August 1, 2012
By Ekta R. Garg
Last week I went upstairs with the girls trailing after me, issuing their standard complaints about my recent command to stop playing so they could take their baths. I reiterated my edict over my shoulder, ignoring their protests, and I went to Four’s bedroom to take their clothes out of the dresser. With small enough clothes to fit in the drawers Six and Four can still share a dresser; of course, it doesn’t hurt that we got a larger dresser from Ikea with wide drawers.
Six managed to come to terms with the fact that she would, in fact, be taking her shower now. Earlier in the summer I taught her how to shower like a big girl—while standing under a running shower head, as opposed to sitting in the tub and letting the water flow from the spigot. Her legs have grown like weeds. We tease her that her “mile-long legs” will soon turn into “two-mile long legs” if she doesn’t stop growing.
She enjoys the indirect reminder that she’s growing up, although she still gripes about having to check her imagination at the bathroom door long enough to complete the task of getting clean. She likes the feeling of cleanliness, make no mistake. She just doesn’t like that all play has to stop for those two-and-a-half or three minutes to get to that state.
One tactic she uses, then, to delay the entire process, comes in the form of simple conversation.
“Hey, Mama, can you play Legos with us after we take a shower?”
“I can’t,” I replied mildly. “After you take a shower, I have to make lunch for you, and—”
“You never have time to play with us!” she countered immediately, disappointment in full force. “Every time I ask you, you never do anything!”
I probably shouldn’t have gotten upset, because I know the truth and so does she. I may not spend every waking minute with Six and Four, but I do spend parts of every day with them. Readers who domestic engineers like me will fully understand that we’ve only got so much time in a single 24-hour period to accomplish everything. Sometimes we have to make a choice and cut into play time or something else. But of the three adults in our house, I know for a fact that I spend the most physical time with the kids.
I also know Six only sees things from her point of view right now; she’s a child. She doesn’t have the responsibility of a house, a family, and a career that she feels at times moves at a sloth’s pace. She doesn’t go to bed every night with a “to do” list running through her head and doesn’t spend those last few waking moments strategizing for the next day and the week to follow.
I know all these things, and yet her assertion still upset me.
I’ve taught Six a mantra, something I make her repeat every time we run into a situation like this. I held up a finger now, my anger simmering in my eyes, I’m sure. We could both hear it in my tone.
“How many people am I?” I asked, initiating the mantra I’ve driven into her head.
“One,” she said, her face folding into a deep frown.
“How many jobs do I have?”
“If I spend my whole day playing with you, who’s going to make your lunch?” I asked, my anger evident by this time. “Who’s going to do the laundry and clean the house and do the grocery?”
She kept frowning and proceeded to take her shower without saying anything.
I knew I should have let it go at that, but I couldn’t. I’ll be the first to admit that about once a week I feel like everyone takes me for granted. That’s part and parcel of a domestic engineer’s life. It’s almost part of the job description. People in our family should have the luxury to take me for granted; they shouldn’t have to worry about the small tasks of the day. They shouldn’t have to unlock the front door by themselves, walk into a building (as opposed to a home,) and hear their voices echo against the walls. They shouldn’t have to walk into the kitchen and wonder what they’ll eat that evening because the stove is cold and the fridge empty.
There is a fine line, however, between shouldering responsibility and people forgetting that sometimes I can get tired or might feel upset about something or that I might have made a plan to accomplish a certain number of tasks in a specific period of time only to have that entire plan thrown out the window because someone else in the family needed something right now.
I know my family appreciates me. They love me and reassure me that I am an integral member of our household. But like all other domestic engineers, I still feel taken for granted once in a while.
When Six expressed her grievance, as I said, I couldn’t let it go. It just seemed like another example of someone taking me for granted. Play with me. Make time for me. Ignore everyone and everything else. Ignore yourself. Be only with me, and stay with me until I’ve decided I don’t need you.
We went downstairs for lunch. To her credit, Four didn’t get involved. She just did what I asked and stayed quiet for the rest of it.
I made the girls’ sandwiches and stood by the table opposite of Six.
“There are kids in your class whose parents aren’t home when they get home from school,” I stated firmly, anger still coloring my tone. “There are kids who have to stay in Extended after school because their parents are working. And their parents don’t help them with their homework because they don’t have time. If I sit and play with you kids all the time, how am I going to make you lunch? Who else is going to do that for you?”
I managed to restrain myself after that, not saying anything to either of the kids. I let them finish their lunch and escorted them upstairs for “quiet time,” and I took a few deep breaths afterward to help me calm down. Eventually I did.
When I went upstairs at the end of their naptime, I woke Six up, and the first thing out of her mouth as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes was, “You should apologize to us for getting mad at us at lunchtime.”
I have, on occasion, apologized to the girls when my lectures have gotten out of hand, but I couldn’t believe Six expected an apology for this. I know she might not have liked me raising my voice, and we’d already established that she disagreed with my use of time during the day. But in addition to being Six and Four’s mother, I’m also a woman trying to raise future women. I’m trying to set an example for them of balance in life, of efficiency in running a home, of not giving up on one’s dreams even with pressing responsibilities that take precedence most of the time.
I informed Six that I would not be apologizing to her; if anything, she needed to apologize to me. She didn’t like that, but I had the benefit of a brake of a couple of hours and no longer felt so fired up. I did, however, want to make sure she understood why I said what I did.
I let her get out of her bed and wake up a little more, and then I pulled her into my lap.
“Do you think I love you?” I asked her.
She nodded and gave me a nervous smile, something she does when she knows what’s coming next.
“Do you think I want to spend time with you?”
“I wish I could spend all day playing with you, but I can’t. But I do spend time with you. Who does your homework with you?”
She pointed at me.
“Who drives you to swimming?”
She pointed again.
“Who takes you to dance class and to school and who has gone with you to the movies and the museum and the aquarium?”
She pointed a third time.
“So, see, we do spend time together. And when I get a chance, I do play with you, right?”
She finally conceded and apologized. I told her I appreciated her words, and then we were friends again.
In an ideal world I would be able to spend all day and night with the kids. The laundry would float out of the hamper and into the washing machine on its own, the vacuum cleaner would hum with regularity without someone pushing it, and to feed the family I would simply have to walk into the kitchen and think about what meal should appear.
I can’t do any of that, but I can continue to strive to spend time with the girls during the opportunities that present themselves to me. And I hope to continue reminding them that spending time together can happen anywhere, whether that’s while we’re playing Legos or driving around.