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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Crock Of Quality Time

quality time
A Boomer buzz phrase of the 1980's designed to alleviate a mother's guilt as she drops her kids off at the daycare center and heads off to work. See Latchkey kid.

Mothers don't let your girls grow up to be cowboys! Scroll back to the 1980's if you will, for I have a story to tell! It is of a young, impressionable girl, eager to make her way in the world and find her place in the sun, faced with the daunting task of somehow becoming the woman in the Enjoli Perfume commercial. (For those who joined us later in life, the Enjoli gal had the unique ability to bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never, never let him forget he's a man, because she's woman...Enjoli. Equally impressive was her ability to fry bacon in a pan, and do so wearing a silky satin dress without splattering bacon fat all over it.*)

Our girl was armed to the teeth with the life-tools required for her journey: Feminism, a subscription to Cosmo and important life lessons learned from watching "General Hospital" and "All My Children" (Not once has my husband turned out to be a Russian KGB agent, an impostor, who via the miracles of plastic surgery had been made to look just like my husband, but really wasn't, because my real husband was being held captive somewhere on an island, and the impostor husband had fallen in love with me but those darn Russians were just not so understanding about the whole thing and wanted him to blow up the world anyway. No, that is one of life's little pitfalls I (Oops she!) have/has managed to avoid!)

Yup, everything was just humming along splendidly and according to plan until I became pregnant with my daughter. According to the makers of Enjoli perfume, because I'm a woman, this should be a cake walk! (Although admittedly, now that I think about it, there were no signs of children in that commercial... I just assumed them because who else would she be cooking bacon for?) Somehow it just wasn't adding up. I knew I was supposed to be a managing director or something by the time I was 30, and I was ready! I had the wardrobe and everything. But just how was that supposed to work with the kid part?

My trusty GenX's Guide to Feminism was not too helpful, apparently they had left out that chapter in favor of "How to Sue Your Employer for Sexual Harassment and Discrimination". Was I supposed to sue and then use the proceeds to stay home and raise my kids? Oh well I thought, it'll all work out somehow. So for the duration of my pregnancy, I dutifully arose each morning, put on my business suit and running shoes, stuck my heels in a bag and went off to work. We lived in San Francisco, so I walked to work every day from our cool and hip apartment in North Beach to the financial district. Yup I was acing this modern woman thing!

Until the baby came.

I took a four month leave from my job, instead of the allowed 6 weeks, we moved to a more family appropriate location (South Beach... which had just been conveniently cleared of freeways by the 1989 earthquake exposing a stretch of prime waterfront real estate...who knew? ) I settled into domestic bliss with my brand new baby girl. But a storm was brewing inside me as it became increasingly clear to me that it was not, in fact, possible to raise a child in 4 months. I dreaded the day when I would have to go back to work, but at the same time felt guilty for dreading it because they had not yet coined the phrase "Stay-at-Home-Mom" and "Housewife" was blasphemous which meant I would be nothing. A SLACKER!

So I went back to work to do some moving and shaking, raced home at lunch to nurse, and then raced back to work. Coming home in the evening, I did my best to get some of that "quality time" with my daughter that everyone was yapping about. I was exhausted all the time though, and by this time of day my daughter was cranky, so I felt guilty some more because it seemed I was lousy at quality time. I lasted another 10 months until salvation came in the form of my husband getting a job in Germany...where I would not be allowed to work! Score!

You see, quality time had not worked out so well for me. It turned out that a bit more went into the actual raising of children than reading them a story at the end of the day. In fact, it was the non-quality time that mattered more...being there when they got into trouble and guiding them out again. You can't schedule the important parenting times, or insist that they take place only at the end of the business day. If a child wants to fill the toilet with rocks or explore what's under the kitchen sink, they tend to do it on their own schedule. Even the routine, the mundane, the down right boring are important...not in and of themselves, but if you put them all together, in, say, a crock pot and let them simmer for a few decades, then you wind up with quality time!


**Turns out I remembered the ad wrong... there were kids and bacon frying is done in a bathrobe!


Anonymous said...

Thank you! This was a very nice summary of the tensions a modern young woman feels about becoming a housewife. I am only a housewife in training (currently working full time as we have no children and husband is in school) but the plan is to stay home with the children when/if they come and so it is nice to hear that other (smart, successful, non-dowdy) women have felt the pressure on both sides and yet decided to stay home to raise their own children. And that the decision is worth it.

Di said...

Maybe it should be "Life is what happens when you are busy trying to plan quality time."

I believe that the quality time I have with my kids, my husband and my friends is utterly unplanned. The fun times are when I stop at a friend's and another friend sees my car or golf cart and stops by. Pretty soon we have a garage full of people...and not a single phone call was made...not one worried about who was invited and who was left out.

Same things with my kids...there are no "play dates"...there is just spontaneity resulting in a flashlight manhunt after dark, a bonfire with marshmallows or a multi-kid sleepover.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, you sum it up so well. I've worked full-time, part-time, I've had nannies, excellent child care and awful child care. The most blissful and care free time in my own life has been since I decided that my children must finally and once and for all come first. Now sometimes they are so busy playing all day that we don't even spend much time together but it occurs to me that my being here in the house all day, pottering in the kitchen, here to admire this or that lego creation frees them up to simply play and not be needy. They know I am here and that I wont be going back to work so they are free of anxiety. This is a gift to me and hopefully my decision has been a gift to them. And really it is a myth that as they get older they can look after themselves. As they get older their lives become more complex and they just need to know that they are not alone and that someone will be around when they are ready to talk. Cheers