I walk and type well.
Throughout the school year, my husband drops off our daughters and I pick them up. On one of the last days of the semester, Mike had to attend an early meeting, so I was in the driver’s seat.
“Where’s Dad?” Maryn asked.
“He had to be at work very early, so I’m taking you to school,” I replied.
“What do you do all day?” Maryn inquired. And then Ava joined the interrogation. “Do you read and watch TV?”
My jaw dropped.
“Read and watch TV? I suppose you think I take naps, too!” I snapped. And then, my inner Julia Sugarbaker — a.k.a. “The Terminator” — tore through my tee-shirt and well-worn jeans.
“Do you know why there are loads of laundry on the basement floor? Do you know why you ate cereal for dinner last night? Do you know why my hair is hanging in my face? Because I have a schedule, too! I write! What gave you the impression that I flip channels?” (Perhaps they read last week’s blog about my love affair with summer vacation…)
My rant continued.
“How do you think I managed to write a book and get it published? Do you not know that I write a column every week — about the two of you, I should add — and I write stories for anyone else who asks for them? Do you not know that I pay for the groceries with paychecks from clients who hire me to do these things?”
Ok…enough. They had no idea how I spent my days because they weren’t here. Yet something gave them the idea that I was a loafer. They don’t understand what I do because much of it is invisible. I write from my office in the basement, where they never darken the door, and I email everything I compose. Their father, on the other hand, brings work home every night and spreads it out on the kitchen counter (and dining room table and living room floor…). He has computers and stacks of drawings and handbooks and guidebooks and red pencils and all of those things that make him look busy and important. But not Mama.
In May, the girls’ school hosted “Career Day” and invited parents to discuss their professions with students at booths (lunch tables). I returned the volunteer form the very next day, indicating that I would show how a rough manuscript becomes a real book. Ava and Maryn were glad to see me, but I admit that I didn’t draw much of a crowd. I was upstaged by a veterinarian and his three-legged dog, and a nurse who dressed gory-looking “wounds”. The other star attraction was an engineer who knew his knowledge of math and science wouldn’t be too entertaining, so he brought along his hobby farm of chickens. I knew I should have taken my cat.
Next time, I’m going to skip Career Day in exchange for “Take Your Daughter to Work Day”. The girls are going to participate in the event by sitting in on my assignments. They’re going to read pages of legal briefs and summarize them in three sentences. They’re going to come up with interview questions to ask sources for upcoming articles. They’re going to research websites to learn more about topics such as Marcellus Shale and carbon sequestration. They’re going to write remarks for an upcoming speech and develop a press release to promote that event. They’re going to learn how to fix a paper-jammed printer and download software. They’re going to see why they’re wearing mismatched socks and why we have to go to the grocery store at 4:00 when they’d rather be watching “Good Luck Charlie”.
I have to prove my point. They think I do nothing all day and that bothers me. But it’s not their fault — somehow, I’ve given them the impression that I goof off and that’s why the house is a mess and dinner is thrown together. Recently, one of Maryn’s kindergarten friends asked about my job because I was dressed up at that particular moment.
“She works at night,” my daughter informed her. Well, sort of.
But you see, work-at-home mothers have an image problem. Yesterday morning, Maryn asked if she could have some peaches, and I said yes. She stood there…waiting. ”Can’t you get them?” I asked. The containers were in the refrigerator on a low shelf and in plain view.
“I can’t pull the lid back because when I do, the juice spills all over.” Get a paper towel and clean it up, I thought. “So you want me to do it, right?”
Maryn started fidgeting. ”But you’re our mama and that’s how you take care of us.”
Uggh. Stabbed in the heart with a spork. I am their mother. Yes, they’re at an age when they can get their own snacks, dump their clothes into the washer, fold their own shirts and put them away. But at what age do we, their parents, stop providing for them? When do we stop doing things around the house, job or no paying job, for our family? Is it a team effort? Sure. But as caregivers and providers, when do we step down from our household jobs?
As a Mother’s Day tribute, my girls filled out a questionnaire about me (it came in the kid’s meal activity pack from a fast-food restaurant…again). One section asked, “What does your mom say a lot?”
My daughters wrote:
- “Just let me sit down for a minute.”
- “I have to answer a few emails.”
- “We have to go to the store.”
- “Clean up this mess!”
- “Holy crow!”
- “Copper! Pim! STOP BARKING!”
- “I don’t know when he’ll be home!”
They also wrote that I like basketball (no, I don’t), and my favorite book is “How to Kill a Mockingbird”. While I appreciate “To Kill a Mockingbird”, it doesn’t rank at the very top of the list. They think my favorite hobby is playing tennis (I throw tennis balls for the dogs to chase, if that counts). They also wrote that my favorite food is bean salad. Bean salad?!?
My daughters don’t know me very well. They see someone else…someone different. I’ve been “at home” for nearly a decade, spending every day with my kids in some way. We talk. We play. We hug. But aside from being their mother, they don’t know much about Katy Brown. And it’s time they see how motherhood works.