What moms do

I recently finished reading a book called "What Moms Do: Especially when it looks like nothing." Great book. The basic premise is that, for several reasons that I won't go into, there really isn't a language to describe what a mother does. All the tasks that go into "mothering" are not named. And, if there are no words, it can't really be communicated, and it's as if it doesn't exist. So when you spend (as I did today) 15 hours alone with your children, from the time they get up until they go to bed, and then someone says, "What did you do today?" the answer is usually "Nothing." But it's NOT nothing. It's a really fascinating book, and I feel like I should buy about a zillion copies and send them to every mother I know.

So, in the spirit of that book, I'm going to tell you what I did today. I monitored, throughout the day, the nutritional intake of two separate kids, with two different body types, appetites, and food preferences, and made sure that they ate enough and at the right times. I analyzed how much they've slept lately, and made plans for their schedule today. Then I woke them up at the right times, and put them down at the right times. Putting them down, of course, is a phrase that hides a bunch of tasks in and of itself. Making bottles, wrangling two kids up the stairs because I had stuff in my hands. Catching them before they made it to the 3rd floor staircase. Tucking them in with blankets and feeding them both a bottle, while cuddling each one and whispering to them, and keeping them from getting up and bugging each other. For the second nap, I spent some time holding Saoirse on my lap with one arm while feeding Rowan with the other. While socializing Saoirse, teaching her that biting is not acceptable, even when our teeth hurt. I refereed dozens of scuffles throughout the day, which involves monitoring all day long their interactions and assessing which ones are acceptable and which require redirection. When I decide to intervene, then there's that task. Intervening. Getting the point across that the behavior is unacceptable. Then soothing and calming and redirecting into some other, better behavior. I changed several diapers per day, per day. All of which now require distraction, and sometimes physical restraint. I bathed two kids, together. This involves more monitoring, paying attention to each kid closely at all times, to make sure that no one slips and whacks their head, or falls underwater. Or turns on the hot water. Or knocks her sister underwater. Or chokes herself while drinking bathwater out of the cup I use to rinse them off (Saoirse). Hmm...I picked up toys all day long. Hundreds of toys, since I had to pick up a lot of them several times. I read books, which really involves keeping two children from eating or tearing the books. (more socialization, teaching them what books are for) I went to pick up dry-cleaning. This meant dressing each kid, carrying two children to the car, etc...Hmm. What else? Oh, right. Play. I played peek-a-boo, sang songs, "chased" them, pushed them around the floor in a box, tickled, etc, etc...all day long.

Okay, I think you get the point. For 15 hours straight, my focus was, at all times, on these kids. Planning, assessing, analyzing, making decisions. And, of course, it's not just one child. It's two, with separate agendas and needs. So, besides the physical work of caring for children, the mental work of responding to the constant needs of two small people is amazing, really. Is it any wonder that after 15 hours of that all I want to do is fall into bed? And this isn't something that just I do. This is what ALL moms do. Whether they stay home or go to work, when they're with their kids, this is what they do. And the truth is, when you're not WITH your kids, the mental work doesn't stop. You're still totally responsible for them. So my question is this: How do you do all this, and still have energy for yourself, or for your husband? Because I will admit, after 15 hours (or even 11-12 on a more typical day) of being constantly on call to take care of the girls' needs, it is not easy for me to refocus once they're in bed on cooking dinner for Chris, or even just listening attentively to what happened to him at work. And I know it's important. But where do moms find the energy to do this?


  the schirano triplets

May 29, 2008 at 10:21 AM

i am going to have to read that book. i always respond nothing when someone asks what i did, but it is never true. i am overworked every single day. and some nights when i fall into bed i have no idea how i will make through another day. yet, every morning i still get up and find the energy to do what i need to do. my guess is that since i don't usually have the time to think about how exhausting it is, i just do it.

  linda98ny (nestie)

June 2, 2008 at 8:01 AM

I hate when my husband comes home and asks what we did today and I say nothing, but how do I quantify my day like he does telling stories about meetings and projects? How do I tell him about calming a baby at the check out of the grocery store or trying to get two crying babies back to sleep who woke up way too early from a nap? This was a GREAT post Gwen. I love reading your blog....I feel we have a lot of the same thoughts.

  Kerry Lynn

June 5, 2008 at 8:42 PM

My husband is Chris too :-)

You mean you didn't do any laundry?? What about dishes? You certainly had time to post! Slacker ;-)

I think even if my Chris read this book he would still not consider taking care of twins "work". He just doesn't understand why I couldn't pick up or clean or whatever. Then, after taking care of them all day, I go to work at 6 when Chris gets home from work and I work til midnight. He feeds them dinner and puts them to bed so he thinks that's the extent of what I do too.

I'm definitely not complaining about my "job" at home but it would be nice if he took it seriously.