Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How late people are not dead to me: An on-timer's rant.

Timing. Good timing. Bad timing. 
Being late. Being early. Being on time.

So much of life is about time. Me time. Husband and wife time. Play time. Cleanup time. Home time.

A friend asked if maybe I'd write about how I, a mother of four fairly little kids, manage to arrive on time, almost every time, "just so I can learn your ways."

I laughed. Because my "on-time" habit is not organization, or because I have it together. I didn't think anything of being on time for things till I noticed, sometime after becoming a mom, that it is a habit, but it takes real effort. 

I had to really sit down and think about this before writing about it, because guys, I'm not trying to be condescending. I get that the struggle to arrive on time is real for well - HALF the people I know, and I love you. There's a reason we're still friends. Probably because you're likeable enough that I can put aside my irritation, but I'm still going to be pretty blunt throughout.

The first reason I'd say I like to arrive on time for things is because I feel pressured by the idea of someone waiting for me.  I don't want them to be as mad or irritated as I am when I'm the one sitting around for 15 minutes waiting for someone. There, that's the truth. I could say it's because I "care so much about the other person," or something fluttery and selfless - and I do care - but truthfully, I just hate to be perceived as unreliable and rude. And yes, in case you're wondering, that's the harsh judgement I place on people who are late. That's on me, and I'm sorry late friends, I'm trying to be more charitable, God help me, but I can't help but think "there is NO way your baby's diaper explodes just as you're on your way out the door 3-4 times a week."
Maybe my patience is why God gave me late friends - but don't think you're doing me a favour!

The second reason I'm thinking about for arriving on time is plain old respect. There, I said it: I think it is disrespectful to arrive late for something that has a start time. If it doesn't really matter when you get there, why do we set times for classes, or gatherings, or church? 
I'm pulling my hair out just trying to wrap my mind around why these times aren't tattooed on other people's brains like they are on mine.

As for things that don't have a "start", like if a friend says they'll be there at 9ish - fine, anytime near 9 will work (but I don't think 9:59 or anything after 9:30 is "9ish").

Also, I have to ask, what about your own self-respect? When I ask you to my home, I want you to be here! I like you! Do you not think your presence is valuable and desired? When it's church or a class that has a definite start time, don't you hate missing the first part? The acknowledgment of people you know beforehand? The settling in and actually removing your coat? How about not having people stare at you as you shush your family who has just been in a flurry of activity but now has to stay still and quiet? 

I don't get it. Maybe a habitually late person can write a post on the "True Beauty of Habitual Lateness, and Why On-Time People are Silly." 

And I do feel silly. I feel silly sitting around waiting for something that is supposed to start at 10, that ends up starting at 10:30 because only 3 people are there! Let me tell you, we three on-timers are thinking, "I could've stopped for coffee. I could've shaved my legs. My kids could be wearing matching socks! My dishes could be done if we'd just decided to start at 10:30 instead of 10!"

But we know that if it started at 10:30, we'd just be waiting till 11. And when the late-arrivals walk in with coffee we just want to dump it on them. Oops.

Wow. I didn't think I was that bitter. 

Deep breaths.

So here's the "magical" formula I use for arriving on time: 

The time I need to arrive minus the time it takes to get ready (accounting for variables like poo-slposions if I have an infant, or lost shoes if it's a certain kid of mine) minus the travel time (accounting for variables like weather and traffic) minus 5 minutes of cushion time for any of the things that could happen when you have 4 kids to get somewhere (and you're kind of neurotic and sometimes check if you left the stove on after everyone is out the door).

Of course, the "magic" formula depends on me knowing that it takes ~5.5 minutes to clean up a poo-sploded baby and put them in new clothes, or that it takes my shoe-losing kid about 2 minutes to run around looking for them. It also depends on my having as much prepped for leaving as possible (actually putting diapers in the diaper-bag is key), and because kids need long transitions, meeting their basic needs before go-time so they'll happily get in my vehicle. But I'm also not against dragging a kicking-toddler and strapping them in their car seat in pants they don't want to wear if it means I'm not late. I'm heartless, I know.

If I do arrive super-early for something (which rarely happens, because with practice, I'm better at time management) I have a book handy or know where the nearest coffee place is, and I bask in the luxury of that! I don't feel like I could be doing something else, because I work hard to be on time, and respect for others, myself and not missing the beginning of something is worth a couple extra minutes of time to just be (or wash breakfast off a little face, and remind the others of the bribe I promised if they're good).

It's work, this business of being on time. It's mostly a hard, not fun process for me, and I hope I was real enough with you to justify my rants about late people. Again, late friends, I really do love you. I don't understand you, but I love you.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Feminism and Me

"Why are you getting married?" a mentor asked me, with coldness that was unmistakable.

"Are you keeping your last name?" A fellow student asked.

"You're pregnant? That was fast." Mused a co-worker. 

"Have you ever gone back to work between babies?" 

"So, when are you going to use that degree you worked so hard to get?" A question from a relative.

"Well, I'm not sure you have much street cred as a feminist," said a Sociology classmate motioning to my pregnant belly.

These are the things that swirl through my mind as I think about feminism as it relates to me. It's not a very welcoming place, this feminist world, for a stay-at-home Mom who is a practicing Catholic - and yet, I feel like I should throw my hat in the ring. My classmate by surface accounts of feminism is right, I don't have feminist "street cred" by typical measures.
I put marriage and children before my career, I'm not a birth control user, and I do subscribe to a faith - Catholicism, that is certainly never described well in typical feminist circles. But given that I made these choices with full understanding and free will, I feel fortunate, blessed even, to be able to call myself a feminist.

I care deeply about women. It shakes me to the core that there is still oppression and injustice being enacted against women for the reason of their gender alone. So I dare to call myself a feminist. 

Women should have choices, yes. Women should have freedom to do and say and be anything they want to be, yes. Women should not have to fear the ramifications of being who they are and living to their full potential.

But I would argue from my side of the coffee shop, that there is a lot of fear and insecurity that emancipated, educated, free women like myself face each day.

A lot of these fears come from the set of ideas we call feminism. The idea that one must be educated, have a successful career, have strict control over how many children we have, we must have no reliance whatsoever on men, and we must be able to use our body when and how we please. These are the messages I grew up alongside, and at face-value, completely positive. But in another way these seem to be oppression again of another set of values - the ones that I hold dear. 

"Why are you getting married?" 
I was 22, in love with an amazing man, and I viewed marriage as the fulfillment of my deepest desire to walk with this man through life, leading each other to be better with each passing day.

The coldness and criticism I experienced told me a lot. It told me that marriage was looked at as a thing of little value to this person. But my inner feminist thought, "Shouldn't this be my choice? How dare you belittle my decision!"

I became pregnant within the first year of my marriage. In the hallways at my university, I stuck out and often got looks of pity, invasive questions about whether my baby was planned, and copious opinions about delivery (of all things). "Thanks young man, for letting me know that you deem it ok if I receive an epidural." Only a few times in those hallways did I hear congratulations, mostly from women who had children already. Having children was almost revolting to the majority of my 18-25 year-old peers. I thought of the feminists then: If women were supposed to do anything and be anything they wanted, why was my choice to be wife and mother less valid? 

Most women I meet in public with children my children's age are at least 10 years older. They've usually put in their time with a career of some sort, and often refer to it in conversation. I'm not going to lie, I myself vaguely refer to my degree in communications, but amidst these conversations I often wish I had the courage to just say I stay home and leave it there. There isn't any shame in staying home with children. I find it an extremely valuable use of my time. Where modern feminism has failed though is that it snubs the lives of our grandmothers, when what our grandmothers and indeed, early feminists sought, was simply for all women to have a choice and a voice. 

We still don't have that. Women all over the world are still being oppressed, and of equal worry, are the women who have lived the modern feminist life and found it wanting. 

More women than ever are on anti-depressants.  More women than ever are experiencing infertility.  Our choices are getting narrower and women are still suffering in a multitude of ways.

Maybe what women need most isn't more money, more birth control, more CEOs who are women, more politicians promising things that never materialize.

Maybe women need to support one another and celebrate the very things that make them women.  Maybe we need a feminism that puts who you are above what you achieve, and acknowledges that some of our previously accepted notions of what women need are hurting more than helping.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Being Better: Lent Lessons

Sometimes I get hit with the sheer monotony and awfulness of motherhood, particularly being a stay-at-home parent.  Sometimes the books my kids choose for me to read to them are absolute drivel. The laundry literally never ends. The crying child who fights with a sibling day in, day out. The whining of a hungry baby just as you are preparing their food. On these occasions, I feel like I could've been out in the world, writing for a magazine, exposing truths and making a difference. Even though I know in my head and heart that this is where I'm supposed to be, I admit I fail to see how I'm contributing to a greater good. 

This Wednesday I had a particularly bad moment. But it was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I started the day mindful of my Lent decision to give up procrastination - after all, it is often failure on my part to plan and do that makes things overwhelming around here. But inevitably a fight started between my two middle boys. Light sabers were taken, and my 3-year-old, a pathetic little being, sat on the floor wailing, "I need a hug! I nee-eed a hu-uh-uhg!"

Though I was making my oldest's lunch, I knew it would just less stressful to stoop down and hug him than to listen to him yell at me. So I hugged him. I hugged him tight and tried to feign genuine love for this kid that I just (if I'm honest) wanted to send back to bed. But as I hugged him it hit me:

I caught a glimpse of the crucifix and saw Jesus, His arms outstretched, His head pierced with thorns, and it hit me. What is it to hug a child? A crying, snot-covered, angry child. 
If I'm supposed to be walking this walk, giving that hug just might be my version of taking up the Cross. But it's a difficult task in the recesses of my home, with only me to keep myself in check and attuned to all the incessant needs. 

Yesterday, that same child walked into a room full of people, wailing. Immediately I crouched down to his level, opened wide my arms and gave him the hug I knew he would need. He accepted it, wiped his eyes and went back out to play with the other kids. 

"Do not practice your piety before others," from Ash Wednesday's readings came flashing into my mind. It was so easy to get down on the floor with my boy when a room full of people was watching, and I'll admit, I wanted to make sure I was seen being a kind, nurturing mother. I love my kids, and it's not all for show, but we all have to admit it is so much easier to do something when it makes you feel as good as public recognition or acknowledgement from others. 

This is the reason it's so difficult to fold the laundry for six people, or clean that dish that came out of the dishwasher still a bit dirty. To clean that day-old spot on the wall, or sort the junk drawer. It is why it is so hard to respond kindly to the kid who wakes you up at 3 a.m. 
Nobody sees it. Only sometimes do you get a "thanks" and there is always more.

However, I'm continually being shown that simply doing, not for gratification or acknowledgement is much nobler, and more challenging. It's a test of true strength and character to hug and snuggle a toddler who may or may not be on the verge of throwing up on you. But it's also in loving the utterly helpless and sometimes unlovable that is a mother's daily call. 

Simply doing to be disciplined in my tasks, and simply doing because I must take great care of the gifts I've been given, both human and material. I'm realizing that this vocation of mother and wife that I chose, fraught with lonely little tasks, is a actually an opportunity. 

It's an opportunity to love and serve and make a difference. And maybe it's just in five or more lives in the depths of domesticity, but even so, it's transforming me ever so slowly into someone better.