When Did Work Start to Suck? (or has it always?)

April 18, 2008

Toddler and I at Hoos Brews today, the place empty, and she starts asking me for a real-time play-by-play of everything the kind woman behind the counter is doing – “Emptying the soup bowls,” I say, diligently. “Scooping ice cream, I think.”

“What she doing?”

“Making a smoothie, maybe.”

The woman notices, and erupts: “Enjoy your childhood, because this is work, and it sucks!”

“Yeah,” I say, sympathetically. “To kids it seems like so much fun.”

“You just wait,” she says.

And so I start thinking about my daughter’s play activities – imitating cleaning, imitating cooking, making things, pretend shopping… her playtime is all about going through the motions of what I do, what adults do, most of it perceived and experienced as drudgery… rote, boring tasks…

But what makes domestic chores burdens – and what makes a job feel like compulsory torture?

Part of it, I think, or most of it, is the compulsory piece – the fact that you have to shop, you have to clean, you have to Bring Home the Bacon, to survive – you don’t really have much of a choice. Most jobs require that you follow someone else’s rules and procedures, subverting your own ideas and questions, your own style your own imagination your own rhythms to a hierarchy that often doesn’t seem to deserve its power.

Would working in an ice cream/coffee shop be fun if it was play time? If you could do it fearlessly, lovingly?

Would your job be fun if you didn’t have to do it everyday? If you could do it your own way?

Or is it that people tend to be doing jobs they don’t like in the first place, at all, ever?

Because I don’t think the answer is that things are “hard.” Hard work that you love, that you find challenging and rewarding, can be a heck of a lot of fun. I loved studying for the SATs, for instance. I liked mastering the analogy portion of the test. I also enjoyed sweating while swinging a hammer to help build latrines at a women’s music festival. I also loved writing papers in school, having to think out hard issues and find the right words to explain and clarify my points.

On the other hand, I hate doing financial paperwork. I hate data entry. I like the challenge of typing fast. But I don’t like having to be on time to a 9-5 job. I like when I get to question how things are done and develop new, better ways to do them. I don’t like when I have to go through the motions someone else invented that feel slow and redundant.

Meaningful, engaging, fun work that makes one feel like a whole, worthy, respected, happy person – what does that require?

Why does my two year old love sweeping and mopping and I hate it??? And what do I do to reclaim my joy for the mundane and to help my child retain it as she ages?

Answer me, people!!

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Another for the “Why do I live in America?” file:

April 16, 2008

As reported on the Strollerderby blog:
•    In Norway, parental leave allowance is 54 weeks at 80% pay or 44 weeks at 100% to be shared any way the parents wish, although the mother must take three weeks before birth and six weeks immediately after and the father must take five weeks off if they intend to use any leave (yes, must, not “if they have a sympathetic boss and can afford to, maybe”). Adoptive parents are eligible for 51 weeks off at 80% pay or 41 weeks at 100%.

•    In Greece, either parent can use up to 17 months of leave time, and receive an additional hour off per day until the child is 30 months old, or two hours per day for 12 months and one hour per day for the next six months.

•    In Belgium, free early childhood education is available to all children starting at the age of 2 1/2.

I WEEP.


Chitty Chitty is Sh-tty Sh-tty

April 11, 2008

So, we do allow our toddler to watch media – short clips on Youtube of Little Bear and Miss Piggy, movies like Mary Poppins and the Muppets –  a limited number of things on video or dvd, mostly for those moments when we’re single parenting or as a special treat. We usually watch with her, talking about the show during and after. And we read to her and she reads by herself four times as much as she watches anything. So we feel okay about it.  I know some who don’t let their kids watch anything, and others whose children have their own tv. So we’re kind of in the middle, I guess.

But boy, do I feel AWFUL about exposing my child to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the other night.
I had seen reviews of the movie that put it up there with Mary Poppins in terms of its acceptability for young children. So I didn’t expect:

1) A man yelling that he was going to beat up the little kids in the opening scene

2) An unexplained missing mother – “Where’s their mommy?” my daughter kept asking worriedly –

3) The granddad making fun/putting down the father figure.

Yikes! Depressing, scary, and traumatic, and the movie was just starting…

But it was the scene where the dogs bust into the candy factory that made my daughter erupt into tears. “Where dogs?” she cried, when the next scene popped up. “No, dogs don’t eat candy!” She started wailing.

She was so upset by the dogs eating candy and getting into trouble possibly that she couldn’t sleep. At 9, 10, 11, 12 pm that night, she kept coming out of her bedroom to declare: “Dogs don’t eat candy. Dogs eat dinner.” and “I don’t like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I like Mary Poppins.”

I have apparently scarred her for life.

Which just goes to show that you cannot always predict what is going to upset a young child – and that if you’re going to let your kid watch stuff, be prepared at all times…  and don’t just go on reviews… stick with Little Bear…


Book Advice in Action: How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk…

April 9, 2008

Okay, so I found the book How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk and Talk So Your Kids Will Listen at the book sale for 50 cents the other day, and I’ve been studying it ever since, as I’ve heard rave reviews about how it helps you get your kids to cooperate instead of tangling with them all the time.

But I’ve obviously not got the techniques down very well.

Instead of telling your kids “no,” you’re supposed to do non-confrontational things like Describe a situation, Give Information. When kids hear a description or get information, they supposedly draw their own conclusions and make the best informed choices, ie, cooperate and behave.

So, my daughter goes from
painting the paper to painting her hand.

I say, describing, “You are painting your hand purple.”

She: “I AM… it’s purple!”

I say, informing, “We will have to scrub that extra hard.”

Happily agreeing, she says, “In the sink!”

I try again with informing: “We don’t paint on our hands. We paint on paper.”

To which she replies, “We don’t paint on paper. We paint HANDS.” So sweetly. So charmingly. So WRONGLY.

I run to the book – what am I doing wrong? I guess I should move to Giving Choices – “You can either stop painting your hand or -” or what? No, I want her to stop painting her hand! What the hell am I supposed to do now? How do I avoid NO right now?

I worry…

…and then notice that she has moved on to painting her toes.

Oh Good Grief.


Working Moms – A Great Gmail Tool! Yay!

April 9, 2008

I’ve been looking for this: pining for it: whining for it: an application that gives you a task list INSIDE your Gmail account.

If you’re like me, you have your Gmail open all the time, and it’s from there that you launch your calendar and documents – the Google homepage is nice, but I just don’t use it – it’s not the base of operations, whereas email IS. So this is great –

it’s called Remember the Milkread about it on my new favorite blog, the Unclutterer… which offers some awesome ideas on staying organized…


Hey, Non-Mother: Read this!

April 9, 2008

So you are an employer of/ coworker with / married to a mother?

And do you ever have those cringing moments where you think that the mother you hire/work with/know is not fully functioning in the brain area?

She’s not keeping up with the latest current events, she’s not focused on The Issues, she seems ‘brain dead’ or mushily thinking to you?

Well, I’m here to tell you that, while yes, she may not be concerning her mental powers with what you consider to be worthy subjects – politics, fashion, work – she IS using her brain in rigorous and useful ways that not only will make her an excellent employee, but an insightful human being necessary to our culture and species at large.

Don’t believe me? Read this article about it – all the way through – and let me know what you think.

And all you mothers out there should read it, too, and give yourself a break if you’ve had a baby and lost interest in ‘the normal things’ – you’re doing important work when you’re thinking about your child – stop apologizing for having “Mommy Brain.” That’s a smart head you’re talking about!

Thanks to my friend who forwarded this along to me, confirming my suspicion that all this delicious time I’m spending with my infant and toddler is not a vacuum or waste, but really amazing fodder for learning what it means to be human…


My Love Affair with Julie Andrews Continues…

April 9, 2008

Listen to Julie Andrews being interviewed on Fresh Air regarding her new memoir and you will know what it’s like listening to a goddess.

Okay, that’s a bit much, I know, but I adore her. In talking about her childhood, she responded to Teri Gross’ attempt to spin her childhood as hard or difficult because of growing up during WWII by saying (I paraphrase) : “It wasn’t a hard childhood – it was a childhood -” –

I was thinking the other day about how many of us feel like we spend our adulthoods recovering from our childhoods, and then you’re left with seniorhood, the period in which you remember or forget the other hoods while you wait to go into deathhood… and this seems kind of sad and weird and again I realize how I have a false template in my head of How Things Should Be and if I didn’t have that, I would just be Living, instead of Getting Through or Getting Past or Getting By all these hoods.

Speaking of hoods, I was reading Little Red Riding Hood to my toddler the other day and she ran to the other side of the room saying “I’m not red riding hood!” and I realized she was terrified of the Big Bad Wolf – in the Three Little Pigs, he’s not so awful, so she enjoys pretending to be the wolf – and I felt awful for scaring the crap out of her. But really, tying up Grandma in the closet is a pretty darn scary thing to do… and that’s the nice version…

Anyway, I guess I have such an affinity with Julie Andrews because we had similar childhoods in some respects – well, sort of. She was a child prodigy, touring in vaudeville acts with her mother and stepfather, singing on stage when she was just little… I started acting on stage when I was 3 years old, and we toured and I sang and performed with my parents, as well. I wasn’t exactly a prodigy, but I was a young talent – the young talent – in my parents’ theater troupe for a long time, and just as Julie says, it was a lot of fun as well as being really hard.

Of course, Julie went off at 19 to star on Broadway, and I did not… which is kind of a bummer… sigh…