Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In Which the Children Take All the Credit

All day long it was the path to righteous housewifery - the plan was a new playgroup/artgroup/open house gig for the homeschool group, but it was organized just yesterday and thus did not pan out. In the meantime, I'd taken up cleaning everything in sight yesterday and had it continue into today to be finished up in the event of strangers desiring to make origami with us. I interspersed the cleaning frenzy with sitting on my bum at the computer, naturally, just as the boys interspersed their watching movies and playing video games with wrestling on the couch and building things in the bedroom. We all self-regulate to some degree.

After dusting and sweeping and washing and laundering, I added baking bread and homemaking noodles to the pile. They rested for an hour whilst I moved the couch and swept beneath it, then facebooked a bit more. Then it was kneading and rolling and getting out the stock I made and the chicken I froze for the noddle soup I should really make a large pot of for storage for when we eventually get sick. Instead, it will be crusty whole wheat bread from the ludicrously titled What You Knead and the delicious and nutritious locally grazed chicken soup.

And just as I was ready to crown myself the goddess of domesticity, my children ran in, after so many hours of merely and unabashedly consuming media whilst I ignored them, to stir the soup, as though they'd made it all along.

All of this brings up lots of questions - why the quest for supermomdom? Why the unchecked availability to media? What happened to the origami? Does this indicate a falsity about previous photographs of children doing activities? Oh, such touchy subjects...

Why the quest for supermomdom? I don't know! What is it that drives me to do more than is humanly possible? How does it work really? I haven't real answers to these questions, only speculation. I can only say that there is pressure from the world in all its varying nooks and crannies - magazines, books, spouses, neighbors, family members, and good lord, worst of all, the internet with all its kagillion alcoves of philosophical aspirations divorced from their real-life joyless drudgey struggle. Somehow all these little morsels of judgment about what is good, bad, or evolutionarily appropriate get planted in my head by way of scientific studies released and random things women write on message boards and they drill their way in like so many insects and intersect with vulnerable bits of life experience and make me think that chicken stock is good, that olive oil is preferable to canola due to the heightened levels of monounsaturated fats, and to worry endlessly about the estrongenic qualities of processed soy, though I'm not entirely certain what any of that actually means, cause me thus to believe that the homemade stock with the veggie-fed local Amish chickens and the organic carrots bought bare, not in a bag, and the homemade noodles made of organic, unbleached white flour bought in bulk at the co-op where I volunteer and carried home in the unbleached cotton bulk bag will somehow make me superior in greenness and responsibility perhaps not to the world, but to some former version of myself and thus help in its small little way to save the world for all the future carriers of my bits of DNA. Not only that, but that the nutrition gained from such toil will help my children to pass on those bits of DNA.

Before I became a mother, I never much thought about my DNA. Double helixes in general, in science class and the like, sure, but not my DNA, what it might say or do. And certainly I never before motherhood considered my DNA with such affection and concern. Never before did I imagine my DNA as actual people, crushed by supervolcanoes or under the bootstomp of fascist oppression, created from the turmoil of infrastructure collapsed by the melting glaciers that flooded the Atlantic Ocean with fresh water and turned the current, making Europe a desert and drowning the Statue of Liberty like some Roland Emmerich film.

Does me having a spotlessly clean home and homemade chicken noodle soup (and bread!) actually hold back that tide? Of course not. Do I even actually imagine all that as I go through my day, making out To-do lists in my daily planner (bought from an anarchist collective in Berkeley, no less)? Of course not. Nonetheless, if I dig deeply enough - which does not seem too difficult to do as I write here now - I find that the reasons for all of it - for my continued heartbeat, my breaths in and out, the monstrous goals I set for myself as a person to somehow fulfill lifelong dreams and secrets - is but to insure that my children lead the most fascinating, world-changing, fulfilled lives possible.

And so I strive endlessly and with great difficulty to be the best mom I can - that warped version of all the tiny ideas and bits of speculation that have wormed their way inside me and tied themselves with each of my neurons to form this bizarre, many-headed creature with forked tongue best for licking wounds and several thousand arms for stroking, cradling, picking, pressing, ordering... And on days like this, I get a better glimpse of her than usual. It would be best for us all, though, to realize that my ability to accomplish all the things I wish to accomplish - those things just for me, those for the home and husband and hearth and those for the children with their physical, emotional, psychic, and educational needs - that though in general, and certainly by the looks of this blog, I seem able to attempt at least small bits of all of it (perhaps not well, but at least all of it), the truth is more that I fulfill needs in the same way that a toddler eats.

Most parents have been there with the child who won't eat or seems to not eat enough or at least not the things we desire them to eat and some pediatrician or wise mother of an older child or some random mama being catty on a message board lets us know that our children will gain enough of what they need over more time than the course of a day. If only we look at the entire week, we will see that their need to eat six oranges one day is perfectly complemented with their devouring of two chicken breasts on another. It's like when Frances Moore Lappé let the vegetarians know that we no longer had to always eat beans with rice, but that we could rest assured that we'd get all our partial proteins completed over the course of a day or so, meeting our nutritional needs appropriately.

This is how I am with accomplishing all that I wish to and addressing the needs of all four of us plus the house. Some days I take the children out and about to socialize and run and play and some days we stay in and the floors get scrubbed (except that's a lie as the floors never get scrubbed because I can never get all the toys and all the dirt off of them in order to break out a bucket and still have time for supper). Still others, I spend most of my time alone without children, feeding myself and my nutritionally-challenged psyche.

This also partially explains the rationalization for unchecked media consumption: we just don't do it every day. Though honestly, we do it many days. It is something I struggle with. We do not own a television, but in the age of the internet and DVD-drives, this does not ultimately matter at all. I have found myself confronting my own habits with the computer and those of my husband when questioning the virtue of the habits of my children. In that confrontation, I have found that I am a perfectly reasonably motivated adult even with my extensive time spent online. I cannot formulate a reason why my children should be denied something I allow myself. Equally, it is ultimately my responsibility to provide something worth distracting them from the computer with if it is really bothering me and I, in my infinite laziness (ha!), choose not to.

The other, more provocative truth is that my ideal would be far different than this. My ideal would be that the boys run amongst gaggles of boys through field and through forest, learning the world of boys as they are evolved to. Unfortunately, I live in modern America with its cities and its mindless consumption and the commodification of all things and that ideal is simply not something I am able to purchase. I live away from my family. I live in a city neighborhood where cars drive much faster than the posted twenty-five miles per hour, where our backyard is asphalt, and we must drive to find a grouping of trees more than a few feet wide. I allow the endless consumption of media because my choices are very, very limited.

Thus, I did not accomplish the origami. It was merely an activity in holding for the potential homeschoolers dropping by. They did not come, so we will do origami another day. I can imagine that my children will have little interest in the origami anyway. They will watch, perhaps, as I make the eighteen folds necessary for a crane, the only thing I know how to do after having folded several hundred for a play I stage-managed eleven years ago. Then they will fold a few bits of paper a few times, crumple them at their feet and run off to do something they know how to do: play video games, build Lego, imagine blocks and dinosaurs fighting with one another to escape the zombie hoards... But you, dear reader, will imagine something far more interesting with the way I will present it. There will be photos of Aleks at the children's table, his lips pursed in concentration over his metallic paper as he makes a crease, and of Bastian holding up a paper crane with a great smile, the afternoon light twinkling in his eye. The image will present time frozen, as if this activity lasted hours, just as all the photos in this blog have. The reality is likely much sadder, unless otherwise noted. The particularly educational activities seem to last the least amount of time - a discussion of prehistoric fish melds quickly into talk of some cartoon or a tantrum about visiting a friend.

And this too is why I do not try very hard - they learn. I cannot stop them from learning. They do it all the time. They learn things I never dreamed of teaching them and ask questions that stump me. And so it is not up to me. Given space and materials and new places to visit, the boys gain knowledge I only dreamed of. So I give them the space to simply be at all hours of the day, and am therefor able to carve out quite a bit of space for me, for sitting and doing nothing, for accomplishing all the supermom tasks I dream up, for drinking tea and knitting, and for wasting endless hours online, updating my facebook status with ridiculous quotations and proclamations of my own virtuosity.


Julie said...

I love, love, love this post! I have many of these same thoughts everyday. I started my blog solely for keeping a "scrapbook" for my kids about their learning adventures. It has transformed somewhat and I find myself not posting sometimes when I original had sat down to do so because I want to be authentic about our lives and the goings on and sometimes think that "reality" won't make a good post (sucky I know). Thanks for being authentic.

There was a great article in the now defunct 'Live Free Learn Free' magazine a couple years back titled 'Those Perfect Unschoolers', your post made me think of that article.

Anyway concerning the "education" of my children, I do see the learning each and every day and I'm put off by "educational" toys and "educational" games, and "educational" whatever to do with kids because I see them learning from many many many things that would never be deemed "educational" by the mainstream.

My children are happy, we have a great relationship with them, their free to do with their time what they will and we are here to help and to strew and give suggestions now and again, but not to force or judge. To me that matters more than all the knowledge in the world.

anna kiss said...

I'm so glad you liked it! I started this blog for the same scrapbooking/track-keeping purpose. I already had another blog all about myself. This was supposed to be all about the boys. We'll see where it goes from here.

I really will have to find that article you mention. Maybe it's online. It sounds right up my alley.

Linda said...

This is how done I am at the moment: all I can think after reading this post is, oh my gosh Anna needs to friend me on Facebook! And that a hot bath would be really nice right now.

Donna said...

I like the direction you are taking this blog, it's something I wanted to explore myself only you write so much better 8-)

I enjoyed your comparison to the way a toddler eats, and your quest for providing a fascinating, challenging life. I find it interesting in the different ways we approach motherhood--you complimented me on the things I make for my children and admitted you couldn't see yourself doing such a thing, but the role model you are setting for your children with regards to activism, with challenging the world, with truly working to make your own world a better place is something I'm not doing very well. And despite my desire to be a true hermit (with a computer), I'm starting to see the value of the village, of a community where my kids have the potential to get all the things I can't quite provide.

Which doesn't have a whole lot to do with your post, but is something I've been mulling over recently.

anna kiss said...

Linda, I friended you. :)

Anonymous said...

I've been lurking on this blog for a few months now, since I found it via your sig on mdc (I'm only lurking there, too, I'm just a lurker, these days!)

Anyway, this post was brilliant and awesome and I wanted to let you know that I do not think of you as supermom, but as an awesome mama who does the best she can and takes good pictures at the right moment (that's one of the secrets of photography!).

You are inspirational, but not in a crappy, fake way: in a real way.

I'll try to lurk less and comment more :D

anna kiss said...

Donna - that's the thing, isn't it? Somehow we've developed this cult of motherhood wherein the mother is supposed to be able to do it all. With women's liberation we managed to pile on the expectation that she also work an external job which I don't think was the goal originally. Barbara Ehrenreich in a speech once said that the goal was that we [women] thought that parenting was so important that men should participate too (and I'm paraphrasing there, big time). Somehow that goal got a little lost, I think. Or, I guess part of it is there, but it gets so misinterpretted. It's so imperfect and the intellectual property of parenthood seems to be really rooted in the mother, from what I see.

Point is, we can't do it all and the expectation that we could is outrageous! And yet, we are so impatient with ourselves, with our flaws, with our impatience and our limited talents. I cannot do everything! I should not feel bad for that!

I really don't mean to project with these declarations - I feel like I've heard enough of these complaints among others to state that it's not just me.

The point is that indeed, you are right - we need community! We need diversity of thought and talent and drive. Our children deserve exposure to that. I wish we could do better in that regard. I wish we didn't live in cities set up the way they are with their wide avenues built for cars and their massive strip malls. I feel that more community would help a lot, though finding it and building it is an imperfect process.

anna kiss said...

Alexisyael - Thank you for the comment! I appreciate you de-lurking. I'm glad I don't present an impossible face. My goal is authenticity, truly.

Mel said...

I have no idea how I stumbled upon this post but I just gotta say....
right effing on!!

you rock in more ways than i can enumerate...