Archive for October, 2009

Sustainable Motherhood

Carla: This is worth talking about.

It turns out that when it comes to the working mom/at-home mom conversation, we have been dealing with a “straw woman” of sorts. It seems to be news to the people who write the news that the majority of stay-at-home moms are there not because of some deep-seated value about the family but rather because economics sometimes make working a non-option.

I think this survey has the potential to be a conversation changer for women because it challenges the image of the stay-at-home mom, the one that has us pressed and dressed and busy and satisfied because, while we could have chosen to work, we love our children and don’t want to leave them in the care of strangers. The census survey suggests that far more women stay home out of necessity than out of moral superiority. Unless a second income (and we might need to do a whole other post on the problems with calling one person’s job a “second income” like it’s a slush fund) brings in enough money to cover childcare, the increase in taxes, transportation, and the expenses that come when all of the adults in the family are working all day (more meals out, hiring someone to clean the house, less time for bargain hunting, etc.) or it’s your life’s calling, it’s hardly worth it.

And this false image leaves all kinds of women out of the picture altogether–poor women, single parents, women with limited education, women with limited access to suitable childcare. That these are often the women staying home is the big news of this survey, but I know lots of the women reading this blog fall into at lease one of those categories. Many of these women might very well be home because they really want to be. But others want to be able to work, want to be able to finish a degree, want to do everything they can to build a better life for themselves and their children.

The reason that’s a problem is that when it comes to public policy about issues that impact families, the prevailing image wins. So policies get made with the assumption that women have health care, that if they need more money they can just go get jobs, that quality childcare is readily available and affordable. As long as that’s the person we think we’re talking about when we talk about at-home moms, we won’t really be able to move forward and create a culture in which women have real choices about how to support their families emotionally, physically, and financially.

Caryn: Of course, I too heard about this study—and had been meaning to write about it but I was too busy getting “pressed and dressed.” NOT! (Great image, Carla. Nice one.)

But I loved how this study shattered the image of the at-home mom, why we’re here, what we look like, what language we speak.

In fact, my own decision to “stay home” had a lot to do with economics. Still does. Since non-profit Christian publishing pays less than just about any other profession on the planet, when I was pregnant with my oldest son, it wasn’t too difficult to see that my salary wouldn’t cover all those things you mention.

But where you lose me, Carla, is when you start talking about “public policies.” You know those words make me itch and twitch when I’m pressed and dressed. Because I think you’d like to see all sorts of social programs spring up to give free or cheap or paid-for-by-rich-people childcare and (whatever else to make it easier on moms to work if they want to. I’d love to see programs like this pop up—run by churches and non-profits. But the government having their hands in this, you know, gives me the heebs.) (Note: Isn’t it nice that my husband is RUNNING FOR OFFICE and I show such public disdain for the government…. Think is a problem?)

And clearly, we need to CUT taxes on working families. Give us HUGER deductions for our massive health care bills. Stop taxing our food, our wine (please), our cars, our pizza, our parking.

And what I’d REALLY like to see is instead of mandating all sorts of rules and regulations that companies have to abide by regarding maternity leave and family-friendly policies and the like for moms everywhere to boycott companies with crap policies, give our patronage to family-friendly businesses, and, really, have us start our own businesses, make our own rules.

It’s still a man’s world, baby. Let’s make it a mom’s world. That’s how we create that culture where motherhood is not only sustainable but flourishes. So sayeth the weirdo Libertarian Feminist.

Carla: This is the sort of thing that’s going to come back to bite you when you’re running for president .(Would a libertarian run for president? I don’t understand you people at all.)

I don’t think public policy should necessarily be relegated to the government–local, state, or federal–but it seems like that’s often where these sorts of decisions play out. It took the federal government to ensure that a woman can stay in the hospital for more than 12 hours after she has a baby and that her job can’t be taken away if she takes a maternity leave. It would be incredible if the church or non-profits had that kind of power and influence.

At the same time, I’m totally with you that we can be agents of justice by asking questions, setting aside assumptions, pushing for change, and putting our money where our values are. And really, that’s what I’m getting at here. The Mommy Revolution isn’t just about the airing of grievances, it’s about making life sustainable for all mothers regardless of their circumstances. So what can we be doing–what kind of things are we doing–that help make life better for other moms. Big picture, grassroots, small steps, whatever it is, please share your ideas!


The Highs and Lows

Caryn: How do I put this delicately? Ummm…….Well, today has sucked. Sucked. Sucked. Big time.

My kids are off school. It’s cold and rainy.  My kids have been fighting because they’re bored and cooped up. None of us feel great, but aren’t quite sick. I’m depressed that I can’t just curl up in bed and be left alone so I can read The Bell Jar, which I started to reread yesterday. And, I admit, I’m a little bummed that we don’t have the dough to take a little jog somewhere warm or pretty or fun like so many of my son’s schoolmates seem to be doing over fall break.

This is the kind of day where it takes every last ounce of energy to make it through (see our last post where I smugly admit I was in a better “season”)–where honestly I kinda hate being a mom. Which is so weird because just YESTERDAY was so freaking fantastic. Yesterday was a total “I love being a mom!” day if there ever was one.

The weather was ridiculously perfect (68 degrees, sunny, slight, slight warm breeze, crispy leaves, hello, what’s not to love!), and my kids and I used their half-day to run to the library, play outside, jump in leaves, read together…. Honestly. It was a great day.

So today—as I’ve wondered what’s gone wrong (ugh! rain)—I can’t help but think that it’s these wild life-fluctuations that make being a mom (and I suppose a dad) so totally crazy. It’s why we feel like we are going to lose our minds. Because, honestly, these drastic highs and lows do this to us.

I don’t know what my point is here (please don’t worry. I’m NOT going all Sylvia Plath on anybody)—except to wonder if anybody else senses this same thing. That maybe motherhood would be easier or saner if were just somehow more level, if our lives were less manic and depressive…… I dunno.

Carla: There must be something in the air. One of my friends posted on her FB today that she kind of wants to just pull the covers over her head and wake up to a new life. She wondered if anyone else ever felt that way and there was a resounding, unanimous “Yes!” vote from the Facebook sisterhood.

It is amazing how quickly our lives can go from manageable and even enjoyable to overwhelming and crappy. Sometimes it’s because someone is sick or it’s raining or plans fall through, but often there is no real reason for the depressive part of the bipolar parenting cycle. It just comes along one morning and is in no hurry to go away.

I wonder, though, if it’s not really a cycle at all. It’s a game of whiplash where you can be coasting along just fine and then Wham! you get pulled off your feet by the sheer force of the endless responsibility. Personally, I can have a long stretch of great days and then, out of nowhere, comes a hard one, the kind where I think one more demand is going to send me running for the open road. I know it’s getting bad when I see a TV show that involves prison and I think, That doesn’t look so bad. You get a bed to yourself, there’s nothing to do all day, and someone feeds you.

I suppose the real struggle is accepting that this is just life. It doesn’t matter if the hard part is parenthood or work or marriage or loneliness or school or friendship. Being human means having difficult days where we long to be anywhere else doing anything else than what’s being asked of us.

Helpful, aren’t I?

Mother’s Little Helper

Carla: Caryn and I spent an incredible weekend at Christianity 21 and I for one am still so overwhelmed by it all I’m not sure I can write about it yet. Hopefully we’ll be able to connect some dots in the coming days and put words around this amazing experience.

For now, however, I am trying to re-enter my daily life. Today was particularly hard. I am exhausted–in a good way–from the weekend and just want to lay on the couch and process and imagine and nap. But of course that’s not happening–far from it. Precious child #3 woke up at 5:30 ready to eat breakfast. I convinced her to climb in bed and snuggle instead, but that lasted about 15 minutes. She began to get rather vocal about her hunger so we got up in the dark, she ate, I tried not to be bitter, and we got back in bed for a few minutes before the rest of the household woke up and began the day in earnest. Now I’m extra tired and there’s no respite in sight.

We’ve all had days like this, days that for whatever reason start too early, end too late, are too full, are too dull, are soul-sucking or mind-blowing or crazy-making. So what I want to know is, what’s your secret for moving through days that seem endless? Whether it’s something that helps you stay calm, something that perks you up, something that maintains your sanity, or something that brightens the dark corners of motherhood, I want to know what it is.

My list includes–but is not limited to–the following: Diet Coke (although I have given it up for the most part, today was a DC day if ever there was one), a new magazine (I might only get to read it in snippets in the bathroom, but it makes me happy just the same), a plan for dinner, chai tea, peanut butter M&Ms (seriously, these are coated in crack), and my daily dose of wellbutrin. A glass of wine helps, too, but I try to keep the bottle closed until at least 5 p.m..

What’s on your list?

Caryn: Since kicking the DC habit last Lent, I still won’t buy it for the house (though I do drink it socially—you know the drill). So now my vices are confined to my newly acquired coffee addiction, my afternoon tea (don’t think anything elegant here), and the occasional glass of wine (which I used to drink out on the front porch until 1.] I realized I looked like the neighborhood drunk and 2.] It started to get cold).

But, honestly, the things that really keeps me from losing my mind are baby carrots and a good book. Seriously. This is what a dork I am. I go through a bag of the carrots at least every couple days. I crave the crunch like you wouldn’t believe. When I run out, I just about lose my mind. It’s weird.

And the book thing—well—that’s how I escape my life. If I’m not in the middle of a good one, again, that mind-losing thing happens. (Right now I’m trying to get into Anne Tyler’s Accidental Tourist. So far it’s my least favorite of her books. If you must know.)

But I must say—I’m in a better place motherhood-wise right now (Lord knows how long it will last!) than I was, say, a few months ago. So, it’s easier for me to sort of rely on the carrots and books to get me through the craziest days. But when I read an article in this weekend’s Chicago Tribune on the upswing of alcoholism among mothers like us, let’s just say I totally understood why. It ain’t easy.

You Think You’ve Got Problems!

Carla: The other day I saw one of my favorite Monty Python sketches in which four men reminisce about their youth, each one trying to best the others’ tales of woe. It reminded me of something that happens too often among mothers–reverse bragging. In fact, I did it myself yesterday.

I was at the orthodontist with my 12-year-old and the assistant–are they called hygienists at the orthodontist?–asked me if I was going crazy with the hormone shifts of my preteen. It turns out she has a 12-year-old, too, and is dealing with the head-spinning mood swings that come with puberty (and no, my daughter was not in the room during this conversation). I nodded my head a lot and offered looks of commiseration. I gave a few laughs that said, “Oh sister, I’ve so been there!” But the truth is I haven’t.

I have to say, my daughter is a pretty even-keeled kid. Of course she’s had her moments and I’m certain there will be more as she moves fully into her teens, but so far, she has been pretty easy–even delightful–to live with. So why would I act like she was a moody mess when she isn’t? So that this other mom wouldn’t feel bad about her life.

I actually find myself in lots of conversations in which moms aren’t bragging about their children’s accomplishments but rather bemoaning their failings. And then the one-upmomship begins–“You think that’s bad….” and pretty soon we’re living in a paper bag down mill (watch the Python clip and you’ll get that).

In some ways, this is progress for motherhood. It means we aren’t afraid of telling the truth, that the cathartic act of telling other parents about the crazy things our children do helps relieve the shame or the guilt or the frustration. And that’s all good. But maybe we need to find some middle ground where we can be honest about the good and the bad.

I think I can be supportive without painting my own child in an unflattering light–especially when it’s a false light. I can tell another mom that parenthood is no picnic without my problems having to outweigh hers. And I can certainly listen and let another mom vent without inserting myself into the conversation with confessions that are really meant to make me feel better.

Caryn: Read you loud and clear on this one. It’s a common trap—in our desire to connect and relate and not come across as total motherjudgers (a word I’m totally trying to get into the lexicon)—one I’ve fallen into many a time in my motherhood.

But every time I have, I’ve also had little internal alarm bells go off for another reason. Ever since my stint at Marriage Partnership magazine, where every third article was about the dangers of public husband-bashing, these alarms have rung now and again. They started ringing for new reasons when I had kids.

I think in our haste to connect we can not only tell fish tales—as you so wickedly did—but we can also kid-bash. While it’s good to commiserate with other moms about the horrors of mommyhood, it’s also important that we protect our kids a bit. Respect their privacy and their right to behave badly without the world knowing.

Of course, the problem is when kids have mothers who are writers and kind of tell their stories for a “living.” Oh, Carla. What do we do?

Carla: You’re totally right (you might want to copy and paste that somewhere since it’s not likely I’ll say it again any time soon). There has to be some third way between acting like our lives are perfect and trashing our kids for the sake of connection. Maybe what we need to do is take the focus off the kids altogether and talk about our own struggles, our fears, our questions, our concerns. Instead of letting the hygienist think that my girl is an emotional wreck, I could have said, “It’s a lot of work, isn’t it?” or “I’m never really sure what to do at any given moment, either.” Because really, that’s what she wanted–someone to let her know she’s not the only one who feels overwhelmed now and then.

Organize This, Real Simple!

Carla: If you aren’t familiar with Andy Crouch and his book/blog Culture Making, well you should be. Today, he links to a short discussion of a documentary I hope we all get to see one day. It’s called Koolhaus Houselife.

The premise of the documentary is to see what it’s like to actually live in a fancy-pants house, in this case a house designed by “starchitect” Rem Koolhaus. The movie apparently spends a significant amount of time with Ms. Acedo, the woman who cleans this house, which was clearly not designed with vacuum cleaners in mind. The movie isn’t just taking a peek inside a famous house, it’s exploring what happens when art meets dust.

And that makes me happy.

Last summer, my sweet eldest child volunteered to bring the class tortoises home for part of the summer. With them came a 6-foot-long glass tank, two big bags of Timothy Hay, plastic tub, a heat lamp, a big orange extension cord, and power strip. The tank, which we’d thought would be upstairs, hidden away from the world, was so heavy we couldn’t get it past the dining room. So that’s where it stayed for 6 weeks. The whole house smelled like hay–and not in a sweet, summery, fresh-mown sense. Every day I’d look at that huge tank and think, Funny how you never see those in the house porn catalogs.

I live in a lovely house with wood floors and big windows and a fireplace. When you walk in, the first thing that hits you is the smell that, as far as I can tell, is a combination of the previous owners’ 50 years of smoking in the house, their cats, our cats, our dog, wet pull-ups, and something rotting that I haven’t found yet. If you want to sit down, you need to find a place with no dog hair or soccer gear or Polly Pockets on it–and good luck with that. The fireplace doesn’t work, the windows are drafty and only a few of them open, and the wood floors are coated in a fine layer of dog hair and dust that seems to come right back out of the vacuum as soon as I’m done cleaning.

Believe me, these are not complaints. This is our home and we are grateful for it and beyond happy to be in it. But it’s also a real house, not a showplace, and we really live in it: the kids, the dog, the cats, the tortoises (well, they’ve moved on but I’m pretty sure there are some mice who have taken their place somewhere in the basement), a messy man, and a woman who is still trying to live in the real world and not some magazine spread. I have to tell myself this every single day.

I can’t wait to see Koohaus Houselife if only to pay my respects to the woman who spends her days living in the place where fantasy collides with reality. I have a feeling she has a lot to teach me.

Caryn: You know, many, many people reading this might be afraid to come and stay at your house next weekend. But me? I just know that I’ll feel right at home. Nothing—and I mean nothing—of late makes me happier than people who live in houses that get messy, who recline on couches strewn with Polly Pockets, and walk across floors with a nice carpet of dog hair.

As is so often the theme here at the Rev: it just feels so good to know I’m not alone. I too live in a darling (though not fancy pants) home. Nice place. Nice town. Nice big yard. A big front stoop-porch hybrid that I love.

But my life does sort of feel like the place where art and dust meet. Or, actually, where art (the art of living, raising children, and writing) meets mess. Hmmmm….. I’m wondering what all this might mean. And I’m thinking that even if I lived in a fancy pants (or “shiney” as my daughter calls them) house and had a housekeeper, it’d somehow be crazy and messy and chaotic. Because that’s kind of who we are.

But, yes, a movie about where art meets dust? I’m in. I did see Andy’s tweet this morning and was initrigued. Of course, now, I also think he should do a bit on the Mommy Revolution for Culture Making. Because, really, the hand that rocks the cradle makes the culture. Isn’t that what they say?

Can’t wait to smell your house—see if I can help you locate that rotten something—next weekend at Christanity21!! The Mommy Revolution dinner is taking shape.

Carla: Seriously! Who is nurturing all those culture-makers? Who is letting the future starchitects mess up our lovely houses with their couch-cushion forts and Barbie houses? Who is letting the future chefs and scientists and inventors create concoctions in the kitchen and the yard and the basement even if it means they use all the chocolate chips?

I love that you just made a post that was essentially me crabbing about my house into a treatise on motherhood as the foundation of society. Nicely done.

And I promise I’ll clean the house before you come.