January 17, 2009

Demented. Deranged. Delirious. Delusional. Whatever.

Posted in Housewifery at 6:13 pm by the Green-Eyed Siren

My mother has read my blog and she tells me I sound demented. Or perhaps she said deranged. Or was it delirious? Delusional? One of those, anyway; memory fails. (To clarify: she was referring to my internet disease, not to my hero worship of Poppy Buxom, for that is an unimpeachable position.) And perhaps I am. I’ve been suffering from the flu for what feels like forever but has actually been just short of a week. Lots of high temperatures, dizziness, loss of appetite, body screaming for bed…really, if it weren’t for the fevers and the extreme statistical improbability I would be wondering if I was pregnant.

But then again I’m not currently quite depressed enough for the analogy to hold. For me, pregnancy was not the fantastic endorphin rush that it is for some. No, my pregnancies felt like having a heavy gray veil float down and settle over me until about a week postpartum. On the second day after my second child was born, the doctor took Mr. Unfocused aside to warn that he should watch me for postpartum depression: “On the perkiness scale, usually we like to see them at about a 7 at this point, and she’s more like a 3″—Mr. Unfocused, of course, thought, “Well, yeah, but, for her, this IS perky.” God Bless Mr. Unfocused.

In any event, the whole brain-chemical kool-aid of pregnancy was not my kind of cocktail, a circumstance largely responsible for our decision to stop after the second. I have two friends who each report on pregnancy being a major feel-good state for them; they now have four children apiece. Of course their kids are the delight of their lives and I’m thrilled for them and all—but, hey, when there’s yet another snow day coming ’round and people are trapped in their houses I’m thinking: “Ha-ha! Who’s smiling now?”

Fortunately, the actual rearing of children has proved to be a better fit. Mostly. That is, sort of. I love my kids, but my patience is not all it ought to be. And I enjoy doing creative stuff with them, except for the setting up part. And the cleaning up part. And the must-hold-myself-back-and-let-them-do-it-their-way-and-not-try-to-make-it-look-perfect part.

Case in point: school canceled due to crazy extreme cold this week, so time to break out the new pottery wheel Santa brought for Unfocused Girl. Morning: Open the box. Set up wheel. Discover that “Potting clay enclosed!” means “Here’s a bag of clay powder that you need to mix yourself, covering your entire house with clay dust for a week!” Also read the helpful safety hint: “Do not put clay or clay water in the sink. It will clog the pipes.” (Great! We’ll just wash up outside; it’s only 7 below zero.) Send kids away to give potting situation serious thought.

Early afternoon: kids have attempted to mix up the clay. Make them clean up, send them off to their room again, assess the damage. Decide I cannot cope until I have had a nap. After nap, finish mixing the clay. Late afternoon: drag a kid-height table from basement to kitchen so short legs can reach the foot pedal. Get hunks of clay. Help kids make one tiny, lopsided pot each (well, actually, Unfocused Junior was making a Mouse Igloo). Clean kids, self, wheel, table, floor mat. Worry about clay dust in pipes. Drag table back downstairs. Happy Fucking Snow Day! I suppose I could blame my attitude problem that day on my feverish state (the night before it had hit 104.2, although to be fair I had been under a lot of blankets for a while), but I’m afraid my general approach to life is Beleaguered.

Maybe it’s because of the paper. There is just so much paper. Really, it’s stunning how many pieces of paper they generate, and every single one is too precious for them to be able to let it go. Then again, there is the laundry. Endless, endless laundry. If I relax for just a moment, thinking I’m approaching the point of being sort of caught up, I discover that in a mere twenty-four hours we have generated three loads of laundry. How the hell does that happen? I am Sisyphus, doomed to my mountain of paper and laundry and scotch tape-and-tinfoil art projects.

So, just to clarify, I’m like all of the other moms I know. I enjoy my kids and relish my responsibility to them, my charge of helping them to be decent, fulfilled people who know how to participate as positive members of a community. I dislike the same stuff everyone else does: the constant vigilance required to keep our household even remotely functional; the sense of never being caught up with what they’re dishing out physically, intellectually, and emotionally; the desperate feeling of watching Self slipping away. Every mother I know feels this way; every one of us feels one forgotten lunch box or unsigned permission slip or buttered-noodle-and-chewing-gum dinner or late pick-up away from Worst Mother In the World award status.

But there are women out there who do not want us to indulge these feelings, particularly if we are moms of the Stay-at-Home persuasion. Get your makeup on, realize that a housewife has the Best Job Evah! because we get to do whatever we like with our girlfriends while the kids are in school. Go to the gym! Have a lovely lunch! Go shopping! Start a profitable home-based business! All we have to pay in exchange for our freedom is the time it takes for tossing a load of laundry in the washer on occasion and being there when the bus arrives to drop off our kids. Oh, and showing up at the door in stilettos and a lovely starched apron with something wispy underneath and a scotch-on-the-rocks in our hand for hubby when he gets home doesn’t hurt. Awesome! This is exactly what I signed up for!

In Happy Housewives, a book that I admit to having purchased probably two years ago in an attempt to make sense of what my life had become, Darla Shine explains that we shouldn’t be housewives of the Desperate variety. Housewives are getting a bad rep, and we need to reclaim ourselves as smart, sexy, powerful women. OK, fine. I get that it’s not that bad a job, and I get that it’s important to be positive, but I think we should have the right to bitch about the more unreasonable parts of our contract (my number one bitching-point, being, of course, my 3 1/2 hours of school-related driving per day for my preschooler and second grader). Also, she makes me seriously pissed off with statements like these, on “the whole mommy-clique thing”: “I notice that the cute, stylish moms hang out with the other cute, stylish moms, and the frumpy moms hang out with the other frumpy moms….So look good, don’t be a bitch, and maybe you could be the new popular mom in town.” Sounds fucking hopeless for me, then!

Ms. Shine has an easily-found website in which she further elucidates her theories. I’m not going to provide the link here because, while I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to express criticism, I also don’t think it’s necessary for me to shove it up her nose in the form of an incoming link. She has her thing, and it’s not that I think she’s entirely wrong, attitude is important, etc., but she is pretty clear on the Problem with Women Like Me, and she isn’t interested in my comments. Why pick a fight? Especially with a robot army of Stepfordians.

It’s funny to me that my mother thinks I sound demented. She was raising small children in the 70s, during this insane moment when every structural support in the culture was being dismantled and reassembled in cuckoo-crazy ways, when moms were simultaneously feeling pressure to be modern and independent (oh, and, by the way, define what that means while you’re at it, will you, ladies?) as well as live up to the expectation of keeping house and home together and children and husband happy. All she had to keep her going was Donohue. I am so grateful to her for pressing on.

Just as I will be pressing on. But I have what she didn’t have. I have the internet. And I can accept the paradox that it might be exposing or encouraging my dementia while also keeping me sane.

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7 Comments »

  1. Pickle Horwitz said,

    Bitch on, girlfriend. I truly believe kvetching about the sludge and drudge of stay-at-home parenting is a necessary component to staying alive. And I couldn’t agree more about the whole pregnancy thing. Some of the worst times of my life.

    I just went to see my almost 101 year old Grandmother. Now that’s a case for dementia. You? You seem fine to me.

  2. Harriet said,

    I have to agree with Pickle (whose online handle I covet). I am one of those irritating people who felt pretty good during the whole pregnancy thing, although in retrospect, given the 6 months of constant pain and constant napping, I have to wonder if it was just a 9-month-long, hormonally-induced mental illness. The small children stuck in the house part was a lot harder for me, although much of it I adored and miss, now that AJ’s older. As someone who needs to spend a lot of time alone, though, I have an easier time with older kids.

    For me, though, the whole problem with the housewife thing has been the total lack of respect for the job. And by respect, I mean my own. Sure, a lot of — if not most of — the tasks are menial and not at all intellectually engaging. But that doesn’t mean they are unimportant or in any way beneath me. I acknowledge this and repeat it like a mantra in my head some days. And yet it took me a long time to have any respect for the job I’d taken on — and, by extension, for myself for taking it on. And even now, I continue to chafe at being classed a housewife. It’s what I do, it’s not who I am. But even in that last sentence, I can see that the problem is still encoded. I have no problem with doing menial jobs. I have a problem with being menial. It’s a large part of why I am still so conflicted about my academic work. I feel like I need to turn my back on one or the other and can’t seem to find a way to redefine the problem.

    And for the record, I think you are a little deranged. And I think I am too. Anyone who wasn’t a little nuts would not take on this job. And I really don’t have a problem with that. A little crazy keeps you from a lot crazy. Especially when there’s company.

  3. […] sick, running what seems to be her 453rd straight day of fever, so she stayed home to rest (and post on her new blog).  Why was it the best birthday party ever?  First, the whole family was invited, which meant […]

  4. Jeanne said,

    Any mom with kids the age of yours goes through what you’re experiencing, and I’m really not sure it makes a lot of difference whether she works outside the home, or how much. Even full-time moms have been through the pottery two-steps-backwards experience while in the grip of a nasty virus. But not everyone has the energy to write about it….

  5. Jeanne said,

    Okay, I have a houseful of 15 and 16 year old girls, and it’s obviously affecting my brain. I meant to say “even moms with full-time jobs,” not “full-time moms.” Like anyone does it part-time!

  6. Jeanne, I totally respect the working mom situation. I have a great friend in this camp, and we have consoled one another over momtinis of a Friday evening with one or both of us close to tears over the state of our parenting. I wasn’t writing this to participate in the SAHM vs. working mom argument, because I think no matter what choice you make (if you’re fortunate enough to have a choice), you can end up feeling like you’ve made a bad one. It’s just the nature of the job of motherhood. But, while working moms definitely have a lot of very bad things to contend with, at least they don’t have an unreasonable woman telling them that they ought to pull themselves together and make sure they’re wearing cute clothes to the playground so they can “pick up” the other cute moms. There’s plenty of demands on them without cuteness becoming a factor.

  7. The Lass said,

    Have you ever read “The Bitch in the House”? It’s a collection of essays on marriage, motherhood, working – and how all of that sometimes works or doesn’t. You might find it interesting.


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