Monday, April 13, 2009

domestic penance

This morning I heard the book, the Ten Year Nap, mentioned on NPR. I haven't read it but I know that a ten-year nap, as a concept, to this weary, rather exhausted working mom, sounds really good. I hate that I've become that harried, over-stretched cliche, of the tired mom you see on commercials for floor cleaner, but I suppose I have, and after only one child. Yikes. In defence of motherhood, I have to say that it's not the child nor the work that really seem the culprit. It's everything in between. I know the Ten Year Nap deals with modern motherhood and the vexing challenge of “making it all work” - the work, whatever it may be, the child-rearing, the marriage, the self. Making it all coalesce into a nice quilt as opposed to a bunch of rags flying around and slapping you in the face. That's what my life has felt like lately - a big cyclone of remnant fabric - some great - lovely, clean and darling - others dirty, gnarly, mildewed and definitely overwhelming the brighter nicer pieces. The pieces are those things that ask of me, that require my attention, that make sleeping until 11am and reading the Style Section of the New York Times, no longer possible. These pieces include my beautiful son, and also my demanding but highly enjoyable work, which I've shoe-horned into a part-time schedule and my marriage which also feels conspicuously part-time lately. What's represented by threadbare, barely-there pieces are my self-care and my social life. If it's doesn't fall into the categories of motherhood or work, it's largely ignored. If it requires me to leave the house and doesn't fall into those categories, it's completely ignored. To my friends who are reading this, this is where I've been.

As for the in-between stuff - the stuff that asks and takes quite a bit of me, which has none of the beauty of motherhood, the fulfillment of my creative work or the companionship of my husband, I'm talking about the drudgery which is housework. It's been sobering to realize that with the commitment to rearing my own child, being his teacher and guide, which comes from a deep desire and belief that it's what's best for my well-being as well as my son's, comes with those pieces - a U-Haul truck chock full of domestic duties I never wanted that tag along with all the beauty and grace of motherhood. With the choice to stay home -whether part time or full time -- comes the responsibility for making the house a livable space.

This is certainly the bitchslap that comes along with being home. The laundry pieces (or gigantic piles, as it were), the grocery pieces (or lack therein), the gotta-go-to-the-doctor pieces or anything that falls into that black hole that is between "Working" and "Mother." They are fringe "pieces" - not meaningful, not profound, not joyful, totally mundane, and yet these are the pieces - the domestic elements that enable us to eat and be comfortable and healthy – which are not optional. Without the mundane, we are unfortunately lost. These domestic pieces - the housewife special as I call it - frustrate me and whisper to me that it's not possible to have a sane life as a working mother. They make a nap that lasts ten years long beckon. Perhaps The Ten Year Nap is about women in search of something more streamlined, simplified, and focused, who have chosen to put their careers and the corresponding skill-sets therein, to sleep for ten years. I like naps and I think for me that could mean professionally sleeping through the younger years of two or three children. It sounds like a neat little package - take ten yeas off - surrender your brain to toddler feeding strategies and storing systems for baby clothing without reservation or apology. Give complete attention to finding the best mommy and me yoga and attend on time, in clean clothes, peacefully. Create a well-oiled machine out of the ongoing, always-on pressures of house-keeping, kitchen-cupboard-stocking and activity-planning. Pour your Excel talents or management virtuoso into school related activities. Arrange for dinner to be a peaceful, healthy event, instead of a task made tortuous without the benefit of planning, time or groceries. Sit on the floor, drink coffee while your toddler takes apart the cabinet, work as hard as the family pushes you. Greet your husband, assuming he works outside of the home, perhaps with fewer stains and having taken a shower during naptime.

This life sounds might appealing. Dreamy even. I suppose it would require lots of letting go – which, I am already inadvertently and involuntarily doing by function of just being disorganized and tired. But there will be more letting go should this vision become my life. I’d need to let the rest go. Let go of what my peers - male and female - are doing, where my neighbors, who might also be mothers, might be going in the morning when they leave their babies behind. Let go of the news of the technology I’m not exposed to now that my computer time becomes weekly or not at all. Let go of lost earnings, possible earnings and any earnings over and above gratitude from my husband after I remind him of my sacrifice and the cosmic income that comes with raising your own children. I hate letting go almost as much as I hate folding laundry. I can’t believe no one has found something to do that for us too. And just so I don't get a lot of negative feedback for crapping on the stay at home mom's parade -- (which I can actually attend if it's on a Monday or Thursday or Friday) I am not in any way belittling or besmirching the kind of cosmic income you get from staying home. I'm totally get it and believe me, it is challenging any type of other income I am earning. I am choosing to be with my son for more than 50% of the time I could be working or creating something other than a well-cared for toddler. And I'm tempted to spend less and less time away from him. I’m also acutely aware that letting go of more of my professional sphere would mean I could do a better job when I am there. Not phoning it in, not trying to caffeinate to make it. In being with my son, in playing, in putting it all together, in keeping jt together.

Because let’s face it, being house bitch isn’t really optional, not for me anyway whether the work is there or not. It’s partly financial – having a maid isn’t really in the budget – but it’s also that I’m a control freak, I like things done my way and it’s also just part of being the mommy. I dare not say that my job is keeping the house clean, orderly and peaceful - that's a little too ambitious. But I have to come close and try - try and do something that is nearly impossible - because I'm only doing it part of the time - try and play housewife and keep the house from falling down due to toddler-induced wreckage.

I guess I should have been born silver-spoon-fed - I was not -because I don't want to follow in the footsteps of excellent cleaners and impeccable home makers from whence I come. I do want to raise my own children, but can't I divorce the child-rearing from the maid-service without winning Powerball? The two seem inextricably fused together - this idea of nurturing my young son and also being the house bitch. Especialy when being home with him means that any outsourced home bitching becomes that much more difficult. The house bitch part seems to occupy the purgatory between my time with my son or and my creative work. And that purgatory makes me want to choose - to choose one side and let the other one go. Why is the middle ground always so challenging?

The middle child of working motherhood is this grey area - between gratitude and angst - to know that I have created a scenario which is neither perfect nor all that painful. That having both is not a free lunch. And to know that in whatever configuration the notion of motherhood and work takes place - it's hard. I only know this because I'm in one or the other several times a week. I've also worked much more, taken care of house much less, and hated it. I've also been home full time and continue to be drawn by work that keeps knocking at the door. Being a working mom in any configuration is a little like living multiple lives. I always thought one of those would include being stripper - but apparently not. You can live two lives as a woman with all her clothes on, once you're done breastfeeding, as a mother and a person who works.

If I want to evolve as a mother, I see that my job is to make peace with dirt and cooking and the ring around the toilet announcing to me and everyone using it that I really do let it go two-weeks between visits from our house cleaner. (Yes, I have a house cleaner every two weeks and I'm still having a hard time.) This is linked to my self-esteem reared in a professional life and a negative identity I somehow have attached to homemaking. Where did this come from? Was this an inadvertent, delayed byproduct of the women’s liberation movement? That we would feel badly about domestic life we could choose and then not change? This is also much about finding myself, as cliche as it sounds, separate from my foremothers, separate from my peers, and with so many costume changes in a single day or week. This is about finding the serenity in the mundane, and realizing that child rearing is not all kindergarten play, but a lot of responsibility and hard work to stay the course - which is course to create a beautiful safe nurturing environment for my favorite munchkin. Perhaps I can make a truce with the work - and work less or the housework, and live in a dirtier environment. I see change a comin'. I am open to whatever is going to give me more peace and the tiniest sliver of extra rest I can find. I’m reminded once again that there is a process of building a mother’s life that works. I remain, in search of the balance of dirty socks, gratitude and comfort with all things in between....