Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Having Fun when you're no fun at all

My daughter's Abba came in for the weekend last week, took my girl to the zoo, picked her up after shul next day and let her play all afternoon in the sandbox. Oh, she loved it. She loves hanging out with him. And I'm very glad it all seems to be working out. He might not be very into the nitty gritty, but he's a very loving playmate to her.

On the other hand, what has she done with me this last month? I've not been fun at all. After work we're in the garden. Then I'm cooking and feeding her, reading, going to bed. In the morning we snuggle and read, then back to the chores of getting us both ready and with food for the day.

You know what? She's the best. She has her own watering can, her own little shovel. She wears herself out pouring water (mainly on the footpath and not on the tomatoes, but who cares), carrying the can back and forth from the faucet to the garden. She digs until she's so dirty we have to strip her before we go inside.

At home she makes a game of playing cooking while I cook. We've got Ikea toy cookware, and I taped her hand-drawn oven knobs to the top of an empty shelf. That's her oven. I give her a couple of potatoes, a little water, and she's good to go. Then she stands at the sink and plays washing dishes. Should I feel bad that she loves her tiny broom? That she spends hours pushing around her babydoll stroller, even outside?

When I'm done, we paint pictures and read, dance and talk.

But I'm sorry that, even though I do everything around the home, the "everything" I do is so stereotypically gendered. Sure, I nail things, repair things. But on a day-to-day basis, it's the housework she sees and mimics. Well, everyone should know how to cook and clean for himself or herself, I guess.

We do talk about going to work. "I don't want you to go to work today, Ima," she says. Well, I explain, when I go to work I can get money so we can buy food and clothes. You will go to work one day, too, I tell her. What do you want to do when you go to work? "I want to do fun work when I go to work," she says. She's right.
The other day she asked me if I was going to work that day to get some money. Yes, I said. She told me not to go to work that day. We have enough money, she said.

In today's economy, I know I can't afford anything less than all I've got at work. But I know that my dearest girl is only going to be 2 1/2 once.


The Queen of Laundry said...

I don’t understand why you say you’re no fun at all. What could be more fun for a child than having Ima around? More than playing, reading, cooking, snuggling! dancing!! together with Ima?? Even if you do, for whatever reason, feel this way, it might be comforting to remember that children usually don’t get “the whole picture” and do not necessarily share all our ups and downs.
As for gender issues - these, I believe, are created by grown-ups, not by children! My younger son, for example, enjoys dusting the bookshelves and simply loves the broom (the big broom, of course. He does miss the little one he once had, until he broke it in one too-enthusiastic sweep…); Both my boys - besides hammering and drilling, playing with cars, balls, knights and dragons, or building with Lego blocks - enjoy cooking with me (voluntarily) and carry the clean laundry into the house (well, here I don’t leave them much of a choice :) Should I feel bad about it? At this stage, most of the things they are more likely to see their Aba doing are anyway too dangerous for them to take part in!
Cheer up. You’re there for your baby and that’s ALL that matters! From what you tell, it looks like you're the best Ima, even when you’re “no fun at all”.

Susan said...

I see you with your beautiful girl all the time and I can assure you that you are all kinds of fun. And, if Abba was in charge of day-to-day activities, the gender identied concerns woudldn't matter at all. I am actually very touched by the way you always say, "A, do you want to eat tomatoes" or "A, do you want to pet a kitty cat" with such lilt of excitment in your voice, when these are such mundane activities. How do you muster the excitement???? I know that you are tired and overworked and I am consisently amazed at the stores of energy you have for these little things. It's easy to turn it on for the big times. On both counts, she's a lucky little girl.

Tzipporah said...

awww! SO sweet.

Yet suspiciously, my 2 1/2 year old BOY sees me doing all these stereotyically feminine things (plus mowing the lawn, chopping down trees, breaking apart concrete walkways), and the only thing HE wants to do is play with his trains.

And occasionally "help" mix things in the kitchen.

By which, I of course mean sticking his hands in the flour. Or whisking" it right out onto the floor. Or just eating all the dried fruit or chocolate chips out fo whatever I'm baking.

Hmmmph. He's just like his dad. ;)

The Queen of Laundry said...

Yesterday I hanged a 5 feet tall giraffe-shaped growth chart we made together (print-outs, water colors, cutting, gluing and all) on the wall in the boys' room. I took out a hammer and some nails "from Aba's box", as my son remarked. I replied, smiling, that "this is not Aba's box. It's our box", and then wondered to myself - having this blog in mind - how I really feel about this remark. Obviously it is NOT exclusively "Aba's box". I often use it too. He just gets to use it a bit more (just as I do more laundry and baking). There are enough home chores for everyone, and my boys will eventually need to know how to change a light bulb or hit a nail on its head. Do I really care who exactly will be their model for that? Mmmm... don't think so.

Maya said...

Thanks for all your terrific feedback. Queen of Laundry--the important thing, I think, is that kids begin to learn (as soon as it is age appropriate) to feed themselves AND repair stuff--they should eventually learn to take care of themselves. And that sounds exactly like what your boys are learning. I'm just guessing that their relationships with their future partners, and with themselves, will be a lot healthier if they don't say stuff like this to their wives: "oh, I don't clean up after myself. That's woman's work." That may actually be your division of labor at home (though it sounds like you're a lot more fluid about roles than that), and it actually may work for you. Fantastic.

The Queen of Laundry said...

Where I grew up, roles were quite strictly defined. Basically, Mom took care of us; Dad took care of the house. And yet, I know that my brothers do dishes and laundry and put their children to bed, and I'm pretty sure I'm at least as good a plumber or electrician as they will ever be, if not better (though drilling IS a bit hard for me. But at least I've tried! :)
Furthermore, I can't remember ever thinking of any kind of work my parents did as "belonging" to any of the genders. Obviously, they made their own choice of roles in the house: Dad did all the schlepping because he liked driving (and anyway, Mom never had a driver's license) and Mom did all the cooking because she loved it and was always better at it (and, being a chemist, Dad’s "cooking" was never really an option :)
I can't imagine them ever saying to each other anything like "I can't do that - that's your job", nor "I'm too tired to...". Each had his/her responsibilities and each one was ready to help the other where they could. Coming to think of it, maybe it's not at all about "who does what". Maybe it's the model of true sharing, the way they complete each other to create a new "whole", the general atmosphere of real cooperation in taking care of the household, that made us, their children, feel comfortable in choosing our own "division of labor" in our homes, regardless of gender issues.
This model worked for me - I see no reason not to set it up for my children as well (but I will keep my eyes open, just in case... :)

Maya said...

Sounds like you grew up in a wonderful home, Queen of Laundry. I'll bet your own home is wonderful, too.

Queen of Laundry said...

Well.... we're definitely, ahm, working on it... (unfortunately, I had a reason to say I'll keep my eyes open...)

I think the point I was trying to make was, that once a couple have a basic common desire to share their lives, it is the mutual commitment and the daily actions it entails, more than anything else, that will keep them together AND serve as a model for their children. Or not.
Of course there were tensions, arguments, and crises in my home, you know; not everything was wonderful or fun all the time. Not at all. But the strong message I deduced from the way thing transpired (over and over again) was that there is value in maintaining what we have, even though it's not perfect. "Love", with no serious commitment, just won't last. Wouldn't you agree? (and I haven't even said a word about the Jewish value of "Sh'lom Bayit").
I don't know you, but it sounds like you're very much committed to the well-being of your daughter and to "doing the right thing" for the two of you as a family. You do it despite all the difficulties you must face and even - going back to our starting point/post - when you feel like "no fun". Isn't it something you, too, saw as a child at your home? (Just curious)

Maya said...

Absolutely, QoL,
My parents worked very hard on their relationship. And they're visibly, delightfully in love to this day, even though they drive each other (and us) crazy sometimes. Also, even though my mother stayed at home all her life, working as a seamstress from home sometimes, and my dad is very handy, all children, boys and girls alike, learned how to do housework and yardwork. When I learned to drive my father made me take the engine apart and put it back together, so I'd know how it worked. We often went to work with my father in the summer. But there were 4 of us kids growing up, and we lived in the country, so we didn't really need the kind of adult presence my daughter needs now.
Anyway, the day to day is all we really have. We may as well make it good.

Queen of Laundry said...

Wow. I wish I could break apart the engine - and maybe some other parts of my car, too - and put it back together. It would have saved me a whole lot of money! :)
I can imagine your reaction: “but you could if you wanted to…” I know. I’m not afraid of getting my hands black when taking care of my car. But... will that be my achievement as a woman, as a mother, or as a spouse?
I'm an academic, ok? I live in the city. I must let the garage take care of my car for me, the supermarket to supply my vegetables, my Mom to shorten my boys’ new pants (I now how, but it takes me forever), and my husband, quite often lately, to put the kids to sleep. Otherwise, there’s no chance for me to do any research or writing. If I want to make it there, I must excel. Being a female academic in Israel is hard enough as it is; adding this endless gender self-investigation seems to me… well, unfair, basically.
I don’t think it is fair for you either. You’re a working single mother, right? Then there’s no chance you can do EVERYTHING (though it does seem like you get quite a lot done!). Or maybe you can, but it takes its toll (I assume you can tell what it is.) That’s life, you know. Does that downgrade in any way the personal model you wish to present to your girl?
You’re an academic too, aren’t you? Does it really come in handy for you to know how the engine in your car works? Does it make you a better mom? Are you a better scholar? Will your daughter be deprived of anything if no one - neither you, nor your dad, her dad, your love, her future school-teacher, her future love, the king’s horses or the king’s men - will ever show her how to put an engine together again?
I’m not teasing. I seriously want to know what you think.

Maya said...

QoL, you're losing the forest for the trees. The "forest" was as examination of dailiness in my daughter's experiences with me, in contrast to the really exciting fun stuff my daughter does with her father when he sees her once a month. One of the "trees" in my forest, the car engine, is just an example of how girls and boys in my family had the same education, regardless of gender. I'm sorry there aren't two parents in my daughter's life because I'm very much aware of my limits. I phrased it in terms of gender, but I could have also phrased it in terms of hard sciences versus humanities, arts versus crafts, etc.

Since you ask--yeah, it's helped me more in my life to know about engines than to know about calculus,geometry and statistics, but less than knowing about prosody. I always got the most honest mechanic in town when I needed one. But I sold my car 4 years ago. The periodic table of elements (7th grade) wasn't very useful to my life as an academic, mother or friend, either. But I still am glad I learned it because it's pretty beautiful and poetic, and it gives me pleasure.
You know what I mean? There is a lot I would have liked to know but never learned. It is probably "useless" information, but it would have made me happy. Maybe when I retire.

Listen, can we communicate off-blog? I'm about to move to Israel, and I'd like to get your opinions and advice about Israeli academics. Could you email me at

Queen of Laundry said...

Sorry if I got carried away. I guess these were MY sensitive "trees" that I was elaborating on...
I remember your forest well and already in my first comment expressed my difficulty, as a mother, with the picture you drew. I mean, look at your DC Tourism post. Did HE take her to all these amazing places? In any case, having fun is a matter of definition, and for children, cooking can be no less fun than pouring sand for an hour in the sun. Besides, I'm absolutely sure that altogether, your daughter has more fun with you than with her father, if indeed all he gives her is one day a month. I believe that children recognize (and appreciate accordingly) who's trying to amuse them (in order to compensate for avoiding responsibility...?) and who will be there in the middle of the night for them, when they’re sick or had a bad dream.

Are you really coming to Israel? Good luck to you! I'd be happy to give advice, if I only could. Things are rough in the Israeli academic “jungla”, even if you’re a male (and definitely if you don’t speak Spanish). But if you get a job, it can be great. I personally consider leaving it once I finish my dissertation - which has already worn me out - because for women with small children, as far as my personal experience goes, it is just too demanding (or maybe I'm not ambitious enough...) But, we'll see. I'll keep my fingers in a Magen-David shape for you :)