Tuesday, March 20, 2012

If You've Ever Wondered What We Do All Day...

Where Does the Time Go?

A Day in the Life of a Mom

By Melissa Nilsen

6:30 Wake up to cat meowing in face for unknown reason

6:31 Push cat off bed

6:33 Push cat off bed again

6:35 Fling cat from body

6:38 Feed cat

6:40 Make coffee

6:50 Sit down in front of computer to work in early morning quiet

6:55 Stop to greet bright-eyed oldest daughter

7:00 Cuddle on couch, talk about dreams and the day ahead

7:18 Start making breakfast

7:25 Stop to greet daughter number two, hug and cuddle

7:32 Find sweatshirt and pants for chilly girls

7:39 Return to making breakfast

7:45 Cat still complaining

7:49 Get breakfast on table with napkins and silverware

7:53 Run down stairs, cat box in need of serious help, strategize

7:55 Move laundry from the washer to the dryer, start new load of wash, then sift cat box

8:05 Race upstairs to shouts from two kids and a husband wondering where you are

8:09 Wash hands, greet husband

8:11 Sit down to eat as everyone is finishing

8:13 Stop eating to wipe kids’ sticky hands and mouths before they reach couch

8:15 Go back to eating

8:16 Stop eating to pull kids off husband running late for bus

8:18 Cajole kids into clearing plates, race ahead to receive plates at counter, oversee scraping and dishwasher loading

8:21 Re-wipe sticky hands

8:23 Chase cat off table, finish eating breakfast

8:25 Clean kitchen

8:35 Find kids in bathroom pumping lotion into hands, smearing on bathroom mirror

8:36 Chastise kids, make them wash hands, send to get dressed while cleaning mirror

8:40 Spell words for eldest while keeping youngest from ripping paper away

8:47 Help youngest get dressed, remind oldest to get dressed

8:50 Run in own room to get dressed, get as far as removing pajamas, race back, break up screaming match over marker

8:51 Remind eldest to get dressed

8:52 Jeans on, run back topless to find source of crash

8:53 Banish girls to room, throw away broken glass, mop up water

8:59 Put on shirt, shout to oldest child that school starts now and she MUST get dressed

9:05 Brush teeth, grab youngest child, keys and purse, step into shoes and shout that it is time to go

9:06 Buckle youngest into car while shouting for oldest who finally appears dressed but with no socks and no shoes

9:10 Leave for school

9:20 Chase toddler into older sister’s class, ask politely for her to come out

9:22 Bribe youngest to leave classroom

9:25 Beg youngest to leave classroom

9:29 Carry youngest kicking and screaming out of classroom

9:32 Strap youngest into car seat, needs to go potty

9:33 Back into school to use bathroom, now overrun with four year olds

9:40 Back to car, strap in, go to pick up milk and bread and diapers

10: 25 Fight with two-year-old about treats, gum and candy

10:27 Chase two-year-old up pile of softener salt bags

10:28 Twist ankle, carry laughing kid back to car as grocery bags rip under one arm

10:38 Unload, put away groceries

10:40 Stop, help youngest in bathroom

10:43 Unload groceries

10:44 Stop, get youngest a snack

10:50 Finish unloading groceries

11:01 Hose grapefruit juice experiment off driveway

11:15 Confiscate cough drops two-year-old found who-knows-where

11:16 Make beds, pull toddler off beds, remake

11:25 Answer phone

11:30 Find two-year-old drawing on fridge with dry-erase, clean off

11:35 Strap two-year-old in car seat to pick up eldest daughter from preschool

11:36 Unbuckle, go potty

11:38 Climb back in car, drive to school

11:40 Wait outside door, chase two-year-old around halls

11:45 Comfort two year old after slipping in water surrounding drinking fountain

11:50 Pick up oldest, head for car

11:55 Turn around in parking lot to go use the potty

12:03 Back in car, go home

12:15 Help girls into tree house, secure trap door

12:17 Go inside, make lunch

12:20 Help girls out of the tree house, go to the bathroom

12:23 Help girls back in

12:25 Finish making lunch, bring out, send up in pulley

12:35 Back inside, check email

12:40 Back outside to send drinks up

12:44 Back to checking email

12:46 Back out, help girls out wash stickies off hands

12:52 Help girls back into tree house

12:55 Back in, check email

12:56 Back out, send treat up in pulley

12:58 Back in to check email

1:05 Back out to break up fight from the ground

1:08 Fail to break up fight

1:10 Bring girls down for rest time

1:15 Agree to let girls have five more minutes outside, back in to clean up lunch dishes

1:20 Look out window to find girls digging latrine by tree, using it

1:21 Bring girls in for bath

1:22 Carry each girl to bathroom to avoid layers of filth and grime rubbing off on floor, walls and doors.

1:25 Shampoo hair, scrub bodies leaning over bath wall

1:30 Open tiny conditioner bottle, watch in amazement as it slips out of wet fingers and flips three times in air, plastering floor and walls with streaks of conditioner, some even landing in own mouth

1:31 Stifled cursing

1:32 Finish rinsing girls, bruising shins on edge of tub surround

1:35 Dry off little bodies, lotion on youngest

1:40 Chase girls into room for clothes

1:41 Chase girls down hall in an apparently hilarious, nude escape attempt

1:42 Chase girls back into room

1:45 Force shirts over heads

1:46 Tuck in for rest time, read two books each

1:59 Kiss good night

2:01 Collapse on couch

2:02 Meet child who needs to go potty in hall

2:03 Bring child to potty

2:04 Hear other child race down hall

2:05 Send kid 1 back to bed

2:06 Chase kid 2 down hall and back to bed

2:07 Reiterate rules of rest time

2:08 Kiss goodnight

2:09 Collapse on the couch

2:10 Meet thirsty child in hall, send back to bed with water

2:13 Collapse on couch with bag of chocolate chips, consider going back to school for Masters Degree

2:15 Sneak down hall and stand outside bedroom door, listening to quiet giggles, sneak away

2:16 Finish picking up house, relishing in relative silence

3:00 Start defrosting ground turkey for dinner

3:01 Hear timer ding for rest end, little feet charge down hall

3:03 Group wrestling match with lots of tickles and tackling

3:15 Give rides on back while doing push-ups during Shred workout

3:40 Shower while girls play “quietly”

3:50 Run out dripping wet, admonish girls for fighting, instruct to clean up pots and Tupperware being used for stairs by couch

3:54 Dry off, dress

4:05 Tea party with real tea and cream, imagined sugar

4:25 Dry hair, girls finish tea party

4:35 Set up girls with proper implements to clean tea party dishes

4:40 Start dinner

4:46 Dry lake of water on counter from girls’ cleanup project, back to dinner

4:50 Stop making dinner to play one round of memory, using one leg to keep two-year-old from sabotaging game

4:59 Stack blocks with two year old, for sake of fairness

5:09 Back to dinner

5:11 Stop to set girls up with play-doh

5:15 Back to making dinner

5:20 Stop to break up fight over “best” play-doh tool

5:25 Send girls out front door, instruct to stay in yard

5:26 Finish dinner, clean up play-doh

6:00 Girls race across lawn to greet Dad

6:10 Take dinner out, shout for everyone to come in, wash hands

6:11 Set table

6:17 Shout again for everyone to come in, wash hands

6:20 Pour glass of wine, consider applying to nearest Starbucks

6:25 Shout again for everyone to come in, wash hands

6:26 Meet with wet washcloth, two girls covered from head to toe in dirt, clean up enough for dinner

6:30 Eat while trying to keep everyone at table, talk to husband over shrill shrieks, shouts and giggles

6:40 Comfort five year old after sliding out of chair and hitting the floor

6:45 Finish dinner

6:50 Help girls into bath

6:55 Catch up with husband outside bathroom, talking quietly in hall, stepping in to break up fights, give five minute warning

7:05 Clean up dinner dishes and kitchen while husband dries and dresses girls

7:15 Move clean laundry to dryer and bring dry laundry up

7:20 Find naked toddler in the kitchen who wants only mommy to dress her, leave laundry in kitchen

7:25 Help two-year-old into jammies, tag-team tooth brushing and flossing

7:40 Read stories

7:50 Sing songs

8:00 Sneak down creaky hall

8:01 Walk two year old back in to bed

8:10 Help two year old potty

8:30 Get two year old drink of water

8:35 Good night kiss

8:40 Check on two-year-old, pat back

8:55 sneak back down hall

8:56 Collapse on the couch, talk with husband, stare unblinkingly at wall

9:15 Fold laundry, watch Out of the Wild

10:05 Wash face, brush teeth

10:15 Get in bed, read

10:45 Fall asleep

11:15 Wake up, help five-year-old to bathroom

11:20 Fall back to sleep, praying this time it will be until morning

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Attainable Joy

It was a tough morning. Our morning started at 3:30 when Jada woke up scared. I couldn’t quite surmise if she had had a bad dream, if she was simply scared of the dark, or if she was in some way uncomfortable. With her two-year-old molars slowly working their way to the surface, it could have been any one of these things. But Jada was too delirious, too upset to clarify what her screaming and crying was for. Even with me laying in bed next to her and eventually holding her in my arms, she couldn’t fall into deep sleep. She would doze, twitch, startle herself awake, and even still wrapped in my arms, would scream out for me. Finally, exhausted and frustrated, I turned on the lamp at 4:30.

“Look around,” I said in the gentlest tone I could muster feeling completely psychotic with sleep deprivation. “We’re in your room. I’m here with you. We’re safe. Now it’s the middle of the night and we need to go back to sleep.”

As I lay in bed, not sleeping, waiting for the sun to illuminate the space between the window sill and the shade, I thought about the weekend. Ryan and I got away for a few nights together for his annual partnership meeting. It was a wonderful weekend and the weather was beyond perfect with bright sunny skies, well balanced humidity and a temperature that daily fluctuated between 50 and 75 degrees. There was plenty of time to be alone, to walk and read and write. There was time for Ryan and me to relax, and to cut loose and have fun.

But I ran up against a tangible vibe that has become familiar over the years that I have become a regular fixture at these company events. It’s a vibe of judgment. The women on these things fall into two over arcing categories. I’ll give you a hint: one of them is not attachment parenting. There are the career women, those who were here because it was their conference and those who were here because it was their husband’s but who have their own impressive careers back at home. And then there are the wives, the women who have dedicated their lives to…being wives. Some raised children in their youth, some never had kids. But through it all they were home, to coordinate the cleaning people and the gardeners and to plan dinner parties and choose the caterer. There are a few women like me: young and raising young kids, who left young careers that they will someday return to, but there aren’t many of us. I am also a solid decade younger than the next youngest person on these trips which adds another sort of layer.

Put simply, there are not many women associated with this institution who I fully identify with. There are many who I respect and some who seem to respect me. But most of the women who would never have dreamed of putting their careers on hold to raise kids, can’t quite make sense of me, or they pity me. I actually respect their choices but the respect isn’t always mutual. As one mother of two who is a partner at the firm once said to me, “I just don’t find my children that engaging. It’s great that you do though.” As if I have such a low IQ that sitting on the floor making block towers and crayon drawings was enough to fully fulfill and satisfy my need for mental stimulation and if she hadn’t been so many times smarter than me, she might have done the same thing.

So I tend to leave these gatherings feeling a little bruised up. This time I came back with a more specific feeling. Something one woman said to me on the last night really stuck. She is middle aged and her husband is very successful at my husband’s firm and she’s still a really neat person. She said, “His successes are his. My successes are mine. You have to have your own life.”

I didn’t resent the comment, it just stuck with me. Indeed, I completely agree with it. And I am very proud of my successes. I am proud of the bright, funny and compassionate children I’ve raised. Their discipline and boundaries have been created and are directed almost exclusively by me based on the education I received in early childhood development. I am proud of the time I’ve taken to be a part of their early maturation. I’m proud of the hard work I’ve put into their healthy eating. Most of the time I don’t care that making your life revolve around children seems old fashioned and unimpressive to many people. Staying home with our kids was my choice and identifying as a feminist never meant to me that I should lose that as an option. And I’m proud of the time I make for writing, bringing some small semblance of balance to my child-devoted life. I am proud of the work that I am doing.

But her comment made me think about something else. As I lay awake shushing my two year old and murmuring promises of safety into her soft head, I started thinking about the next stage. I know that I won’t be one of those stay-at-home-lifers. And that conversation gave me a kick, a jump start. What am I going to do? And when?

After teaching one year in the public school system, I was glad I had gotten pregnant with Twila because before the end of the year I had sworn off public education. Some people said I didn’t give it a fair shake, coming in mid-year, pregnant, to a blend of fourth and fifth graders most of whom were taller than me, trying to get them ready for two weeks of standardized testing. The odds were not in my favor. But what was true of that classroom, that is true in almost every public school classroom, is there is a standard way of teaching—materials that have to be used to cover the given subject matters and very little freedom, or time to try anything new and different or even to slow down for the kids who aren’t getting it. I’m sure it takes a few years to really become a great teacher. But by the time I left at the end of the year, knowing I would be having a baby the following September, I couldn’t begin to wrap my mind around going back for those first few years.

All these thoughts tumbled around in my mind as I waited for sleep or the sun this morning. Finally sleep came sometime after 5am, just before the sun. At 6 Ryan left early to go to work and the garage must have woken up Twila because at 6:05 she bounded back into her bed, where Jada and I slept, looking for an adult. Deliriously I opened the covers, hopeful that we might all sleep a few more minutes, but she was closely followed by our kitty, looking for someone to give her breakfast and determined not to leave the tops of our heads until we did.

So by 6:15 I was brewing coffee and trying to keep my eyes open while the girls sat at the table eating their first course of breakfast. Knowing only one way to beat cobwebs of that magnitude, I put on a rigorous workout video and started the day sweating and panting. After a shower and breakfast part II, we were tight on time for getting Twila to school.

I rushed us out the door and started the car just in time to be about five minutes late. But as I put the car in reverse Twila suddenly waved a cloth bag in the air and shouted, “Mom, I’m the snack girl today!”

So at five minutes late we rolled passed the school and to the grocery store. After a quick decision of grapes and cheese sticks we were checking out. The exhaustion from my sleepless night was falling back on my shoulders having only briefly held at bay by vigorous exercise. I wasn’t tired, I was weary. My whole body felt the weight of sleeplessness. My fingers wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do and it was irritating me. So when my girls started chorusing for Tic-Tacs in the checkout isle, my blood pressure started to rise. I squeezed the cart passed Twila trying to get away from the candy shelf. In my rush, I backed into the woman checking out in front of me. She regarded my apology like it was a moldy piece of bread.

Finally it was our turn to check out. With shaking hands I tried to swipe my credit card and dropped it. Twice. Twila was asking for Tic-Tacs again. I sent her to the other side to bag our grapes. Just as I was signing the receipt with one hand and holding Jada in her seat with the other, I heard a collective groan and looked to see Twila approaching, head down and cheeks flushed.

All the grapes from one of the bags had hit the ground and were rolling in every direction. It seemed none of them had been attached to their stems, but were instead bagged like a sack full of marbles. The grocery store wasn’t busy. The only people around were the middle aged women checking us out, the younger woman in front of us and a man at the ATM a few feet away. Other than that, the grocery store was empty. But no one offered to help us. In fact, Twila’s embarrassment seemed to be highly amusing to the people who stood witness. They each stood back to chuckle at the hundreds of grapes that were scattered across the floor and Twila’s enflamed cheeks for a moment before turning back to what they were doing. I can’t imagine witnessing a stressed mom with two young kids facing a mess of that magnitude without offering to help. And for a moment, the vortex of bitterness that swelled in my guts was almost enough to consume me. I gave Twila a tight squeeze around her shoulders and asked Jada to please sit down and stay sitting. Even she got the severity of the situation.

Twila and I crouched down and started picking up the run-away grapes one by one. After a few minutes the task seemed insurmountable and I asked the checker who stood sipping a soda waiting for her next customer, if she had a broom. A few minutes later she strolled back with a broom even too dirty for a witch and a standing dustpan whose handle looked like it had been used to stir tar. She set it next to us and resumed her post. I focused on breathing deeply and not crying.

The floor was disgusting and it quickly become clear that these grapes were not going to be saved and it took all of my will power not to just leave them rolling in every direction and pull my kids out the door. But something made me stay and see the project through to completion. When we left, a good twenty minutes late for school already, I knew that I had modeled something more important than timeliness to school. I showed Twila patience in the face of aggravation. I showed her that we fix our mistakes. I showed her that even when people are rude and unhelpful we can still be calm and do the right thing.

After school I took a much-needed nap with Jada and woke up feeling like I could see again. I felt like nothing was insurmountable. And I felt better about my accomplishments too. I saw with clarity that maybe career women don’t judge me as harshly as I judge myself. Maybe the truth is no matter what choices we make we have doubts. And though I look forward to having a career someday, hopefully one that involves writing, I feel so proud of my accomplishments now. I feel so joyful at being able to be here with my girls each day, watching them grow, helping them discover who they are, showing them its okay to make mistakes and messes, comforting them when they get scared and yes, even sitting on the floor stacking blocks with them.

Now the sun shines through the open windows on this spring-feeling day in March as the girls play on the deck singing and scooping up melting snow with their hands. The sound of water running from melting ice dams sounds like a rushing river. And with the sun shining and the sound of melting, the smell of spring just around the corner, joy and accomplishment and success all feel attainable.