Friday, January 27, 2017

Time Bandits: How Kid "Stuff" Steals a Mother's Time

There is no task quite as Sisyphean as cleaning up a home with children in it. As one of my friends puts it, it’s like brushing teeth with Oreos. Getting your house “clean” just doesn’t really ever happen. 

Still, I try. I have a strongly held belief that the child’s environment is a silent teacher, and as a homeschooling mama, I don’t need a “teacher” that is at cross-purposes with what I want for my kids: simplicity, serenity, beauty, gratitude, focus, spaciousness and calm. In short, I want my kids to have the physical and mental space to think, feel and create.

I consider myself a minimalist. I buy very little, and I try to buy only what is useful, necessary and hopefully beautiful and long-lasting. The world I inhabit, generally, is not in accord with this modus operandi of acquisition; instead, the world seems to be awash in materials that are frivolous, extraneous, unsightly and quickly disposable. As such, great waves of this worldly flotsam and jetsam inundate my home ceaselessly. It seems to be almost as inevitable as the tide washing great rafts of tangled seaweed ashore.

The key in that last sentence is “almost.” While it will never stop, we, the adults, are responsible for what comes to reside in our homes. I’ve done the KonMari method on my own things, and Marie Kondo is right: Once it’s “clicked” for you, you will not relapse. I am so much more intentional about my possessions than ever before.

However, that doesn’t mean that everyone understands the burden possessions place on us, and especially on mothers. I want to help them—the spouses, the grandmas, aunts, uncles, well-meaning friends—to understand what it means when, unasked, you buy my children something, anything.

That gift you want to give to my child? It might or might not bring them delight (which is more often than not fleeting), but the one thing it is guaranteed to do is this: It will steal my time.

For as long as it resides in my home, it will have a claim on my time, the one resource I have so very, very little of.

Because my children are young, it falls to me to care for that item. I must clean it, wash it, put it away, make certain it isn’t lurking somewhere so the baby doesn’t find it and choke on it. I must gather all the pieces to make sure it isn’t rendered useless or non-functioning, I must make sure the younger child doesn’t break it, I must make sure that the child learns to care for it, not get it wet, not let it dry out, not grind it into the upholstery. I must sort, store, carry, and put it away, day after day after day after day. Eventually, in the fullness of time, I (or someone) must also dispose of it, somehow, somewhere.

As a stay-at-home mother who homeschools, freelances occasionally and makes all the meals, not to mention does much of the housework (even though my husband is very modern and helps out a ton), I do not have a lot of free time. Really, no mother in any circumstances has a lot of free time. It’s just not part of the job description.

That’s OK. But the next time you think about giving a child in your life a gift, think of the mother first. Do you like her? Are you OK knowing that you are literally stealing not only the time she has for herself, but also the time she could be spending on reading to her kids, cuddling them, playing a game with them, pushing them on the backyard swing?

To put it another way: what you are giving with that gift is the gift of drudgery. Drudgery that will be conserved: never diminished, never extinguished, until that item leaves the home. Or at least until the child takes over its care. (Ha ha ha ha! I must pause here to consider this implausible scenario and laugh-cry.)

Actually, my seven-year-old is beginning to care for his things, and so I do know that it will get a bit easier on the mother. And I’m not advocating for an empty house. But I want to know that the things I spend my time caring for, washing, putting away, storing, etc., are worth it. Gifts can be wonderful, of course. Some toys, clothes, books are the stuff of memories, hours of play, and great beauty and use. And of course sometimes gifts are wonderful because they are truly needed; when the baby grows out of his pajamas, he will need new ones. When something beloved breaks or is lost, by all means, replace it.

I guess what I’m asking you is this: Is what you’re giving something to be treasured or gratefully utilized, or is it cheap, extraneous crap?

Though this post might persuade you otherwise, I am truly so grateful, always, for the love people want to show to my children. Really, I am. I’m just asking you to remember to show love to the mother, too, and to be mindful about what you’re taking when you give.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Yes, I Use My Brain

A dear friend, happily childless by choice, came over a few weeks after the birth of my third baby to bring me some food. Years ago, we worked together and became good friends as we navigated the absurdity of government employment.

She has not a mean bone in her whole body, but when she asked me if I still did freelance writing and editing, and I responded that I did, she said, "It must be so nice to be able to use your brain!"

Now, I know she meant no harm, but it is a commonly accepted notion that mothers of young children don't get to "use" their brains. Now, it's true I'm more distracted, more sleep-deprived, addled at times, and certainly the case could be made that I've lost my mind in some sense of the phrase, but let it be known that I most assuredly use my brain!

When my children get a fever or a rash or any ailment, I begin a triage: what was their exposure? viral or bacterial? how is their demeanor--restless, lethargic, in any other ways worrying? how shall I treat the symptoms? what can I do to minimize exposure to the others in my household?

When my children are distraught psychologically, I research the most effective strategies for lessening anxiety in children, or how to teach mindfulness to the undeveloped neocortex of a 5 year old. Or, I determine, perhaps this just needs a hug and a kiss from mama.

When I homeschool my eldest and he wants to know about the largest prime number ever found, and how to perform prime factorization, I'm learning right along with him (and retaining more math education than I ever did when I was in public school!) When my daughter asks "Where did the first people come from before there were people?" I'm challenged to consider this and explore big questions alongside her. When my baby son cries for me, I think: does he need to nurse, is he tired, or does he simply need to be picked up and held? Is he developing normally and when will he be ready for solids?

What's the right chemical to get out this stain? How do children learn morals and ethics? How does a pressure cooker work, and what are the healthiest ways to cook for 5 people? How can I start a book club for me and my friends? What are the logistics to consider when camping with 3 children?

I could go on and on. You get the point. It's not all intellectual (though some of it is), it's not all academic (though some of it is) and it's not always important (though much of it certainly is), but every day, and much of every day, I am certainly using my brain.

If we are human, cognitively able and unimpaired, and alive, we are all using our brains. Let's stop, parents and non-parents alike, from perpetuating the idea that parenthood (and especially motherhood) is a state in which brain-use ceases or terribly slows. It's not true, and it's not helpful.

I do have a sense of humor though--my thoughts are often interrupted by my three handicapper generals (see Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut) and I do feel distracted beyond measure many moments of the day. But to be a good parent, to be a mother, means to engage my brain in more areas, subjects and times of the day than I ever experienced before parenthood.

And now to tend the fussing baby! (What does he need? A diaper change? Is he hungry? ...... )

Sunday, January 8, 2017

January Inspiration: "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived."

"Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived." -- Joseph Campbell

With three children in my house, my blogging time is so very short! But this is how I will begin again, and so short it is for right now, for this season. :-)

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. Let that sink in for a bit. I am certain that this is a deep and inarguable truth, and yet we all live with an eye toward the problems, rather than an orientation toward the mystery. Of course, we all experience problems, or simply circumstances that require our action and attention, but we have overall become extremely short on contemplating and living the mystery.

So as we begin this new year, I invite you to look more deeply, to recognize the mystery. In my own home, I have a 5 month old baby, and nothing is quite as good at reminding you of the mystery as a brand new person. So find something in your home, your life that can serve as a reminder of the mystery that we are here and alive. Solve problems, yes, but do not forget that we are here to live joyfully, deeply, consciously.

Love to you all, and happy 2017!