I live in Missouri with one husband, a variety of pets and two food critics. I love writing, reading and making lists. I've written poetry since I was seven. A few years ago I branched out into short fiction and memoir pieces. I'm currently working on a novel. My day job takes place at a public library. In the present, I'm fortunate enough to spend part of my working day writing blog posts and occasional newspaper articles for my employer. It's a happy life, getting paid to do what I love.
My Mother’s Day post will be brief (update: I lied.) This year, my thoughts keep coming back to the economy and how it has affected mothers throughout the years, at least in the U.S.
I feel like I was raised with a message from society that hard work was the key to getting ahead economically. And I have also heard a lot of platitudes about the value of mothers. But I have to say, if mothers were truly valued and hard work really was the key to financial success, my own mom would have been one of the richest people in the world. I don’t know anyone who worked harder. Yet the last few years of her life, she depended on her children and one of her brothers for support as we scrambled to make sure she had the care she needed in a for-profit system.
My mother first raised several younger siblings (literally, her mom and step-dad moved away looking for work and left her, at age 17, with the younger kids for several months until they could send for them.) Then she raised her own kids, while often helping out with her nieces and nephews. She was the primary care giver for my father for a while, even while battling her own health issues. A lifetime of care for others with no monetary compensation or safety net to speak of. Yet when she needed care, there at the end, you bet it was expected to be paid for. All of that social praise of mothers was just people moving the air with their vocal cords.
Women are much more likely to experience poverty post-retirement than men are. If you don’t want to take my word for that, here’s an article from Financial Advisor. There’s plenty of documentation of this in plenty of places.
I often wonder what life would be like in this country if women had been equally represented in government from the beginning. I’m pretty sure if half our representatives had been women all along, child care would be widely available and affordable. It would have been considered a priority, recognized by those in power as a foundational need of life. There would be an adequate retirement plan in place for those who keep the country going with their unpaid labor.
Breakfast in bed is nice. Flowers are beautiful. But let’s not stop there. This year for Mother’s Day, lets work to give Mom what she really needs – quality, affordable child care, a social safety net, equal representation in government.
My firstborn has flown again. What was originally planned to be a one-week visit with us turned into a six-week stay, thanks to the timing of the pandemic. But he left Sunday to drive halfway across the country to his new life in the Pacific Northwest, arriving at his destination on Tuesday night. I have so much admiration for his courage in pursuing his dreams. I think he’s in a place where he’ll thrive. At least I hope so.
He was a good son and messaged his mother at every stop to let me know he was still alive. Here’s part of our exchange from Monday. Caveat to readers in states mentioned: he and I both know there are a lot of positive things about those states. This is more about the experience of grueling interstate travel.
Meanwhile, I’m still, until next week, on a very flexible work from home status. Which means I get to go out for a walk every day. Yesterday, with the knowledge I would likely not see my oldest child for several months at least, I suffered a fit of nostalgia and walked around to see every house we lived in with our kids previous to our current residence. We’ve stayed in the same part of town, so my entire journey was accomplished in under an hour.
I didn’t take any photos of the homes because I didn’t want to seem creepy. But it was enough to see them and mull over my memories. First I went past the bitty little rental house where we had our first baby, the house where my self-identity changed forever. It had originally been a garage, later being converted to a home. The 8 x 8 bedroom we’d designated as the nursery was never used as such while we live there, as I discovered we all three got more sleep when the baby was in the room with us. We stayed there for two years, moving on to a different rental house with more space as we discussed expanding the family.
Rental house number two where we had child number two was a small, but not tiny, brick ranch house with an unfortunate tendency for the pipes to freeze in the winter. But it had a yard for outdoor play and was on a quiet, dead-end street with great neighbors, including two different retired couples who loved to fuss over the children the block. We liked living on that street so much that we bought a place only a few doors down a year later, the house I think of as our first true family home. We moved in when our kids were ages three years and three months respectively, and stayed until they were eight and five years old.
It not only had a lovely yard, but the back yard was fenced, something that had never meant much to me before I had children whom I sent out to play. There were two bedrooms downstairs and a big finished attic that we turned into a playroom/office. It was where my husband used duct tape and boxes to construct a playhouse within the playroom — a structure that kept the kids entertained for hours on end. It was where we lived when my oldest started kindergarten. Where we spent many hours drawing on the cement driveway with chalk, blowing bubbles while sitting on the front steps, seeing how high we could stack the spiky balls from the sweetgum tree before they started to tumble. It did my heart good yesterday to see that whoever lives there now is taking care of the place. The roof looks brand new.
And then the walk back to our current home, scene of many birthday parties, gatherings of friends after Halloween trick-or-treating, games of hide and seek, enthusiastic science experiments, homework battles, teenaged drama. There’s a parking area in back where the training wheels first came off my younger son’s bike, and where later, both kids would practice parallel parking between camp chairs with vertical poles attached. This is the house where we had a wheelchair ramp constructed so I could bring my mother to visit, where we’ve chased out bats and raccoons, where we’ve repeatedly fought city hall over proposals to make the street more like a highway, and where we are now problem solving how to set-up dual home offices for my husband and myself.
I’m genuinely afraid my family is going to get used to me cooking dinner. This is temporary, people — a temporary situation!
When I was thinking through the ramifications of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, the one thing I didn’t realize at first was how much of my time and energy would be consumed by meal planning. I had become quite laissez faire about meals around here over the last few years, cooking real dinner only two to three times a week. I was working odd hours, and we’re all adults in this house now. I kept the kitchen stocked with stuff that was easy for my husband and son to fix for themselves and figured they were also capable of running to the store if we didn’t have something they wanted. My husband usually picked up lunch out somewhere, a slice of pizza or such like.
Now we have four in the house instead of three, every one of us eating every last meal at home. Meanwhile, casually popping over the grocery store for a forgotten item is no longer a thing. We are plowing through supplies on hand at a pretty good clip. Food acquisition and use are logistical puzzles, taxing the executive function center of my brain. I have switched from in-person grocery shopping to ordering online for pick-up, but the available time slots have to be scheduled several days in advance. By the time I went to pick up my groceries on Wednesday, I had forgotten what I ordered the Friday before. I tried to look at it as a fun surprise. And, oh, hey! I inadvertently ended up with the world’s largest oranges!
One thing that makes me say, “Yay me!” is the fact that on the very early edge of all this mess, I subscribed to a local CSA program, with a box of fresh produce scheduled for our household once every two weeks. Here’s our first delivery:
Each member of the family forages for their own breakfast and lunch. So I’m only preparing one meal a day. That’s not too much, really, even for someone who isn’t overly fond of cooking. Having consumed my share of rice and chicken neck dinners as a kid, I try to remember to be grateful for the ability to buy this food.
Another bright spot is that I never touch the dirty dishes, of which we are producing many stacks. The other three members of the household keep them cycling through the dishwasher and back into the cabinets.
And the other morning, I woke up to discover the cookie fairy had come during the night.
There’s been a plan in place for a long time. But a global pandemic doesn’t care. Nothing has happened how it was supposed to.
My 24-year-old firstborn has been living alone for about a month, since his roommate left to pursue opportunities in California. Meanwhile, my son’s lease on the Iowa apartment (250 miles from us) was coming due at the end of the month, and he has his own dreams waiting for him in Bellingham, Washington — a job transfer and friends who were ready to welcome him. The plan was for me to help him move to our house next week, where he would just sort of bounce, heading out to drive halfway across the country after staying here for a week or two.
He’s moved a few times in a few years, and each time has felt stressful and rushed. This was supposed the move where we would have time to plan and pace ourselves. Maybe even do a few fun things together before he built a life so far away from us.
Instead, my workplace shut down as of last Tuesday and one of his two jobs came to an abrupt early end. As COVID-19 spread and more places shut down, we both worried about potential travel restrictions. Neither of us wanted him to get trapped alone where he was, not even knowing if they’d let him remain in the apartment past his lease end date. This move became the most stressful and urgent of them all, a harried flight from disaster instead of an embarkation on the adventure he had envisioned.
I drove up last Wednesday (in rain all the way, natch) with the goal of getting him out the next day, a countdown timer ticking loudly in my psyche. Once I arrived, I saw we’d need more than a day. He’d already gotten rid of a lot of stuff and packed many boxes, but had thought he’d have more time. My husband had removed the last two rows of seats from our old Chevy Venture, and strapped our large retro car-top carrier on the roof. My son doesn’t own a huge amount of things, but when we were limited to what we could fit in his Toyota Corolla and my van, it meant a fair amount of triage and winnowing, while racing the clock in case travel restrictions went into place. The new departure goal became Friday morning.
It’s a real struggle to execute a move in two days time with limited carrying capacity when no thrift stores are accepting donations and even the city landfills are closed. We did things I’m not proud of, including solving the dilemma of how to wedge a mattress into an apartment complex dumpster. It was a thin, cheap mattress, and our solution to making it fit involved the use of enormous zip ties. I have seldom done anything in my life that felt more sketchy. My son said that if we were in “The Good Place” our scores would definitely go into the negative over it. I told him I felt like we were only a few short steps away from burying a drifter in the desert.
We ended up filling trash bags with items I normally never would send to a landfill, seeing no alternative at the moment. Cheap but usable bowls and plates from Target, gone. A stack of three-ring binders, gone. Bathmat, gone. On and on. To mitigate our guilt a tiny bit, though, we did at least sort out the recycling, and we left the apartment sparkling clean. I scrubbed and vacuumed before we drove away.
The drive home was almost surreal in its normalcy. Due to road closures, I ended up on some rural state highways, which meant going right through the heart of a few towns, where everything seemed to be proceeding as usual. Small town Missouri felt like a whole different universe than the one I’d been living in. Around noon, I stopped for a bathroom break at a convenience store with a restaurant attached to it. I was all business, walking straight in, touching nothing I didn’t have to, doing my business, washing my hands for the amount of time it takes to say the Star Trek opening monologue (silently to myself,) and then straight back out. Meanwhile, the restaurant had tables full of people eating lunch. Other convenience store customers were browsing the aisle for snacks, filling up on fountain drinks. You’d never know there was a pandemic on. It was so very disquietingly normal.
Now the whole family is back in our home again, sitting in limbo. I’m off work until some uncertain future date. My husband, who is essential to keep networks going so that others can work and learn from home, is ensconced at his desk in our living room, doing his work remotely. My younger son recently interviewed for a job that seems unlikely to exist now. My newly returned older son is impatient to get on with his new life, but we have no idea when that will be possible. Like everyone else, we wait to see what tomorrow will bring.
Addendum: As I was writing this post, my city’s mayor announced a shelter in place order beginning tomorrow morning, running through April 24. So now I know one thing. I will not be returning to work until at least April 25.
Last Wednesday was a crappy day on many fronts. Work stress, bills to pay, minor but annoying health issues, feeling overwhelmed about my to-do list growing faster than my ability to do, a deep despair over the dawning realization that I’m probably never going to see a woman president in my lifetime. I was torn between the desire to smash things and the desire to go to bed forever. But dinner needed made.
I stood dithering in my kitchen for a long time, trying to settle on what I could muster the energy to cook. My top go-to comfort food is a grilled cheese sandwich. So I decided to go easy on myself. There are only three of us in the household now, and three grilled cheeses are quickly made with little effort. I would put apple slices and strawberries on the side. Good enough.
Wouldn’t you know, I let myself get distracted when the first sandwich was in the skillet. It burned while I was washing and slicing fruit. When I took it out and saw the charred surface, my automatic first thought was, “I guess that one’s mine.”
It’s been my default setting for years. The other members of the family get the good ones of whatever thing is being distributed. I get the pancake that was put in before the griddle was hot enough and isn’t quite right, the egg with the broken yolk, you get the idea. This isn’t done with resentment, but as a programmed response, like a factory setting for moms and wives. The thing is, nobody in family would ever ask me to do this. It’s all on me, usually done with little thought.
But not this time. I had the thought. I even took one bite of the sandwich. Then I took myself in hand and lectured me, “You deserve a decent sandwich. You were making this as comfort food because you’re sad and angry about misogyny, for pity’s sake! And here you’re willing to cheat yourself because you’ve internalized messages saying you’re always the one who has to sacrifice.”
There have been times in my life when I couldn’t afford to throw out a sandwich, no matter how scorched. But at present, we have achieved a financial level where I can use two extra pieces of bread and a couple more slices of cheese without facing penury and ruin.
It might look like a tiny thing, but fighting my own thoughts about how little I’m allowed to need or want is a big step for me. I threw out the burned sandwich and made a different one for myself, perfectly toasted. It was delicious. And liberating.
No matter that we’ve been married for decades now, my husband and I must still be romantics at heart. For an early Valentine’s Day date, we went out this afternoon and got matching his ‘n hers shingles vaccinations. Hubba hubba!
A few months back, I posted about my quest to find any place that had the vaccine in stock. A shortage at that time meant long waiting lists. It’s a two-shot deal, and I’m happy to report I acquired my first round in late September. As the second one is supposed to be given two to six months later, I decided this week I should get on the stick, so to speak.
Good news! No more waiting lists. I called the pharmacy and they said, come in any time we’re open. I had time today, so I skedaddled on down, to use an old timey expression befitting the experience. And I managed to bring the spousal unit (see — total romantic) along with me for his first dose. Bonded in sickness and in health, but we’ll take health if given the choice.