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Confessions of a mostly stay at home mom

I’m primarily a stay at home mom. And sometimes people pay me to work as a doula and as a freelance video producer and editor. When I have a project or a client or both, I trade time I normally spend cleaning and cooking for the opportunity to dive into a creative project and relationship. I make money. And I feel like I’m doing something.

It’s a strange distinction, since when I’m not working for money, I’m still doing something. A lot of things, in fact. Managing our house, its cleanliness, food stores, our finances, and attending to the myriad of needs and whims of our 3 and a half year old, J. Also, for the last 7-ish months, I’ve been gestating another human.

When I write it all down like that, it sounds pretty impressive.

My lived experience: not so much.

Last week, I caught myself saying, “Work? Well, I delivered my last video project, and my last doula client give birth last week, so I’m done working until I pick things up after this baby is born.”

Totally.

By “done working” I mean this:

I wake up every other morning when J does, at or before 7am (thank you A, for taking every other morning so I can sleep till after 8:30), we cuddle in bed, then make breakfast. I read J books, get him dressed (we’re down to one of 2 outfits these days that he wants to wear—both are pajamas), tote him along for whatever projects I need to get done that day (gardening—easy to accommodate his boisterous, physical self; grocery shopping—less so), go to a park or meet up with a friend of his at some point, dole out snacks, make and eat lunch. We pay for childcare 3 mornings a week, so on those mornings I get time to wash dishes, clean and cook uninterrupted. Or pay bills, or sleep or blog or get my hair cut or go to therapy. In the afternoons, I shepherd J through an hour of “quiet time” which often results in numerous trips upstairs to help him poop, make sure he’s not pilfering the Tums he discovered on my bedside table or coloring his walls with crayon. Sometimes I manage to sneak in a nap. Then it’s more errands, maybe playing trains or orange jellyfish or poisonous space triceratops. Then onwards to interrupted dishwashing and dinner preparation. A usually gets home at 6:15, we eat, then the bedtime ritual begins and A usually takes him up to his room to play songs sometime after 7.

“I’m done working.”

How is it that I fall for this: the chronic and devastating under-valuation of managing a home and raising children?!

Yet I do. At first glance, I only consider or talk about paid work as work. When I lay on the couch while J is at childcare or during “quiet time,” I often feel guilty for watching Project Runway.

It’s hard for me to admit this because I know how I would like to feel. I’d like to be highly aware of the kick ass work that I’m doing.  I’d like to feel the weightiness of the contribution I’m making to the world every day. I’m nourishing people’s bodies, I’m helping 2 new people to emerge into the world. I’m tending the soil out of which my family grows.

My lived experience, though, is that many moments of every day, I feel somehow diminished by the work that I do at home.

Since becoming a mother, I feel like my value in the world has decreased.

So why the disconnect? Why do these judgments lurk in the dusty, dark corners of my mind, even while I “know” that the work I’m doing is extremely important?

I’m sure the repetition of things said and not said during my childhood has something to do with it. There was the recognition I got, even as a kindergartener for being “gifted and talented,” and I was regularly told that I could do or be anything under the sun—a scientist, a lawyer, a doctor, or president. I believed it. I wanted to be an archaeologist, a geologist, a dancer and an artist. But I can’t remember one time as a child that I imagined, or was encouraged to think about how motherhood or contributing to a family was a pursuit worth aiming towards. That is not to say that anyone ever looked at me and said “Being a mother is worthless work.” But somehow, here I am, washing dishes and loving my son and feeling less relevant somehow.

I’ve thought many times that I always have the choice to go out and get a full-time job. And I don’t want that. What I want is, to some degree, what I have—flexibility to spend time with my children and regular opportunities to make money in ways that I find engaging.

The other thing I want is to consistently feel that the mothering work I do is a valuable contribution. Dare I say just as valuable as the work that my partner does at his office everyday.

Here’s a novel idea–my sister mentioned recently that she knows a couple who organized their budget to pay the stay at home parent for the time she spends with their child. At first, I hated how reductive this sounded. This whole problem isn’t just about money.

But it’s definitely a factor.

What if our monthly budget spreadsheet actually listed the monetary value of the work I’m doing every month?  We have a line item for childcare—but that’s just when we pay other people to do it.

What if we found some way to account for the fact that every hour I spend with J is an hour that A can spend making money at his office job?

What if we started talking about the parenting I’m doing everyday as my work or stopped referring to A’s time he spends doing city planning as his?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m off to do some more work.

Feminism, pronouns and arts and crafts

We had a tragic accident at our house recently.

Train engineers the size of wine corks (where is my mind?!) tend to escape my 1st pass of throw-various-toys-into-various-boxes-so-I-can-walk-on-level-ground-in-my-own-home. So J’s esteemed engineer was marooned on our floor, only to be crunched under one of our giant feet. It was a grisly injury to be sure, but I felt confident in my skills once I found where the head had rolled off to.

As I was holding the head in place for the 3rd time, cursing myself for not having the patience to let the glue set, I had an idea. And as I tried unsuccessfully to peel the ripply crust of superglue off of my fingers, I decided that this was the best idea I had ever conceived.

You see, I’ve been having a daily battle in my mind, since J was very young. It is a battle with pronouns. I started to resent his children’s books, which were so casually saturated with male characters. Male humans. Male trucks. Male ducks. I decided that I could provide some strategic revisions to his stories, replacing the “he” and “his” with “she” and “hers.” And any resistance I got in the form of, “But that’s a boy, Momma,” I would just quash with my explanation of how some boys have long hair and wear dresses and some girls have short hair and wear dungarees.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I started to hear my own thoughts, and how dominant and automatic the “he” was. So I started “she-ing” birds we saw, and garbage collectors and worms.

Naturally, I had to “she” the engineer.

I had some internal criticism with myself over whether the haircut was too girly, but ultimately decided that I wanted anyone else playing with the toy to see that it was an engineer lady, so I went with the fringe-y bangs and bob.

I must say, the result has thrilled me. Every time J is padding through our house saying “My engineer, where is she?” I feel a warm, relaxing tingle in my belly.  Because more than wanting J to know that women can be engineers and that girls can play trucks, I want him to just see those things as a casual matter of fact.

And I make sure of it by giving human action figures the Sharpie treatment the moment they cross our threshold.

The revolution continues: more of your honest photos

Well, fabulous readers, you definitely stepped up to my recent photographic challenge. Here are more regular, everyday, un-gussied-up moments from your lives. Thank you, thank you for sharing them.

can’t decide if i love the pose or the soft vignette more…
“What is the torture we’re applying to the young lady? We’re washing her hair – oh no!!!”

Laura Turbow shared these next three photos. She’s an honest mom who happens to also be an awesome photographer.

“For just a second, i wish you could press a button and hear the sound of this photo, but maybe it is not necessary.”
“This photo is part of a series that i took of my champion vomit child.”
“Here is one more ‘grab the camera before I grab a towel shot'”
“Too tired from two jobs to even move the belt off the bed. i just had to lay down and stare into space for awhile.”
Life is so hard for redheads.

If you’d like to see more revolutionary photos like these, here’s the first batch I posted. And if you’re inspired, I would be tickled pink if you’d share your photo with me and my fabulous readers at my facebook page.

The revolution begins: your not-so-perfect moment photos!

I had to share a few of the great photos that you, dear readers, have been sharing on my Facebook page this week in response to my photographic challenge. The challenge, in short, was to take a picture of one of the not-so-perfect moments in your life–feeling bored in traffic, scrubbing dirty diapers late at night, celebrating the end of a big day in the midst of a messy living room. The only real constraint: you can’t clean it up all perfect and squeaky clean. No tidying beforehand or fixing hair or making things look any different than they just are.

Without further ado:

Here is a nice photo of my daughter mid-fit
I took this trying to stop a crying fit with the power of the iPhone.
My photo revolution. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I am still in my pajamas. D would rather be doing something else.
Here’s “I don’t know what’s on the counter or if I’d even like it, but I’m gonna stand here and scream till you give it to me” (aka “why didn’t you put me to bed 15 minutes ago?”)
Here is a neither good nor bad moment that occurs many times a day every day.

I have been overjoyed from the tips of my dirty toes to the top of my frizzy head by all of your photos. Thank you. Thank you.

p.s. I’ll keep collecting and posting these, so keep sharing away over on the old Facebook.

A photographic challenge: capture and share a less-than-perfect moment

I’ve been thinking about this photo for a long time.

photo by Jessica Todd Harper

And this one too:

Another beauty from Jessica Todd Harper.

Both were part of this NYT article that a friend recommended after reading my first video blog post. I loved the article for the counterpoint it offered to the “Don’t you just love every minute?” comments that people kept flinging at me when I was out and about with my infant son.

I was so inspired by the photographs that I took one of my own.

It was such a relief to capture a moment simply as it was. It wasn’t begging to be captured, it didn’t show my son in all of his perfect, chubby glory. It didn’t make me look particularly competent or satisfied. I tried to show the moment how it was. From what I remember, I was tired. A little bit bored. And trying to pass the time.

Then last week my friend M sent me this blog post written by a mom of 2 who talks about all of the things you don’t see in the photos of her family life that she posts on Instagram. She tends not to post images of marital spats, colicky infants at 3 a.m. and the like. Of course she doesn’t post that stuff. Most of us don’t. After all, who would want to see that?

I would, for one. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t relish the idea of wading through a ton of photos of screaming children or exhausted parents in dimly lit bedrooms strewn with diapers. But something in me does tire, after a while, of seeing everyone’s perfect pictures of their lives with their children, and, for that matter, my own. The part of me that gets tired of all that perfection is the same part that wonders if everyone else’s life is just a little bit (or a lot) happier, tidier and more successful than mine. It’s the same part that breathes a huge sigh of relief when someone I know tells me about her depression or his failed marriage or her crippling jealousy. That part of me needs to connect with the realness in other people, the darker, messier reality that doesn’t make the cut for Facebook.

This ties into the reason I started blogging in the first place: I feel a responsibility to be honest about my actual, lived experience of parenthood, so that other parents and future parents might feel a little less alone and weird when they’re having a less-than-savory time. And this applies to any aspect of life, really, but I’ve found that our culture’s reverence for family life and unrealistic, filtered portrayals of it to be particularly isolating. The stories we hear and images we see of young families help us form our expectations of parenthood (that later come crashing down…or soar up, perhaps, but that wasn’t my experience) and drive the way we connect with other parents one we join the fold. They help to define what we talk with other people about and what we don’t. What we ask others about and what we think we shouldn’t.

And images, I think, are particularly powerful because they can sink in so quickly. Every one of us, if asked, can instantly bring a long string photos to mind when we think of the word parenthood. A mother lying in the grass, holding her smiling baby up into a perfectly blue sky. A father asleep, newborn baby curled up in his beefy arms. The latest, greatest photo-journalistic rendering of a family of four, wearing jeans, on a walk in a leaf-strewn park, laughing with each other. I like pictures like these. I have some. I want that photo-journalism one.

But I want the colicky infant too. And the sink full of dirty dishes. And the site of 2 frayed moms sitting on their couch, celebrating their son’s decent into a nap by watching crappy tv.

So, I’d like to invite you to take a picture in the next week when you normally wouldn’t take one. To capture a moment that isn’t perfect. See what it feels like to show it how it really is. Without checking your hair or wiping down the kitchen counter. Then, if you’re inspired, I’d be tickled pink if you would share your photo on my Facebook page. Maybe we can start a little photo revolution.

***

If you liked this post and are feeling bold and decisive, please subscribe. I’ve got more where this came from.

Happy Mother's Day from a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom

Living things change. They adapt and grow and die. Trees leaf out, snakes molt, babies grow up into frat boys. It just happens.

Aren’t you glad I picked this picture instead of one of a frat boy?

So why is it I thought the moment I had a baby that I would be a full-grown mother?

It came to me a few months ago when I was talking with an adoptive mother at the park. She brought home her baby boy 4 months ago, and he was now a year and a half old. “It’s been hard to relate to the other moms with kids his age because we’re just hitting the 4 month mark of having a kid,” she said. Without even thinking, I said, “Yeah, I mean, he’s an 18-month-old baby and you’re a 4-month-old mom.”

That means I’m a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom. And back when I was wondering if I would ever feel like a “natural mother,” I was a 3-week-old mom. A newborn. I was 4 months old when I was white-knuckling through my exhaustion, anxiety and depression.

My maternal grandmother, who we called Dee Dee, was most definitely a full grown mother when I knew her. Since she had a son and a daughter who were 61 and 59 when she died, I’d say she grew to the ripe old mom age of 120.

Thinking about my mom age this way makes me feel better. It helps me have more compassion for myself in those first few disorienting months. Things often felt wobbly and strange. Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to feel this way? We don’t expect newborn babes to come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare. So why do we expect the equivalent of ourselves as mothers?

And here’s my dear friend E. Who will become a 2-year-old mom this August and give birth to kiddo #2, growing her mom age by leaps and bounds ahead of mine.

So for my Mother’s Day gift to myself and to all of you, I’d like to let us all be the mom age that we are.

For a mom in her toddler years, I feel like I’m doing okay. I don’t have everything down to a science, like my 7-year-old mom friends, but I’m starting to have fewer tantrums.

How old of a mom are you? Or if you’re not a mom yourself, how old of a mother is the mom that you’re closest to? Does thinking about mothers in terms of their mom age change how you feel or think about motherhood?

What becoming a mother looks like for T at 3 weeks post-partum

Remember the video I posted of my conversation with T when she was 38 weeks (roughly 9 months) pregnant? Well, here she is a month after we had that first talk–3 weeks after giving birth to her baby boy.

I love her willingness to share and how she captures that kind of floaty, coming-back-down-to-earth feeling that I remember from my first few weeks after J was born. Even at more than 2.5 years post-partum, I still feel the challenge that T talks about: to “connect my life before with this new life.”

How are you managing with that epic challenge?

Sadness and succulents

Honestly, it’s been hard to know what to say after my sadness project post. The flood of wholehearted comments you all wrote knocked my socks off. Reading your sadnesses lifted me off of my solitary sadness island and dropped me down in the middle of a feast. And we all belonged. What a sweet, sublime relief to connect with the deep, dark, real parts of other people. It reminded me of PostSecret and had me dreaming of other projects where we could all be anonymous and really let it rip–The Jealousy Project, The Tell-Motherhood-Like-It-Is Project, The Things-I-Can-Hardly-Admit-To-Myself Project.

Thank you.

Part of me wants to admit that now I’m cured. Writing about my sadness and connecting with all of you fixed me. But I know that’s a load of crap. My feelings all have a purpose, a season, and they pass through like summer storms. But no matter how mindful I get, I still return to the impulse to cut away certain parts of myself and throw them into the deepest pit of the ocean. But after loving all of you so much for your sadnesses, I’m reminded once again that I just need to pull extra seats up to the table when I’m feeling these things. “Hey there Crippling Jealousy, would you like some more mashed potatoes?” How many times will I need to re-learn this lesson?

In other news, our walnut tree finally decided to join the spring party.

I’m blown away by the tenacity of succulents. This was a leaf that J ripped off of a neighbor’s plant.

I put it in a dish of water and every time I walk by our kitchen windowsill, it reminds me, I’m more alive than you can imagine.

My sadness project

I started taking Zoloft when I was a 5-month-old mother. I had been depressed before, in adolescence and in college, but this was the first time I’d chosen medication. It worked. And now I’m slowly tapering off of my dose because I want to know what life is like without it. Will my long lost libido find its way home again? Can I be the woman and mother I want to be without it? I hope so.

I cut my dose in half back in December and my dear friend D had to remind me of that fact in January when I was puzzling over why I was zombie-ing out every night with television and a rotating assortment of carbohydrates. Now I’m down to 1/4 of what I used to take and will be Zoloft-free in a couple of weeks. And I feel a lot more sadness.

Since I live in a world that doesn’t save back much room or reverence for sadness, I’ve felt pushed to the margins lately. Like there’s a big glaring part of me that is not welcome. Thanks to my wonderful band of friends, it gets to leak out sometimes, like when I cried on C’s couch during her Easter party about losing my temper with J (he’s been expressing displeasure lately by throwing things at my face). But these are exceptions. A lot of the time, I hide my sadness and think there’s something wrong with me for feeling it.

I know sadness can make people uncomfortable. Hell, I’m uncomfortable writing this. But I think that if my feelings were allowed to take up more space, they would actually take up less.

In my experience, there is little that feels more cathartic or relieving than this: when someone you love fluffs up a nice soft spot for your melancholy and invites it to sit down and stay a while.

So in that spirit, I’m just going to go there.

Here, in all their glory, are my reasons for feeling sad today:

  1. I’m sad that it feels like I have to choose between depression and libido.
  2. I’m sad that J’s blankets and puzzles and diapers and a whole bunch of old photo album stuff is strewn across our kitchen and living room since we re-organized this weekend.
  3. I’m sad that we live in one of the most expensive housing markets on the planet Earth.
  4. I’m sad that my boobs are little withered sacks of their former selves and that my pants won’t button since I stopped breastfeeding J as much.

I welcome you to join in. Really. I’m guessing there may not be a ton of places where you’re allowed or encouraged to feel sad in your daily life either. So I would love it if you would use my little comment box as your personal sadness repository.

My sadness wants to make friends with yours.

Gardening by the moon

Since posting this, lots of people have been asking me about gardening by the moon. While it would be fabulous, it does not mean that you’re digging around on your knees in the dead of night. What I’ve been doing, and what I learned from my mother, is to consult ye olde Farmer’s Almanac. Turns out there are quite a few out there, so let me know if you have any knowledge or experience of which is better and why. I wanted to like The Old Farmer’s Almanac the best, because I tend to trust old things. Instead, I’ve been using the Farmer’s Almanac which has been published every year since 1818. It’s not as old as The Old one, which started in 1792, but I like its layout better. I bought both and have been comparing them. They disagree on auspicious dates for various things, which 1) make me wonder if this is all a bunch of malarkey and 2) makes me curious about the secret formula each one uses for its calculations. And it is most definitely a secret formula. This from The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

Based on his observations, Thomas used a complex series of natural cycles to devise a secret weather forecasting formula, which brought uncannily accurate results, traditionally said to be 80 percent accurate. (Even today, his formula is kept safely tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire.)

According to my trusty Almanac, on Easter Sunday, I planted seedlings. As my friend C says, it was an auspicious day to plant seedlings.

The kale sprang right up, 3 days after I planted the seeds. Don’t they look jurassic?

Thursday the 19th was a “Favorable day for planting root crops, extra good for vine crops. Set strawberry plants. Good days for transplanting.” So I transplanted into our new driveway planter boxes.

I planted my seeds in eggshells, which was recommended by my friend R. It was a dream. And also, delightfully seasonal, if you’re into that whole Easter egg thing.

Once it was time to plant, I just broke the shells apart and plunked the seedlings in the ground. The next morning, when I went out to check on these babies, they looked like they were flexing their little seedling biceps into the sky.

Extra super lunar power seedlings? Perhaps.