Raising the Children
Mother's Work: Day by Day Notes
By Leida Schoggen
At forty, I started my fourth career, as wife and mother. I'd been an elementary school
school teacher, a college administrator, and a lawyer, but the decision to leave the professional world was not
difficult. I had wanted children for a long time. My husband and I couldn't see the point in bearing them for someone
else to raise, so we decided that I would stay home and care for them. What I didn't anticipate was the sense,
almost immediately, of becoming invisible within my former world. People suddenly had nothing to talk to me about;
I hadn't changed, but the way others viewed me certainly had. I, like many stay-at-home moms, felt alone, abandoned,
unappreciated, invisible, left out of the decision making of the world and increasingly unsuited to compete in
that world. What, a friend asks, do you do all day? What does it take to raise a child? The answer: it takes work.
March 4, 1998
I got up at 6:00 a.m., showered, dressed, and took a load of clothes down to wash.
Then I turned on the coffee machine, filled it with water, started making orange juice, lunches, and bacon for
breakfast. Then Lillian (five years old) came down. I gave her a hug, talked to her for a few minutes and walked
her back up to dress. She did not want to get dressed. I cajoled, teased and made up stories to get her dressed.
Sarah (ten years old) woke up. She didn't want to get up. I cajoled her into clothes. We all went downstairs, and
I got breakfast started for them. Then Al (the dog) needed to go out. So I took him. I finished getting breakfast
on the table, gave Al some water and worked on lunches while answering questions, fetching milk, and answering
the telephone. When the girls finished eating I took them up to brush their teeth. (Getting Lillian to brush her
teeth means walking her to her room, putting toothpaste on her toothbrush and brushing my teeth while she brushes
hers.) Then I helped them put on their jackets, collect backpack and lunch basket, and, with homework in hand,
walked them out to the car to head to school with Buck (their father, my husband).
|I, and other mothers I know, work amazingly hard without having what society calls "real"
March 5, 1998
Once they were on their way I went in and ate breakfast, put last night's dishes away,
loaded the dishwasher and cleaned up the kitchen. I took out the garbage and recycling and swept the front sidewalk
since it was also street cleaning day. I got dressed, mailed a letter, picked up some pastries and headed to John's
house to talk about stocks. (I want to take charge of my investments, monies from my "working" days.)
From there I went home to take Al for a walk, stopped at Safeway to pick up Scrip (a fund-raising activity for
the girls' school), bought coffee at Graffeo and then went to school to drop off the Scrip. I picked up Lillian
and a classmate and took them and Al to the beach for an hour and a half. While there I threw balls for Al, helped
the girls find treasures for their tepee, helped work out several disagreements between them and talked them into
going for a little walk. Then we dropped the friend at her house, went back to the school and picked up Sarah and
her classmate, stopped for a few groceries and came back home.
I talked to Rich, our contractor, about the work on the windows, made snacks for the
three girls, tie-dyed shirts with them, and started dinner. Buck came home and I left to hear Jim Lehrer live at
KQED. When I came home I kissed the girls good-night, ate dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, started fixing food for
the parent gathering at our house tomorrow, started one load of laundry and folded another. At one a.m. I went
Yesterday I was on a roll, today in a trough. But it makes no difference. I get up,
do a load of laundry, put away the dishes, get the girls up and dressed, fix breakfasts, make lunches, take the
dog out, talk to Rich again. Then I get ready for an unknown number of dinner guests, pay bills, get flowers and
wine, copy Trust documents to send to the Building Trust people (for the school), check on Scrip sales, clean up
the house, entertain the children, and walk the dog. Part of what we all do is help each other. I took Lisa home
today, her mother will bring Sarah home tomorrow. When Maureen's friend died, I took her for a walk on the beach.
Mary helped Anna find an outfit to wear to a formal event. Janice calls and encourages me to write. Marsha and
Bea are in constant touch about their creative efforts. Justine and I are working on financial issues and so is
Patricia. We're trying to find ways to work together and learn from one another. We're creating a form of extended
family to help deal with the many issues we can't handle on our own.
I, and the other mothers I know, work amazingly hard without having what society calls
"real" jobs. A huge part of our "work" is mediation, negotiation, and listening. Decision making
about three thousand times a day, everything from what to fix for breakfast to when to intervene in sibling battles,
is another key part of our work. A father once said to me that he thought that was the hardest thing about being
a parent. In the space of a minute you may make twelve or more decisions, suggestions, corrections or judgments
about your children.
March 6, 1998
I read an article in the paper this morning suggesting that the appropriate topic for
an upcoming women's conference would be how to deal with men, a subject that all women have in common. It was written
by a man. Here's a short list I made of the things I talk about with my friends, the ones who are moms: kids, money,
schools (public or private?), food, consumer issues (how to ensure that organic food standards don't get polluted,
why not to buy Nike products, whether Whole Foods is a good or a bad place to shop), television, starting a business,
going back into the job market.
When people ask me, "Do you work?" I want to punch them . . .
I work all over the place, but I don't get paid for it.
April 13, 1998
One of the issues we look at constantly is whether we are doing the right thing by
staying home with our kids. We ask what kind of model we portray for our girls if we stay at home and what do we
do to them if we work at demanding jobs that makes us feel useful and valued on the outside? Is it any less valuable
for us to be spending twenty hours a week raising money for the school than twenty hours a week at a desk answering
clients' questions? Is it necessary to "put your degree to work" in a money-paying job to establish your
worth as a human being?
We ask those important questions. But talking isn't all we do. Some of us, besides
being full-time mothers, are exercising our pre-motherhood skills/training/profession in the service of a school
or other non-profit organization. When people ask me, "Do you work?" I want to punch them. The enlightened
ones add "Šoutside the home?" Makes me want to puke. I work all over the place, but I don't get paid
for it, so it has no value in the minds of much of the rest of the world.
It's the second week of Spring Break. The first week was full of Easter preparation
and anticipation. We colored eggs, went to rehearsals for the Vigil, visited old friends, entertained house guests.
Today was the beginning of the "real" vacation. For me that means having two children at home all day,
which today was mostly a delight. During the day I turned over the entire back yard, which keeps going to seed
because we haven't planted it properly since the retaining wall was put in. I did eight loads of laundry (yes,
I folded it all and put it away). I fixed three meals: breakfast for six, lunch for three and dinner for four.
I made a quick trip to the grocery store for milk, bread and potatoes. I cleaned both girls' rooms, went through
all their clothes and sorted out those that no longer fit and organized them into categories to save, throw away,
give to friends, give to Goodwill. I blew bubbles for the children, took the dog out for a quick walk up and down
the block (feeling guilty because the concrete is hard on his bad leg), fed the neighbor's cat, loaded and unloaded
the dishwasher, read stories to children, ordered from the National Scrip Center for next week, wrote up a blurb
for the preschool about the garage sale, wrote an announcement for next week at school and made plans for tomorrow
The ordinariness of what mothers do is precisely why it's so amazing. No job is ever
really done, yet every day they get up and do it again. Millions of women everywhere, everyday, getting up, cleaning
up, picking up as they go, fixing breakfast, waking and dressing children, walking the dog, preparing food and
so on and so on. It goes on all day and half the night without cease and with very little acknowledgment or appreciation.
Yet, the next day they're still at it, because they know it's important, despite all the pathetic lip service to
the importance of families. The mothers I know do amazing things without having what we call real jobs. To these
people who ask, "Do you work?" the answer really is "Yes, all over the place."
Leida Schoggen is a member of St. Gregory's. She lives in San Francisco.