Raising the Children
By Leida Schoggen

Mother's Work: Day by Day Notes

        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" jobs.

        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 to bed.

March 5, 1998

        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.

        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.

April 13, 1998

        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 for Sarah.

        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.

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