Monday, September 19, 2011

A Day in the Life

The time is 2:12pm.  So far today I have: woken up.  Brewed coffee.  Brewed the husband tea.  Unloaded the dishwasher.  Made the beds.  Started a load of laundry.  Changed a poopy diaper.  Served the child breakfast.  Packed the hubs a lunch.  Downed a cup of coffee.  Washed the breakfast dishes.  Taken out the recycling.  Gulped a little bit more coffee. Dressed the child.  Caught up briefly with a girlfriend on the phone. Run four miles.  Inhaled a bowl of cereal. Taken the quickest of showers.  Taken the boy to music class (which includes, but is not limited to, jumping up and down, singing ridiculous songs, salsa dancing, coaxing the boy out from under the counter where the instruments are kept, more dancing while holding a 30 lb. child, more jumping, and trying to keep the child from destroying the teacher's piano).  Returned home.  Vacuumed the house.  Fed the child lunch.  Packaged a large pot of chicken chili I made yesterday into dinner and lunch sized portions for easy grabbing.  Prepped my lunch. Changed a poopy diaper.  Read a story and put boy down for nap.  Inhaled my lunch.  Furminated dog.  Bathed dog with conditioning shampoo. Cleaned bathroom.  Taken out trash. Done lunch dishes.  Returned e-mails.  And now I sit down to blog...

Whew!  Let it be known this is not a typical Monday for me.  Usually the husband and I spend one day of the weekend doing all of the household chores together, dividing it all more or less in half.  However, as this funky economy and our current life would have it, our personal labor situations have changed, with the husband picking up an extra job on the side and my own part-time work coming to an end for the moment.  With him working twice as hard outside the home, I feel it is my duty to work twice as hard inside the home, taking on all (or almost all) "home engineer" responsibilities (cooking, cleaning, erranding), so that we regain the large part of our weekends to connect as a family and rest.  We had this kind of "normal" weekend this weekend, and it was truly glorious.  I'll gladly shoulder a bit more housework on a Monday or a Friday if it gains us the kind of deeply replenishing weekends we need.

Why am I telling you all of this?  As I went about my morning, I was deep in thought about my station in life at the moment.  With my contract work, my sister's wedding and this busy summer now over, this is the first time in a long time I have had to exhale and reflect.  And for the first time since my son was born, my only duty is to care for him and run our household.  Concurrently, a hot topic thread has popped up on the local mom's listserve I subscribe to; called "The Grass is Greener", this thread has turned into a really interesting dialogue between stay-at-home, work-at-home and work-outside-the-home moms about how we've come to these decisions in our life and all the complex emotions around them.  I live in a very diverse community where moms post to the list about topics ranging from complaining about their maids to wondering when their food stamps will expire, so you can imagine the crazy collage of thoughts and experiences on this topic.

Coming to this station in life and perusing this thread on the listserve, I've become really pensive about my choices, as they are.  We fully thought that I would continue on in full-time employment when we moved here, and in many ways our life would be a lot easier if I had been able to land the hot city job we both thought I'd find.  My job hunt here was tough, however, and the cost of childcare in the city astounding.  By default, I've ended up on the home front. However, I gain a deep and abiding sense of peace in being home with my son, and am happy in many ways that things have shaken out this way.  It's hard for me to admit that, because I feel guilty (that I should want to work and somehow be working outside of the home) and freaked out (that time out of the workforce will make it very difficult to return and greatly diminish my earning potential), while feeling simultaneously relieved and incredibly overjoyed to not be in the work and daycare slog right now and to have these precious days with my son. At the same time, I constantly feel that I should be on the hunt for that elusive part-time, work-at-home, flex-hours job that every mom dreams of; and I am... I hope to spend this fall deepening my writing practice and hopefully finding ways to make it more lucrative, and I've applied for some of these dreamy positions, but they are few and far between to find on the job boards.

An interesting sub-topic within this Grass is Greener discussion has been if a SAHM can be a feminist.  Interesting, that.  The husband and I were both raised by rabid feminists; one of whom was a working mom throughout her kids' childhoods, and one of whom stayed at home for eighteen years before returning to the workforce.  We're both heavily influenced by their decisions in so many different ways.  I think of myself as a feminist, but at the same time, I do make my husband a lunch every day.  Are these two things mutually exclusive?  I make his sandwich while he walks the dog, a chore I'm grateful he takes over, as the dog-pulling kills my back and the pre-caffeine poop-scooping is not for the faint of heart.  We're on a budget, and me throwing some turkey between two slices of wheat while my coffee brews saves us up to $50 a week on lunches bought out.  So, there you have division of labor, there you have a wife with an eye to the bottom line, yet somehow I am embarrassed to admit to you that I do this small housewife-y thing each morning.  Sometimes it feels like every decision within my life as a SAHM is so loaded, it can be paralyzing.

What's shaking out of both this listserve discussion and my own thoughts on the matter is how important it is to stand by the decisions that feel right to you.  For me, right now, it feels right to be home and right to take on the responsibilities of running our home.  It feels right to use this time to try and tease out what I want next in my career and try to push progress along in whatever incremental steps I can manage.  It feels right to make my husband a sandwich.  The thing of it is to somehow keep everything in balance.  To find time to nurture my child and my marriage, and also my professional aspirations, my physical self (see: four mile run squeezed into this manic Monday morning) and my friendships.  Most days, at least one of these things has got to give, and it is damn near impossible to prioritize what should go first. 

I think the best thing we can do for each other as modern moms, modern women and modern feminists is to keep talking about these pressures and choices as openly as possible, and to not judge anyone on how they choose to execute their own particular brand of life.  I take so much solace in the community of moms in my life and in the diversity of our experiences.  I'm also interested in how the division of labor shakes out in homes without children.  These are loaded topics and the more we share of them, the less fearsome they become. 

For me, for now, the boy is waking from his nap and I could use a cup of tea.
Tell me, what does your balance look like?


  1. In our house there are no children yet, just a dog. Our balance consists of both of us working full-time jobs (and I actually took an extra job a few years back). When it comes to household duties, I would say that I tend to bare the weight of those. I don't think there was ever a discussion, it's just the way things are. But I actually like doing it. I like providing good food, a clean house & all that goes with it. I pack Nick's lunch every night for him...but I also do my own at the same time. I tend to cook dinner, but I love cooking & am the one who hunts for new recipes, makes weekly menu plans, etc. But it's not like he just sits around and never helps with cooking, dishes or laundry, he does. And I've also never had to mow the lawn, ever. We both shovel the driveway, whoever gets home first in the evening starts. We approach our household duties & our lives, as a team, because that's what we are. There's no scoreboard on the wall in our house.

    But this is not to say that I do not have my moments where I feel overwhelmed, because I do have those moments. And there are days when I'm tired and don't want to do anything but curl up on the couch & watch DVR-ed Project Runway or Top Chef.

    Re: the whole feminist discussion...I'm not sure what to say. For one, I've never considered myself a feminist but to be honest, it really wasn't on my radar until I was in college. My parents both worked & whereas I always had strong, very independent woman influences, no one in my family identified themselves as a feminist. That being said, I know that they certainly embraced feminist beliefs and as I have learned over the years, these are my beliefs as well.

    Still, when we end up having children, I know that I would give anything to be a SAHM. But the reality is, I will never be one. We are a two income household & will always have to be. Short of us winning the lottery...that's just not our/my reality. And I have to be honest, I feel an ugly tinge of jealousy towards friends who are fortunate enough to.

    But like your previous post said, everyone's path is different. And like your current post said (and I agree with wholeheartedly) it is so important to stand behind the decisions that feel right for you. Happiness really is a choice. And what I try to work on every day is to focus on the positive things. You can see just by reading SMJ that you are embracing your current role & enjoying your time with that precious little man of yours.

    Thank you for sharing it all with us, the good, the bad & the ugly. xoxo to you.

  2. I just love this post so much that I don't feel like anything I could write in response would measure up to your awesomeness. So let me just say that you are awesome and I love you.

    Oh, and that I used that exact same pic ("we can do it" momma holding her babe) in the elaborate poster board I made for the bake sale series I held over this summer to raise $$$ for Muirin's daycare. I approve! :)

  3. sing it sister! we are fortunate to live in a time that has benefited from feminism where we are free to redefine domesticity for ourselves and our families.

    i love being home and try to keep these precious days simple. for me, it's about a lifestyle and not a career.


  4. I could not have said it better myself, no really, I couldn't! You captured so many of the thoughts I've been having lately down to the sandwich making. My life recently changed, and in many ways it's for the better, but it's so hard to fight those feelings of giving up that life I had before. I went to law school, and now I am worried I'll never practice law again. I love your blog and identify with you on many fronts. Thanks for writing it :)

  5. I so appreciate all these thoughtful comments. I'm still ruminating on all of this, and will probably post again on the topic. I know I'm not the first one to think out loud about these things, but all of these choices and the emotions behind them are endlessly fascinating to me! Thanks for the love ladies!