THEN: September 2013
My 9 year old, Danny, is my inspiration. The other day, after listening to his older brother throw a conniption fit about having to do some chore or other (think “tortured hyena”) , he noted, “Jake, you whine too much. Just one man’s opinion.”
The 9 year old view is piercing in its clarity- as well as merciless and often hilarious. He states the truth unflinchingly whether you want to hear it or not.
Sometimes his truth differs from mine, like when he says “What do you do around here, mom? We do chores all day long while you sit at the computer.”
But you never doubt his sincerity.
And even when he’s wrong, he makes me think. Here I am in Arlington, with all the kids in school all day for the first time. What on earth do I do with myself? Besides chores (which apparently I don’t get credit for anyway)? My identity as a wife and mother suddenly seems inadequate compared to all the other playground moms. Here is a snapshot of the difference between my Cape Cod and Arlington experiences:
Me: “Do you work?”
Cape Cod Mom: (blank stare) “That would really interfere with my beach time.”
Me: “Do you work?”
Arlington Mom: “Yes, I am a lawyer and practice some optometry on the side. In my spare time I am vice president of a production company.”
As a woman who went to a feminist college, I should be rejoicing in my sisters’ success, but I can’t help but feel a bit crestfallen at how educated and successful everyone is. I was used to being one of the smarter mom on the playground. Now I am the slacker mom. While these moms are planning business trips to California and going to board meetings, I might pull a few weeds in the front yard or do a load of laundry- and that’s on a good day.
I inevitably leave these playdates feeling like I need to get a job. But as soon as I walk into my house and see the piles of framed photos stacked against the walls, the shelves from Pottery Barn still in the packages, and the carcass of a new entertainment center scattered across the floor (lacking the hardware, sadly), I think, “No. Way.”
I am pretty sure that makes me either lazy or cowardly. Especially since all those home projects are not getting done anytime soon, unless I can nag my husband into doing them. (When it comes to husband-nagging, I am truly an artist. It’s an important and undervalued skill that unfortunately one cannot put on a resume. Why do any job if you can talk a man into doing it for you? Especially if it’s unpleasant and involves power tools. )
I am horrified to read my last few sentences. What happened to young feminist from my college days who wanted to rule the world? That girl has been replaced by one who would much rather sit on the couch eating frozen yogurt reading paranormal romance novels. Because, let’s face it, that’s just more fun than ruling the world. That’s my truth…just one mom’s opinion.
NOW: January 2014
Fast forward a couple of months, and much has changed in the Bader household. The entertainment center sits neatly assembled in the corner, a testament to my husband’s handyman skills and saint-like patience. The pottery barn shelves adorn our wall, showcasing wedding photographs. Oh, and I have a job.
Why did I get a job? Why wasn’t the home and hearth fulfilling enough? You see, I wanted to challenge myself, to use my brain and expensive education to better the world and contribute to the public sphere, and in doing so, neatly avoid all the chores at home.
Okay, so it was mostly the last part.
The basement storage area is a sea of half opened boxes and half empty plastic containers, none of which have matching lids- despite the fact that I have a stack of 12 lids teetering in the corner. Toys, books, household goods at one point were vaguely divided into groups but after a few months these piles have slowly coalesced into one big mess, a sea of belongings with no discernible organization or purpose. I avert my eyes each time I walk into the laundry room, which is not often.
Then there’s the garage. There are several piles of things to give away that successfully migrated from the basement, but are in limbo there, never having made it to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. A TV..a table…a coffeemaker…a homeless person could be quite comfortable there. Then there are the piles of the kids’ toys, dusty, and unassembled (the soccer goal). All of this is blanketed by a thick layer of dead leaves, which drift in from the driveway on a daily basis. All in all, the scene is practically post-apocalyptic.
And there is the yard..at first I made a token effort at weeding, but it turns out weeding really sucks. Every time I do yard work (once every 6 months or so) I am surprised at how unpleasant it is. The front yard doesn’t look too bad- the shovels, skateboards, and other random objects (a plastic bag…a clementine peel..etc.) hide a lot of it. The back yard, on the other hand, is another post-apocalyptic scene: its centerpiece is a rusting, broken down playset which I guess we thought we would fix up when we decided to rent the house. (What? It could happen!) Next to it is a basketball hoop laying on its side. The small garden area in the back bears the evidence of my husband’s short-lived gardening efforts..various lawn tools scattered around the remnants of herbs and vegetables which were immediately devoured by rabbits.
So many thankless and unpleasant tasks faced me at home. But now that I have a job, I have an excuse not to do them. And I am out of the house so I don’t have to look at the messes. It’s really win-win.
In addition, the pressure of being a stay-at -home mom seemed to worsen, not improve, with all of my kids in school all day. The grocery shopping alone was exhausting..no matter how often I went to the store, I couldn’t keep up with my children’s demands for fruit, yogurt, goldfish crackers, popcorn, etc. Then it dawned on me that no matter how much I buy, they will eat it all. It was a losing battle. And since I was home all day, I had no excuse not to go to the store.
Any time anyone in the family needed anything- dry cleaning, school supplies, dog food. I felt obligated to get it ASAP because, really, what else did I have to do? If Danny forgot his homework, I had to drop everything and run up to the school. If Jake didn’t want to walk home from school, I had to pick him up. If Anna decided she didn’t like any of her underwear, I had to immediately buy new underwear. I felt like everyone’s personal assistant. And I hated it.
Now, if someone needs something, I simply say, “I’m sorry. I have to work. You’ll have to get your own dry cleaning/remember your own homework/walk home from school/wear the 16 pairs of underwear you already have.” I know it’s not fair. I know you don’t want to. I’m sorry. That’s how it is.”
It’s awesome. I should have gotten a job a long time ago.