April 16, 2010

Guilt and Expectations

I had insomnia as a kid. And my family had cable. This shaped a great deal of my deepest psyche. When you're eight years old and you can't sleep for days on end, you enter a state of semi-consciousness wherein experiences seem to completely bypass awareness and just sort of become fact. The problem with cable in the early nineties and... well... always, is that the programming is lousy. But we had one amazing channel that miraculously didn't shift over to paid programming in the wee hours of the morning. Nick at Night. Not only did it not shift over to paid programming, there were the EARLY Nickolodeon shoes starting around 4:30am, Mr. Wizard and whatnot. CLASSIC children's television.

I had the schedule of shows memorized. And by the time I was twelve, I yearned for the days of previous syndicated programming- I missed F Troop and The Dick Van Dyke Show when they switched over to Taxi and I Dream of Jeannie.

I still have the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show memorized, despite the fact that I probably haven't seen a full episode in well over a decade.

So as I lay on the couch, not asleep or awake, I watched classic television. I wanted to be Patty Duke. I wanted to be Elizabeth Montgomery. I wanted to grow up and be just like Susanne Pleshette.

I have a feeling that these absurd heroes are responsible for my insane expectations for myself.

What kind of mother actually manages to keep the house clean? And not just superficially clean, TV clean. What mom actually manages to make dinner every night? What mom looks beautiful and smells great and has a delicious meal on the stove that you can eat off the sparkling floor?

That said, my house shouldn't reek of animal feces, right?

We have acquired a babysitter. I adore her- she's great with the babies, she really loves them, they love her, and she's almost always available.

She is rapidly becoming our money pit. I can leave the babies with her, and DO things! I can clean the dishes! I can clear the table! I can throw away the accumulated garbage all over the living room!

Of course, aside from the fact that our babysitter is now making more money than we are, there's the guilt. I have the overwhelming sensation that I need to do these things all on my lonesome. That for thousands of years women have successfully run their households without hiring additional help.

Then I remind myself that the conventional middle class family unit has only existed for a handful of decades. I don't have my mother or in-laws living with me to help me out with this stuff, and I have lot more stuff to take care of. Like keeping up with the ol' blog, eh?

I'm not a fancy-pants landowner with a house full of serfs to do my bidding. Neither am I living in the woods making annual pilgrimages to the general store for calico. (When not watching classic TV, I read the Little House books. Surprise!)

I've cultivated all of those skills, though, so I feel I should be capable. I should be able to start soaking the beans first thing in the morning, work in the garden for a few hours, do the laundry, cook lunch, do the dishes, mend and alter the family's clothes, go back to the garden to collect dinner ingredients, make dinner, clean up after dinner, and then tidy up the house before bed. And there's no reason I shouldn't find time to blog or whip up a painting once or twice a month. Or get my homework done for class. All the while, having my husband aid and abet me in the lugging of things to the places where they live, the shuffling of garbage to the dumpster, the changing and feeding of babies, and the distraction of said children as all other tasks are accomplished.

Yeah, my expectations aren't high at all.

As an experiment, I'm going to have the day I've described above on Sunday. I would say that I'd do it tomorrow, but I have other commitments outside the house tomorrow. I'm helping a friend make the favors for her wedding.

Yeah... my modern life and my ideal of housewifery don't at all add up, do they?

So I ask of the universe, what does it mean to be a mother anymore? Am I a failure for letting the cat box go another day without being cleaned? Surely not. Surely success is a vaguer concept than that. Surely I'm not failing in my maternal duties by watching dust bunnies accumulated behind my toilet.

I'm sure you've gotten to the root of this rambling by now. I am riddled with guilt for not meeting my absurd expectations. I am wracked with self loathing for my undone to-do list. I go to bed each night clicking my tongue at myself. I walk down the hall mentally pointing to things as if to say, "And you didn't do that either, did you?"

Donna Stone would have cleaned the catbox. Laura Petry would have bathed the kids. Emily Hartley would have made dinner. Samantha Stevens would have cleaned the house- WITHOUT magic! And they all would have looked beautiful doing it.

Tomorrow I'm not going to get most of the things done that I need to do, and I accept that about most days. Am I going to write an email to my professor about the extra book he wants me to read? Am I going to clean the ferret cage? Am I going to put away the laundry? Am I going to finish the sample painting for a prospective client? Am I going to put any work into my dresses for my slew of summer weddings? Am I going to make dinner?

I'm going to guess that tomorrow I'll be 0 for 6. But I'll give that Sunday schedule a shot.

If I survive it, I'll let you know how it went on Monday.


  1. You're a badass mother. Your daughters will remember spending time with you, not whether or not their bibs were always perfectly starched.

  2. As I understand it, once your kids leave home it takes 1-5 years for you to catch up with your todo list. I think we're within a year at this point, but maybe not.

  3. No, dear, childless Emily Hartley would have ordered in.

  4. @Trina

    I disagree! She would have had a beautiful meal (or at least a casserole) ready, with enough so that Howard could have the leftovers.



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