Saturday, January 31, 2015

"What Does She Do With Her Time"

Why thank you very much ______ for asking that question. My husband asks me the same thing. What do I do to while away my hours as a Lady of Leisure? The more pertinent question might be what DID I do in the past that enables my present situation?

In my case, the past specifically refers to the eve of the year 2000 - a very nice celebration for most people, but a particularly LOW point in my life. I was working at a 30 hour-a-week corporate job (that provided us with much needed health insurance) and taking care of an 18-month old toddler, when my husband's company unraveled. We lost all of our own and some portion of my in-laws' savings and I was recovering from a miscarriage that might have been brought on by the stress of the failed company, exacerbated by the threatened law suit by his former business partner. I don't have any real interest in explaining here what I did at this point (except to my own children, so that they understand the origins of the opportunities they now enjoy), but it involved picking myself up and getting back on my feet, rolling up my sleeves and putting myself to work helping my husband create the company that not only recouped our own and the family money we lost, but provided the basis for the financial security we enjoy today.

Did I have people to help me with some house work and childcare? Yes. What does that really mean? It means that, while these people have a set list of every day responsibilities, you have to constantly manage them. It is generally pretty hard to explain to somebody how to cook a meal or clean a toilet if you have never done so yourself. It also means these people generally communicate problems to you and you have to figure out how to solve them. The timing of these problems is rarely convenient. The moment you are in the middle of dealing with a PR nightmare where, unawares to one half of the company, the other half of the company has staged a walk-out and set up a competing shop, will be the exact moment your nanny calls you up to tell you that the washing machine is leaking water all over the kitchen or your child's school calls you to pick them up because the child has suffered a concussion.

But that's all in the past. What do I do today? When I worked outside the house, I shared the same challenges as many women of my generation. The difference is that now, when I or my contemporaries "work" in the house, very few people, including myself (thus the use of brackets around the word work) take what we do seriously. Still you asked for it, so here's a list:

Leveraging my technology skills: The glasses in the dishwasher are coming out opaque? Time for some Jet-dry!

Meal Preparation: Making sure my family enjoys a tasty variety of healthy meals that include protein and vegetables -- looking up recipes, grocery shopping, cooking and making sure the kids do the dishes. Note: the amount of time you spend preparing the meal and its healthiness will be inversely proportional to how much your family appreciates it.

On Children and Chores: Men tend to think that children will do things Because You Asked Them To. They give an order and trust in the results. This is a big mistake. Children (like husbands) make a habit of not listening to you 90% of the time. Also, while whatever you have just asked them to do is very important for you, it is a complete pain in the neck for them. And then you have you have to understand the logic of the child brain. This operates as follows: "Mom and Dad are always yelling at me anyway. If I don't do what they ask, I at least get to have more time for gaming, watching crap on Youtube, bla bla. There is a fifty percent chance I will get away with it. Even if I don't get away with it, then I'm no worse off than I would be anyway." Solution? Always. Follow. Up.

Managing the House: At any given time, ten issues will need fixing/taking care of at the house. Basic high-school level familiarity with Existentialism and the Myth of Sisyphus helps me understand how this process unfolds. Every time you fix one item on the list, another item will appear -- thus all the work I do, in addition to being unappreciated is essentially futile. I use my "Physics for Poets" class, taken to fill the dreaded C category -- math, science, technology -- college graduation requirement -- to understand the Quantum Appliance. The quantum appliance is that appliance that malfunctions 90% of the time with the EXCEPTION of that one rare day when "Cletus" the redneck repair guy with ear gauge and always-visible butt-crack, shows up. Cletus will then claim he cannot fix your appliance unless he sees it malfunction. Needless to say, that is the one time the appliance won't oblige.

Housecleaning: Given the fact that I don't have a brigade of domestic help 24/7 and my husband and children, Hurricane Fleury, are capable of trashing the house in one hour flat, not to mention the low level of attention to detail my kids put into doing the dishes at night, I would be living in a complete pig-sty if I were not frequently picking things up and scrubbing dishes or wiping down counters. Also, given these conditions, it is also hard for house-cleaners to be effective if you don't first (or simultaneously) pick things up and put them in order.

Healthcare Specialist: It's been a lovely year so far (like most mom's the year starts with the Hallelujah moment of "Back to School" in the fall and progressively begins to suck the life energy out of you from there): we've had Broken foot one (child A), mono (child A), Concussion (Child B), broken foot two (Child D), pseudo concussion (Child D) - the kind where he tells the nurse "everything is all blurry" but suddenly springs to life once he comes home and wants you to make him pancakes and plays some pretty lively rounds of GI Joe. This culminated in the call from the school nurse (she and I are best buds) on Friday - "Child C showed up with a panic attack in my office this morning claiming he is dying of a fatal disease whose symptoms include rash on chest, yellow liquid poo, and 99 degree fever." Oh and the most dreaded words any mother could hear? "Mom my head is itching," prelude to that other obligatory parental right of passage -- The Lice.

Homeschooling: No matter how good your public school system is or how much you pay for your children's private school education, you will probably wind up partially home-schooling your children. When I was in kindergarten through 3rd grade, I had no real homework and spent my free time happily watching Tom and Jerry or riding my bike. Somehow, despite the fact that I, and generations of kids like me, went to school with larger class sizes and no real homework until fourth or fifth grade, we managed to learn to read and write. Not so anymore.... and it only goes downhill from there. Everything has gotten lots more competitive. Unless your child scores at 750 or above on every category of the SAT, is an Olympic hopeful, concert-level musician and has a GPA of 4.5, you will be confronted (by more successful parents) with the horrific possibility that: Your Children Are Being Left Behind. Your child's school will bombard you with an average of three emails a day. Figuring out which of this pellet blast of emails actually contains important information is probably the business plan of a highly secretive Silicon Valley start-up right now. The only thing that will help you muddle through this is building your own network of parent-friends to fill you in on all the meetings you miss, and all the important information the school DOESN'T give you.

Chauffeur, Child Activity Coordinator: Not only do children require a lot of driving to regular and specialist healthcare appointments, sports practices and games, tutoring and extra-curricular activities; at some point your children will have a more active social life than you do. Be prepared to spend time responding to Evites and playdate requests, frequenting Jumpy Palaces, Chuck E. Cheese's, Dave & Busters and Six Flags, tracking down the parents of your tween or teen's friends to make sure everybody is where they say they will be and taking tweens and teens to friends' houses, parties, dances, high school spirit nights, etc.

Miscellaneous: self maintenance (hair salon appointments), exercise (usually avoiding it), time spent with friends.

Trying to do Meaningful Work: In my case this is writing. I envy my husband's ability to shut out all outside stimuli and devote himself to Physics or Music for hours. In my case, multi-tasking and taking care of everything above, in an environment where, at any given moment, somebody is complaining about a problem I need to solve or making a demand on my time, makes it difficult to finish even the most simple thought process. Add to this the challenge of being a person who likes neatness, order and silence in order to be able to concentrate. Then, try believing you have anything to write about when 90% of what you spend your time on goes un-noticed, un-valued and un-appreciated by those who benefit from it the most...


Anonymous said...

Your real work will begin soon enough I suspect. Always. Follow. Up. :)

Anonymous said...

HI Nathalie. Found you online! It's Jenny K. from Westminster. Email me sometime if you'd like to reconnect. xo, Jenny