Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Stink, Stank, Stunk

During my morning surf, I ended up here and had a chuckle over several posts.

On being a stay at home mother, Kristen posing a daunting question: I'm afraid I s-ck. What if I'm right?

I am not a big fan of the word suck unless you're talking about straws or nursing babies. So we'll substitute stink for suck and continue the discussion.

Stay at home motherhood is an interesting job. For a performance oriented person (especially one who has just left the paid work force), the life of a stay at home mom presents a unique set of challenges.

To name a few:

1. You get no performance review.

2. The reward structure is idiosyncratic.

3. Power suits? Just not happening.

4. Expense accounts? Ummm, no.

5. People outside your family don't see your failures, but then they don't see your successes either.

6. You do so much, but rarely finish anything.

7. The frustrations are monotonous and jarring and give all the appearance of being eternal.

For a performance oriented person who may or may not have a dash of undiagnosed ADHD, there are a few additional challenges:

1. There's little built in structure.

2. There's no dress code.

3. You do so much, but rarely finish anything.

4. The frustrations are monotonous and jarring and give all the appearance of being eternal.

I'm doing the dishes and overhear this exchange:

John: I didn't get any Goldfish!.
Ainsley: I didn't get any Goldfish!
John: Stop repeating me!
Ainsley: I 'peating you!

I walk into the study and find Ainsley smearing my brand new lipstick on her face. Oddly, there's also a head of lettuce resting on the recliner.

I sit down to end the day with a few minutes of prayer. The four-year-old is bouncing off the walls, the two-year-old starts whining for another drink, the ten-year-old is all but rolling his eyes, and I want to yell. During prayers.

I overhear the baby say, "I'm making a pile!" I shudder.

In some ways, I'm a black or white thinker. Either that was a good holiday or a bad one. We had a pleasant morning or a miserable one. That project went well, or it didn't. Life with children -- young or not so young -- isn't black or white; it's a steady stream of moments of all flavors and varieties.

You know, around here someone cries everyday. And once in a while it's Mom. Because some days I feel like I totally blow at this stay at home mother gig, too. And if you polled my children, my neighbors, maybe a mental health professional or two, they just might concur.

I called Dave a few months ago and announced I was getting a job. I want to be appreciated, I told him.  I want to feel capable.  I want to be clean. I want to sit at my own private work space and not spy a half eaten frozen waffle sitting on the mouse pad. I want a spiffy outfit with a tag that reads Dry Clean Only.

I want to finish! Something! Anything! For the love of Pete, I just want to finish!

(And, you know, I wouldn't mind getting paid.)

I felt that I was working my tail off and at the end of many days, I felt like telling Dave, "You have no idea how hard I worked to get this place looking so mediocre." Parenting  -- from home or from the workplace -- is the last word in delayed gratification. Some days -- many days -- the fruit of your labor is not obvious to the naked eye.

Let me step back and say without equivocation that becoming a mother is the best thing that has ever happened to me.  Fourteen and a half years ago my nurse handed Tim to me, and in a way I can't adequately articulate, my capacity to love simply exploded.

In an instant, I was different.

So it was with Kolbe and John and Ainsley.

Friends used tell me they watched "A Birth Story" and cried. Until I had kids, I found the stories moving, sure, but that was it. I watch that show today and cry, cry, cry. I cry over blogs. I cry over adoption stories. I cried reading a children's book the other day.

I love my children, and I love being with my children.

What does all this have to do with being a stay at home mom and whether or not we stink at it all?

Being a stay at home mother gives me two tools that help me be more of the mother I want to be: time and proximity.

Time is a tricky one. Years ago, I wrote a piece for Faith and Family Live! called Seventeen Minutes. Seventeen minutes -- that is the amount of time experts estimate stay at home moms spend interacting with their kids.

I could dispute the figure -- though, the more children I have, the more reasonable it seems. The idea that stay at home moms spend the entire day flitting from meaningful activity to art project to intellectual stimulation is about as realistic as those Pottery Barn ads.

But whatever the amount, being at home gives me more of it.

Then there's proximity. The other day we pulled out the water colors and spent some time painting.  John had a Winnie the Pooh coloring book.

"What color is Piglet," John wanted to know.

"Well, Piglet is a pig, and pigs are usually pink," I told him.

"I didn't know Piglet is a pig," he told me.

It was an odd conversation -- the fruit of leisurely time spent together without specific end point or defined purpose. It's the fruit of proximity, and it captures why I stay at home with these kids of mine, even when it's frustrating, even when I'm convinced I totally and completely stink at this.

Veterans of the business world will remember a season when Total Quality Management (TQM) was all the rage. A business model imported from Japan, TQM stressed clear, measurable goals. We broke larger jobs down into discreet tasks. We fashioned mission statements. We set benchmarks. We created flow charts.

Sitting around discussing the fundamental nature of Piglet is random, not measurable. Stacking blocks that will then get knocked over and eventually shoved under a couch doesn't fit into a pie chart. Being available is vague and not particularly productive and sometimes to the discerning eye an absolute waste of time.

So much of what we pass on to our children is oral tradition -- a stream of unscripted conversations about nothing and everything. Ten or fifteen years ago, "cultural literacy" became a popular buzz phrase. Kids today, gray-haired Thinkers would say, just don't know much about history, geography, literature,etc..

This concern spawned an entire series of books (books I love and have purchased, by the way). I am not opposed to cultural literacy, you see. I'm all about survey courses and vocab lists and memorizing the state capitols.

But none of this replaces the day in and day out exchange of ideas that goes on within the family.

Dave's out of town and we pull out the atlas to pinpoint Las Vegas and then suddenly we're talking about the Hoover Dam and President Hoover and The Great Depression. We drive through Papa's home state and cross the Chuck Yeager Bridge and talk about the space race and the Cold War and on it goes. We're sitting in the yard and someone finds a bird's egg and we talk about how some are blue and some are speckled and some birds eat from feeders and some prefer worms and why they migrate.
Part of being a parent is wasting time together. Being a stay home mom helps me waste more of it.

Some days -- because of circumstances or moods, because of trying behaviors or lack of sleep, because of temperament or plain, old, garden variety selfishness -- I really do stink at all this. Big time.

I'm still glad I do it.


Sara said...

so funny to see this post this morning as I was just thinking this exact thing this morning... that I stink at it! I am terrible at coupon shopping at the grocery store and staying without our declared budget, I'm terrible at keeping the house clean and picked up, and I about lost it yesterday when I couldn't take another moment of whining from my almost 4 year old and I feel like I totally waste every moment of the day. Glad to hear I'm not alone on this journey of incomplete tasks and time wasting... but glad I am on this journey =)

claire said...

Yeah, I could definitely dispute that 17-minute figure. When my son was a baby I worked fulltime outside the home. When he was 18 months old I quit my job, and then 5 months later took a part-time job. The more I'm home, the more time I spend with him. It's simple math. It might not all be one-on-one time, but as you say, the proximity helps (and my one-on-one time with him is far more than 17 minutes/day). This might change as he gets older and goes on playdates without me, but for now, simple math.

Allison said...

Thanks for this. I have "done it all" stayed home for years with our boys, worked a job from home, worked parttime away from home, now work fulltime away from home. Parenting is hard work and nothing ever is finished. But that's because we are works in progress and our children are, too. I love this post and I think you capture what those days and hours are like. I will never regret a moment I spend with my two sons. Ever. Even the tense times, sad times, angry times etc. It is time spent to together, learning together how to be human.

Dianne said...

When my first two (fifteen & one-half months apart) were small, I was a stay-at-home mom. When they were in the first & third grades, I went back to college - this time to become a Registered Nurse. After that, I worked - occasionally full time, mostly part-time...depending on the needs of the family. I loved the part-time or the occasional stay-at-home time most of all. When the older two were 10 and 12, my youngest was born. I was definitely mostly part-time or stay-at-home then. I totally remember everything you've said. I remember it well.

I can tell you this though: NEXT WEEK they will all leave for college (or so it will seem) and you will cry all the way home. (You'll do your best not to cry on the way there). Right now, believe it or not, it really doesn't matter what you finish - as long as there is food to eat and clean clothes to wear ;-) Right now, you're laying a foundation and making memories that will last a lifetime. From where I sit, it looks like you're doing a wonderful job of it.

Amy Parris said...

Love this! And, stink at it or not, you do it better for your kids than anyone else possibly could.

Kelly said...

Sara - You are absolutely not alone! Be encouraged. I had to let go of couponing (though I may give it another go).

Claire - It's not all one-on-one, but we are available, and that is important.

Allison - You're right -- parenting is hard work, not just at-home parenting and not just working-while-parenting.

Dianne - You always get doen to the essential issue. Thanks for your encouragement!

You have a large gap in your family, too. Maybe you could do a guest post on bridging the great divide. I move into the summer wondering how to handle the fourteen-year-old and the two-year-old. It's tricky sometimes.

Blessings to all.

Kelly said...

Amen, Amy! That is so true.

(I wasn't ignoring you. I think we were commenting at the same time.)