31 January 2011

mr. sandman

When my father has been in particularly frustrating periods of life - suffering from sickness, relationship upheaval, impossible children, amazingly terrible counsel-opposite, etc. - and he has inevitably been asked the question, "How are you doing?" (or some such other general well-being inquiry), he has responded, in the dry, sardonic tone of which he is the ultimate master, "just livin' a dream."


Mothers who choose to forego most or all work outside the home are constantly defending that choice. They (we?) choose to describe the days and hours spent at home in terms that are clearly meant to prove how terrible and worthy the plight of the stay-at-home-mom.

It doesn't take a minute to find fights about this in the blogosphere (oh, that word!) At Motherlode, the NYtimes parenting-centered blog, or other similarly-focused spots, you will often find these biting, awful conversations in the comments sections. Mothers who work full time are being judged for not nurturing their families, and mothers who stay at home are being judged for wasting their talents and liberatedness on cleaning-up various, lovely, baby-caused messes.

And, in return, as people are wont to do, each party is trying to make their plight seem more awful and oppressive; admirable and decent. Why? Well, that's a psychological question, a field in which I'm no expert, but I think it may have something to do with the fact that we all have martyr complexes, and if we can just feel like we're sacrificing everything, then we'll be truly good. You know, like Jesus or something.
And maybe also, sometimes, we do it because we want to bait the other person because we want to hear about how terrible their life is, so you know, we can feel better about ours.

But regardless of why we do it, we do. Get around a bunch of women. I dare you. Even the stable, non-dramatic types swirl around this debate like it's a monstrous whirlpool in some land of magical realism. If you have a full-time-out-of-house worker and a full-time-at-home mother, you'll inevitably get into a polite, southern-belle esque conversation about who has it worse.

And then there will be the really terrible, biting comments from the stay-at-home mother about not missing any of those moments, and the working mother, if she's bright, will furtively mention something about instilling the cold-hard fact that most people have to work for a living, and her daughters will more likely than not be among those people one day and it's really good for them to have a realistic example.

And the only person who is saved is the part-time worker, who can variously pretend to be experiencing the terrible worth of both sides of the fence.

Well, I'd like to take this moment to break the pattern. (Patterin, as my beautiful first child still mispronounces).

Last night, I had the privilege of hosting a bunch folks in my house for light supper and studying an amazing book on marriage and relationships. Then I curled up on my couch with a cup of sleepytime tea and let my husband rub my back while we watched an episode of Monk (instantly streaming, commercial free, on our Mac) which is one of the wittier television shows to air in my lifetime.

This morning, same husband woke me up to love on me before leaving me in bed with an amazing novel, which I proceeded to read, uninterrupted, for two hours, until my baby child called my name from his bed a couple of times, and I went to get him. He graced me with a kiss, and said "orange, please" (We seem to have won the victory over the word 'please' - thank you very much). The older two stirred, all requested fruit, we ate, I straightened up the kitchen, and we moved into the world of school.

First, Ada Bee gave me an oral report on how The Hobbit is going for her (she loves it and wants to vacation in the land of the Wilderland), then I gave her her latin, spelling, and grammar assignments, which she is in charge of ordering and completing before we can move on to history and math, our favorites. I set Eason up with some tracing work, and Collins and I played a game of building blocks. Eason has now started playing blocks with Collins, and I am writing about my dream, as well as getting some work for one of my part-time gigs done.

And yes, Collins pitched a fit about a banana, and Eason's feelings got hurt (for the 1000th time) that Ada gets to go to 'big school' and he has to do little school, and I discovered that Ada's handwriting on her last latin lesson was obviously sloppy and non-caring, which gives me shivers down my spine, because she struggles with not caring about doing a good job on things that she doesn't think worthy, and I'm constantly trying to help her get better about this (because, shockingly, I share this same besetting sin). And I have on sweat pants, and I've been on hold with the power company about changing names on utility bills for 30 minutes now, and there is a dirty chili pot in my sink that I really, really don't want to scrub.

But those are all tiny things.

Little, bitty tiny things.

All in all, I am, without one bit of sarcasm, living a dream. My dream. Not really anyone else's, probably, and that's fine. My life is not terrible, and it is every bit worthy, but in the same way that all of our lives are worthy. My children are happy and healthy, my husband and I really like each other, all of our various parental units love us and the children and continually bless us with their generosity - especially of their time and encouragement. I have a church. I have dear sweet girlfriends. And guy friends. I have a community. I have a job - one big one in the home, and a couple of smaller ones outside the home.

And I get to lie in bed on a Monday morning and read decent fiction. So, next time you hear me engaged in one of these deplorable martyr contests (because no one is immune), remind me.

Living a dream, I tell ya. Living a dream.

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