Sunday, August 10, 2008

Motherhood Teaches You Stuff

Part 1

Making the change from working woman to stay-at-home-mom required some shifts in thinking. Big shifts. Some were fairly easy for me, such as letting go of a work wardrobe, but then, I’d never been what you call “stylish” anyway. Clean and tidy are better descriptors of my personal fashion sense. And as a life-long insomniac, the frequent wake-up calls from a hungry, wet baby didn’t feel exactly new either.

Two aspects of stay-at-home motherhood surprised and shocked me. Maybe next week we’ll deal with the subject of time, if I feel strong enough…. Today, let’s talk about interruptions.

Interruptions are de rigueur for moms, and I just don’t do interruptions well. They make me, shall we say, testy. I did not know this about myself, having never experienced them before, and found this shortcoming in my personality terribly disturbing. Motherhood teaches you things. Not all of them are flattering.

Interruptions take an ordinary task and turn it to chaos. Consider the standard procedure for laundry when the dryer stops:

1) Remove clean laundry to a basket.
2) Take basket to living room and fold laundry while watching Oprah or HGTV.
3) Put folded laundry into basket.
4) Carry basket upstairs.
5) Put contents of basket away.

You wouldn’t think of this as a mine field, would you? But every step is fraught with peril. At any moment, you might be called upon to respond to a crying baby or toddler, to answer the phone, to put the dog out. This simple interruption, in and of itself, isn’t a tragedy. It’s what happens when you’re distracted that can be disastrous if you’re anal retentive/obsessive compulsive. Like me.

It starts once a baby can crawl. A laundry basket of clean clothes attracts a crawling baby like a leaky pink nipple. In a microsecond, crawling baby will spread the clean laundry ALL OVER the living room, which, of course, has not been vacuumed in a month and is heavily coated in dog fur. (You don’t realize this, of course, until you see the newly mobile baby putting a furry dust bunny in his mouth. This is disgusting and will motivate you to make more of an effort where the floors are concerned.) Baby will have more fun if you have folded the clothes first, thus undoing even more of your hard work.

This "laundry interruptus" continues beyond early childhood into the school years. My 8- and 5-year-old boys recently dumped a laundry basket full of folded, clean clothes on the family room floor so they could use the basket as a rocket ship. I was upstairs in my craft room taking a few minutes to make a card for SSgt Daisy, a US soldier in Iraq who isn’t getting mail from her family or friends (or so I’m told by someone I met on the Internet). When the boys started fighting—loudly—over the “rocket ship,” I came out of the craft room onto the catwalk and looked down into the family room: a bird’s eye view of the disaster.

Will it ever end?

Please don’t answer that purely rhetorical question.

It was my own fault for leaving such a tempting toy in a public place (though in the past, even laundry baskets high up on my bed have not been safe). No, I should have put the clothes away immediately. But I didn’t because the children interrupted me and asked for a snack. Being hungry myself, I left the basket in the living room. During the snack, I remembered my commitment to send a card to SSgt. Daisy and went to the craft room, forgetting completely about the laundry basket. Years of interruptions have given me a mommy form of ADD.

After this rocket disaster, I resolved to make my children put their own clothes away. Soon, they will get their first lesson in folding clothes because I will stop doing even this much for them and just put the clean clothes on their beds and lock them in their rooms until the clothes are folded and put away. At least I’ll get some peace from interruptions for a while. And they will learn responsibility and good citizenship in the family.

Generally speaking, cleaning doesn’t bother me. RE-cleaning, however, drives me completely berserk. Cleaning isn’t a fun task, just a necessary one, and I’m not one to whine about stuff that simply must get done. I just do it. (Well, most of the time.) But to do it all over again, especially when I’ve already started is maddening. That takes precious time, time better spent moving on to the next necessary thing that has to get done, or making cards for soldiers abandoned by their family and friends, or reading, or playing, or doing fun stuff with your children, or talking on the phone with your family and friends (because you rarely see anyone anymore). Or doing nothing. Nothing at all. Because sometimes, that’s just what you need.

Speaking of phone calls, I now understand why my friend Karen H. couldn’t talk to me on the phone when we were in grad school. She had two small children who kept interrupting her, and of course I was a perfect pre-mommy in those blissfully interruption-free days. I thought she was so rude to let those girls keep interrupting our very important phone conversations about the latest English department gossip. Now it’s karmic pay-back time.

What sort of magnetic energy emanates from me when I pick up the phone? I mean, really, my children, who mere seconds before are happily engaged in setting off toy bombs in other areas of the house (not real bombs, of course, since we keep the explosives locked up—safety first!).…Where was I? Oh, yes, the boys seem totally occupied in making huge messes in other parts of the house, and I answer the phone, and they just appear, loudly yelling, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” They rarely want something specific, except my attention. As soon as I hang up the phone, the magnetic pull magically dissipates, and the children disappear back into the toy-bombed nether regions of the house again, as if they were never there.

We’re working on this. I have told them that the only time to interrupt mommy when she’s on the phone is if someone is bleeding. So far, the magnetic field is still too strong, but one day, as God is my witness, I’ll have an interruption-free phone conversation. And an interruption-free shower.

For now, you must understand that this essay was written with a total of 28 interruptions. Please excuse any grammar errors, misspellings, punctuation problems, and stylistic gaffes. I’m doing my best.

Thank you for your tolerance.

1 comment:

  1. OK I'll try again. I'm actually left alone for a moment...we'll see how long it lasts. My frustration was always in the kitchen when trying to wash dishes. #1 would cry for me to hold her and I could NOT bear to have to return to such a hated task of washing dishes. It took me a while to realize that it was more important to take the hugs and holds while I could get them and deal with the dirty dishes later. 8 years later and I'm not much better.


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