Parenthood: The Job You Can’t Quit

“I stink at being a parent, and I don’t want to do it anymore. All my kids are going to end up in therapy, and I’d just rather go hiking really.”

(via pictures funny16.com)

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably been here. You’ve had those days when you were just so discouraged that you couldn’t see a way through the tangled morass of hope, fear, joy, worry, doubt, and dread that is parenthood. It’s a colossal task, raising kids, and most of us are woefully unprepared for it.

There’s no magic rule book, no fool-proof training. The only models we had are our own parents. But they raised different kids in a different time when children actually played outside occasionally and didn’t carry smart phones in their pockets. The old tricks don’t always apply. And just when you do manage to become an expert on your particular kid, he/she will change. Kids do that. They grow, they develop, they enter puberty, and then all bets are off.

So here I am trying to make decisions on a daily basis that are going to affect the development and future potential happiness of our children, and I’m guessing. Most of the time they are educated guesses, sure, based on past observations of said child, the experience of other parents, and often, extensive reading.  But when it comes down to it, every decision is a judgment call, an educated guess at best, and one that is very often swayed by how much or little patience I’ve got left for the day. And lately, I’ve got to say, the reservoir is pretty darn low. I’m thinking about rationing, but I can’t figure out how to get my family to go along.

And that’s where I run into my other little problem – raising a child in the context of a family. Everybody has needs, and they don’t always spread them out so that you can deal with them one-by-one when you are well-rested-and-emotionally-prepared. That’s not the way life happens. No, life likes to descend on you like a shit-storm of need, nausea and broken appliances. It’s failing grades and juggling bills and used Kleenex and muddy paw prints on the spread you just washed. Life happens in your face, when you least expect it, or when you honestly think the very next thing will be the last straw. You know what happens when you have that thought? Something awful, usually.

Life is like someone calling your name over and over, but they never come to you. You must seek out the caller and carry out their commands. Can you get me a towel? I don’t understand my chemistry homework. Will you get those dogs to stop barking? I’m stressed, I’m nauseous, listen to my problems, fix it, fix it, fix it! It’s like being a genie with a house full of frantic wishers. And just when you think you have a handle on it all, when you have put your house in order, walked the dogs, and anticipated and prepared for every child’s (and your partner’s) every need – life will surprise you. It will wait until you have done your very best, until you are sweaty and dirty and proud of yourself, and then it will walk up, wag its tail, look you right in the eye – and then hike its leg and pee on your shoes.

So this is where I would probably be expected to add a paragraph about how it’s all worth it in the end and how the joys by far outweigh the stresses. And yes, that’s true, though I’m not feeling it so much at this particular moment. Because we all know, you have to work for that attitude. So this is my first step – writing it down. It’s therapeutic. Then I’m going to go have a cleaning frenzy all over my house, because that’s what I do when I’m stressed and don’t know what to do next. (I already had a cleaning frenzy on our yard last evening and may have been a bit too vigorous with the weed-eater and gardening shears. I’m a little afraid to look.)

So after I’ve obsessively put our house (and yard) in order for a few hours, I will be sweaty, tired, satisfied in a way only a career house-not-wife can be after a day spent cleaning, and happy to see my partner and our children when they get home this evening. And we are going to have a happy and fun Friday evening together with lots of hugs and positive affirmations. But until then, I’m going to go bleach something.

Because Life is Sticky: A Countdown of My Top Five Favorite Onerous Household Chores

via bonanza.com and Erma Bombeck

Disclaimer: If you’re not a stay-at-home mom, house dad, homemaker, or someone else who spends a substantial amount of time cleaning up after your family, you may want to skip this fun little list as its grossness factor is high and its only real entertainment value is in commiseration.

Note:  I have omitted anything involving blood, pee, poo or vomit for being too evident. Everybody knows that no parent likes changing diapers or cleaning up after sick or injured children or pets. This list concerns a few of the disgusting chores that get less attention but may be even more onerous by virtue of their long-term (i.e. well past potty-training) and frequent occurrence.

5 – Scraping fruit stickers off the sink, counter, or furniture. Do your kids do this? Take the sticker off the apple or banana and carefully press it onto the edge of the kitchen sink or other handy surface? This is one of the many things that sometimes makes me wonder what my kids really think of me. Do they really believe I have nothing better to do than to scrape away the sticky left by a Granny Smith apple label? Look kids! Here I am, putting my college degree to use with the dull edge of a butter knife. Thank goodness for Goo Gone, the wonder product that removes all residual stickiness! (And the fact that I just wrote that sentence with genuine gratitude makes me want to stick a fork in my eye right now.)

4 – Cleaning in and around trash cans. Nothing more fun to me than picking up used Kleenex or dental floss off the bathroom floor because our sons just missed the trash can. (Not the only thing they miss, but I promised not to mention that.) The kitchen trash can is even worse.  Ours has a lid because otherwise our dogs would help themselves. How does a kid manage to lift the lid, deposit the item, close the lid, and then manage to spill food on top of the lid (and wall and floor)?

3 – Cleaning out the bottom of the refrigerator after discovering that somebody has spilled something liquid and sugary in the not-so-recent past (giving plenty of time for maximal microbial and fungal growth before I discover the bulk of the spill hidden by the bottom drawer). Last time I think it was a mixture the juice from a can of black olives and some kind of red soda.

2 – Reaching into the spaghetti pot soaking in the sink to remove whatever my family has thrown into the water. Do your loved ones do this? Why do they do this? I need to know. I fill the pot with hot soapy water to soak so I can scrub it clean in the near future. But if I leave it in the sink and do not get back to it quickly enough, my family, rather than rinsing their post-dinner dishes and putting them in the dishwasher or other side of the sink, will simply dump every utensil or plate or glass they use into the pot. So now I have to reach into cold, greasy, rehydrated tomato-sauce-water (which now contains a rich, varied mixture of other organic debris) to retrieve a glass that originally just held someone’s after-dinner iced tea but is now coated in a viscous residue from the dirty orange dishwater soup. Ugh.

1 – Reaching into the garbage disposal to retrieve whatever is making the horrible noise. So far I have found spoons, forks, broken glass, bottle caps, lemon or lime rinds, a marble, a handful of pennies, a Lego Guy, and just today, a white jelly-like sack of something that looked like a breast implant with a tough pulpy core that I can’t identify and sincerely wish I had never handled.

Some days, I love my job less than others.

So your turn. What’s your favorite housework to hate? What chores make you feel like an underappreciated, domestic grunt with dishpan hands?

Evolution of a House-not-wife

Possible things have endings – you know, that time that comes and tells you that you have done it, that you have accomplished something. It doesn’t happen when you are trying to maintain a livable home. Housework is not a possible thing because it is never done, not for long enough to count anyway. After twelve years of keeping a home for my family, I’m still not really okay with that. These people (my partner and kids) just keep messing up my house.

But for sanity’s sake, my attitude about housework has evolved over the years:

12 years ago:  It’s my job to create a safe, fun environment for the kids to play and live in. I’m smart and resourceful.  It’s just a matter of getting organized and using my time efficiently. How hard can it be?

11 ½ years:  God must hate me. I don’t think I’ve slept since April. The kids don’t even give me time to go to the bathroom. I have Play Doh in my hair and I’ve been wearing the same sweats for three days. I’m a failure.

11 years ago:  I did it! Look, I did it! The house is clean. The clothes are clean, folded with socks all matched and put away. The pantry is well stocked and I remembered everything at the grocery store. The children are clean and happy, the toys are put away, and supper is on the stove. My Partner will come home from work to a happy, peaceful home. I’m a little nauseous and that 9th cup of coffee on an empty stomach was probably a mistake, but my house is clean!

What was that noise?

10 ½ years ago:   This is hopeless. It doesn’t matter what I do because 20 minutes later or tomorrow, I’m going to have to do it again.  And just when I almost have everything done for the day, somebody spills something. Or vomits. Or breaks something or dumps out all the Legos on the stairs or climbs a baby gate and ransacks the kitchen while I was picking up Legos. If I have to get up and do it all again tomorrow, I think I’ll shoot myself.

10 years ago:  The degree of order and cleanliness in our house is NOT a reflection of my competence as a parent or a measure of my self-worth as a human being. At least that’s what my Partner says.

She also says it’s okay to let some things go. A home with children is, by nature, chaotic. And chaos is okay. I can learn to live with chaos.

So today, I’m letting go of the housework. Look, this is me, letting go of the housework. It will keep. The boys are going to remember when I sat down and played with them not how clean the house was. I want them to remember me playing Legos with them and making sock puppets, not mopping the floor. That sounds good.

But who is actually going to mop the floor?

5 years ago:  The most intellectually challenging thing I did today was try to figure out how to remove a red Kool-Aid stain from car upholstery. I have dishpan hands. I smell bleach in my sleep. I haven’t read a grown-up book in months. I’m pretty sure I can hear neural pathways shutting down in my brain. I’m going to be a vegetable by the time the little boys get to middle school. I really need a hobby.

yesterday:

Middle Boy:  “I think the cat vomited in the living room.”

Me:  “Oh. Just put a paper towel over it. I’ll get it later.”

Middle:  “That’s what you told me yesterday. It’s still there.”

Me:  “Then it’s not going anywhere, is it?”

Middle:  “But…”

Me:  “I’m trying to write here, sweetie.”

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