Unrealistic Reality TV

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The obsession with my newly found identity crisis led me to believe that the labels put on SAHM’s strictly came from the 50’s and 60’s Susie Homemaker persona; however, the eruption of shows like The Real Housewives of… (pick a city, any city) has 21st century housewifery represented as gossiping cats with faux fur who claw at each other at social events. This new 21st century housewife has no responsibilities except to keep a high social standing and the obligation to hold fundraisers for charity. Even though their benevolence could be viewed as noble, I can’t help but see it as just a trend in their world.  

Can you call yourself a housewife if you have no other responsibilities other than social calls and keeping up appearances? Anyone with a nanny and a housekeeper should be stripped of their housewife title. The producers of these shows should find a real housewife from Kentucky (the land of little opportunity) attempting to raise three kids while trying to make something of myself (I mean, herself) so that she can get out of an increasingly bad neighborhood. She should also be driving a car that has more french fries in it than McDonald’s.  These women who live in poverty and middle class are the “real” housewives of the nation. No wonder we, the real housewives outside of unrealistic reality TV, are suffering from an identity crisis. We are caught between the perfect Susie Homemaker persona and the could-you-bring-the-car-around fiction wife. When is reality TV about women going to show some reality? The only program that portrays truth is “Snapped.”  

This misrepresentation of today’s SAHM’s makes me twice as eager to rise above the labels and properly represent what we stand for. In the meantime, I will keep watching “The Real Housewives of New York” for research. Ok, I am a blogging contradictory – I’m addicted to the show that infuriates me but I am human and it is a train wreck that I can’t take my eyes off of and I am weak.  

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Misplaced Mom

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I have been misplaced by a weak economy – trapped in a small house with three children, stripped of my self-worth and blind folded to any clear direction. Though I have been a stay-at-home mom for nine years, five of them have been spent trying to build a career. Unlike most moms I didn’t choose to be a stay-at-homer; I was cast into the role when the $800 a month daycare bill was pushing us toward the poorhouse. Since landing this role I have been fighting to eke out a career while balancing the identity stealing motherly duties. I always find it necessary to add how I do love my children; however, I want to be able to stand on my own two feet if my husband’s paycheck was no longer available. I also want to contribute financially but daycare and gas would consume the already measly paycheck and I would be on the road back to the poorhouse. It is a vicious cycle created by a recession.  

I thought I was the only SAHM misplaced by the economy and left yearning for success, until I visited some parenting forums. Seems I am not the only one the poor economy has trapped behind the doors of our home.  Maybe this explains the explosion of mom bloggers and at-home businesses. Misplaced moms have had to invent creative ways to keep their identity and re-establish self-worth. When economists look back on this recession it should be referred to as the “Entrapment Era”. The time when the economy made for a different type of SAHM and the role was redefined. We are no longer the women who stay at home for fear of others raising our children but the women who stay at home because we can’t afford others to raise them.  

I don’t want to get stuck behind the SAHM label, where I am expected to pull out a tiny magazine and talk my victim into buying their perfect shade of foundation. The economy is scary enough but to know I may wake up an empty nester peddling makeup samples is terrifying. Though the economy is weak it still has the power to choose my quality of life and slap an unwanted assumption to my name. How do you fight something that even at its weakest is strong enough to back you in a corner?  

I may have to be in this corner but I refuse to cower in it. As long as the economy continues to try to beat me down I will continue to throw punches until one of them delivers a KO, allowing me to gain the advantage and go from misplaced misfit to a moneymaking matriarch.

Mom Genes

I was in the middle of a time-honored tradition, the 5:00pm banging of the pots and pans, when my oldest came in the kitchen and asked, “Are you cooking dinner?”  I replied with a nod of my head which provoked a spontaneous reaction of his nose wrinkling and a follow-up question, “Do we have to eat the black parts?”

It is no secret that I can’t cook; furthermore, I hate to clean, I hate sitting at the park sweating and swatting bugs, I despise Candy Land and would rather change a diaper with a load than do arts and crafts. I suffer from an Underactive Mom Gene.

Underactive Mom Gene (UMG) is a contentious defect that may cause drooling at PTA meetings, insomnia during board games and the occasional bout of, “Oops, was that today?”  Those with UMG can live normal lives until matched against the UMG irritant, the Overactive Mom Gene.  These are the women who, from the day of their birth when they were plunging down the canal of hope, vowed to produce as many humans as possible, wear high heels with their apron while baking every child in the world a cookie and run for room mom every school year. The Overactive Mom Gene (OMG) has been known to cause slight envy and a rash among those with an Underactive Mom Gene. Though no official study has been recorded, Overactive Mom Gene has believed to be the result of a genetic mutation that presented itself in the 50’s. This is when women in the masses decided that their home and children was their only duty in life – kick starting the Mom Gene into hyper-drive.  During this time Betty Friedan wrote “The Feminine Mystique” where she exposes the lives of the so-called happy housewives (A.K.A the OMG’s).

In one of Friedan’s study’s she set out to discover why two women with the same exact number of children, the same economic status in the same size house spent different amounts of time completing the same chores.  Her conclusion: women that had outside-the-home activities spent less time completing chores when compared to women who devoted her whole day to them. These women without a social life subconsciously buried themselves in housework and their children’s lives. They continuously created more work for themselves and purposely made household duties last all day by engaging their children in numerous activities or they betrothed themselves to do-it-yourself projects. These same ladies unrelentingly made more work for themselves as their children got older by buying bigger houses, which required more cleaning, and had more kids in order to continue the ritual of trying every way possible to feel needed. After having more children was no longer a possibility and her babies grew up, she was lost.  

A more recent study, according to Meghan Daum’s LA Times article, researched by Brigham Yang University and the University of North Carolina found those that chose social isolation had as much risk for mortality as smokers and those struggling with obesity. So we, the Underactive Mom Gene carriers, should no longer envy those with an Overactive Mom Gene (the 21st century helicopter parent) for they are doomed to wake up empty nesters, no longer able to hide behind their children and on death row. But we, with UMG, are destined to wake up empty nesters and smile. Long live the Underactive Mom Gene.

This Is My Brain On Kids

I finished pumping my gas and jumped in my car when the blue of my husband’s truck caught my eye as it pulled up beside me. I rolled down the window because, well, sometimes I have to talk to him (I probably wanted money). After our so-engaging-that-I-can’t–remember-it conversation, I proceeded to roll up the window with my right hand (in a Saab, the buttons that control the windows are in the middle between the front seats). I continued to roll the window up until I felt the crushing pain of my left hand being wedged between the window and its final destination. Yes, I rolled my own hand up in the window. It took me a minute to process what  happened before I made any attempt to free myself.  Twitter patted, I reached down for the button but instead of rolling it down I accidentally rolled it up sending another wave of crushing pain through my hand. Once I finally got my hand out from the window’s clutches, I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed my moment of utter lunacy – the coast was clear. I rolled out of the gas station with a new awareness – my brain was mush.

For the last nine years I have gradually been losing brain cells. A slow deterioration from board games, cleaning, shuttling and bathing that has killed any intellectual thought with the constant restriction from being expressed. My brain is now reserved for elementary level homework and the precise stacking of folded socks into a pyramid.  

Magazine and web content articles have come up with a cure for scrambled egg brain – a hobby. An article in Parent & Child magazine entitled, “Like Riding a Bicycle”,  listed tips on how to find yourself again “in the sometimes messiness of motherhood.” Author, Amy Levin-Epstein, provided several tips in categories like “Be A Role Model”, under which she states “maybe you [the mother] should join an art class, a sports team, or a foreign language-learning club.” Her suggestions continue in the “Think About The Long Run” section where she proposes “…waiting tables on the weekends while your little ones are at soccer practice.” This is it; this is supposed to rebuild the pile of mush occupying my skull? It is hard for me to believe that having a mommy hobby or obtaining a stressful job as a waitress for an hour while my kids are at practice will add enough value to my life to be meaningful.

Being a role model is more than finding a diversion from a hollow life and if I have to think about the long run when I am an empty nester, I don’t want to be left with hobbies – I want a career. I want to live by my definition of success which extends beyond raising productive members of society. I realize success doesn’t happen overnight and I first need to resuscitate the part of my brain that has been longing for intelligent conversation but where do I start?

As I write this paragraph I am sitting in an uncomfortable chair at a table in my local bookstore. To my left are seven women ranging from late 40’s to late 50’s who have obviously gathered for a book club meeting, well, that was their intent. However, with some eavesdropping I heard a little discussion of the book, followed by a lot of laughter and they are now they are running wild on a tangent. This is what I need; a group of women  my age discussing anything other than children and cleaning. My mission: to find such a group. I vow not to talk myself out of it, to fight the urge to cower in my closet from the fear of leaving my comfort zone and not to let the motherly routine hold me back. I must fix my mush.

To be continued…

My Children Will Survive If I…

I heard my daughter scream then yell mom from her bedroom. I could tell by how many O’s she put in mom that she was about to throw one of her brothers under the bus. I instantly went into a fight or flight response. Since I had been fighting with them all day and subsequently loosing, I fled. I slipped into my bedroom closet as she came barreling out of her room letting another long-winded mom roll off her tongue. My mind began to generate its usual banter, blocking out her persistent yearning to rat out her brother.  How did I get here again? After months of trying to clear myself a path I was entangled in the vines with weeds growing around my feet. Every time I sit in front of the computer to do some writing (a little something for myself) they smell it. They hunt me down like a pack of wolves and gnaw at me until I have no choice but to abandon post.  Constant interruptions mixed with the drudgery of daily chores had once again taken over and stopped me in my tracks. I was trapped – not only behind the depressing sight of my skinny jeans but in my world where doing something for me is forbidden. As my mind went silent from defeat, I noticed an odd sound; kids, playing together without fighting. While I was throwing myself a pity party in the dark, the conflict that had made me stuff myself in the closet had resolved itself  – I emerged enlightened.

 I realized my children will survive if I don’t referee every fight. For that matter they would most likely survive if I don’t answer every call for mom, do every dish or make every bed – everyday. So, why do I keep doing it? Maybe I am a victim of the routine – the monotonous stay-at-home mom daily drudge that, after years, lulls your mind into a trance until your actions are robotic and each day is a carbon copy of the next.  This routine overrides rational thinking and replaces it with the urge to make chores priority. We allow the routine to lead us into a world of cooking and cleaning because our children deserve to eat healthy and dwell in a sterile environment. So we follow the path of carbon copy day’s barely feeling the cuts from thorns or itch of poison ivy until we find ourselves hiding in the closet from our kids. I am at constant odds with the routine – every time I try to clear a better path by doing something for me, the routine calls and I am pulled back into the thickets.

After the closet episode I was determined to veer off from the routine. I dropped the kids at school, came home and sat in front of my computer hoping to squeeze in some writing time. Then I smelled it – the syrup that was stuck on the plates that were left in the sink from breakfast. I made myself stay in front of the computer, fight the urge of the routine but the syrup taunted me until all I could think about was how much of a mess the house was. I put up a good fight, made some valid points to myself but in the end, routine won. I am caught in this cycle so often that instead of clearing my path I walk in circles digging myself into a hole too deep for an easy climb.

Are all stay-at-home moms just closet routine addicts, unable to hang on to the rational thinking that our children will survive if we leave the breakfast dishes until noon?  Will they survive if I don’t vacuum?  Will they survive if I don’t do the laundry?  Will they survive if I do something for myself? Will I survive if I don’t?

3-D Mommy

Finally, a night away from the kids; a night among adults with adult conversation and the fact that it is a room full of strangers from your husbands work will not take away from the reality that no one was going to yell your name and “I’m done” from the bathroom. So you smile, laugh and pretend to be interested. As the conversation turns to work a lady turns her attention to you and says, “What do you do?” Then it happens, that dreaded one-liner that gives an ankle-deep definition of women. The line that should be politically incorrect for one to call another that rears children,“I am a stay at home mom.”

Most of us are guilty of planting this one-liner in the heads of our conversatee making nothing sprout but weeds of implications. Thoughts of us stuck indoors wiping faces, noses and other body parts – cooking and cleaning all the while whistling a tune as we eagerly await our husband’s arrival. O.K., yes, we wipe plenty of things throughout our day but should that define who we are?  Is there a one-lined definition that would tell the world that we are not only mothers but also women who have dreams, passions and ambitions that extend beyond our home and children?

There are some existing definitions that are being planted and pollinated as the counter part of stay-at-home mom, for example, Domestic Goddess. (Cue the dry heaving) Whoever came up with this phrase felt that they had to make their vocation sound more glamorous. Calling ourselves Domestic Goddesses is adding crabgrass to the weeds of implications. The definition of Domestic Goddess is as follows: A women who stays full-time with her children but is embarrassed that her work doesn’t allow for glamour, thus, crafting a title that creates an illusion of heightened meaning. So, maybe this isn’t Webster’s definition but this is what it implies. I don’t want to be called a stay-at-home mom, Domestic Goddess or homemaker because that is not who I am – it is only part of what I do.

In her book, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, Meghan Daum writes: “Before that [Fair Housing Act of 1968] any women signing escrow papers was presumed to be doing so with her husband. Even then, several real estate brokers have told me, she often had to get a ‘pill letter’ from her doctor verifying that she was on birth control and therefore wouldn’t get pregnant, quit her job and, lose the income on which the granting of the loan was based.” Just because the Fair Housing Act was passed doesn’t mean the world (including us moms) stopped thinking that motherhood equals isolated despair. In order for others to look past the food stains, frazzled hair and sleep deprived state we must live by our own definition. We can’t let the Stepford Wives and the childless wonders of the world guilt us into believing that there is only one definition for a stay-at-home mom and that’s, children.

Remember what you used to say as a child when asked what you wanted to be when you grew up and go after that dream. Rekindle a passion or find something you love to do and do it. Find your after-home activity and make it a part of what defines you. So, what is the definition that is going to get you out of the weeds? Or did having children really condemn us to a life entangled in the vines? We can’t allow the paths the women before us fought to clear to grow over with our one-dimensional definitions and the thinking that staying home with our children means putting dreams on hold. To get out of the weeds we must clear our own paths. Discover the other two-dimensions behind the mother so that the next time someone asks what you do you can say, “I am a writer with three children,” but that’s my definition go get your own.

I Love My Children But…

 

I have lost myself. Buried beneath piles of robotic motherly duties lay pieces of my former self. Some of those fragments are better kept submerged for fear of wreaking havoc on my ability to make rational decisions, however, most deserve to be resurfaced but never see the light of day.

     In nine years I have produced three children and they have produced a workload that has buried me nine-feet deep. Somewhere under afterschool activities, breaking up fights, patching the wounded and healing the sick is my energy, dreams and passions. Only in complete solitude can I feel them yearning to be recovered but I suppress them before guilt can set in. But recently, the moments of solitude have become more abundant since my youngest hopped on the academic bandwagon headed toward preschool, allowing those pieces to become a little louder, more persistent and gave them a boost to the surface. So, this leaves me with a question, can we be stay-at-home mothers and have our own individual identity? The answer – virtually impossible.

     Once a woman enters the world of the stay-at-home moms, she is unknowingly drafted into the Divine Silence of a Hush-Hush Motherhood. There isn’t a formal initiation and the secrets among the group are well kept – hidden deep within each member. Subjects like being unfulfilled, how mundane motherly duties can be and how we want to hide in a closet when we hear mom yelled yet again never pass our lips for fear of being judged or looked at as an unfit mother. It is an understood faux pas among the group to want something for ourselves. Of course we want our children to be happy, healthy and be successful but we should want the same for our own lives. To be examples to our daughters; show them that it is possible to be a mother and follow your dreams.

     If we broke the silence and spoke freely about how hard parenting really is there may be less episodes of Snapped and more mothers able to handle the tribulations of parenting. Now is the time and this is the place to unload, to reclaim our identity outside of being a mother, to make it acceptable to say, I love my children but I am unfulfilled. I love my children but I need to get away, I love my children but I think they may be out to kill me.

     In the memoir “Half Broke Horses”, Lily Casey Smith describes what is was like when both her children were finally in school and she began attending a local college: “I loved my time at the university and felt happier than I thought I had the right to be….I was learning about the world and improving my mind. I had no obligations to anyone but myself, and everything in my life was under mycontrol.”

      Let’s take control. The first step to finding ourselves again is to break the silence and fill in your blank; I love my children but…

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