a friend recently asked me that. a kid-less friend. a middle aged friend. a person, in my mind, as free and unencumbered as they come. her question was innocent enough, yet I felt myself unconsciously bristle in defense when she asked it. because she honestly had no idea what living with three young kids is like, what staying home looks like, what I filled our time with. I stuttered for a moment, embarrassed because, well, the answer is…not much.
anyone who had small kids, or had them at some point would know that someone like me is purely in survival mode most days. someone who never had small kids would not know this.
why do I automatically feel like people are insinuating that I should be doing more than I do if they ask this question? I guess it hits a nerve, a deep insecurity, a lot of assumptions that I as a stay at home parent and homeschooler to boot have been faced with since I began this journey 6 years ago.
that I need to account for my time. that I should have something to show for all of these hours at home. that I should have a spotless immaculate home, that I should have fresh baked bread and homemade stews wafting pleasant aromas through the house all day, that I should be on top of and in control of my kids behavior and appearance and their schooling too.
the truth is my house is often difficult to cut a path through with all of the toys, clothes and books strewn about. you are more likely to detect the faint odor of urine-soaked furniture and the stale food crusting on the dishes in the sink than anything freshly baked or boiled as you walk in the door. my kids are often unkempt and seem to attract dirt with magnetic abilities. and they run somewhat wild, coming and going, yelling, fighting, immersed in imaginative play almost constantly.
I have felt the pressure to have home and hearth neatly under my thumb for years now. as she sat, probably wondering at my sudden awkward defensive stiffness, waiting for an answer, I touched on all of this in my head, these assumptions of the general public toward me, stay at home mother and my family. but, as I said before, her question instantly made me jump into all of that, but I didn’t actually feel any of this from her. that’s all my own baggage. it’s good to recognize baggage when we can so we don’t have to carry it around all the time.
I then started looking for a way to describe what I actually do with the kids around here. I guess it’s been a while since anyone sincerely asked me that question to my face. “well,” I said, “not much.” and it’s true. I’m more likely to spend an entire day wrestling with the kids over food, messes and their fights than anything that looks like an activity to record in a log book. add in diaper changes and you’ve got a pretty full day already. I held the truth in my mind and it didn’t look pretty. the truth is that I am pretty much just scraping by on a daily basis. just getting through the days with everyone somewhat clean, somewhat well-fed and somewhat attended to. if I can get the dishes done in the sink, a load of laundry into the washer (not necessarily the dryer) and make it through the day without having a knock down drag out with one of the kids (mostly ruth) I consider the day a marvelous success. I guess my standards are low.
but I looked at my friend and I felt her ignorance of the situation and I felt that, though she wanted the truth, that she, perhaps, couldn’t quite handle it. so I listed a few things that we do and things I hope to do more of in the future. we read a lot of books, I said. very true. the kids play make-believe a lot of the day. also true. we go to the park a lot. somewhat a lot. I try to meet up with friends on a semi-regular basis. very semi. I hope to join more homeschooling groups and clubs in the future. maybe. and I feel like the kids are so young they don’t have a ton of interests yet but when they do….then the homeschooling part of life will really take off. or so I insinuated.
ah, just another awkward conversation navigated successfully by moi. I’m just an articulate genius when it comes to informing the ignorant public on the ways of stay home parents and homeschoolers. wow.