It usually starts at the onset of an introduction. My wife asks me to an event, where I am to meet some of her colleagues and their spouses. We are happily exchanging names and pleasantries, and other things I am likely to forget in the first 15 seconds, when “that” question is asked:
“I’m sorry. Are you verbing me madam? Am I being asked to recite my list of actions upon waking up today, or the past 43 years? That could take awhile. Well, there’s breathing for starters. Sometimes I have a whistle in my nose that sings in the key of tea kettle “G”, and other times, just a standard exhalation…”
The question they are really rooting around for, like a piece of spinach in the back molars is “what do I do for a living?” Ah yes. That one.
I lower my tone, and eyelids slightly, take a big swallow of wine, and gurgle out “I’m a writer and a Stay at Home Mom.”
“Oh” they say with obvious disappointment in their inflection, their hopes for a gregarious conversation deflated like a 4 week old balloon in the backseat of a hot car. Soon, the muttering and shuffling from foot to foot ensue, sending themselves a “Get Me Out of Here!” alert to their phone. I casually saunter over to the spread of hors d’oeuvres to strike up a conversation with a bowl of olive tapenade.
It’s as if, from the Seventies, our mothers were liberated of their under-wire, but left with a less than uplifting and separating support system. They boldly struck out into the world as women who refused to be shackled to a life of domesticity, by defending their right to the dominant cup holder in the driver’s side, and the carpool lane for child care pick up. No, they were not going to be their mothers (except when they were) who “settled” for Mop-n-Glo smiles, and Corningware dreams of their knight in shining teflon. They were going to “Be Somebody”. Stay at Home Moms and Housewives, as we have been told, are desperate and uninspired and usually get themselves involved in unabashed love affairs between Tupperware parties.
A generation later, we have this dizzying dichotomy between a Pinterest style Parenting which looks fabulous in theory and Yoga pants, but less than stellar in reality,
and it’s polar opposite, Olivia Pope, who lives on wine, coffee, and saucy rendezvous with the President before 9 am.
The term SAHM or Stay At Home Mom is a misnomer, and greatly exaggerated on the “stationary” part. Running around with hair on fire, burning the candle at both ends and trying to make an art project out of it for the 3rd grader before 8 am Monday morning, all happens before the first cup of coffee. The endless errands are the wheels of efficiency that get perpetually greased, but unheralded because no one in the household hears a squeak. Case in Point: My wife and kids still believe in the toilet tissue fairy, who magically refills the toilet paper roll while they sleep, as well as the nail trimmings disposal unit, they think lives under the couch cushions.
I admit it took me years to appreciate what Moms contribute to at home. I missed a good chunk of my firstborn’s growing up years, often leaving him some leftover Jambalaya and a vitamin for breakfast set out at 6:am, and a note to remind myself of the next Parent Teacher Conference.
There is an art to Googling a Science Project before tomorrow, while preparing Lemon Zesty Chicken and not adding two heaping tablespoons of Vinegar to one part Baking Soda and Red Dye #4. There are more than a few tricks it took me over 23 years of “Momming” to learn and deserves to be put in a tri-folded glossy resume under “Special Skills”
1. Grocery Shopping with Children Anyone can go to a store for a bottle of wine and a tube of cookie dough, but it takes the tenacity of a newlywed fighting a death match in aisle 3 over the last foil turkey roasting pan on Thanksgiving morning to go into a grocery store willingly with children in tow. You think Google keeps tabs on your consumer habits? Children will target every weakness in your consumer driven psyche, utilizing tactics of wearing you down that is against the Geneva Convention and most rules of engagement. And efficiency? Remember that time you could confidently saunter into the 15 items or less check out lane? I believe it was 1986. If I can come out of the store with the same child I went in with and still manage to find my parking space, I’m going home and calling it a “Win”.
2. The Lice Infestation Notice in your child’s backpack. Nothing will strike fear in the heart of a SAH Parent faster than finding that notice from the school, in your child’s backpack that there was a Lice Outbreak and your child can’t recall when they received that note. It’s best to boil everything once, burn it twice and forward your mail to the new address. The laundry and water usage price alone could put a down payment on a nice town-home in the Midwest. After you have bagged and deloused all your furniture, laundry and family pets, your child comes home again, wearing her best friends ski hat. Scratch, Rinse, Do the “Heebie Jeebie” dance, and Repeat.
3. Short Order Cook for People with Shorter Attention Spans There is very little need to open a cookbook until the kids leave the house. This is probably where my Mom came up with her famous 70’s recipe: Hot Dog Casserole…for those days you just couldn’t give a fuck less.
If you can master butter and noodles, or grilled and cheese, you have cracked the code to the toddler palette. You would be amazed in how many shapes and ways those two meals are needed to be prepared, and twice as many ways for you to GET IT WRONG! And no two people in your house will ever want the same meal prepared the same way.
“Oh, You wanted dodecahedron shapes in your grilled cheese today and not parallelograms? How thoughtless of me. I should have realized my mistake, before you were going to douse the whole thing in chocolate soy milk and launch it off the kitchen table like a cruise missle!”
No matter what the short ones with the fits of crazy put you through, your Mother will always gloat with the pleasure of one who had openly cursed you to Karmic Paybacks. This is where the plaque “You have two choices in this Kitchen: Take it OR Leave it!” has been bronzed and handed down for generations, prized more highly than the family crest.
4. Your Privacy Stopped at Conception All those boundaries you were taught were yours? That ship has sailed. You have little humans now who only understand the bathroom as being “Privy Theater” where much applause and cheering happens when they perform their feats of elimination, and who are they to deny you the same bravado? But it doesn’t end there. Nope. The age of Reason and Cease and Desist doesn’t seem to come about for another 18 years (and in some marriages, much longer.) You can run, you can hide, but like a High School Prom Photo come-a-haunting, they will find you! The trick is to put on a Spongebob Squarepants marathon before your second cup of coffee kicks in. This will buy you exactly 25 seconds of un-interrupted bliss!
5. You are on 24/7 Alert for: Missing Homework, Dental Appointments, Lost Retainers, Sick Call, Dry Cleaning, Marching Band Instrument retrieval, Forgotten Permission Slips, Inappropriate Pop Ups doing late night homework and Night Before Science Projects. No Guilt Trip is too big, and no Thanks is too small. It is amazing these people you are related to by birth or marriage ever remember to breathe on their own! But then you remember, that once the kids become teenagers, their capacity to be underwhelmed by your genius will safely deflate whatever was left of that ego trip. My first born nipped my ego in the bud early on with the Morning phrase “Hey Mom! I’m your biggest accomplishment in Life!”
6. In the Early Years, You are the Center of your kids’ Universe… And you make every attempt to fulfill this role. You try to cherish appropriately every single word they say and deed they accomplish. Then you recall that you went years seeing only the wooden spoon of your mom’s hand as she swatted you outside and only came home to the ass clenching whistle of your father, from 5 blocks away. This is when you start your bucket list at age 24. After they reach the conclusion that you are NOT an Immortal with Super Powers….
At the end of the day, I realize I don’t have to re-cap all my special skills to a perfect stranger. I realize that when it comes down to it, the leftovers always look better in someone else’s fridge. There is NO reason to disrespect a Mom who works in the home or who works predominantly outside the home. Both women have value and should be honored. In a world crafted and carted out on a Photoshop meme, everyone else looks like they are pulling off the impossible feat: Resumes and Legacies of those Winning At Life. I’m finding out now that the best letters of recommendation can be written in crayon with greasy smudges of burned grilled cheese in the corners.