Day 311: February, You Tricky Minx

by Lara,

As I hope we all know by now (now being whatever age you happen to be at this moment), February is the shortest month. And it always really feels that way somehow, even though it is only two or three days shorter than the longest month(s). This is particularly true this year, as March means Claire and my return to Kenya. There is just so much to do before we go, as I'm sure we will express over the coming weeks, that February is feeling very short indeed.

All these to-do lists are on my mind because I have been slaving to catch up on days of missed work for the last few hours. I have successfully slipped into the rhythm I adopt whenever I visit my brother in New York, in which my workday starts in the evening after a hard day of playing with my niece and nephew.

But anyone who has read more than one post by me has heard about these delightful, if occasionally ridiculous, babies. The point of this post is not, actually, to just go on again about how cute they are, I swear it. As I think will be clear from the high-brow and consistently intense intellectual tone of this blog, I am actually using the babies as a platform for discussing an Important Feminist Issue.

Today was particularly rewarding in the play department because Bobo solved a 100-piece HARD puzzle all by himself, and Gracie Bear had a fabulous photo shoot in a pink frilly dress (admittedly followed by a ten-minute, kicking on the ground tantrum over NOTHING that heralded the rapid approach of her second birthday). But in general, everyone was happy, and there was an excess of joy and love all around. Ecstatic as my day was, particularly in the midst of a fairly bleak week, I am haunted by the sense that I could not do this everyday. I love these children far too much for my own good—ask Claire—and have spent enough time with them to know that occasionally they are just rotten to the core. I hate leaving them to go away, and my mother complains I spend more time with them than any other members of the family. I certainly talk (and write) about them more.

And yet…and yet…I do not know if I could keep my sanity if I spent my life taking care of them all the time. And yet…and yet…I do not understand how it ever works the other way. Their mother is one of those perfect mothers who does everything well by not actually doing it all perfectly: she loves her children to pieces, lets the house be messy, feeds them three cooked meals of organic food a day, understands that at times her children do not look beautiful and does not think she’s a perfect mother. My brother is in law school, my sister-in-law takes care of the kids and the house, and everyone is running around like the dickens all the time. I cannot imagine what would happen their mother had a job too. Honestly, how do people do it? I thought I knew, but then watching this household and all its intricacies, I really do not know.

In imagining my approach to this potential future of my own, I have run up against the dilemma my college friends always talk about. I cannot imagine missing my children for hours a day, especially if my obsession with the niece and nephew are anything to go on. I also really feel like motherhood and maintaining any kind of home is a *truly* full time job. But I really cannot understand how I personally would avoid throttling my children and my husband if this type of chaos were my daily life, even with its monosyllabic and chubby rewards.

But the part that is the worst to admit, and which even our close college friends only whisper, is that there is also a twang of unfulfilled potential that arises in the back of my mind during such discussions. I was not the only one that felt it, but it took us all a while to decipher. It is as if becoming a professionally committed mother is somehow not the correct future for all our energy. I do not understand where this comes from, as I honestly do not think any part of my brain believes this, and I consider my own hesitancy to commit to lifelong and fulltime motherhood purely a representation of my own weaknesses of highly limited patience and sympathy. I think it must be the manifestation of the years of hearing about how the previous generation fought for our feminist rights, and we need to take advantage of them. There’s tons of literature on this topic, and we have all heard it before. But it's probably more likely that I'm just in my self-absorbed twenties when my own life is my main focus and I cannot imagine anything else. But there's some of the first option too, and what's scary is that I need that feeling to go away. I would welcome the chance to stay at home with my kids for some period--how long is debatable--but I do not want that period shortened by some stupid subconscious whim that motherhood is not all I'm supposed to be doing in this ideal life.

It is always alarming to see these stereotypes manifest in your own mind, especially without any idea that they are there or of how to get rid of them.

Or to watch stereotypes form in the minds of others, for that matter. For example, the nephew Bobo turned to me just yesterday as we discussed how old I was and proclaimed: “Auntie Ah! Lurr Old! And you haven’t even gotten your kids yet!" (as if I need to pick them up at the store) "You need to go to a wedding soon! like now!”

Where does this crap come from??? And how in heck do we train it out of him? My strategy was to start talking about sandwiches.

PS--Read a sort of related article that's actually really interesting: The Mother's Manifesto and its exploration of working mother's condition in the U.S.

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