On Saturday, we took the kids down to Balboa Park for a visit to the fish pond, carousel, and zoo train. This was Pumpkin's idea, and it was a great one. Pumpkin still judges the main carousel to be too fast for her (and it is a fast one), so she climbed into an airplane in the little ride nearby, to show Petunia how it was done. Petunia happily allowed us to strap her in behind her sister, hung her arms on the side of the airplane in an almost perfect mimic of her big sister, and enjoyed the ride.
After the ride on the carousel, we headed over to the nearby train, and again, both girls loved it. Petunia was quite serious, and seemed more interested in her crackers than the train ride until we passed the mosaic lion, at which point she said "raaarrr" and started to smile.
Then we met my sister at The Station for lunch. San Diegans with kids- if you have not yet discovered The Station, you should check it out. You may never eat the over-priced zoo lunch again. Of course, we still do, because Pumpkin likes to eat at the zoo.
On Sunday, the mother of one of Pumpkin's day care friends emailed to see if we wanted to meet them at the Sicilian Festival in Little Italy. We decided that we did- so we packed Petunia's snacks and milk into the diaper bag and headed out. Pumpkin enjoyed getting her face painted, watching the short parade, and jumping in the bouncy. Petunia was a little overwhelmed by it all, but had a great time walking around on the little patch of sidewalk we grabbed to eat our lunch. The adults enjoyed some good food, although I wish I'd been able to hack the long line to get a cannoli.
After nap, I took the girls outside to play for awhile, and decided to thin the carrots Pumpkin and I had planted a couple of months back. Both girls enthusiastically wandered the yard with carrots in their hands for awhile. In fact, I only rescued the last carrot from Petunia with great difficulty. And yet, neither would eat the carrots for dinner. Ah well, at least we had fun with them before they were cooked.
Here is what I left out of the above synospis:
- The nap time f*** up on Saturday that resulted in me taking an hour long walk instead of the nap I so craved (the walk did at least get Petunia enough sleep to allow her to make it through the rest of the afternoon without trouble)
- Me losing it at bathtime on Saturday when Petunia kept climbing out of the bath and sitting on my lap.
- Hubby giving Pumpkin a time out in her empty bath tub on Sunday because she kept demanding that I come dry her off, when I was nursing Petunia.
- Me losing it during pre-bedtime snack on Sunday when Petunia threw her strawberries on the floor. Why do I fall for this over and over? She never eats the strawberries. But she signs '"strawberry" and she says "raw-bury" so convincingly, so I get out the strawberries I've cut for the next day's morning snack at day care. And she squishes them and throws them on the floor.
All of this was fresh in my mind when I read blue milk's post (and linked article) about why women work. It is refreshing to read an article in a mainstream publication that acknowledges that work for mothers is not all about economics- it is also about sanity.
It sometimes seems to me that we have all entered into a collective vow of silence about the reality of parenting. Perhaps it is just because we love our kids so much that we highlight the good parts and gloss over the bad. But surely we have all struggled to answer the question from the childless (or is it "child free"?) friend or colleague about why we had kids, and ended up with some lame answer about how they make us see things with fresh eyes (and they do!) or how there is nothing quite like making a baby laugh (and there isn't!)- all while our friend/colleague looks at us with obvious disbelief and cannot comprehend how whatever good thing we're highlighting could possibly compensate for the lost sleep and lack of free time.
Then today, both Female Science Professor and Dr. Isis had Q&A posts from women who wanted to take time off to stay home with their kids (or, in FSP's case, had already done so). It is interesting that the comment sections diverged quite a bit- the comments on FSP's post slant heavily toward "yes, I'd hire someone with a gap"- perhaps because the woman in question had actually been working part time and producing papers during her "time off"- while the comments on Dr. Isis's post slant heavily toward "your kids will be fine in day care, don't take time off". It is an interesting dichotomy, and I'm not sure what to make of it.
Perhaps it is just another in a long string of mixed messages mothers get these days. One one hand, there is still a fairly large societal bias towards staying home- even though the majority of mothers in America do not stay home. It seems that we reconcile this by saying that they would stay home, if they could afford it. But of course, as that blue milk post- and my own experience- indicates, that isn't necessarily true. Plenty of us could afford to stay home and choose not to. That reality is rarely acknowledged.
Of course, some women really do want to stay at home with their kids, and that is great. But I wonder if some women end up feeling pressured to stay home, and worse, to give up all of their non-child interests. If no one really wants to admit that sometimes, parenting sucks, then it is hard to explain why sometimes you just need to do something else for awhile, particularly if you've decided to leave your career to spend more time with your kids.
This all feeds into a society that has frankly gone a little bit off the deep end in terms of what we expect good, middle class parents to do for their kids. We have taken an already intense experience, and intensified it further. Just when the kids are coming out of the time period in which they truly are quite needy and demand more time and attention than it sometimes feels possible to give, we decide to tack on more expectations. Rather than saying "phew, now I can rest a bit," we decide that our kids need lessons of all sorts, and sports leagues, and various other enrichment activities. It is easy to see how a mother could end up in a situation in which the entire focus of her life, all of her dreams and aspirations, involve the kids. In fact, that is in a way what our culture tells us is the ideal mother.
Until the kids get older. At some point, this focused mother is not the ideal. She becomes a "helicopter parent" and is ridiculed for not being able to let go and let her kids succeed or fail on their own.
I am certainly no fan of helicopter parenting, but I can't help but think that we have at least in part created this phenomenon. Perhaps the helicopter mothers are just the natural extension of the false ideals that we are fed about parenting. Maybe we'd have fewer helicopter parents if we all just acknowledged that sometimes, parenting is no fun at all, and that it is fine and normal for any parent to want some other thing in his or her life, too, be that paid work or volunteer work or a hobby.
But I don't know. This is all just semi-coherent musings- I have no data to back me up and it is past my bed time. What do you all think? Is this all related? Or have I finally gone crazy from the sleep deprivation?
edited to ad: In the light of morning, after a fairly good night's sleep (thanks, Petunia!) I realize that I left out the other half of the mixed message- that if you decide to keep working, it is hard to ease up a bit. There aren't many part time jobs, and it is hard to even just downshift your drive for a few years and "idle" in a good fulltime job without aiming for promotions, etc., without being shifted permanently to a "mommy track".
So the choice that may feel most natural to some women- lower your career expectations a bit for a few years while the kids are in the very young, very needy time and combine that with motherhood that isn't all consuming- doesn't feel available. It can be easy to feel that you are making an all or nothing decision, and making it quite early in your baby's life, since we don't give decent maternity leaves in the US.