Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Maternal Guilt Factor

For the past fourteen years I believed that my husband possessed truer maternal instincts than me. He shows more affection, is more eager to spend time with the kiddies, and is definitely quicker to respond to any signs of illness or injury than I am. Over time, however, I sense that he has been slowly working on me, chipping away at the thick protective coating that has limited the functionality of my maternal wiring. (Hey, I'm starting to sound like an engineer!) As a result, I now feel a more appropriate level of guilt every time I think I may be missing a mothering moment. And guilt is where my husband and I differ.

Rob feels a greater need to heal and protect than I do. And because he feels it, guilt transfers it to me. Whether the result of having what he perceives to be a more important or at least higher paying career, or a simple matter of it being the woman's job (which isn't a characteristically Rob approach to marriage or family), there is some expectation that after he has unintendedly guilted me into feeling properly maternal, I will do the right thing. The "right thing" generally being sacrificing my personal and professional needs to do what he believes is best for the children. Somehow, despite feeling that greater level of concern at the onset, Rob doesn't appear to experience the miserable internal conflict that turns otherwise composed, confident and professional career women into multiple personalities incapable of making rational decisions.

Yesterday Abby was on her fifth sick day, which started on Thursday with me staying home with her in the morning, and then abandoning her to be at work for an 11 a.m. meeting. During said meeting, Abby called me weeping to report that she thought she was going to throw up. Does it ever occur to the children to call their father at such moments? I called Rob and told him he needed to head home to be with her, and he did, because he had nothing that conflicted with him doing so. He left the next day for Spring Training. On Friday, Abby stayed home with Jess, our abandoning exchange student who was flying home that afternoon. For which I had to leave work early to handle the drop off. Over the weekend I missed everything I had on my calendar and by Sunday it was clear Abby wasn't returning to school on Monday. And Rob wasn't returning home until Monday evening.

With my calendar filled with back-to-back meetings on Monday, I seriously considered asking my husband to abandon his clients and catch an earlier flight home. (Couldn't someone else take them to dinner and drinks and make sure they made it to the airport? Wouldn't going home to his sick child score major sympathy sales points?) When we spoke on Sunday, however, it was clear no such thought had crossed his mind and that I was correct in not suggesting it. At this point I went through the always delightful internal dialogue that we full-time career moms suffer through:
Dammit. What do I do here? I can't leave her home alone. Even I know that that's not an acceptable solution. Maybe I can find someone to watch her. My parents aren't available. I don't know of any college students who are home on break. She doesn't much like any of the adult sitters her friends sometimes have. I could try to call in from home for all my meetings, but geez, I've only been in this job for a few months and I've already had to work from home on a few occasions. And I've taken time off for some minor medical stuff. And I'm leaving for Italy for 12 days just three days from now. And I have a new assistant director who just started last week. What are they going to think of me if I keep needing special treatment? Burt was an understanding guy; I'm still pissed at him for dying on me. Okay, even though it will cost me in the running for mother of the year, I'm going to have to find someone to watch Abby tomorrow. I'll send out an FA APB and see who can rescue me. Amen! Theresa is free this week. I can take Abby there. But Abby doesn't really want to leave the house. She'd understandably prefer to be at home. It's 7 p.m. on Sunday, who can I find to come over? I'm freaking out. Abby feels bad. She says she'll be okay at T's house. Damn, the guilt. 
Monday I make it to work. My meetings go well. One of them goes so well it runs late. I didn't bring my phone along. Obviously I'm trying to avoid any possibility of parental responsibility from interfering in my career. When I finally check my phone I have two messages from my son. Who didn't bring his house key. Who has been sitting outside on the front steps in the rain and the cold. For 45 minutes. Without a coat because kids don't wear freakin' coats anymore. He's weepy and sounds like he's dying. He's going to catch pneumonia two days before he leaves for Italy. This trip's going to suck. I should just stay home.

I call Angel Karen A. to ask her to pick up my son. She arrives at our house and he's gone. Angel-in-training Dave M. has picked him up and taken him to his house. This is my life. How the hell do single moms do it?

Fast forward to Monday evening. Rob is home. Ian is home and warm and dry. Abby seemed fine earlier, but now is a weepy mess because she doesn't know what to do to prepare for her field trip tomorrow. I sense another sick day on Tuesday. Rob gives no indication he could possibly step in and guard the castle if that turns out to be the case. Which it is.

Tuesday morning, the internal struggle begins again.
Em said I could take Abby there if I need to. Theresa said she'll be home again if I need her. But I know Abby would rather be home. I don't have any meetings today, I could work from home. But then I'll have to let the dean and my assistant know I won't be in today. I'll be asking for special treatment again. Did I need this much special treatment when I worked at Judson? Why is it so hard for women to ask for what they need? Do men have these issues? Probably not. But then again they never need special treatment because they expect the woman to deal with every child-related problem that arises. And Wednesday morning I have a doctor appointment which means I won't be in until noon. And did I mention I leave for Italy on Thursday? I wasn't going to come in at all on Thursday, but I guess I could work in the office until noon since we're not leaving for the airport until 1:30 p.m. Perhaps that would give me some brownie points to apply to my deficit situation? Damn, the guilt. 
I stayed home. And I threw in laundry, and dropped off paperwork for Ian at the high school, and went to the pediatrician to pick up a doctor's note for Abby. That's what moms do.

This story is not intended to make my husband look like a selfish bastard, which he is most definitely not. I know that in reality I have it much better than some women. I'm just fascinated by what seems to be a natural tendency or societal expectation that regardless of whose needs are actually more important at the moment, moms will generally find themselves in position to put theirs behind their man's. I'm curious to know if all women, regardless of their salary and job title find they have this experience, because frankly, it's been eating at me for almost 15 years now and I'd like to do away with the bitterness before the kids head off to college. At which time I'll probably be expected to personally deliver vitamin C lozenges and Gatorade at the first sign of a cold. Rob will make sure to let me know when the need arises. He's really good at that.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

This was a Job for the Sociable Spouse

You knew this was coming when you read on Facebook that my son had offered our home as last Friday's pre-Frosh (freshman/sophomore dance) gathering spot for picture taking. I believe my status update ended with *+%#@!%&!. I was at work on Thursday when he asked if it was okay, so I had nonchalantly said yes without asking for details. Important details like, "How many people are coming," and "What's required of me beyond snapping a picture?" At 9:00 p.m. that evening I learned he was estimating about 30 people. Oh, and could I maybe provide some food? Hence the *+%#@!%&!

Much like everything these days (from Sweet 16 parties to senior prom invites), the pre-dance gathering has become a bit excessive. I guess I shouldn't say "has become" because actually I have no idea what they were like "back in the day." I don't recall ever gathering at anyone's house before a prom. The guy just came over to pick me up, my parents took some pictures and we were on our way. But then again I wasn't one of the popular kids and didn't exactly have a "group" of friends. Maybe the cliques got together and maybe their parents came too, and maybe the hosts provided food and drink and turned it into a brief, but well prepared party. That's what it's like now, anyway.

Thankfully I had some idea of what I was in for needed to do after experiencing one of these little gatherings last year. Before the 8th grade dance, we all converged on the home of one of the young ladies in Ian's circle of friends. There, I was shocked to discover a whole spread of food and soft drinks for the kids, and beer and wine for the adults.It was a more impressive soiree than I put on when I'm having a "real" party.

In addition to the woefully inadequate amount of time I had to prepare (damn my full time job!), to add to the pressure was the painful realization my understanding that the kids coming to my house that evening were not any old upper middle class kids. These were Silvertones (members of a select singing group at our high school). And Silvertones is code for "Swarthmoreans." I believe Ian is the token Wallingford kid. The director must have had a quota to fill. If you're not familiar with Swarthmore, which is part of our school district, it's home to the brightest of bright, most artistically talented, and all around green-living, peace-loving and healthy-eating Democrats. Home to the #1 ranked liberal arts college in the country, the borough attracts brilliant Swarthmore College professors who often are married to equally brilliant professors who work at Penn. I'm not positive, but I believe each home in Swarthmore is required to have at least one professor, one medical doctor, or an artist, writer or musician. Basically, compared to people in Swarthmore, I'm a hillbilly with a 6th grade education.

Clean cut, albeit clumped together
Although Swarthmoreans are not exactly unfriendly, I sense they're more comfortable with their own kind. Therefore, I was not looking forward to entertaining these folks and dealing with my petty insecurities. And then there's the fact that I can't remember any of their names when I see them. Clearly this was a job for Rob. And he was in Clearwater, Florida, hard at work taking clients to Spring Training baseball games, expensive meals and golfing. Talk about shitty jobs. Anyway, the point is, Rob was not home.

Rob is a much better entertainer / socializer / networker than I am. (Hence, his job.) He knows which cheeses, crackers and dips to buy, and he always buys enough. (I'm getting better at that.) He knows which wine to pull out of the cellar (No, we don't have a wine cellar. Just a cellar). And somehow he seems to know twice as many people living in our school district as I do. Did I mention Rob wasn't home for this grand affair that I was blowing completely out of proportion?

The older woman...
I'm sure you're anxious to know how it went. The good news is that the kids were pretty decent. One of them in particular, I think they call him D.G., was just about the nicest, most genuinely friendly kid I've ever met. Maybe he's not from Swarthmore. Clearly his parents have done an excellent job raising him. Another good thing about Swarthmore kids is that they tend to not offend my delicate sensibilities, a.k.a. prudishness. No skanky tarts panty-high mini skirts, bared midriffs, or plunging necklines in the bunch. Ian's date was a perfectly dressed, pretty young lady.

The bad news is, as anticipated, I couldn't remember the names of any of them -- kids or parents. And the living room was crowded and clumped with no good setting for a group picture. Then there's the fact that no one ate. I spent $50 on food and I think the only thing that was touched was the watermelon on the fruit platter. By the way, I have to give a big shout out to Freakin' Angel Cathie who made a BJ's appetizer run for me while I was at work.

Now, lest I leave you on a sour note, I should mention that I will have an opportunity to learn the names of all the Silvertones when we spend ten days together in Italy, beginning next Thursday, March 21. I'm chaperoning the group's biennial singing tour of what I have heard is a beautiful country with wine that's less expensive than soda. While I've never been there, I believe all the Swarthmorean kids have already traveled the world. I should be in good hands.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Homeward Bound

Our Québécois exchange student Jess, also known as the beautiful, long-haired ice hockey player, has been living with us since mid-January. She arrived in Pennsylvania in August and spent the first half of the year with another family in our school district. She was supposed to be with us until after graduation in June. She's leaving next Friday.

I know I could have done better by Jess. I could have cooked her more meals. Or meals that tasted good. Or real meals with all four food groups. Meals that were healthy. She pretty much lived on cereal (the healthy kind) and celery which made her easy to shop for and quite self-sufficient.

Perhaps she's leaving because I mentioned her unmentionables in the only other blog post in which I referred to her.

I know Jess has been bored out of her mind. What chance did she have when she got stuck in the Philly suburbs with a traditional family with 2.5 kids and a cat? Which she was allergic to. The cat. Not the family. Her first choice for an exchange country was Australia. But hey, the U.S. is radically different from Canada, so she was bound to have a culturally enriching experience here. Not so much.

I should have taken her more places locally. And not gotten lost along the way as I seemed to do every time she needed a ride somewhere. Damn that Ice Works is hard to find. And don't get me started on finding my way in Berwyn.

The only thing Jess thinks she's gained by being here is weight. I see nothing but a head-turning young woman, but she sees fat. Despite only eating celery and cereal. I thought body issues were an American thing.

Maybe Jess wants to leave because my house is always cold. But I did buy her a space heater. And a scarf.

It could be she's had enough of us because we never let her win at board games. We only played games involving words. English words and their meaning. We knew she didn't have a prayer of competing thought that would help her learn the language. The tears should have been an indication that we were taking the competition lesson a bit too far.

Maybe Jess is leaving because she needs a drink. Living at my house does encourage drinking. For one thing it keeps you warm, and of course it also helps keep you sane. And Jess did turn 18 a few weeks ago, which is the legal drinking age in Canada.

Jess also mentioned that we're too strict. I think she meant Americans in general. And I don't think she meant strict so much as "uptight." In Canada it's perfectly acceptable to sleep at your boyfriend's house. As a teenager. In his bed. With your parents' knowledge. As she pointed out, in America kids are doing the same thing, but they're doing it in the backseat of cars instead. She mentioned that our issues could be a reflection of how religious we all are in this country. I assured her it was just a fluke that she ended up with two church-going Christian families. She could have lived with any number of hell-bound less uptight folks in our area.

Jess didn't enjoy school either. She graduated in Canada last year so none of what's she doing in our high school counts for anything at all. (Not only are Canadians less strict, but they require one year less schooling. We're hard asses in the States.) She's picked up enough of the language to converse comfortably in English. That was her goal.

She's outta here.

Abby, my 12-year-old, is sad. She enjoyed having a big sister (not something my sister would have ever said) and feels cheated out of the time we were supposed to spend with Jess. In fact, Abby is so disappointed that she, my stoic one, actually cried. And that may be the only good thing that's come from this. Not that Abby cried, exactly, but that she needed me when she did.

It was a nighttime cry. I was sleeping in Ian's bed because he was at a friend's house and Rob was snoring. Abby came into the bedroom with her tears and sadness and she laid down with me and cried until she fell asleep. I'm afraid that might be one of the last times I get to sleep with my baby, arms around her, close to me. It's funny how when they're infants and toddlers most of us want to leave home and get our own apartment are frustrated having them in our beds, but now, when she's 12, I want nothing more than to hold her like I did when she was three and to keep her safe forever and ever. Oh, but I suppose I'm wandering into a whole other blog topic here.


ROOM for RENT: Nice size room painted a cheery yellow available for immediate occupancy. Lovely hard wood floors. Tenant must tolerate indecent exposure as there are no drapes on the windows. Furniture includes a lovely twin bed, nice-size corner unit desk, dresser, handcrafted wooden children's table built my dad, and a shredder. Plenty of closet space. Attached bathroom offers original pink 1950s tiles, though shower stall has been updated. Toilet works. Sink does not. Electrical outlet unsafe and use is not recommended unless a waiver is signed first. Must enjoy cold temperatures and cats.