Thursday, November 14, 2013

Working Alone

You know what I did today?  I ran away from home.  (Don't worry, I took Anna with me, and we both came safely back in time to make dinner).  

It was just one of those moments that I've described before where the frustrations of the inability to get any housework done with a toddler underfoot made me - rather than staying at home and doing the tidying and cleaning and putting away of laundry that I had planned - leaving the work behind and heading off for errands.  There were errands to be run, so it thankfully wasn't just a mindless trip to Target, but I couldn't help but notice in myself that desire to just get out that I had identified previously.

I took this picture right at the climax of feeling that everything I do is immediately undone.
Seeing the picture hours later (and after a game of 51-card pick-up [one is elusive]), it seems far less overwhelming, but of course the still shot doesn't capture the constant motion (one frame before she was all the way back by the three cards, still carrying the saucepan) or the open pots & pans drawer, or the open pantry (with unloaded bottom shelf) on the other side of the room, or the fact that she LICKED most of the pots and pans and so I needed to not just pick them up but wash them, too.  Or, of course, the lunch dishes on the counter, the cleaning-up-of-which was punctuated by countless stops to redirect a certain someone's attention.  Or the fact that every room we entered had a similar path of toddler-destruction.

All in all, it was nothing TOO terrible (the new routine plus a revolving door of company this week has kept me more or less on my toes), but it sure felt overwhelming.

One of the things I've been thinking about recently is the similarities and differences between my own life and that of my female ancestors, especially my maternal great-grandmother, who by all accounts was an amazing homemaker.  It seems like she (and others of her generation) were able to keep on top of things better than us moms of today - and with more kids, to boot.  There's a lot of things that I could unpack here (and may in the future), so today's observation is certainly not the whole picture but I think it's a piece of the puzzle.

Remember how I said that not having coworkers was one of the biggest challenges of being a stay-at-home mom?  I realized that it's not just in not having literal coworkers in the house - but also not having coworkers on my block or really anywhere nearby.  When my great-grandmother and grandmothers were home with their kids, so were all of the other moms on their block.  It was the same way in my neighborhood growing up.  Now, my closest stay-at-home-mom friend is in the next town over.

I thought about calling her today when I was so frustrated, but I realized (as much fun as it would be to get together and chat) it wouldn't solve the messy house problem (not that the errands did, either, but that felt more "productive" - a potentially dangerous baseline, I know, but still the way my brain operates).  But if she wasn't 20 minutes away, and I could pop outside and talk to her over the fence for 10 minutes before we went inside and cleaned our kitchens in parallel, well that would probably have been pretty refreshing.

Justin and a grad-student friend were talking recently about how nice it is to study or do work near someone else who is also working.  I liken it to little kids and their "parallel play" - they don't really interact, but they like to be near the other kids while they're playing independently with their toys.  Just knowing that someone is nearby in the same boat is comforting.  And it's also motivating.  You don't want to be the one person in the sea of cubicles that isn't working intently.

As an adult, I can look back and imagine the enjoyment that my mom and our neighbors had in an evening chat in the driveway as a herd of kids rode circles on bikes.  They had made it through their days, knowing that around them were women who were working in parallel - at times catching glimpses as they each hung out laundry - comforted by the knowledge that a friend was across the street in the case of needing an extra cup of sugar or a ready playmate for the tornado toddler.  

To make matters worse, a lot of the activities that were assumed to be shared tasks ("shared" used here again to mean occurring in each house up and down the block) are no longer in the collective norm.  I may be the only person on our block (stay-at-home-mom or not) who irons clothes.  On a given night (our amazing Italian-immigrant neighbor excluded) there might not be many home-cooked dinners.  I'm not judging their choices not to iron or to cook, but just noting the sense of lack of comradery in the frustrations, challenges, and little joys in the types of things that fill my day.

I guess I can imagine the women across the country who are doing the same things (and the online community is certainly helpful in that regard), but it's definitely not as easy as if everyone were right next door.  Jennifer Fulwiler wrote an excellent piece a while ago titled "What Google Street View Reveals About Why Women Don't Want to Stay Home," and I would add that it's not just the I'm-the-only-person-around isolation that can get to you, but the frustration of feeling that not only is no one working with you, the only person who's there is working against you.

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