Behind the Scenes of a Stay at Home Parent

By now you’ve probably seen the video of Robert Kelly, the father whose children danced their way into viral stardom.…and his BBC interview. Children look for dad, mom tries to corral them out of the room, hilarity ensues. Well, for viewers anyway. I’m not sure if Professor Kelly’s wife Kim Jung A is a stay at home parent, but watching her on all fours trying to salvage her husband’s interview summed up what many stay at home parents do daily behind the scenes.

In this case, it just so happened that it took place in full view of a news camera.

Stay-at-home parents. Ridiculed, minimized, poo-poohed, satirized, parodied, endlessly mocked. A friend told me a story recently. An adult at her child’s school tried, unsuccessfully, to reach my friend on the phone. When she finally was able to take the call, she was asked, sarcastically, whether she’d been too busy at tennis or Pilates. The same was asked of her child. The answer was neither, but the anecdote illustrates the value many place on stay-at-home parents. That is, usually not much.

The truth is, the stay-at-home parents I know are running troops so that other people’s children can take part in Scouts. They are raising money for children in Syria, giving their time and skills to programs that help trafficked women. They are volunteering at school, heading up committees, ‘donating’ their professional skills in terms of expertise, experience, and time. Do some of them play tennis too? Sure thing. Pilates? Yup. But the idea of stay-at-home parents sucking on bottles of Proseco? Pfft.

That’s only on special occasions.

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You know the folks who wield the brooms in the odd sport of curling? The ones who move ahead, sweeping furiously, freeing the ice of debris and bumps so the stone can slide freely across the finish line?

Stay at home parents are those players, sweeping away all the crumbs and debris that life throws at you to help their family reach the finish line in as smooth a line as possible.

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It took me a long time to realize the value in what I do, to stop equating money in the bank with worth. Just because I’m not presented with a paycheck at the end of the month, I won’t minimize the way I am able to make my family’s life that much easier for them.

My husband wouldn’t have the job he has now unless we agreed to move overseas, which meant I gave up my job. My being a stay at home parent right now means he can travel when he needs to, stay late at work on a moment’s notice, not worry about the school calling him up when someone’s puking their lunch up, enroll in a Master’s course, and not worry about what to do with the kids during the 14 weeks a year when they don’t have school. Generally he is able to delegate most of the boring day-to-day stuff. To me. You know, the stuff everyone hates doing. The stuff which usually makes everyone’s lives immeasurably smoother.

Don’t get me wrong. I complain. Sometimes bitterly. I complain my college degree is wasted. That my kids are–right now–growing up without the role model of a mother who works outside the home (they don’t equate writing a novel or winning writing contests with work. Work to them means in an office, behind a desk). I complain about the huge portion of my day spent in the kitchen. But, my husband and I, we’re in this together. He couldn’t do what he does as smoothly if I was working outside the home. I couldn’t do what I do (right now that’s writing novel 2) if I was working. Despite the trade offs (and there are always trade offs), we make it work.

Do we miss the cushion of another salary at times? Absolutely. But just because it doesn’t result in a direct deposit into our joint account doesn’t mean my role in the family is worthless.

I am the sweeper. Rememberer of cards and buyer of birthday presents, scheduler of conferences and vaccination up-keeper. I am able to pick up the slack for those mothers I know who are earning outside the home, volunteering when they can’t, helping out on field trips and class events, things that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Stay-at-home parents are often the ones car pooling everyone else’s kids, standing in during emergencies, reading to another mother’s child at an open house because she couldn’t get the time off work. I’m not writing that to make working parents feel guilty. On the contrary, I am then able to point out that working mother as an example to my own children. Working parents have to figure out all of this stuff too, and it’s stressful. Our choice for me to stay home leads to less vacations, less dinners out, but it also leads to less stress for my husband and kids–and at times, more for me.

These are all the things going on behind the normally locked door while Mom or Dad is giving an interview to the BBC. Or going on in the house when Mum or Dad is in the office. Keeping the kids quiet, entertained, fed, healthy, play-dated, socialized, and out of the way so the working parent can do their job, do it well, do it with a little bit (or a lot) less stress.

I’m aware how lucky we are for me to stay home and be that sweeper. I know that for many, many families, they are playing all the roles at once. Sweeper, curler, coach, referee, stone, and hell, even the ice. I’m grateful for the opportunity, to stay at home, to volunteer, to write; grateful we’ve been afforded, quite literally, this chance.

But I also expect my family to be grateful for what I provide as well, both behind the scenes and out in front where everyone can see.

 

 

What It Feels Like For a Girl

PrintIf you’re a parent, if you have a daughter, go and look at her right now.

Go on, I’ll wait.

Maybe she is asleep, curled softly against your chest, a little bundle of pink and spice and everything nice. Maybe she’s digging in a sandbox or playing soccer, spinning in a tutu or blowing a trombone. Maybe she’s going out, a skateboard under her arm, or curling her eyelashes on her way to a date. Maybe you’re already poring over college catalogs together, talking about her dreams. Doesn’t matter. Just take a good, long look at her.

Now take her aside. Sit her down. Look her in the eye, and tell her she’s not as deserving as a boy.

Tell her she’s less important.

Tell her that no matter what she does in life, no matter what she is recognized for, what she accomplishes, it will always be diminished because she’s a girl.

Tell her she can’t be trusted to make choices about her own body. Tell her it’s best if she leaves the difficult and complex decisions about who or how or when to plan a family to other people, people who don’t know her or have any insight into her life or personal beliefs. People, who, most of the time, don’t even know what it is like to live in the body of a girl.

Tell her she doesn’t deserve the same attention or opportunity as boys. Tell her that deep down, girls are weaker, that when push comes to shove, they don’t really want to lead, they aren’t capable of commanding.

Tell her you’re always going to hold her to a different standard. Tell her she needs to be twice as good for half the reward.

Loudly explain to your daughter that if she does everything exactly right then maybe, just maybe, things will even out. (Then whisper in her ear that of course they won’t–because she’s always less than).

Tell her you don’t trust her to make decisions about sex. Call her a bitch. Tell her she’d better keep her legs shut or suffer the consequences. Then call her frigid.

Tell her that her life doesn’t matter as much as her brother’s.

Body is a battleground

List the thousand and one reasons someone might pummel the soft flesh of her body, every single one of which she bears the blame for.

Tell her if she’s raped or beaten, it’s probably because she did something wrong. Tell her she can’t drink too much or drink the wrong drink or wear the wrong clothes, talk to the wrong person, be in the wrong place, go to college, go for a jog, walk alone. Tell her she can’t flirt. Tell her she can’t lead someone on, can’t accept dinner and flowers and expect to simply go home.

Go on, tell her that no doesn’t always mean no, that deep down, she must really want it, she’s just afraid to say it.

Then call her a whore.

Tell her you hate her for no other reason than she’s a girl. Tell her it’s cruel to laugh at or reject someone who’s only trying to impress her. Tell her that a giggle or a refusal is more than enough justification for harm.

Tell her it’s her fault.

Tell her no one will believe her anyway.

Tell her she deserves less money, that she should pay more for goods and services just because they’re made for girls.

Tell her she’s being irrational when she tries to point out the absurdity of wanting to make decisions about her own body.

Tell her she’s being ungrateful when she points out it’s unfair she should earn less, pay more, be locked out.

Tell her it’s her own fault when she points out she shouldn’t have to worry about being raped simply because she had too much to drink or went for a run; that she shouldn’t need to worry about being killed because she fell for the wrong guy.

bodyTell her she’s wrong when she declares you are being unfair because that’s all in the past, there’s nothing to talk about.

Would you be comfortable sitting down with your daughters and saying this out loud to them?

Because this is what she hears all the time. This is what we are all shouting at our daughters with our laws and our double standards, our perceptions and expectations, our justice system, our actions.

This is what our girls hear every single day, regardless of whether we are saying it out loud. And unless we work to change it, unless we all start shouting even louder that it isn’t right, unless we start teaching our boys, unless we start changing laws, well….we may as well be saying it right to their faces.

 

 

 

 

No One Likes a Smart Ass, and Other Words of Wisdom for my Middle Schooler

class of 22My son graduated from 5th grade this week. Sayonara primary, hello middle school. There were speeches and a song, recollections and recommendations. Come August, they’ll be chucked into the murky waters of middle school to swim with the big fish.

That’s right, chickadees: in eight short weeks your macaroni art and phonetic spelling primary school days will be but a mere #nofilter memory. Not quite the big league, but the minors for sure.

I can’t top the ubiquitous Wear Sunscreen commencement address that resurfaces every year around this time. Frankly, I doubt a group of armpit farting rising sixth graders are ready for life advice. They’ve got to navigate the minefield of middle school and the perils of puberty first.

Still, the occasion calls for some words of wisdom, even if they’re not old enough for pearls. So son, while you dance your way through the tweenage wasteland that is middle school, here are a few tidbits to get you through.

Expand your vocabulary. Homer is epic. The Grand Canyon is awesome. Everything else? Not so much.

Always thank the person who holds the door open for you. Thank the lunch lady and the checkout clerk too.

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While we’re at it, always hold the door open for the person behind you.

Ask the girl out face to face. Break up with the boy in person. Conversation is a dying art. Cherish it.

Never start a sentence with “No offense, but.”

Don’t worry about your health education teacher asking for a show of hands to determine who has gotten their period or already has pubic hair.

The older you get, the more paperwork there is. Work on perfecting a killer signature.

Always start with something kind.

The pimple is not as noticeable as you think it is.

A best friend who makes you feel icky inside is not a best friend.

You will remember your locker combination.smoking

If you think your mother won’t approve of it, don’t do it.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you’re feeling isn’t real. It is. But whatever you’re feeling right now does not define who or what you are.

There’s a world of difference between being the best and doing your best.

You can have more than one group of friends.

In twenty years, people will remember the name of the kid who wasn’t afraid to wear two different color socks. Be that kid.

It’s ok to want to cuddle your Build-a-Bear one minute and want to Instagram a picture of it the next.

The quickest way to piss off an adult is to roll your eyes at them.

No one likes a smart ass.

Learn how to shake hands. Learn how to look people in the eye. Learn how to introduce yourself. They are the keys to opening doors.

Teacher and schoolboyIt’s ok not to have a passion. It’s ok if your favorite class is PE. It’s ok if the best part of school is seeing your friends. You learn a lot more than multiplication in school.

There are going to be teachers you hate on a Snape level.

There are going to be teachers who don’t like you on a Potter level.

Find a genre you love and read everything you can find in it.

The next few years are going to be a whirlwind of whiplash emotions. You will enter middle school like a lamb and come out like…if not a lion, then at least a slightly older, hopefully wiser lamb. Most likely with armpit hair.

I’m ready.

Are you?

 

 

 

 

 

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

This is from the book I had growing up...
This is from the book I had growing up…

Last week I infiltrated a group of mothers in full-blown discussion.  The topic du jour was the expansive vocabulary among our current fourth graders, particularly vocabulary concerning the body and things that bodies do together.  Let’s talk about sex, baby;  at the lunch table, in the hallways, behind the covers of the math book.  I didn’t think too much of it.  Then today I got an articulate and nicely worded email from the fourth grade teaching team letting us know that they knew that we knew that they knew the kids were up to something new.  The students, apparently, have been using dictionaries in a creative way.  (Read: thumbing to the dirty words).  My first thought was:  “Thank God they are still teaching kids how to use dictionaries!”.

The fact that the school actually took note of the issue and didn’t simply applaud the children for their creative use of the dictionary leads me to believe that it wasn’t just a couple of boys looking up ‘boobs’ on Google or passing notes of a badly drawn phallus.  Bear in mind, we live in an exceedingly open society here in Copenhagen.  In fact, when you are confronted with some ancient, elderly scrotum dipping* in the frigid waters of the Oresund Sound, one could be forgiven for thinking that Danes can be a bit too open.  These are fourth graders who attend an international school; most of them have been around the grade school block a few times.  Many have older siblings, a few of them watch movies that would make me blush.  When they swim at the local pool they are required to shower, sans swimsuit, fulfilling their recommended daily allowance of nudity.  This is a generation of kids who are inundated with sexuality and sexual imagery from an early age, from sexualized dolls to hoochie mama clothing and  butt crack bearing jeans to Top 40 songs with sexually explicit lyrics.  Above and beyond any of that is the fact that these kids are at an age where it is totally natural to start to question the sexuality that surrounds them like mist, to start to break through the innuendo that  blankets their lives. Yet their enterprising vocabulary inquiries are surprising?  Mountains out of mole hills, tempests in teapots, a tale of a fourth grade nothing.

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When I was in fourth grade, I had a dreamy boyfriend and we made out under his porch.  I objected when he tried to slip his fifth grade tongue into my fourth grade mouth–no second base for me–but we were slobbering all over each other on a regular basis.  I didn’t think of my pre-breasted, slim-hipped, tom-boyish self as promiscuous back then, nor do I now.  By fifth grade students were watching the film about periods and pubic hair.  By seventh grade, Flowers in the Attic and Forever were being passed around with paper bag covers.  I’m pretty sure fourth grade is when I found out what 69 meant, via a much crumpled and uncrumpled piece of note paper that got passed around.  In fifth grade, the boys had a vote and ranked the prettiest girls in Mrs. Mohan’s class (a surprising third place finish for me).  The point being, this is not new stuff.

Frankly, the fact that a handful of nine and ten year-olds are discovering that intercourse is more than social is far less surprising to me than the fact that anyone would find this surprising.  I am more freaked out by the idea of my son playing Call of the Duty Assassin Ops 9 or whatever it is than I am about him using a dictionary (a dictionary!) to find out what sex means.   Just because the boys are Googling or researching or whispering or guessing doesn’t mean that they are going to go out and grab the nearest fourth grade girl and drag her back to the classroom by the hair.  Just because the girls are experimenting with makeup and wearing short skirts and thrusting their pre-pubescent boobs in the boy’s direction doesn’t mean they’re going to end up on Teen Mom 6.  So no, the fact that my son’s classmates are giggling and looking up dirty words isn’t freaking me out.  Yet.

il_570xN.450436471_a2u2I say yet because talking about sex, the mechanics of it, is the easy part.  My son knows the rudiments and the logistics.  He is thoroughly and appropriately disgusted by what goes where and who does what to whom.  He is up to date with what the next few years are going to bring, not only for himself, but for his female peers.  He’s been chased by a gaggle of girls at a school dance and had to spend some time under a chair and is just now starting to tweak what that means for him down the line.  He is still more interested in doing the robot at the school dance than he is brooding over Janie in the corner, though that may change by the end of the year.  But the basics–what sex is, how do you do it, why your armpits smell, those things are just the first chapter.  Now comes the hard part.  The next phase, the untangling of emotions, the gentle suggestions of advice, the subtle art of guidance, that is the hard stuff.

Next comes the constant reinforcement of degrees of respect; because with the knowledge of what sex is has to come the knowledge of where and with who, and most importantly, when to and when not to.  There will have to be conversations about sexualized words that are used to insult and oppress.  There will have to be conversations about how it is never ok to hurl slang words at each other, even if and especially if, you know what they mean.  Now the conversations will shift to why it is never okay to call a girl a bitch or a boy a dick, and just stop to think about what ‘motherfucker’ really means, won’t you?  I’m not naive enough to believe that my kids are never going to taste the power of those words on their tongue; and they are powerful, which is why they are so attractive, especially to tweens and teens.  It is our job as parents to make sure that our kids know the power behind using sex terms as insults, that they understand that pressuring someone into something they are not comfortable with is wrong, that accepting or trading sexual favors, despite assurances, is demeaning. (And if you think fourth graders looking up dirty words is shocking, talk to the moms of some teens I know, whose sons are regularly  offered oral sex, offers that are often accompanied by nude selfies.)  It will now move into more tricky territory, these conversations.  From ‘what is?’ to ‘what if?’, from ‘what’s that?’ to ‘think long and hard before you pass go and collect your $200’.

My son is only nine, only a fourth grader.  Tonight he will go off to his disco.  He will do funky, robot moves with his best friend out there on the dance floor.  He’ll probably have to fend off a girl or two.  Perhaps he won’t fend them off this time; perhaps the first flutterings of attraction will beat tonight in that sweaty cafeteria, in harmony with What Does the Fox Say?  When he comes home, exhausted and sweaty, perhaps he will have his own tale to tell me.

A tale of a fourth grade something.

*dipping is the Danish custom of immersing one’s self in the sea year round, usually nude

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is a book by Judy Blume, a favorite of my generation

For more about my thoughts on kids and sex, you can check out these posts:

Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees

You Show Me Yours and I’ll Show You Mine

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart