Saturday, May 13, 2006

Popcorn in the Kitchen

A tough recipe for this week.

It requires a few minutes, some seasonings and a microwave.

Take the microwave popcorn of your choice and place a bag in the microwave. Pop until the timer goes off. Open bag, being careful not to let the escaping heat burn you, pour into a bowl and then add seasonings. You may want to use salt -- table salt or sea salt. I prefer sea salt. Or you may with to add some cheese such as parmesan.

If you have children, eat the popcorn with them while sharing details of the week or details you wished had happened in the week.

The point of this? Tomorrow is Mother's Day. C.I. noted something during "And the war drags on . . . (Indymedia Roundup)" that echoed my own thoughts. It's time to trot out another middle-class worry for the state of motherhood, apparently.

Mothers are overworked, just about everyone in our country is -- everyone except our vacationing Bully Boy. But women with partners need to get serious. If you have a partner and you're pulling all the weight, well, as Rebecca said on the phone last night, the sex must be good.
Why else would you put it up with it?

But there's an idea being pushed of a put upon woman who's just so busy doing it all. I read the magazine article (as did Rebecca and C.I. who may have also read the book the article was based upon -- I haven't read the book) and reading of the mother being the first one up to fix breakfast, get the child to school, do this and do that, I wondered exactly why she had a partner?

I've given birth eight times. Maybe that makes mine a no-frills approach? I didn't have the luxury of aspiring towards perfection. I did what I could and everyone pitched in. While I was fortunate to have parents and siblings and grandparents living nearby, the person who pitched in as much as me was my husband. (He still does pitch in equally.)

Forget raising eight children, I couldn't have raised one without help. But, to me, help always came from outside of our home. I never considered it "help" when my husband did his part. They were, after all, his children as well.

I also never suffered from the belief that I was less a woman if I didn't do it all or if the house wasn't just right. In pregnancy, we know we're not going to be able to wear that beautiful dress that looks just perfect and always earns compliments. That's because you're carrying a child even though it looks as though you've swallowed a water mellon. You have to be practical, or really brave, in those last months especially.

I always saw raising children as an extension of pregnancy. Just as you settled for pracitcal when choosing maternity clothes, you settled for practical in terms of the house once kids were a part of it. The fantasy of an white living room was on hold. A white sofa and kids do not co-exist naturally.

Some people raising children by themselves don't have the luxury of another person to do their share. They may also not have friends or family who can help out. If that's you, stop reading. It's Saturday and you already do enough so if you've got the time to read right now, use it instead to do something fun for yourself.

But if you're reading and you have children and a partner, I'll share a few things that you can take to heart or dismiss.

If you're taking your child (or children) to school every day, why is that? Your partner can't find the school? Is he (or she) banned from school property?

You're making breakfast every morning shortly after you rise, why is that? No one else can work the stove?

My point here is to ask: why?

In some cases it's because we buy into this notion that if we don't everything we're supposedly supposed to do, we're somehow failing. (As "mothers" for women -- but this may apply to some men, both straight and gay, raising children as well.) That's cultural learning, not practical experience.

With eight children, there were always multiple needs. If I was dealing with one child's crisis when another child needed my attention, I learned quickly my limitations as one person. "Go talk to your father." It's one sentence, you can say it. (Or "Go talk to your mother" for some people.) If it couldn't wait and I was already dealing with one issue, then I couldn't deal with two, or three, or four, or five, or . . .

Our son Mike has written about how all the children were expected to pitch in. That's a necessacity in a big family. It should be the case in any family. One person cannot and should not carry the burden or the bulk of the burden.

The children knew they were responsible for making up their own beds, to give one example. That didn't mean, and this is a point that had me nodding when I read C.I.'s entry, that I then went back and said, "That's not good enough for me, I'll remake that bed." I wasn't sleeping in it. If it was a little sloppy, to steal from Cedric, "Oh well." I had enough work without making additional work for myself by deciding that everything would be perfection.

Mike was the worst about making his bed. He knew his oldest sister would come along and straighten his attempt for him. When she moved out, he suddenly had to face that his bed wouldn't be fixed by her and he started making it correctly. All knew how to do that. They were shown that and then, however, they made it up was their business. (They did, however, have to make it up. It might just mean pulling the bed spread up, as was the case with Mike, but they had to make it.)

I thought of an aunt when I read C.I.'s comment a sociology professor had made. I called C.I. and aksed, "Is the woman talking about her mother having a problem with the beds?" She was. I knew it because that was my aunt. The bed had to be made just so, with the corners just so, the pillows just so, everything just so. Her husband would make it and she would rip everything apart and remake it herself.

If it was her hang up and gave her peace, more power to her, but everyone in my family felt she was making more work for herself.

So that's a piece of advice, don't make more work for yourself.

Children forget things. That includes making beds, so you send them back to their rooms to make up their beds. But I'm actually thinking of "I need . . ." It may be a practice or game that they've forgotten. In that case, Cedric again, "Oh well." If they waited until the last minute to inform me of a practice or a game, they didn't go. Even if I had the time or my husband had the time to take them. If they were old enough and able to get their own (walking or taking the bus), then they could go. Otherwise, they missed it. They quickly learned that if they wanted a ride, they needed to say something ahead of time. I came up with that rule early on and both my husband and I followed it with only the exception of a special practice or rehearsal being called at the last minute. If that happened, it certainly wasn't the fault of any child but of an adult who couldn't plan.

What about school projects? An assignment is due the next day and you hear "I need . . ." Due to that being something that's academic and graded, that meant going out at the last minute for it. But not without consequences. If it took us an hour to get ready for the store, go to the store, buy the item and come back home, that was an hour the child who had the need was giving the next day to something around the house. (Usually dusting because things always need dusting.) I said that upfront. "We'll run to the store now, but tomorrow, you're dusting."

As with missing a game or a practice, they learned quickly that they needed to be more on the ball and not wait until the last minute.

With the first child, I had all these dreams and probably would have tried to be Martha Stewart (or my concept of her) for several years had the second child not quickly followed. I also benifitted from the fact that I was raised after the second wave of feminism and was aware, from my own mother and her sisters, of the critiques that came before.

Maybe other women haven't been as lucky. But once you have children, regardless of what you know about feminism going in, you have real life experience. You can learn from it or you can live in a fantasy world.

If playing Joan of Arc is your idea of happy, go for it, by all means. And if listing all the duties you've grabbed is your way of feeling better about yourself, continue sharing. But most women I know aren't going to be listening and thinking, "You're awesome!" Hopefully, if it makes you happy, they'll be happy for you. But other than that, you're asking for something you're not going to get: sympathy.

Our second oldest son and our daughter Kelley (Kelley and Mike are the only ones who don't mind if I use their names here) was the worst about needing something cleaned. He was the first to be put on laundy duty as a result. After I taught him how to use the washer and dryer, he could wash anything of his whenever he wanted. He also took care of the wash period. That's a huge job in any family, especially one of our size. My husband and I would help him at least once a week and during spring cleaning, but we always let him know, "We're here to help, you're calling the shots." He took a lot of pride in the task. Before that, it was split between his older brother and sister with my husband and I on back up duties and we were forever running behind. When all he had to focus on was his own bedroom and the laundry, he took to it with such enthusiasm that we were all shocked. (He'll say to this day that he was so glad not to have different tasks each week but the same ones.) He made up his own schedule and, as we did with the kids on other things, he enforced it. If he did laundy Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and someone needed something, just had to have it, cleaned Wednesday night, "Oh well."

Cooking meals was always my task. The kids, as they grew older, would often make their own snacks. But when you're cooking for so many children and at least two adults, it really is a task, not just in terms of the amount of work but in terms of knowing how much to fix. I'm sure I've done my share of complaing to friends and family about having to stagger half-awake into the kitchen each morning. But meals were the only task I made my own. And, as I've written before, the thought of several courses, went out of the marriage early on. (My husband would usually bring home chicken or pizza whenever we could afford it. However, with a large family, if something burned -- and it often did, burned beyond eating -- you were looking at throwing out a sizeable portion of food so it just wasn't worth it.)

If one of the children wanted to watch TV in after school and had passed the "Have you done your homework?" quiz, great. While they watched, they could pick up the living room or dust. There was always a number of things needing to be done and by spreading it out, it was done. That's not to say the house was spotless, it is to say it's always been liveable.

Except when a cold or flu was running through the family. When that happened, as a parent, I did pick up the slack. But when everyone was healthy, everyone did their part.

Mike's youngest sister, the baby of the family, has grown through life with the statement/threat that when she gets married, she's making all of her children do everything. As the baby of the family, she wasn't old enough to see what a team we really were. (She also doesn't grasp that what she does now, such as cleaning the living room, isn't as difficult as it was for her siblings when there were eight of them living in the home. There is much less to pick up now.)

But when she makes that vow/threat today, I'm not hurt. I think it's great that if she has children (she may not, not everyone has children, it's not a requirement though the article may make you think it is), she's already realized that she's not going to have to do it all.

Reading the article, and I'm being nice and not mentioning it, I felt I was reading about some with actual problems (such as single mothers with no support network) and some who had decided they were Joan of the Hearth willing to burn at the stake to be Super Mom. If that's your fantasy, go for it. But don't plan on having a large family unless you've got good insurance that will pay for your lengthy, hospitalized rest.

I kept thinking, "She needs an Alice." Remember The Brady Bunch. Did Carol Brady ever do anything besides read in bed and occassionally help Alice carry in the groceries? I'm not remembering it. I'm remembering Alice serving dinner at the table and Alice cleaning and Alice doing pretty much everything. If you can afford help, go for it.

But most of us can't. Which is why, I argue, you have to realize that a family is not a group of people you are there to serve. A family is group of people who all pitch in.

That's not one person and reading the tale of the first woman, I thought, "Give her two more years tops and she'll either be institutionalized or she's going to wise up." Nudge your partner in bed, and tell him/her to get up and make up toast. Toast can be a breakfast meal. If you're that stressed out, toast can be all that is cooked. It can be rounded out with a piece of fruit and/or cereal. And that shower the woman was rushing to take and get her make up on? She could have done that fifteen to twenty minutes later while her husband and child were in the kitchen.

I didn't dislike the woman, but I didn't sympathize with her. I felt she was taking on everything and that she needed to decide whether she got her kicks doing that or not. If she does, complain for fun, many people do. If she doesn't, she needs to stop trying to do it all.

That may be harder to grasp when it's just you, a partner and one child. You may think, "Well I should do everything." But I showed the article to my friends and we were all, sad to say, laughing at the woman. Not at the difficulties she had, but at the fact that she was making her life more difficult. She might get sympathy in some eager beaver Mommies & Me class. But among working class women, she just received a lot of laughs. She was trying to be Carol Brady and Alice rolled into one. Someone needs to tell her, "The Brady Bunch was a TV show."

Times are hard. Everyone has to work these days. That's adults (inside the home and often out) and children. No one can do it alone and, a point of feminism, no one should have to.

But what most bothered me about the article, timed to celebrate Mother's Day, was this notion of Mother's Day as a holiday. That's a nice little TV movie, it's not reality. There is never Mother's Day that is an off day. Quit kidding yourself. Once you have children, you are always "on." Even when they leave home, they often choose Mother's Day as the day to break some news, usually not, "I got a raise, Ma!"

But that's life. There's no holiday in life, either. You get together and celebrate the holidays you celebrate and they're as messy as any other day with someone breaking bad news or working through some perceived sleight from years ago. (I have an older sister who has to, has to, bring up the fact that our youngest sister got a wonderful coat, years after we'd left the house, when she never got her dream coat, always had to have a cloth coat, and how much that hurt her, at 23, to come home and see our youngest sister in that rabbit fur coat -- you'd think it was a mink stole. We've all heard the story a million times and know we'll continue to hear it a million more.)

I was also bothered by another thing and I was glad to hear from C.I. and Rebecca that they were as well. They felt the article was written for Young Bride and not for our current world. I'll agree with that. Reading over and over about "maternity leave" (sometimes the authors tossed in "paterntiy leave"), I did have to wonder exactly how well off the authors were? Reality is that these days, FAMILY LEAVE is much more likely to be used to care for an ailing parent. With the baby boom hitting the golden years, that's only going to become more common. Parents are going to have to deal with not only children but their own parents. The world portrayed in the article struck me as highly simplistic in many cases.

For all the sympathies to single mothers, the article struck me as something written by and for White, upper-middle-class women. It was divorced from reality.

Whether those with partners were taking on every duty or not, there wasn't a thing in the article that hadn't been written by second wave feminists and that women haven't been dealing with for many years. But the article didn't seem to have any appreciation for feminism. After the first story (the woman trying to do it all), it should have been pointed out, "You don't have to do it all." Feminist writing I grew up on would have made the point then if not opening with it.

It seemed to glorify in the notion of "Oh the work we do." Considering the state of the world, not present in the article, I was not impressed.

There was no discussion of the value of the work that goes unpaid, no suggestion, as Gloria Steinem has often made, that all this unapid work (essential to society) should be factored in the GDP (as is done in Canada). It was two women writing about women with no feminist perspective beyond "wages!" Wages are important and a huge body of work already exists on that topic that addresses the topic much better.

I imagined some good soul reading the article and making the mistake of making it a Mother's Day gift to their own mother. That's about as useful as the multitude of ties many fathers get every Father's Day. There's nothing in the article that should be news to most women. It read like a make-work project that was done between luncheons.

Is that harsh? So is life right now. We're a nation at war, not noted in the article, and they want to share a bunch of stories and a few facts (on wages) that aren't news to any but the most sheltered. Considering that the organization responsible for the book is the same organization that goes through periods of ignoring the war, that's really not surprising.

But if anyone's purchased the book as a Mother's Day gift, let me help you out and possibly salvage tomorrow, don't give it. No mother needs that book as a gift. She's probably quite aware of her life without a hastily put together book telling her about it. Give her something useful like CODEPINK's Stop The Next War Now. Or, as C.I. suggested, Judith Stacey, Susan Bereadu and Dan Daniels' wonderful And Jill Came Tumbling After: Sexism in American Education. (A great book that my mother gave me when I had my first child. At a time when I was getting various child care books, all with soothing language and soggy 'theories,' this was the only book worth the time of reading.)

Semi-soulful explorations on the state of motherhood may be news to some, but not to mothers. Possibly, those as well off as the authors appear to be may read it and be shocked that not everyone has all the benefits they do but working women have no use for this book. If they want to know about wages, they want to know about them at length and this article's factoids don't indicate that there's anything in it that addresses the structured system in the United States, merely notes it and proposes some hand wringing.

My husband wondered if the book might offer more than the article? If so, that the authors' problems. They got several pages to make their case (promote their book) and only served to waste time and kill any interest in their book.

I'll note this from CODEPINK:

Declare peace on Mother's Day with CODEPINK! We will be gathering in Washington DC for a 24-hour vigil outside the White House on May 13-14, and will be joined by amazing celebrity actresses, singers, writers, and moms, including Cindy Sheehan, Patch Adams, and Susan Sarandon! Bring your mother, children, grandmothers, friends, and loved ones. We will be honoring the mothers of the fallen by sending them organic roses. Click here to send your rose! We're also writing letters to Laura Bush to appeal to her own mother-heart, turning them into a book, "Letters to Laura." For event info click here, read our blogs and check out our online store for gift ideas.

I think you should know about it. Why? You can see how much attention it gets from the media. That's women honoring Mother's Day which isn't about, as intended, taking a "break" from the world. And most mothers tomorrow won't get a break from the world. Maybe, if they're of a certain economic bracket and they've martyered themselves all year, their spouses will take a little pity on them and give them breakfast in bed. Maybe even take them out for a nice lunch or dinner. But in the real world that most of us live in, we'll be doing what we usually do while hopefully getting a hug from our kids. That's reality.

So instead of trying to fix something wonderful this week, let's all just make a point to pop some pop corn and, if we're lucky, share it with the people in our lives. Have a nice conversation about what's going in our lives and in the world around us. Be part of the world around you.

Some things worth reading:
"The joke is always Thomas Friedman. Always."
"preaching to the converted"
"Different stuff"
"Guns & Butter and the crappy 1000th issue of Rolling Stone"
"Bully Boy caught lying & spying again"
"NYT: The intentionally blind and the willfully useless (yes, Dexy's back in print)"
"hud run by a liar"
"more on hud's lead liar alphonso jackson"
"The news is not good."
"Chaos and violence continue"
"TV: The Urine Stains of David Mamet"
"Head on Home (a musical in four scenes)"
"TV commentary takes a back seat this week to Colbert"
"Shame of the Week (Musical)"
"NYT: Says nah-nah, we did in December, though they really didn't (Shane & Lichtblau)"
"Kat's Korner: Pink's not dead or silent"
"Kat's Korner: Need deeper? Check out Josh Ritter's The Animal Years."
"Kat's Korner: Richie Havens: The Economical Collection"
"Kat's Korner: Neil Young's Living With War -- key word 'Living'"