I’m going to admit right up front that the inspiration for this week’s post is stolen. Well, slightly. Have you ever seen comic Sally Brooks as suburban housewife “Suzy Jenkins” doing her gem of a song, “A Day in the Life of a Suburban Housewife”?
Maybe it’s just the mom-crowd that I run with, but this video came through my inbox multiple times when it first showed up online and then again around Mutha’s Day. It’s funny, totally irreverent and rude, and pretty damn spot-on. My favorite version is this live stand-up, so if you never seen it, here it is. (Warning: Grandma, and any other sensitive readers, this clip is rather profane and really only a jumping-off point for my story, so watch with caution or not at all)
So there you have it. A true-to-life look at what goes on behind mini-van doors all across America. Some days I make this song my theme-song (chill little bitches, mommy’s got to pee), although I should probably clarify for those of you that don’t know me personally, that while I may fantasize about spending my days drunk on Jim Beam and popping pills….I never actually do.
But nevertheless, I do feel Iike I’m living in a certain level of total insanity trying to get through these “hard ass days” taking care of three kids. In an attempt to capture the madness this week I decided to journal the days, so you could get a flavor for my housewife life.
Ready y’all? Here we go…….
6 a.m. start. It’s always either the cats or the baby. Husband’s up and in the shower already. Why oh why doesn’t he start the coffee before he gets in? Filling the kettle from the cold tap is my sleep-deprived idea of a vengeful joke.
Kids get up to scrambled eggs and day-old pastries from Sunday’s farmers market (well, they were day-old the day before, guess that makes ‘em real-old today but the kids don’t seem to mind). Carpool kids to school; long hugs in the kindergarten yard; two-year-old wants to stay at school too. Suits me. Don’t they have boarding school for toddlers somewhere?
Drive back home. Rain might come, Google tells me so. I stare out the window over another cup of tea. I’ve got to clean up that backyard and get some steer manure on the garden…. but, not today.
Today’s outing is the mighty monthly shop at Costco. (For any international readers not familiar with Costco, I have great plans to do a whole piece on this behemoth of consumer culture but for now this will have to do). I put on my sensible shoes and change the littlest kid’s diaper and get ready for the task.
Luckily I have to be fast as I only have an hour left before I have to get back across town to pick-up the kindergartner. I almost blow it by spending too long looking for the jumbo flat of 20 cans of coconut milk and feel slightly offended when the young employee I finally track down tells me “that item has been discontinued”. Who doesn’t consider coconut milk a staple of cooking??
Toddler is hungry and cranky at this point. Hit the food court on the way out of the store for the $1.50 combo: hot dog and soda (or nitrates with a side of corn syrup as I like to call it). Kid gets the hot dog, I get the watery lemonade. Feed kid in the car, car gets the hot dog and soda all over it.
Home again, after kindergarten pick-up. Two little boys under my feet means the hours are spent weeding, tantruming (me and them, truth be told), doing yard work, playing with worms, endlessly snacking and waiting for biggest kid to ride home safe from school on his bicycle (a new routine for us: liberating for kid, nerve-racking for mom).
Get dinner “ready” (rotisserie chicken , thanks Costco, rice and salad). Waiting for the babysitter who gets here just in time so that Hubby and I can rush out the door to kindergarten parent evening. We parents get to make decorated beeswax candles while the teacher discusses the importance of a consistent daily routine and a 7pm bedtime. I borrow a book from the teacher, called “Sanctuaries of Childhood: nurturing a child’s spiritual life” and vow to do better.
Get home at 7:45 to find Legos everywhere and no one ready for bed.
And it’s only Monday.
Kid-who-stayed-up-too-late starts the day off with a bang in an early morning freak-out over what to wear. Irrationally, the clothes he picked out the night before were no longer acceptable, but only the wet dirty jeans in the hamper would do. Mom puts her foot down, and raging ensues. Inexplicably, the whole ugly scene ended with Sweetness and a spontaneous recitation by kindergartener of his school verse: “To all those who are caring for me, be a shining star above me, be a kind shepherd behind me, be a smooth path below me.”
The clothing-disaster and resulting remorse must have been catching, because as soon as the carpool kids hop in my car, the 12 year-old asked to borrow my phone to call her mom so she can apologize her being “a jerk” about what to wear. Awwww.
Get to school. Another prolonged hug from Mr. Seperation Anxiety on the school yard, and then little brother and I have to rush back home because we’ve got a tea date. A new mom-friend, beautiful and worldly, is coming over but there is no time to vacuum, so I just flip the hallway rug over to the less dirty side and hope for the best.
Just then, the baby pukes.
From this point on, vomit defines my day (and unbeknownst to me will come to define the rest of my week). Oh, the laundry! Turns out this is my kid who hates to vomit and fights and wriggles every time he has too. He cries and pushes away the “puke bowl” and an awful lot of dirty towels and blankets are the result.
Despite it all, I end up having a lovely “coffee talk” with the beautiful and worldly mom-friend (who, a mother of three, is charming enough to take the barfing in her stride). An unexpected bond is forged and heart-felt truths are told and the warm feeling of authentic connection with another mother, in this same crazy boat, becomes the highlight of my day.
In a word – Sickness.
Kindergartner sleeps late and has black circles under his eyes so I figure the stomach flu is coming for him too. Decide to keep him home. Put my children in the car in their pajamas so as not to screw up the carpool. Get those other kids to school on time and bring my two back home. Make my phone calls to cancel the day’s plans – no play dates, no parks. Just home alone with the boys and starting to feel pretty miserable myself. I think, ‘how do people do this? ‘, every moment is slogging by. I don’t think I can stand it. Then I remember: TV.
Or something like it anyway. An old VSH tape of Thomas the Tank Engine. Couldn’t hurt right? I mean its vintage stop-motion animation, and it’s narrated by the late great George Carlin for god’s sake. Innocent enough, no?
It was meltdown city when that tape ended. I mean, screaming and crying red-faced tantrum for 45 minutes. Each. Here’s the fun part – they both took turns. First kid blows up over something and soon as he begins to soothe down, the little guy kicks in over something else. And he’s no joke; he has been a quick study when it comes to tantruming.
I realize the fault lies with me. I mean, I understand the problem. They haven’t watched enough TV in their lifetimes to become immune to its crazy effects. They aren’t inoculated to it yet.
We go back to counting down the hours…. I show the boys how to decorate old candles with bits of colored beeswax. I pull out the boxes of fall decorations from the garage and instinctively start dusting off the mantle above my fireplace. Slowly removing the last shells of summer, we began to clean up and ready the mantle for our autumn altar.
Kindergartner made it through the day yesterday without throwing up. Oops maybe I jumped the gun keeping him at home ? He seemed well enough to go to school today so off we went, back to the grind: carpooled, signed up for a craft activity, gossiped in the parking lot and headed home for my 3 ½ hours of alone time with the baby.
He was recouping from the flu but is still very energetic, as only a 2 ½ year old can be, so we set out for a short walk around the block. He seemed tired and was asking for the stroller but ended up refusing to ride in it. He pushed it intermittently and erratically down the street while I dawdled along behind him looking at gardens and collecting leaves. The whole walk took us an hour to go around a five-minute block.
I stopped and talked to a neighbor about taking some landscape materials that he is getting rid of. Excellent! I begin to daydream about the cooling temperatures and start to get excited again about finally getting something done on our unfinished front yard project. There’s that quick thrill of the feeling of things going my way.
It doesn’t last long because by then it’s time go to pick up the kindergartner.
“Ooo”, he moans as soon he sees me, “my belly hurts”.
We spend the next 20 minutes with him whimpering, and leaning on me, and stopping every few feet to get down on his hands and knees, proclaiming that he‘s “gonna throw up”. It’s a slow crawl to the car. When we get there I realize that I don’t have any kind of bucket or bag in case he does get sick, so I cover his lap with a few towels from the trunk and start praying that we can make the drive home without incident.
Seven minutes later, just as I was turning into my driveway…Bleechhh! Kid upchucks everywhere. It’s this morning’s blueberries and the kindergarten snack = purple Quinoa. Yuck.
Clean up kid, put him on couch, pull out mats from car and hose ‘em off. Can’t get the scent out, but no time to deal with it now so I walk away and my van sits doors akimbo – mats and hose and spray cleaners decorating the driveway – for the entire afternoon.
I’m not the carpool this afternoon so I wait for big kid to get dropped off from school, care for my newest patient, and try to entertain the little guy. He wants to bake but our mixing bowl is being used for the puke bowl and besides; I already have housekeeping guilt the constant messes that continue to spread over the house. We settle for gluing the leaves from yesterday’s walk onto construction paper. For a split second I feel like a domestic goddess and start tonight’s dinner, chicken soup, at 2pm.
I give my poor sick boy credit though, he was a real trooper. His usual zesty exuberance was greatly tempered, and he struck me as quite lovely, laying there all docile on the couch and soldiering through each bout of dry heaves.
Days and night start to blur into one. More nursing the ill back to health. More time off school. The absent/tardy line is probably sick of the sound of my voice by now.
In an effort to get through the day I return to the garage and pull out the tubs with the Halloween paraphernalia and a few more boxes of crafting supplies. I unleashed my kids onto the lawn in their pajamas and slippers to decorate, and spent most of my morning mumbling “um hummm” and “just a minute” to their request while I immersed myself in a project.
It’s a friend’s 40th birthday today and I need a gift. Inspired by a book loaned to me “Sweater Surgery: how to make new things with old sweaters”, I cut out circles of felted sweaters scraps and thread them into a necklace with beads from a broken bracelet and ribbon I had in my sewing basket. Voila! ‘Upcyled’ jewelry!
Later, after husband gets home from work I make a break for it and show up just in time to shout “surprise!” at a dinner party for said birthday girl. From there its back over my oldest son’s school for our monthly book-study group (nerd!) .We’re reading a lecture by Rudolf Steiner on childhood development. Who picked a Friday night to do this? I can’t wait to get home, primarily because I know the kids will already have been put to bed and I can settle in to watch my newest guilty pleasure, Project Runway, season 8.
SATURDAY & SUNDAY:
We power through Saturday morning chores and am feeling pretty good that I was able to get the bathroom cleaned while by sending “The Boys” (my husband and the children) out in the back to do yard work (Some feminist. Betty Friedan would roll in her grave).
I think about all the other things left on the endless to-do list, and I notice I’m starting to feel especially fatigued. I collapse in the chair to read Twilight instead.
Suddenly in the afternoon, it hits me. Cramping pain in my stomach and a dizzy head. I know what’s next. With all the clinical detachment of a nurse who has been on duty all week, I set up my station on the couch: bowl, towels, blankets, saltines and 7up. I lay and wait for the barfing to begin. It does. It’s a miserable night and I sleep in the kids’ room while they, now immune, crowd into bed with my husband.
Am I tended to with loving care, given cold compresses and spoonfuls of broth? Not exactly, but the boys do their best. The littlest one trots in regularly to offer a “sip o’ soda”, which he considers a cure-all.
By noon the next day I was on the upswing: re-arranging the day’s commitments; getting the kids hair cut; eating Chinese food and generally recovering. Seems it was only an 8-hour flu. And it’s a good thing too, because before the night was over my husband started to look a little green around the gills and said his stomach hurt…..
Here we go again.
And so the puking bug continued to march through our family like plague on a ship. Four out of five of us had succumbed, and although the biggest kid seemed strong and his white blood cells put up a good fight, he eventually got it the following week too.
At this point I threw in the towel and gave up on journaling my daily woes, but if I had kept going the log of insanity would have read something like this: Monday – travel out of town for a funeral. Tuesday – home with sick kid. Wednesday- have major dental surgery done and spend day sick and groggy from anesthesia, and so on and so forth…
Sometimes I don’t know how I have the energy to get through weeks like these, or even through each day? How to endure of the relentless turns of events and demands upon my attention? Maybe I just forgot to take my pep pills like I ought to? No wonder the Suzy Jenkins’ of the world rely on their Mother’s Cure: “ice tea”.
Whatever the solution is for the bedraggled housewife, I support it. I know for me I get by with a heaping of good-humor, a sprinkle of spiritual practice, a dash of self-medication and a whole lot of support from my friends – the other good women on the frontlines of Mothering.
The following is an excerpt from a texted ‘conversation’ I was having with my friend Anne this afternoon while I worked on this post:
Me: “I’m trying to landscape my yard, clean my house, blog and cook dinner. Doing too much? No wonder I feel nutty”.
Anne: “KFC no clean just blog.”
Now, that’s a true friend.