“Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to waste and destroy.” - H de Lubac

October 21, 2010

Kids Out Of Bound
Originally uploaded by Lorenzo Pasqualis
There is an overwhelming sameness to our days.

Morning. Josh sleeps through his alarm again (though I do not) and we let E sleep until the last possible minute we can. I dress him, in a rush, while wondering how he will ever learn to dress himself, realizing he probably already can but it’s a skill I don’t let him practice much on these rushed mornings, electing to give him every second of sleep he can. They bundle at the door a few minutes past 7:30 and I am alone in a cold house, trying to motivate myself to start the day.

In the shower by 8. Out the door by 9. Sometimes a stop before work, sometimes not. Drive the mile and a half to work. Sit in my office, watching other mothers and fathers walk by with their children. Wave to babies who toddle by my office window and wave to me. Wonder what E is doing. Wonder if he’s ok. Wonder if its raining.

I know Josh leaves at 4:30 (-ish) to collect him from Sarah’s house. Sometimes when Josh arrives E runs and hides and fights going home. Sometimes, increasingly, he does not. They drive half an hour, maybe talking, maybe singing to the radio. I know that around the time they pass through Yarmouth Josh will reach back with his right arm and hold E’s hand while they drive.

With driving and pickup antics and more driving and whatnot they arrive home just before 6. At some point earlier in the afternoon Josh will have called me to have a somewhat futile conversation about dinner, but mostly it is Josh’s task to start cooking immediately when he gets home in hopes that we can eat by 7. E plays downstairs or watches TV, or helps with dinner, as the mood strikes him. Our parlor is taken up with a huge train table, as it has been since Santa brought it ten months ago. Soon we’ll need to move it upstairs and then Josh fears that E will go upstairs with it in this precious hour when they are home together, and he will never see E again.

I try to leave the office by 6. I don’t always manage that, but I try. Home by 6:30, ecstatic greetings from E who runs from any corner of the house shouting “Mama! Mama!” but as soon as I am hugged and kissed he returns to whatever he was doing. I try to play with him, but sometimes the mail, the meal, the laundry, my husband, sometimes those things take up the precious rationed minutes until supper and I don’t mange to lie on the floor in the parlor to admire E’s latest stadium or destruction project.

Dinner is served. We eat, all together, E eating from his red plate. I try to use the slip of paper Sarah sends home to guide my questions to him, but often I can elicit zero details about the day. Often dinner is a struggle – here, have a bite, another, three more, two more, just one more. Although he can feed himself, he will often eat those last few bites only if I feed them to him. This weekend, a friend observed us and remarked, not unkindly “young man, can’t you feed yourself?” to which I replied “Can and Will are two separate things” and the questioner agreed this was true.

No movies after supper is a firm house rule. I will clear the table and wash the dishes while his father plays with him or bathes him. Sometimes, rarely, we will finish supper in time for me to wash the dishes and come play. More often, I finish just as bedtime is announced and we all run up the stairs racing, while E shouts “I’ll win! I’ll win!”

Bedtime. E is better at undressing himself than dressing. I get him into a diaper (yes, still, at night) and PJs and send him off with his father for tooth brushing and a final potty break. E chooses books, or I do, and we climb in bed together, often me in my PJs as well, completely surrounded by stuffed friends – two bears, a star-belly sneech, pooh friends, a rabbit, a snoopy that plays Linus and Lucy when you squeeze his hand. Three books (if he hasn’t lost any for bad behavior), and then the light goes out and he falls asleep next to me, warm and heavy, he and I cocooned against the chill of the drafty house, wrapped up in quilts together. More often than not I fall asleep, although I hardly ever mean to. If I escape the lure of Morpheus, I can go downstairs to visit with my husband a little, watch some TV, explore the internet, be companions together. If Morpheus wins, I often wake around 1 in the morning, get up, take my contact lenses out, shout downstairs for Josh to come to bed (he might be asleep on the sofa, watching TV, reading, allegedly ignorant that its gotten so late). I may at this point slip into my own bed, or just give up and crawl back into E’s. E likes it best when I’m there next to him in the morning. I have to confess, I like it best that way too.

And then the cycle begins again.

I can’t imagine what he learns from us in those few hours filled with dressing and eating, eating and undressing. He asked me tonight why he doesn’t sleep at Sarah’s, and I was not surprised. She is more of a mother to him than I am most days. But he doesn’t seem to think of her as a mother, just someone’s mother, not his. We’re in the process of moving him to a new daycare, an actual preschool, likely after the first of the year. He knows the change is coming and he doesn’t seem heartbroken. Its funny to me that despite the fact he’s been ‘in care’ with Maddie since he was 12 weeks old he almost never talks about her, unless asked directly. He talks more about Hannah, our caregiver’s daughter, but virtually always in negative terms. He never asks for them on the weekends, never has stories to share about them, never seems to miss them the way he misses our friend’s children or his aunts or even the other kids at swim class. Maybe its that they’re so familiar. And yet I sort of sense in him that he’s done with them, that he’s ready to move on, make new friends, “go to school”, learn new things.

Over the weekend a friend, a new father, was marveling to me how some of his co-workers “only” see their children “two or three hours a day. Can you imagine?” I gently reminded him that the schedule he was marveling at was my regular life. He’s a teacher, so he can be home before four, and they’ve worked out a way for his wife to stay home, at least for a while. He talked about how he has been rushing home each day as soon as the final bell rings (he’s a teacher) so he could spend as much time as possible with his infant daughter. She’s a tiny infant, born just this past July. At that age, I actually found our schedule easier with E, because as long as he was safe and warm and cared for it didn’t matter so much to me who was holding him. Now though, as he soaks up the world and tries to work out his place in it, its harder – even and despite the fact that I’m ‘only’ working one job and am home for dinner virtually every night.

I started writing this entry (which has turned into an opus, really) as I thought about other blogs I read, with their daily stories of parenting success and failure. I was watching E sleep (unusually, he’d conked out mid-story) and I was thinking again (as I have been all week) about the comment my friend made, about the parents I see all day, about my choices, about how we live our life.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard an amazing speech given by Robert Reich (its available as a podcast behind the link, scroll down to October 8th) all about the economy and the history of “crashes” in America. I’m not going to get this exactly right, but part of what he talked about was the fact that “real” wages haven’t risen much (or at all) in this country in several decades, and that families have tried to compensate for this lack of rise in wages through several strategies, including taking on debt, working longer hours, and both parents working. He quoted a statistic (and, again, I’m likely to get this wrong) that in the ‘70’s only about 25-30% of mothers with small children worked for wages outside the home, and now that percentage is closer to 70%. He made the point that this wasn’t really about the rise of feminism - although certainly women have made enormous strides in the type of work available, the salary for that work, and the general social and societal acceptance of women in the workplace – but rather it was a result of simple economics. Families, many families (my own included) must have two wage earners in the home in order to survive. (Listen to the whole thing; it’s a great speech, making some tough stuff easy to follow and comprehend.)

While its sort of comforting to know I fall into such a big group (70%!), I’m afraid I don’t have any pat way to wrap all this rambling up. There is an overwhelming sameness to our days. I will never be the parent that has a funny story to share each day, a new adventure, a new milestone. So many weekdays are just about dressing and undressing, eating and reading, playing trucks while dinner cooks. The reality of being a dual-working parent household is that its mostly dull. For us, for you as a reader, but not, I don’t think, for E. Somehow, I feel more and more that he finds pleasure in the routines of home. I don’t know why I think that, but I do. Its stable. Its normal. It’s the way he’s always known his life to be.

But I would change it, if I could.


Amber said...

I feel your frustration. We, too, rush out of the house every day with no "quality time" together and have about an hour and a half (which includes dinner, homework, clean up, books, etc.) before bedtime. Luckly Q is home for them (if he's able to keep awake) after school - but many times not - and I know we're lucky to have that (even though it means he's not home nights).

I feel like (and know I am) a bear in the mornings. I'm not a morning person, neither is R. I'm grumpy and hate them. And I feel bad about that often.

I started doing a few things different - I save the dinner cleaning until after they are in bed so we have a few extra minutes. We do do TV (half hour) after dinner, but usually something slightly educational, cuddle on the couch and mute commercials - we get more conversation there than dinner.

I bet E knows how to dress himself - he just likes you to do it. Just like dinner. Z did exactly the same thing until starting 1st grade.

Hugs. You are certainly not alone.