What matters - FamilyEducation

What matters

May 16,2008
I have a favorite children's book I used to read when I was a child, and I read through it recently with T. It's set a long time ago, in the 1900s, and in the book the mother, a writer, is always telling her kids to "be good dearies and play" while she sits and does an hour or two of writing. Then, when she's done, she sends her stories off to her editor and devotes herself to playing with her children – who, all the while, have been keeping nicely to themselves while their courageous and talented mother earns her livelihood writing.

Are you laughing, yet?

I tried this experiment on T. this morning. I opened up the cabinets in our family room where we keep the toys, and pulled out some baskets of Diego action figures and assorted Little People. I piled them all around the floor and told T. that Mama had to write for a bit, and that she could play by herself until I was done. Then I sat with my laptop (thank goodness for wireless – we've come a long way from the fountain pens and inkwells of the 1900s), while T. amused herself for all of ten minutes. And while I got the writing done, it was done with T. seated next to me, and with a plastic helicopter on my head.

Being caught between two worlds is very hard. The lines between my mothering self and my working self are often so blurred, especially during weeks like this past one – where my days were spent dashing off from one meeting to the next, home again for only an hour or two, and then back into the world of my job, where I thought about my kids constantly. When I teach during the semester I'm busy – switched into "on" mode – but during weeks like this one I spend too much time in meetings, feeling like a student myself while I tune in and out to what's being discussed, and not enough time in my office, where I can write and think and then head home and be, exclusively, a mom.

Not coincidentally, T. has also been having a difficult week. She usually doesn't get "into trouble" at school because she is a rule follower at school (home is a different matter). But this week she was corrected twice at school and plenty of tears followed. She's an easygoing child, but when something in particular upsets her, she really turns on the waterworks. She has a big heart, this daughter of mine, and sometimes it can only hold so much. She feels the change in the air, as we do. She has only one more week of preschool and then, come September, she'll move to a different class, with different teachers and different children. All week long the teachers have slowly been taking down the children's artwork from the classroom, preparing the walls for next year's group of three-year-olds. It must be hard, I imagine, to feel the change, yet not understand it in the way adults do. We are often quick to move on to the next phase – new holidays, new days, new weeks, new jobs, new semesters – but children are stuck so firmly in the here and now. They don't care about deadlines and obligations, but only about the moment. Their worlds are small and safe, the walls covered with handprint butterflies and glittery tissue-paper raindrops.