I can remember when it started: a summer evening on the patio, visiting with the neighbors and admiring the view. My parents were staying with us, I think. I glanced down at Eleanor’s baby bird fuzz, damp with humidity, and thought I saw it: the merest suggestion of a curl.
Or maybe it was before that, when I was pushing, and the midwife announced she could see the head, and that there was A Lot of Dark Hair. I pushed harder, with wonder, and surprise. (My first baby, after all, looked like this.)
Or maybe it was when I learned I was expecting a girl, and thought, “I have got to learn how to French braid!”
My mom has always made me feel like my hair is beautiful. In many ways, our hair is alike: just-brown, glossy, baby fine. (My sister’s is as straight as mine, but thicker and darker, and less persistently dirty.) Mom’s is wavier, whereas mine is made for bobs alone.
my ma, sis and my ’80s bob
my ma, sis and my ’10s bob
Of course, what I always wanted was curls, and a disastrous perm at 20 finally taught me that isn’t to be. And while Eleanor’s may bring her many frustrations in the future, it will always fill her mama’s heart with gladness.
Dark Molasses Gingerbread Cake (I love me a cake you can make in a loaf pan; it just seems more manageable and everydayish; you can make this in that size by halfing it and following the directions at the bottom of the page.)
Pot pie. I made my first two ever in the last two weeks. I’ve had to cook up chicken both times, but just used whatever roast vegetables I had on hand. This time, my mom made the crust for me because she’s wonderful and pie crust is my Waterloo. I use this recipe as a template, although I deviate pretty widely on fillings.
Things I’ve been thinking about lately:
As I start to think about packing to move (ugh), this guide to implementing Konmari with kids is inspiring. (Right after reading it I snuck the books of Pippin’s I hate most into the charity shop bag, so win!)
From Rainbow Valley, which I’m rereading at the moment:
“On the right the lights of Ingleside gleamed through the maple grove with the genial lure and invitation which seems always to glow in the beacons of a home where we know there is love and good-cheer and a welcome for all kin whether of flesh or spirit.”
The other week, I attended our local chapter’s La Leche League meeting, and while I love offering support and encouragement to other nursing mothers (and receiving it in turn!), I wish there was some equivalent confederation of people trying to figure out this housekeeping-and-childcare thing.
Adult jobs require training. Some jobs require years of schooling. Why is it we think we should be able to just step right into the kick-ass housewife role? Why do we think we should be able to cast off 20 years of academic schooling and suddenly, without training, become a super-hero urban homesteader? It’s yet another sign of how we devalue the work.
I wish we could meet around snacks — maybe a new recipe we’re trying out, or a tub of hummus we bought in panic on the way to the meeting. Like at LLL, our kids would play in between us, a hum of energy in the background. We’d talk about work/life balance, and the best way to clean grout, and how to use a slow cooker to get the bulk of dinner done while your kids are still sane in the morning.
You’d bring the extra squash from your garden; I’d bring that book I kept meaning to lend you. Maybe someone would confess to yelling and another to defaulting to frozen pizza, and I’d tell you about the time in the depths of January when I decided to throw in the SAHM towel and apply for a full-time job an hour away in teen librarianship, just so I could feel good at something again. We’d leave refreshed, inspired, and maybe a little wiser.
So, I decided this year for Lent I’d give up yelling. I never fast from a food when I’m pregnant or nursing, and as I’ve been one of those every Lent since, um, 2012, I’m trying to get creative in finding disciplines and areas that will help me grow in my faith.
And let me tell you, this Lent’s fast has been really, really hard. The thing I like about fasting from a food, or TV, or whatever, is either you do it or you don’t. There’s a little room for interpretation — is an Instagram video TV? Is eating a chocolate cookie to be polite breaking your fast or not? — but it’s pretty clear cut. I am a girl who likes to get the gold star, to check things off neatly in a box.
So deciding whether my tone is contemptuous, if I’m raising my voice to be heard or in anger, if I’m extra angry (and yelly) because I’m not cutting myself enough slack, or if that’s a total copout and I need to try harder…it’s a slow, discouraging slog.
There’s been some progress. Right around Lent the kids went and got themselves slap cheek and in the sort of unfolding of events that never happens, suddenly started sleeping way, way better. The illness exhausted them, but the new sleep habits lingered even after their lurid cheeks had faded to normal human complexion. And you know, sleeping better did help morale around here, for all of us.
But there are still so many times I’m distracted or overambitious and so completely overwhelmed. I gueeeessss there’s been an overall decrease in yelling around here, but not nearly what I would hope for. And in the meantime Pippin has started saying both “crap” and “dammit” and if there was any doubt who taught him that, my sharp CRAP DAMMIT when the paper bag broke as I unloaded it from the car last week eliminated any uncertainty. (Related: Please let my potty-mouthed child still play with yours. We are really, really working on it.)
In the midst of it all, Pippin is doing this thing that is just wonderful and horrible. He’ll say, “I’m sorry” for his millionth tiny infraction and one of us will say, “It’s OK, bud,” half-listening, and he’ll answer with a furrowed brow, “Well, it’s not OK. But you forgive me.” There’s something so raw and humbling about coming right out and saying it like that. But I forgive him. Of course. And I hope to heaven he’s forgiving me.
I’ve got a lifetime of impatience and perfectionist impulses to war against, and there is no 40-day solution that I know of. But I’m trying, and falling back on forgiveness, and I guess that’s Lent.
A partial list of things about which I am capable of feeling guilty:
entering a restaurant within 30 minutes of closing time
never making pie crust, and never making pie at all if it can be avoided
those face wipe things which I secretly love but find inexcusably wasteful
So it’s no surprise I feel way guilty about moving. We’ve lucked upon the dearest little slice of suburbia imaginable, and I will miss it terribly.
We have loved this backyard like no other place I’ve ever lived. Part of it is Pippin’s age — it makes getting outside imperative — but so much is the beautiful place we’ve found ourselves. We have the best view in a pretty neighborhood, and situated on the top of a hill, the mosquitos are beat back by the same winds that whistle cruelly through the house in winter.
After six years of basement living, we have a lovely, light-filled space. We could really expand, and with the arrival of first Scout and then my in-laws’ U-Haul of hand-me-down furniture, we did, joyously.
And our neighbors — well, I’ve gushed about them before. They’ve been dear presences at birthday parties and blizzards, Christmas and the baptism. People stop to talk to us in the neighborhood, and we can walk (if I can bear the hills), to a little park not far away. We told one set of neighbors about the move over a home cooked dinner; we told the others when we went to pick up Bonnie after they’d watched her for us. Both times made me feel queasy.
The truth is, this house isn’t perfect, though, and after some soul-searching, we didn’t consider it, even though it’s technically up for sale. It’s drafty, and carpeted, and most importantly, we just don’t see ourselves living forever as a one-car family this far out of town. So we found a little Craftsman in the city limits we love, and we’re in the process of some very scary financial stuff I only vaguely understand, and every time I look out our bedroom window at That View, I’m heartbroken all over again.
When I was in college, I was your proverbial brain in a jar. I read and wrote all day, and grew cold on the sofa of my 80 degree studio apartment, sipping microwaved tea to warm my sedentary bones. Almost all my memories of the time are cerebral: the excitement of defending Milton’s Adam to a classroom of Satan sympathizers, the frustration of my first crack at Nicomachean Ethics.
In fact, the only real exceptions are a.) sitting outside on a warm spring day to do my reading in the cherry blossoms and b.) the terrible tension headaches that plagued me throughout college, especially my underclassman years. (Also the college cafeteria ice cream bar.)
As a stay at home mother now, I struggle to find space for the cerebral, slipping in an audiobook with chores, carving out time for a book club, writing letters to basically anyone who will write me back. On the other hand, though, in a very real sense, my babies have helped me transcend the brain-vat, into the life of the body. I feel healthier, and more whole, though I miss that dear, unbalanced, brainy old life.
This wasn’t a given, going into motherhood. Pregnancy is a series of unpleasant sensations for me, and while I am indeed much more aware of my embodiedness as waves of nausea engulf me, it’s far from a pleasant experience. Give me the life of the mind any day!
So my babies surprised me. Their physical need for me — and, unexpected by me — my physical need for them. So much of my experience of motherhood, so much of my current day to day life, is centered on the body: the press of a soft, marshmallowy cheek against mine; the relief and relaxation of sleepy night nursing; a toddler making my hair “beautiful” while I pray he doesn’t get the hairbrush stuck. Now that I’m no longer cramped in the same tense position, hour upon hour, but instead constantly interrupted, my headaches have faded to the background.
And then there’s the rhythm of housework, of course. A critical eye cast to the texture of the brownie dough, when once I’d only scrounged the cafeteria. The realization that about 60% of housework is moving material objects from one room to the other.
I fall asleep at night more readily, most nights, the soft breathing of my sleeping babies in the rooms beside me. My body is squishier, but also softer, stretched and sore from lifting fifty pounds of progeny all day, from a long nap time on my feet fussing over dinner, from the weight of milk I carry.
I’d failed to realize, back then, that in giving my children their bodies, they’d give me mine.
It’s an ongoing thing for me. It helps that I was raised in a family that values housework, in which both parents adopted and enjoyed certain tasks. (Except ironing, which nobody claimed.) It helps that I’m an introvert who also enjoys structuring her own time. But beyond this foundation, I’ve had a lot to learn — I was a pretty useless kid, and until I was about 25, I moved often enough that I never had to clean baseboards or ovens. (Though I really probably should have.)
Still, here are some of my professional (homemaker) interests at the moment:
I’ve been working on refining my to-do list and meal planning (above). I’ve had grocery and to do lists since about 30 seconds after I made fun of my mom’s in college, usually on scraps of paper or in my planner. I’ve tried a few templates for meal-planning, but for right now, this kind of embarrassing grid my mother-in-law got for a school fundraiser is working well. I can have everything together at a glance, and even if the categories aren’t perfect, the magnet so it sticks to the fridge definitely is. I carry it around the house part of the morning as I begin to get organized, and once it’s up on the fridge, just above the water dispenser, I can reference it throughout the day.
I cleaned out the car on one of our first warm afternoons — the first time I’ve done it since Advent. Awhile back I read an analogy about cars being, basically, just a means of getting from place to place when we couldn’t make the distance with our bodies, and it’s helped me to feel better about our philosophy of car ownership: one fairly reliable, very unkempt vehicle to haul our family around when nothing else will do. And cleaning it out — at Advent I even vacuumed! — helps me to feel a little less embarrassed by the car’s homeliness when we give someone a ride, and a little less panicky when we’re drowning in kid stuff and filth on a long car ride.
Speaking of panicking, how do you keep from panicking when packing for the whole family? J does his own bag, and loads the car, but I’m in charge of laundry, lists, preparatory shopping, and actually gathering up all the materials for three humans. Part of me loves picking out the tiny travel wardrobes and the mini libraries, but the weight of responsibility usually makes me really crabby and anxious and unpleasant, especially on the day we leave. Some of our most successful travel days have been when we’ve decided last minute to leave the night before. No time to panic then! Just listen to an audiobook and sleep and try not to dwell on how you forgot the travel toothpaste. What are your packing tips?