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?

Mother 1966

It was 1966. Dr. Zhivago was raking it in at the box office, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass put 4 albums on Billboards top 10 and troll dolls were so popular that even the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, claimed to own one. On a rainy afternoon of March of that year, a small woman stood in the middle of a dirt road in front of her house in Newport, Rhode Island, holding an egg in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other. She was almost 23, she was pregnant and she was stuck in the mud.

Anita looked down at the mud that held her boots firmly in place. She pulled her right leg slowly up until the boot began to slide off. Sighing, she stepped down again. It sank up to the ankle. She tried the same thing with her left foot and got the same results. She stepped down again, unwilling to walk barefoot through the cold mud. It began to rain again.

Looking over her shoulder, she saw her mother pass by the kitchen window inside her house. She was making the boys lunch. Anita had two young sons who excelled at mischief and mayhem. Normally, Anita did a pretty good job at keeping up with them, but now, in the last weeks of her pregnancy, it was a little harder. Her mother came to visit as often as she could get away to help her with the boys.

She passed by the kitchen window again. Anita waved the pliers. “Mother!” she called, though she knew her mother wouldn’t hear her through the closed windows. She didn’t. Anita sighed.

She looked ahead of her toward a small house across the street. An older couple, Irene and Al, lived there, the only neighbors she knew so far. They had been very kind to her since she had moved in.

She stared hard at the house willing someone to come out. And someone did! The front door opened. Al stepped out, whistling and jangling his keys, and strolled toward his car. He glanced her way, stopped and stared a moment. Anita smiled and tried to wave with the egg hand. Al started to wave back, shook his head and strode toward her. He stopped a few feet away, squinted at her boots and cleared his throat, covering what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.

“Mornin,’ Anita,” he said.

“Good morning, Al,” she said smiling brightly. Al looked up at the leaden sky.

“Miserable weather we’re having,” he noted.

“Yes,” she agreed. “It is.” Al stared first at the egg and then the pliers. He raised an eyebrow. “I borrowed an egg from Irene yesterday,” she said. “And your pliers.” Al nodded and rubbed his chin. The corner of his mouth twitched.

“Thought they looked familiar,” he said and studied the mud covering her feet. “Looks like you got yourself in a spot, Anita,” he finally noted.

“It would seem so,” she said and smiled again, this time a little sheepishly.

“Well, alright then, let’s get you out of there.” He stepped behind her, gently hooking his arms under hers, and struggled to drag Anita out of the mud. She curled her feet to keep the boots from slipping off and finally came free with a squelch.

Al walked her back to her house, lecturing her on the way about why young pregnant women, whose husbands are at sea, should probably not go out in the rain to return an egg and a pair of pliers. She smiled and agreed. He left her at her front door with the assurance that if she needed anything, all she had to do was call and he or Irene would be there, and walked back to his own house, shaking his head and muttering to himself about crazy pregnant women all the way.

Mom, me and my brothers on Easter Sunday, 1967.

My mother told me this story the first time a few years ago, and I laughed until my eyes leaked. The mother I remember was just so confident, so supremely competent, I couldn’t imagine her getting herself in such a predicament. Until I realized that at the time she first told me the story, I was already several years older than she was then.

And now, here I am, exactly twice as old as she was then in 1966, the year I was born. I’ve spent the last 12 years as a stay-at-home parent to my partner’s three sons. I feel incredibly fortunate to have as a parenting partner the woman who gave birth to the children and nursed them and stayed at home taking care of them before she handed off to me and went back to work.

She knows exactly what it feels like to spend all day taking care of young children with no breaks and no help so when she’s home from work in the evenings and on weekends, she is completely present and an active, involved mom.

But even with my partner’s help and support, there are times when I have felt overwhelmed or lonely or inadequate. So I called my mother, who unfortunately lived several hundred miles away, but still always made me feel better. Because that’s what good mothers do. They raise their children with all the love and attention they need and then provide emotional support for their daughters (or daughters-in-law or friends or sisters or partners) when they have their own.

So this story is for my mom and for her mother, my Nana, who I still miss and wish had lived to see me become a parent. It’s for my partner, the mother of our children, who also taught me how to be a mom. It’s for my mother-not-in-law who raised 5 amazing daughters and all my partner’s sisters. It’s for and my sister-in-law, mother to my niece and nephew, and all our friends who have raised their children alongside ours and all the talks we’ve had and stories we’ve traded. And it’s for our childless friends who have also loved our kids and supported us emotionally and understood when we turned down invitations for years because of the kids and came to see us when we couldn’t get away.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Four generations of mothers in my family. I’m the little one
sitting on my mom’s lap. And that’s my grandmother and
great-grandmother.(Also my brothers in back
and Willy and Junior in front.)

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