Sunday, March 26, 2006

I have recovered from my husband's volunteerism sufficiently to pass the morning writing a bit...so here goes.

My son is enjoying preschool immensely, but I had to take him out near the end of the week due to a cold. It's a truism of putting your child out in the world: he can risk getting sick out in public. Why we all take that risk, I sometimes don't know. Some days it seems as though human contact in most any form will contaminate you in some way.

I do find myself craving that contact with humans, however, and they should preferably be aged older than three. The Tennessee Williams festival is happening in the French Quarter this coming weekend, and though I have never been interested (or rather, never have had the time to be interested) in the goings-on of the festival before, I have taken a peek in the paper this morning and have seen at least three panels that I would love to attend - all at times that would mean I would have to get a babysitter. Got to get cracking on sitter research, or else I'll be stuck taking my son to the Stanley and Stella shouting contest, the only festival activity I could take him to see without fear of having all the literate folks staring daggers at me as my son does his three year old thing in the aisles of a panel discussion. He did try to start a "Bingo" sing-along at a local pizza place recently, to the appreciation of some diners, and he had some people reminiscing about their childhoods as they watched him blowing bubbles through his straw into a glass of water, but that kind of thing would be lost on festival-goers. C'est la vie.

Literature-wise, I have some books I have to stay away from, though, but they haunt me like a bad addiction. I pick them up in the bookstores, mostly, and take them home, where I cannot avoid them. They haunt me on the shelves even after I've read them, reminding me of the exhilarating highs and the crushing lows I have experienced in the reading of them when I come across their titles time and again. I speak of mommy-lit.

No, not the endless guides on parenting, on breast-feeding upside-down for optimal feeding of your child, on simultaneous toilet training and MBA studies for your toddler (okay, the last two tomes don't exist yet...I think). Not fiction such as The Nanny Diaries, I Don't Know How She Does It, What Do You Do All Day?, or any other quasi-fictional accounts of mommy and nanny inner struggles. I'm talking about mom essays, mom meditations on mommyhood, on how far we have come, how many steps back we've taken, how awful it is that we are so polarized into stay-at-homers and outside the home workers, how can I count the ways in which us moms feel guilty, bored, angry, blissful, content, agitated, alone....I could go on and on. Many women have done so before me and many more will do so after me.

I liken these books to drugs because they confirm everything I am finding out about motherhood, which is a good thing. It feeds my euphoric, emphatic sense of righteous rightness, that I am not alone, that I am a perpetual victim of millenium-old views about motherhood as being strictly a woman's sphere, that it is wrong for things like day care to be a privilege rather than a right, that equality still doesn't exist between the sexes in caring for the kids and the home, etc., etc. It is such a high.

These books are confirmation, indeed, and that is a bad thing, too. I come off the righteous highs and descend to the depths of a crushing depression, in which the confirmation of my hopes and fears results in more questioning, most of it slightly hysterical. Is this all there is? Are things going to change in my lifetime? How can I work toward this change when I can barely tolerate a full day with my preschooler and have to collapse in exhaustion at the end of each day?

I talked with another stay-at-home mom at a local ice cream parlor recently, and she said she wished she could help out with more of the recovery efforts, but that she was taking care of her little girl full-time. A pamphlet I picked up at the pediatrician's office recently advises parents not to take young children to assist at the recovery sites, and teenagers have to wear suits and masks if they are going to work there (which is what anyone should wear at these flood-damaged homes, anyway). Not that the reasons for keeping young children out of these sites aren't good - we all need to pay close attention to our kids' health, and preserve it. It's just that being hands-on with your kids means hands-off in other areas. So I can't volunteer for digging in with both hands and cleaning out someone's home...what's left?

The mom essays focus so much on the inner mom life that certain logistics are left out. Part of the crushing lows for me in reading these essays is that in the end, it really is every woman for herself. Moms should be all together on certain things. Maybe a co-op day care/ recovery crew could really make a difference for the women who want to get involved hands-on here - everyone switches off on taking care of the group's kids and helping clear out the mud and debris from local homes.

Then again, that's the point. It is every woman for herself, and we should all accomodate those choices each woman makes that is best for her sanity, and that of her family's, as best we can. That's most likely why this literature is more widely available now than at any other time in history. Providing women with more choices in their lives has translated itself into the marketplace...which has its good and bad points, too. The good manifests itself in products such as moms writing about their choices in life, about better products being available on a wide scale (such as organics and better food labeling), and the bad...well, let's just say that if it now has the moniker "baby" attached to it, count on it being more expensive than it should be.

As Bobby Kennedy remarked, however, teaching values and morals to our youngsters isn't something that can be measured by the gross national product of this country. Maybe if it could, women wouldn't be arguing over which choices are more valid than others and would be uniting over the ones they all seem to agree about the most. Until then, I keep those books on my shelf, as a reminding narcotic of hope and fear. Hope for what could be, and the fear of letting it all slide. A local bar has a flag outside that says "Don't Give Up The Ship." I can't - and I really don't want to, deep down.

About Dan's volunteerism - at our synagogue's Brotherhood meeting, the members lamented the lack of anything approaching good bagels in the city after the storm, since bagels were needed for a breakfast the members were sponsoring. I love my husband dearly, but why he volunteered us for the task of actually making the bagels - well, I nearly had a heart attack. Since my early crafting days, though, I really haven't had many opportunities, other than loads of cross-stitch projects, to work with my hands, and even though we had never made bagels before, we got hold of a recipe in a cookbook from my in-laws' synagogue and I tried out one batch during the week. We went into major bagel production on Saturday afternoon with the help of our friend Edie and her Cuisinart, and the only bottleneck we experienced was in the boiling and baking of the bagels - the pots on the stove and our oven can only handle so many bagels. Edie preferred to mix the dough in the processor, claiming she hated to deal with the stickiness of the dough, but I liked messing with it enough that Dan and I have seriously contemplated getting hold of the defunct bagel shop franchises and going in on operating them. It also gave me a break from running after the young 'un, who needed some daddy time anyway.

Was it all taking advantage of my better nature, this volunteerism? Maybe. All I know is, I liked shaping that dough, allowing it to rise, poking holes into dough balls and shaping them into bagel shapes, and the yeasty smell of the whole process filling the kitchen. Ah, the choices, the possibilities...

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