Archive for the ‘home with children’ Category

I can feel you watching me, hear the stifled giggle, and am fully aware of just how pathetic you think I am that I get this thrill from leaving my house in the evening to go by myself to a coffee shop to write on a laptop for an hour or two… Pretty exciting, right?

How do you like this, then: When I see a little toddler run by, I kind of miss my kids already, who are sprinting, wildly laughing, around their father’s legs in the kitchen while he tries to make them dinner.

(Don’t miss them enough to leave yet, though.)


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If you know me, or read this blog, you probably know that I have always valued myself above all else–I don’t really care much for my family and friends or strangers as long as I get my way. I’m also very uncomfortable about being a mother at home, mostly because of things I don’t understand, and I’ve only a residual feminism left–sort of like the flour that I’m trying to brush off my shirt after making pizza dough with toddlers this morning.

Wait a second. Actually, that’s not right at all. Although, if one reads my responses to bluemilk’s ten questions about feminist motherhood, and takes bits out, and twists and turns them to suit, I suppose that this is the impression one could create. At least, this person did on his self-proclaimed conservative web site. The post has the feel of a jigsaw puzzle completed with no attempt to actually make the pieces fit together. He read responses from several mothers, and slipped some impressively condescending language into his analysis–if “an analysis” means “a mis-understanding and mis-reading.”

This person, or anyone else, is welcome to anything I read or say, and welcome to use it or abuse it. No problem at all.

A word of advice, however.  Better evidence and more convincing data for the conservative and/or anti-feminism stance must exist than, say, my life, or it is an even less credible viewpoint than I thought. Manipulating a few details of these feminist mothers’ lives into an erroneous portrait of who they are will not further any anti-feminist crusade because, very simply, the conclusions are incorrect.

I don’t want to speak for the other mothers mentioned, but in the little section devoted to me, I found such ludicrous conclusions made about my life that it amused me. The section I’m referring to is tacked onto the end of this post, but it would be too tiresome to go through and explain how wrong it all is sentence by sentence. Instead, I can sum it all up pretty easily like this:

1. The most amusing conclusion, perhaps, is that I’ve valued autonomy and independence above all else. That seems lonely. I’m glad it’s not me. (The “Me do it myself,” anecdote was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that I have not needed or valued assistance in carrying out my responsibilities successfully so much until now. There’s no lunch break or sick day when you’re taking care of children, and I’m very lucky to have the support that I do. Parents who do not have reliable support, and can still do this, are remarkable in their strength and capabilities.)

2. There’s nothing residual about my feminism. Having children was, for me, one of the life experiences that made me more feminist than ever, and more aware of oppressive gender constructs–for boys as well as girls–than ever.

3. I’m not conflicted or confused about my own decision to follow
“a traditional gender pattern of stay at home motherhood.” (Although . . . is it awfully traditional in a conservative definition of “stay-at-home motherhood” to be spending all this time writing and reading about feminist motherhood? To have feminist principles central to our childrearing practices?) It is, instead, the stereotypes and the mistaken conclusions about mothers and parents at home with children that piss me off and leave me without a whole lot to identify with out there–thank goodness again for the mothers I can communicate with through blogs . . . and the rare alone and relaxed conversation time with mother friends in real life.

An excerpt from the post to which I was referring:

Marjorie was the second feminist mother interviewed. She too is a woman who followed an autonomist culture by valuing independence above all else, by intending to remain childless and by intending to return to work once she had children. Again, though, after she had children she began to value family more highly than these forms of autonomy:

I am shocked and bewildered by how much I love my kids and love mothering them. I have a vague recollection of swearing I would never have children (and double- and triple-swearing that I would never have children), but I can’t remember why now …

I have also been surprised that I absolutely need my husband and family and friends to get through it all. I think I first said, “Me do it myself,” at two years of age and said it until the moment before Martin was born. I absolutely need them to help me.

I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed my career in a negative way because the alternative was sacrificing this time with my children, which, to me, would have been the worse option. I thought I was going back to work, but I didn’t even consider it once I had the baby.

The one aspect of patriarchy theory Marjorie still clings to is that of gender being an unnatural, oppressive construct. Yet, given that she herself is following a traditional gender pattern of stay at home motherhood, she feels conflicted:

I sometimes feel compromised and have trouble identifying as a feminist mother since I get so bogged down by the stay at home mother/housewife stereotype.

It’s a pity she doesn’t realise that once you no longer hold autonomy to be the one, overriding value, there is no reason to judge the traditional female role as inferior and therefore no need to attack gender as an oppressive construct. Her residual feminism is making her feel unnecessarily uncomfortable in what she is doing.

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A friend asked me for my dinner recipes the other day. If you do not find this at once hilarious and repulsive, it is because you have never seen me cook. Or rather, you’ve never seen me put some things in a pot and forget about it until it’s on fire. I don’t really like to use the oven because that’s where I keep dirty dishes, and those, too, will catch on fire sometimes if you turn the oven on. And if you find this to be an exaggeration, ask the local fire department before we finally unhooked the automatically-call-the-fire-department feature on the smoke alarms. Now we have lots of fire extinguishers so we can just take care of my meals ourselves.

I have always detested cooking, but I never really needed to. And another bonus to meeting this guy that I married is that he loves to cook. Problem solved, with the advantage of screwing with traditional gender roles, which is always fun. No expectations from either one of us that “the wife” would ever, ever cook. He would be more strenuously against it than I, I would venture to say. He makes fantastic food–his desserts are sometimes on fire. Purposefully on fire. Not like my scrambled eggs, which are accidentally on fire.

Leaving my job changed nothing–at first. Perhaps I breastfed with such reckless abandon because, subconsciously, the thought of preparing even a bottle was too much like preparing a meal? Then it was onto jars of baby food. (I considered homemade when my mom gave me a little machine thing to help, but I forgot to try.)

Then I ran into a problem. The baby food stage only lasted for so long. Then the little guy wanted people food, and he needed to eat it all day long, and I couldn’t hold him off until 6:00 when my husband got home. And what might be good enough for me was not good enough for him. I wanted to control every ingredient that went into him. I learned to do a couple of Crock Pot things and other easy dinners. They’re not bad, actually, when I pay attention to things.

But I felt weird all of a sudden . . . cooking dinner, waiting for my husband to come home, children playing at my feet . . . waaaaay too housewifey. But Bianca Bean‘s comment rattles around in my head when I feel like turning up my nose at this image of myself: “Feminist families gotta eat, too.”

So, now I have recipes. I seem to be unable to form a traditional list of ingredients and steps in my recipe-writing, so when I am done with the long narratives for my friend of how precisely I make pasta sauce (hint: I use a jar of already-made pasta sauce!), I think I will add photographs, and perhaps even post them on the internet. This chance will likely not come again.

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A miserable, tired, almost-two-year-old with a cold. A disappointed-not-to-be-at-the Children’s-Museum-as-promised three-year-old with a cough. A cold, foggy morning. A mother with no coffee. No food in the house. The happy angel on my shoulder said: Sure, go to the grocery store! You can do it! The mean angel on my other shoulder said: Yes, do go. The misery and destruction will be high entertainment. I went.

When the little one shrieked with fury instead of joy at being put in the car attached to the front of the shopping cart, the happy angel said: Oooo, very bad sign. Guess I was wrong. Grab a cup of coffee and leave now with your dignity intact. No worries. The mean angel said: Stay. This is gonna be good. I stayed.

The little one would neither walk, ride, or be carried; instead, he sprinted full-speed away. The mean angel laughed . . . and so did the store manager, but in a nicer way.

When the sprinting turned into falling on the floor and sniffling pathetically, I finally decided to leave. But heading toward the exit, I saw them: little packets of animal crackers hanging on the end of the aisle. I grabbed two bags and dangled them in front of their faces. I chirped, “Oh, look, I almost forgot that it’s snack time. Luckily, I found a great snack right here!” The mean angel was thrilled: A bribe, a lie, and a manipulation all in one bag of crackers. The happy angel said: At least they’re organic.

It worked. We shopped at a rate of speed hitherto unseen in this country. We got out, loaded the bags, and buckled in. As we were able to pull out of the parking space, the guys realized that the bags near their feet sounded like thunderous drums when kicked. They kicked and flailed and bobbed their heads. The mean angel was thrilled that the eggs were all getting broken. I opened my mouth to say, “Guys! The eggs and the bread and the fruit will all get . . .” The happy angel said: Shut the hell up and dance with them. So I did.

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Two high school seniors rush down to their English teacher’s classroom with a major problem. Each member of the graduating class would wear either a blue or white gown during the upcoming ceremony. Traditionally, a girl would wear white and a boy would wear blue. But, since that particular high school reflected its community’s progressive and nonsexist personality, the girls usually ended up wearing blue, too. No traditional gender roles for these girls.

But these two good young feminists had a problem: they preferred the white gowns. They just liked them better. Their English teacher didn’t even laugh when she reassured them that yes, feminists can wear white robes to graduation without compromising their ideals. Don’t let that traditional white robe fool you. Or the lipstick–they liked lipstick, pretty dresses, boys, playing field hockey, lacrosse, and softball, speaking out in class (or anywhere else), boys, their Women’s Collective group, doing their hair, and, well, more boys. But finding two stronger girls, even when in their pinkest lipstick and prettiest dress, would be difficult.

Fast-forward ten years to one of those girls, now with a baby, and now leaving her job to stay home with him. Then two babies, a cul-de-sac, a suburb, and then a minivan . . . She’s wearing that white robe again–she looks like that same ol’ “happy housewife” from the commercials for dishwashing detergent. But she’s not. No more than those high school girls fit into any easy gender stereotype.

Feminist can be quite a loaded term–it’s much more convenient for some people to pinpoint “feminists” as people who look and act and live a certain way. What’s the stereotype these days anyway? The cliché of the unshaven legs and shaven head? A man-hater? For people who are exasperated, angry, or bemused by the idea of feminism, it’s much easier to have an image like that because it cuts our numbers and makes a “feminist” an “other.” Definitely no feminists in that group–look at them with their double strollers and minivans. That would be a mistake. Some feminists are out there pushing strollers–and probably raising more feminists.

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I just got yet another “mommy joke” e-mail. Complete with lots of pink and animated gifs. I admit, sometimes particularly saccharine ones bring a tear to my eye–even when they annoy me, but I’m like that: easily teary-eyed.

But this one, which I’ve seen in various forms, just irritates me. It tells of a woman who is asked what she “does” and gives this long, complicated job description, social-engineer-human-development-research-director type thing, when she is actually a mother. It’s just not funny to me to have to think of cute and clever ways to say I’m a mother. Why isn’t that enough?

It reminds me of the lists of paying jobs that a parent may do in the course of a day to determine what salary ($138,095) he or she might earn. I suppose these lists illustrate certain facets of parenting that may not be obvious, but it defines motherhood (and parenthood, but these types of articles seem focused on mothers) by forcing it into other categories. Am I supposed to crow about articles like this: I really am worth a whole bunch of money! See, this list proves you have to respect me now! I may as well be a part-time laundry machine operator!

I get the reasoning behind trying to figure out a mother’s financial worth, and I get why a bunch of mother-friends e-mail these articles out when they are published, but I’m discouraged it has to be done at all.

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This was advice from my dentist. I said, “I would be a lot more bored being a dentist.” OK, fine, I didn’t say it aloud. If he said it now, almost four years later, I would retort out loud. And probably, loudLY. Then, though, I just kind of shrugged. I was still pregnant, and I hadn’t really decided what to do. Maybe I would be bored. I sure thought I was going back to work after my maternity leave.

Fast-foward to the hospital room with the newborn baby in my arms. OK, now try to rip it from me. Impossible. Even doting grandparents had a hard time holding that baby. I’m not advocating these feelings as the healthiest or most desirable–evidenced by my first time out without the baby as I exclaimed to my sister, “Hey, look at us! Two girls out at night going to CVS! This is so awesome!”

Actually, I did get bored sometimes, especially when it was just me and nursing or sleeping baby hour after hour, but that’s not the kind of bored he meant. The message was loud and clear–that I was too smart, too capable, too into other things, to possibly give everything up to raise children full-time. I was too good for that.

And really, damn him and everyone else who think I live a soap-opera-and-sweatpants kind of life. But while I talk tough, I have to still admit that the stereotyping of mothers who are staying with their children gets to me. I got a publication from an academic honor society the other day, and at the back were car stickers, pendants, and key chains with their symbol. I have barely perused this magazine in the past; it’s from a long-ago college thing. I couldn’t care less about stuff like that. (I only remember the banquet because I was staring at my watch until the minute I could escape, then sprinting down the hall to make a Sarah McLachlan concert on time.) But now, I actually considered ordering some kind of key chain. With a sinking feeling, I realized that it would only be to say, “Hey, look, I’m smarter than you probably think I am! I could actually go back to doing smart and important things if I wanted to instead of being at this playground!” So even though I have not regretted giving up a paying career to stay home, and even though I am disgusted by insinuations that a parent taking care of children full-time is something to look down on, I guess I still let it get to me. Yuck.

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