This woman’s work

May 21st, 2010

In less than a month I leave for Boston where I’ll spend a few days recovering from jetlag and enjoying one of my favorite cities before heading on to Wellfleet for the poetry workshop. R asked me to make up a general schedule for him to help him stay organized and on top of things while I’m away – just keeping track of when I do what I do so that he doesn’t suddenly wake up one morning to find that Small Boy has no underwear and Kindergarten starts in 12 minutes. 

I’d been starting to feel some creeping guilt about this upcoming trip, the kind of guilt that I’m sure some of you moms, especially fellow stay-at-home moms, will understand and perhaps find familiar. I’ll be away for twelve days (two of which are lost to trans-Atlantic travel) and I’ve been starting to think that’s rather a long time. I’ve been starting to think it’s a bit selfish. I’ve been starting to think it’s a lot of time and money for a poetry workshop. (It doesn’t help that the work I have chosen – or the work that has chosen me – holds no financial promise. I mean, even the Pulitzer Prize for poetry only awards ten grand. From a purely financial calculation, every poetry workshop I attend is a net loss – more so if R has to take vacation days so that I can get away.)  I’ve been starting to wonder if I actually deserve this all-about-me trip away from my family. Why do we do that? As women, generally, and mothers, specifically, our wants and needs end up on the low end of the totem pole more often than not.

So I started making this list/schedule for R, and it’s two pages long – and that only covers Monday through Friday! (Though I’ve put some effort into organizing things so that I don’t have to do routine house chores on the weekend.) And I’ve left off the intermittent stuff that he won’t need to deal with(recycling, washing the car, migrating boy toys back into more orderly storage) as well as the blindingly obvious stuff like “feed the children.” We let a lot of things slide around here (ironing, for example, and washing the windows), it’s part of our agreement, but apparently I still do a lot. Laundry alone takes up half the list. Grocery shopping. Picking Small Boy up from Kindi (R does the morning run), shuttling him to play-dates. Keeping the plants watered. Vacuuming. Heavens, do I vacuum. Now that we don’t have a cleaning lady, I’ve picked up the cleaning, too, and I try to stay on what was her schedule but one week out of four that probably gets lost in the shuffle. When I write down everything I do to keep this house more or less running, it runs to two pages – and here’s the scary thing: in spite of all that I do do, we don’t exactly run the tightest ship around here plus R’s chore list would probably go on for quite a bit as well. It’s exhausting, all the stupid stuff I do every day just to keep our heads above water. But seeing it listed out like that, I have to say: I’m feeling a lot less guilty about this trip. Seeing it listed out like that makes me realize that I have a full time job, and this is my two-week vacation.

Do you see yourself in this post? Do you feel a pang of “I don’t really deserve this” when you take time for yourself? It’s the time, I think, more than anything, we feel guilty about. I don’t have a problem buying things that I need (clothes, a new bike) or want (books), but when I carve out time for myself, when I get out of the house for the day (or twelve), there is a twinge of conscience. Is this ringing a bell with any of you? What do you do to push through the nagging voice and take what you need?

7 Responses to “This woman’s work”

  1. Cory Q (funkomatic) on May 21, 2010 8:07 pm

    I have the same sort of issue. I went to a theatre production last night, by myself, and was twinged that my wife had to watch our little boy (16 months) for the evening solo.

    I think I know the root cause: We care about The Other. We value them and their time. We understand that there are few things we, as indivudals truly own. One of them is our time and that to spent our time so that The Other can spend their time as they wish is a type of loving. A real, tangible, accountable way of loving. This is a good thing, generally. It is a good thing specifically if there is give and take in balance.

    As far as housework? I like to say that we would live in filth if it wasn’t for me, but would live in the street if it wasn’t for my wife. I can confidently say that many, many more things can be tossed out and your house will still stay above water. Think of it this way: If there are dishes in the sink, they become the responsibility of the person who is irritated by them first. If everyone agrees that the vacuuming can wait for another week, everyone is fine. As a man of nearly unflagging energy, I have learned this lesson of letting some housework go the hard way.

    Take the time to invest in your needs. R sounds like he is willing and able to keep the place from burning down. He is giving the gift of his time as a matter of love and respect. You honor his gift by taking advantage of the offer.

    Best of luck in your travels and at the workshop!!

  2. Jennifer on May 24, 2010 8:59 am

    Thanks, Cory. You’d think after 5 1/2 years I’d have adjusted to the practical realities of having child/ren, but I still have trouble coping with the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day. And that I have high “quiet time” needs. And that maybe it’s okay to have dishes in the sink (I actually have a huge mental blog about dishes in the sink, it’s a long story, I’ll try to blog it one day). That there will always be something left undone. That with only two hands and three men in my life there will always be a hand I can’t hold. That it’s okay to have loose ends. Maybe this year will be the year I finally learn all that.

  3. Jennifer on May 24, 2010 9:00 am

    Mental block, even. Freudian blogging slip, anyone?

  4. Bethany on May 24, 2010 12:15 pm

    Goodness, do I ever hear you… though I’m not sure what it would take for me to come to the same acceptance of time off as a well-deserved break. I usually feel like I’m shamelessly mooching off my husband by staying at home with the girls, doing easy (but incessant) chores, wearing yoga pants all day, rearranging schedules to give myself bits and pieces of writing time. In my mind, he’s the professional adult and I’m the professional gadabout. There are only really two things that help me push past the clamor of unworthiness. First is going over our budget. I take care of our finances, and it helps my state of mind to see how much I’ve saved by planning our menus, cleaning our house, mending our clothes, and taking care of the girls. I may not be making money, but I am contributing significantly to our finances, and that helps me rest more easily. The second thing that helps is realizing how much better a mother I am when I’ve had my concentrated alone time. (Vastly better.) Not only do I deserve that quiet time holed up with my computer, but my daughters and husband deserve a well-charged mama. It’s easier to see clearly when I look at other mothers, and I’m so glad that you’re taking your two weeks to follow your passion. I know that you deserve it… and that helps convince me that maybe I deserve more too. 🙂

  5. kristen on May 26, 2010 12:40 am

    Yes to all of it. I see myself slip sliding away to the bottom of the list. And so I am quietly cheering for you and your 12 days and wishing for you the most fulfilling and wonderful workshop experience ever.

    This is exactly why I take my son and the summers and go home to California. It isn’t exactly all about me, but there is no house to care for, and loads of reinforcements and somehow it rejuvenates me and my marriage and eventually, yes, my writing too.

    Have a safe and fantastic trip!

  6. Jennifer on May 26, 2010 9:15 am

    Bethany & Kristen – I actually think it would be healthier if I could find a way to claim some time on a nearly daily basis, rather than let it all build up so that I have to take off for so long. I can bring myself to take get-aways; taking two hours a day three days a week (which would go a long way towards the sanity Bethany talked about) is beyond my ability, it seems, and in the long run probably the more important choice for me to be able to make for myself.

    Bethany – I don’t have the financial guilt issue because of life circumstances (modest inheritance) that meant I brought some money into the marriage. It’s amazing how that really takes the financial issue off the table. Good heavens, I’d be sunk if I had one more thing to feel guilty/unaccomplished about.

  7. christina on May 26, 2010 5:59 pm

    No guilt and YES, you do deserve it, especially since you’re following your passion. I’ve taken off a couple of time, once for four weeks, and everyone survived just fine. I’m a terrible housekeeper anyway so the place actually looked better when I got back. 🙂

    And it gets much easier to carve a bit of time for yourself once they’re older and more independent.

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