I am sitting on my hands and knees on the slightly dusty parquet floor of the Company Housing apartment that has been our other home for almost a month.
K is in a cot, purchased especially for this trip, covered in blankets and one of her sheet sets from home. H is asleep after having thrown all the soft things I tried to set in his pack and play for him over the side.
Okay, the floor is very dusty. More than slightly.
Each time I try to sweep it, the kids go absolutely nut bag. They go to the front closet and pull out all the cleaning instruments the theatre has provided. They sweep and dust and try to mop with abandon, narrowly missing the flat screen TV, the glass coffee table, and the wall of windowpanes.
I would clean when they go to sleep, but I am just too tired.
Truth be told, I lie on the floor at home like this, as K “drifts” to sleep. It started as being better than fighting with her about bed. She is a clingy one. Now it is just our way. And it is not entirely bad. I get a lot more writing done this way than when I was mean mommy taking her begrudgingly to the bathroom over and over (potty training really makes one second guess oneself) and yelling IT IS BEDTIME! NO MORE TALKING! which is not really conducive to sleep.
Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about mothering and work. Last night I saw a program about Amish weddings. It was not the best documentary. I came in late, since I was, yes, lying on the floor for its first half, so I must have missed the part on why true Amish people would allow themselves to be filmed. And, granted, one couple was not allowed to keep on filming as their wedding date approached; however, it was engrossing, as are most programs about people who live so far removed from the mainstream that, well, people with cameras go and get all up in their faces, trying to make them tell us more about themselves so we can examine the gulf between our worlds.
During the program an elder Amish man spoke about his community’s feelings about family. No surprises here. He explained a woman’s duty was to her family and that things work better when wives don’t work.
My feminist self might cringe if it weren’t for the fact that another larger part of myself agrees.
Not that women should not work, but that, the way we’ve created workspaces makes it very difficult to both be a very good mother and a very good worker, whatever the work part of us happens to be.
I can say with absolute certainty that our house runs more smoothly when I am not working regular hours.
I can also say with absolute certainty that I would cease to feel I had much of a worldly purpose if all I knew how to talk about was poop, teething, potty training, and breastfeeding.
There is a schism.
Today I tried to take my kids to my work.
“Mommy’s work” is a mystical mythical place. Because I am a writer and field emails in fleeting five minute increments and do rewrites after I’ve peeled myself off the floor next to my daughter’s bed, often “mommy’s work” is located on the living room couch. But, at times, it is located in a classroom or a rehearsal hall or a theatre, and I actually have to get up off the couch at odd hours and go away.
Such is my life currently.
Each week, sometimes once, sometimes twice, although really it should be more, I feel, we make the two hour trek so “mommy can work”. It is a herculean effort. Trust me, sometimes I say this to myself in the shower “this is a herculean effort”. Because this requires me to pack up house, move all the stuff that is toddler world with us, buy food for two households, and procure childcare. To make sure my kids don’t completely flip out on me and feel more confused than necessary, I also make sure everything is done in the same way at the same time in each “home”. Dinner equals 5:15. Bed equals 7. There are still time outs and kisses and hugs and sweet treats. But, yes, this is all herculean effort.
When I have done this in the past, it has been for a week. The longest was for three when I took my then only child to Sundance. But this current stint will last, when all told, for two months.
People like to commend these efforts until I explain what usually happens to me physically in order to accomplish them, which is that my body, in someway, at some point, just stops working. I spend the entire time tending to two very needy humans and rewriting and by the end, I am exhausted. The kind of exhausted nineteenth century writers talk about, when they go to someone’s country estate to rest or something.
I do not know anyone with a country estate and even if I did, I am sure I would not be able to find a sitter so that I could go there and walk to moors or whatever while I “rest”, so I make do with reality TV and ice cream.
Okay, it’s liquor, not ice cream.
And while every single theatre has always been more than helpful to me and my family, I keep wondering: what if?
What if this were seventy years ago. When you did not have to get that much childcare, just a comfy hotel drawer, so your baby feels like it is in a cradle, while you go do your theatre work so all you all can eat for the next month?
Then I thin of Eugene O’Neill and how that is how he grew up and look how fucked he was. The first great American playwright, sure, but the guy was a hot mess and then some.
So then, what if more of the jobs we do were like the circus? Cause the OTHER show I watched last night was CIRCUS on PBS, and IT was all about The Big Apple Circus, and I thought, mmm, what if we just trained our kids from very young ages to be AROUND us as we worked? Some of these brilliant circus artists are ninth and tenth generation performers. That means circus is all their families have ever done for hundreds of years. And while I am sure not all of us want to be accountants like our dads or lawyers like our moms, I know that when I look at what my family and relatives say they choose to be, we all end up being similar things. For the most part we are all writers or teachers or social workers or some off shoot there of.
Cause this Circus show reminded me of an author I once heard on NPR’s show THE CONNECTION, years ago as I waited in the pick up line when I was a nanny. He mentioned that if you ask an indigenous person how much time he spent with his kid, he’d look at you funny. Cause the kid was just always expected to be around, learning how to live from his or her parents. And this all makes me think about old times. Maybe cause it’s Thanksgiving soon and so I just read a book about the Mayflower to K and it had historical interpreters in it dressed up like Pilgrims—awfully clean ones, though, I guess cause yeah, it is a kid’s book and showing everyone all pukey with their collars all browned would be gross and scary for children—and the main characters were child apprentices and I thought, mm, no childcare here, these kids are just THERE. Soaking it all in. I mean, I know they were probably maybe in reality not really enjoying the best crust of English life, but still.
And THIS all made me think of The Duggars, that Arkansas family with the nineteen kids. Today the daughter in law announced she is expecting baby number two. If you are unfamiliar with the mothering set, baby number two is a huge deal, and here she just announced it on TV and is very calm with it because the life she leads expects it. If you are unfamiliar with the mothering set, then you do not know that If you don’t want baby number two, there is the pressure you feel every time people look at the already pretty f n cool being you ALREADY are steering into the world, and say “will you have another one?” That, or every time you say you are tired, people ask if you are pregnant with baby number two. Or, if you know you’ve always wanted to pop out babies til Mother Nature says your time is through, there is the pressure of when and then how many more and then how do we pay for all these freakin’ kids and then what happened to my so called life anyway?
But here was this twenty two year old person very calm with the idea baby number two was on its way and you could knock her for it, but I know I can’t.
The Duggars are an obsession with me. They do a lot of things I just don’t or won’t do. They home school. They don’t use birth control. They don’t read conventional literature. They are evangelical to the point where the girls don’t wear pants and the boys don’t wear shorts and they perm their long hair in that way people such as that seem to do. They are not just Republicans, but are pretty much the kind of right leaning set that wants to ensure as many white, their brand of Christian, non pant/permed out/no mainstreaming people populate the United States before other browner less Christian people do. And it’s my understanding that they feel the other browner less Christian people are doing just that very quickly so they’d better get on it. But this is hearsay, their website makes no mention of this non brown person thing.
I just can’t get enough of these people. My sisters laugh at me.
At first it was the nutter factor. One would like to believe anyone who does all the things listed above is a fruitcake with extra walnuts baked inside. What woman would choose to get pregnant every year of her adult life? I mean really. If you only have one kid and you had a lovely pregnancy and your baby sleeps and you don’t even know what colic is and all your relatives are just the best babysitters and your boss said oh just take as much time as you need and I can just send these checks to your home address, right? and your husband does dishes and laundry and wakes when the baby wakes and does not dress your kid in mismatched clothes when you are not looking and when you specifically grouped matching things together so your kid looks like she comes from a home cause you drive a Toyota, not a fancy car that people can look at and say oh they dress their kid like that cause rich people can pull off the mismatched thing AND you’ve already lost the weight, then don’t answer that.
Over the years (yes, I have been watching them that long) I have realized a lot of what the Duggars believe is not that very far off from what I believe, when it comes to family.
That does not mean I do not think women should work outside the home or we should all start perming our hair.
What I realized is that like the Duggars, I would like to believe that there is something so special about children and family and parenthood, that the lines between all these things should not necessarily be easily defined. When I watch Michelle Duggar, the mom, after she has had a baby, I am amazed at how regulated the addition to their family is. Usually Michelle Duggar has the baby on one of those Brest Friend things you can use to breastfeed, with a modesty throw over her shoulder. This woman who wears three layers of clothing in summer in Arkansas, is very forthcoming about the whole breastfeeding/new baby in the house thing. And it makes me wonder. It makes me think what if. What if we did not have to compartmentalize ourselves in our workaday world.
Granted, I know I can’t take my kids to rehearsal.
I tried tonight and their voices were so loud, even as we sat outside the room, waiting for a break so I could check in, that I basically had to banish us, with my three year old stating “WHY? MY VOICE IS NOT SO LOUD!”
And my fifteen month old growling at fever pitch at a picture of the college’s stuffed mascot from 18 something or other.
As I tried to hightail it out of there (the assistant stage manager had come out and so yes, indeed, it really was loud) I dropped my daughter’s babydoll, all our coats, and the two cups of water I’d tried to keep them quiet with.
Not very graceful.
So despite my dismay over the Republican sweep, there is something to be learned from those Duggars, whom I am sure are not very excited about Obama, although they were mildly respectful of him when their reality show sent them all to Washington DC once.
Perhaps there is a Shangri La where I do not lie on parquet floor wishing my work life and home life met at less jagged angles.
Until then I can be seen dragging two kids, a babydoll, and many cups of water that did not work as they were intended from the rehearsal halls I hope to be asked to attend to in the future.