Apparently, E has read the Two Year Old Job Description.

She only wants to do things for herself things that are forbidden and/or dangerous, otherwise she'd like to be carried and entertained constantly thankyouverymuch. She is uninterested in being buckled, wiped, brushed, or instructed in much of anything. She sings to her own reflection in the toilet handle as she flushes it over and over and over again.

She scribbles on the wall with a pencil and when I try to redirect her to some paper, she walks into the bathroom to draw on the wall in privacy. When I take the pencil away from her, she pulls her stool up to the counter to slyly fetch another one. When I take that one away and redirect her to another activity, she'll wait a few minutes and then sneak off to pull another pencil stub from thin air with which she'll happily decorate the couch.

It helps to think of this kind of behavior as normal. It helps even more to think that it is part of her learning necessary information about the world and how it works.

I remind myself of every cliche from every parenting book: Her job is to test me. What seems like unreasonableness and general jackassery is how she is learning about the world and her power in it.

If learning about the world and all its rules is her job, am I her boss or her coworker or some poor tired underling silently counting the minutes 'till quitting time?

Or am I some combination of the three?


CG drives off each morning with Z in his car, while E and I hang in the doorway, waving, blowing kisses, making the "I love you" sign with our fingers.

After dropping Z at school, his workdays are filled with meetings; sometimes the meetings are back to back to back with no breaks and no chance to prepare for the next or process the last.

Some days, he dreams of quitting his job and being a flight instructor. Some days, he feels so very lucky; he not only found a job in a terrible job market, he found a pretty damn awesome job where he does high level science-y things.

He comes home to dinner on the table and girls ready to talk about their days or throw themselves in a fit at his feet, he never can predict. He comes home to a few hours of constant co-parenting, to dinner and Candyland and books and bedtimes, his car ride home the only buffer between his two very different but important jobs. He comes home to a wife who greets him with a meaningful kiss or a weary grunt, he never can predict.

I remind myself of just how demanding his job is, and I stoke the fires of gratitude nestled deep in my belly. I remind myself of how hard he works so I can stay home and how present he is with us when he gets home.

I remind myself of all this so that I don't imagine his workday as a relaxing bastion of calm yet stimulating adult interactions and resent the crap out of him for it.


Z has started to read and write, like some kind of person. I knew this would happen eventually but watching it unfold is still ... magical. It's like when your baby starts to talk honest to goodness words and you suddenly see them as some little magician or spectacular acrobat performing an impossible feat.

How did she do that?! How is it possible that someone who once couldn't reliably get her fist in her mouth can now read and write her own stories?

She is so serious about her work, which in Montessori is what they call ... everything they do. Her reports from school are mostly glowing, she works hard, she's progressing quickly. She proudly shows us her thick stack of stories and math sheets and labeled pumpkin drawings that come home every week and we ooh and aah over them with real appreciation and wonder.

Tell me about this work. When did you learn all the parts of the fruit bat?

Then she throws a fit about cleaning up her toys and the spell is broken. I bite my cheek to keep from yelling "Are you freaking KIDDING ME?! You are one of the luckiest children on the face of the earth who's only job is to LEARN and you are complaining about picking up a few measly dolls?!?! Dolls that were, just so you know, possibly made by little fingers who aren't allowed to go to school and whose parents aren't able to buy them much of anything let alone lovingly remind them time and again to PUT THEIR COPIOUS SHIT AWAY."

Instead, I calmly remind her that her job isn't just to learn at school. Her responsibilities at home are just as important: we all contribute to keeping our home peaceful and running smoothly.

She flops and whines and stomps and I'm worried she doesn't really get it at all but eventually she starts this onerous work of cleaning up her embarrassingly large array of toys, this most important work of learning to be a decent human being.


In all my time as a SAHM, I have put the emphasis on the mother in that acronym. I think of myself as primarily here for my children, for our relationship, for the bonding and care-taking that we as a family value so deeply.

In our current reality, though, now that Z is in kindergarten and E is in preschool three mornings a week, it's becoming obvious that I am mostly a housewife. A domestic engineer. My work is primarily about keeping our household running.

I only flinched once while typing that!

(Okay, maybe twice.)

A great deal of my time is spent procuring, cleaning, organizing and purging household goods. I buy and recycle and scrub and tidy and file and throw away, all day long. I stem the tide of of the kindergartener's "collections" and process the high volume of artwork. I regularly have to bring order to the pantry, the linen closet, the top of the washing machine, the girls' toy containers. When, due to illness or busyness, I stop this process for a day or three, we are instantly covered in dolls, papers, dishes and - OH MY YES IT'S A CLICHE FOR A REASON - laundry.

It doesn't look that bad, until you realize I just emptied it YESTERDAY.
(I think we need a bigger laundry basket.)

Some days, I have my head so far up my laundry pile that I cannot see past it. Some days, I swear I would love my family so much more if they could just stop producing laundry or dishes or both for ONE MEASLY HOUR. Some days, the relative merits of Spray & Wash vs. Oxyclean is the deepest my thought processes go.

(Team Oxyclean, all the way.)

I vacillate between trying to find meaning in the drudgery and just getting it over with as quickly as I can. I can be all zen and slow and deep or I can just be done already and go read "Divergent" like I really want to.

(Seriously. If you like dystopian YA novels, Divergent's your next favorite book.)

I had such high hopes for how much free time I'd have when E started preschool. Remember? I was starry-eyed with the potential.

What I have actually done with those preschool hours: seen a number of doctors for various minor issues, exercised a bit more, tackled a few small house projects, and run the usual errands more efficiently. Yep. That's pretty much it.

I am often struck by how quickly the preschool time goes, how little I can actually accomplish in 2 hours and 40 minutes. Every preschool day, I glance past the loftier someday to-do list and feel the stronger pull of my mundane everyday to-do list. If I cross all those things off during preschool hours, I'll have the afternoon to spend enjoying the girls instead of running them around town in the car or pushing them away as I fold laundry. Creating more relaxing time with them is hard to pass up. That is why I'm home isn't it?

It seems I can try to cram more in - more writing, more ambition - or I can slow down and do what I'm already doing calmly and well.

What does it say about me that I'm not sure which track to take?

I want to have work that isn't just about this house. I want to have work that isn't just about my children. But I'm beginning to realize that even when they are older and busier, all the work that this household requires isn't going to just disappear.

I am so blessed that I am able to stay home now. I am so fortunate for the material comfort we possess that makes it possible.

I stoke those fires of gratitude too, as I never want to forget how lucky I am, even as I hunger for more, that vague, unhumble, distinctly un-zen-like more.


Cortney said...

My very favorite thing about reading your blog is that it is like reading a very well-written version of the voices in my head. Seriously, it is really really crazy how much my life and thoughts mirror yours and we've never even met. I, too, have an independent, trouble/mess/chaos-making (almost) two year old. I, too, have a Montessori-attending young daughter who is freaking me out with her reading skills. I, too, struggle every single day with the drudgery of my every day life while simultaneously conjuring a fierce gratitude for the blessing to be able to be home. I, too, want to nurture something for ME, outside of this life I'm living now. Thank you so much for this blog, I always feel less alone. And wish I knew you in "real life", so we could talk more about these things...

Ann Wyse said...

Such a great post!

And just for the record, I'm for the "slow down and do what I'm already doing calmly and well."

But maybe that's just because that feels like an impossibility in my life right now.

Michelle said...

I think I might need to write this down and carry it with me:

What seems like unreasonableness and general jackassery is how she is learning about the world and her power in it.

As always, you inspire me.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Cortney- THANK YOU for this comment. Come over for tea the next time you're in Virginia!

Rebecca said...

There are so many things I want to say and respond to here. Mostly I just want to run over there and give you a big hug! For admitting it all, for getting through it all, for being human. Life is hard. Damn it when it's hard and you've got so many around you to take care of. :) But it is full of wonder and amazement and love, too, and you captured it all brilliantly. AWESOME!

Gina said...

"I swear I would love my family so much more if they could just stop producing laundry..."

It's funny because it's more than a little bit true.

I keep thinking that in all my free time with the kids at school a couple days a week and me not working as I wait the imminent arrival of this new baby that I should really get around to cleaning off the pencil (and crayon and one unfortunate day involving a sharpie) marks off of the den wall. Mostly I haven't done it because it simply isn't at the top of my priority list. But there is a tiny part of me which smiles when I see the marks - thinking of how much mischievous joy it gave my 2 year old to make them.

twisterfish said...

Love the determination of a 2 year old! And I love your honesty and this glimpse into your daily life.... I hope you know you are not alone. Off to get me some Oxyclean!

Sarah said...

I don't think anyone is better than you at encapsulating what the life of the stay at home parent feels like. I'd say that you should totally write a book, but I think you know that already! And I also think that saying that would imply that these posts aren't as meaningful or important as a book, and I believe that they are. I love the spontaneity of hearing what's on your mind just as it occurs.

Marie Green said...

Yes, yes, yes. All of it. YES. I... I don't even know which path to TAKE, even if I WAS given the opportunity to work outside of our home (I mean, more that the few measly hours that I work teaching childbirth classes...) In fact, I think I hang onto my childbirth teaching job SIMPLY so that I have a "respectable" answer (I cringe to write it that way, but I trust you know what I mean) to the question "What do you do?" And yet, like you, I AM grateful for these days/years spent at home, making this joint, in fact, a HOME. SIGH.

Joanna said...

Another amazing post...thanks again for writing so intelligently and humourously about all the conflicting emotions involved in motherhood.

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