for him) process he said, “I like making these.” I felt not only did he help, did he take my shift and get another glimpse of what I do; he also felt how satisfying it could be to do what I do.

So yeah, I have been asking directly and specifically for more help around the house. Why does it feel like so much of the SAHM’s life is unappreciated? Would I “need” my husband to observe and experience if I felt others supported and experienced my life? Ralph and I like sharing one another and our experiences; he tells me about his job and I listen and chime in. I wonder how much of today’s experience was just about me, how much was about my desire for more social time with my husband, and how much was related to validation.

But for some reason it meant something to me to share with my husband why I buy my olive oil where I buy it; how I figure out what to cook; what market I get my forbidden rice from and how I found it.

Now it’s 7 PM and suddenly the rain is coming down in a torrent; heavy, rainforest rain. Amazing. Dinner is served and the family is at the table. Thank you, husband.