(Part 1 of The Not Supermom Series.)
I've been hearing a certain sentiment a lot lately, in email and other places, and I feel compelled to set the record straight. Do not be dazzled by my apparent achievements. I have no superpowers. If you hung out with me in person, you would know the truth.
One particularly kind reader writes:
I am ever amazed at your ability to get everthing you do done! I am a homeschooling mom of 5, and I really wonder how you do it! My 5th is the same age as yours, so about 3 weeks. I have not been able to start school up again, ( of course they are always doing something educational....) I have been blessed with healthy children, so we have no unusual circumstances, and yet I look at your web site and I am flabbergasted! My oldest is 7, I have a 5YO, 3YO and a 2YO. Are you just really organized??? I love the learning style you have, I am a literary mind as well, and we have immersed ourselves and the kids in books. I often get on your site just to get ideas for books for my kids to read. Honestly, how do you maintain the amazingly intelligent thoughts while dealing with a newborn? After 5 kids I know that " this too will pass", and probabally all too soon, but you don't seem to have missed a step. You are an amazing woman!
I'm not being falsely modest when I say: really I'm not! I'm not amazing. It's just that this blog doesn't give you a view of my kitchen floor. (Which, come to think of it, actually might qualify as amazing, if we're discussing quantity-of-crumbs-by-the-end-of-the-day.)
Since I'm getting so many notes like this these days, I thought I'd better discuss it. The last thing I want to do is to cause anyone to feel discouraged by comparison. It's true that this blog has kept rolling right along during our babymoon, and if you've checked in with our family learning notes site, you've glimpsed that we got back into the swing of our "high tide" studies fairly quickly after the bairn's arrival. How are these things possible, so soon after a birth? There are several factors at play here, and also some false impressions I must correct.
First of all (and this is a biggie. It's so big that I think I'll put it in bold): I don't do the laundry.
Think about that one a minute, let it really sink in. All you moms out there, think about how much extra time you would have if you didn't have to do any laundry. Ever.
See, Scott's a work-at-home dad. When he quit his cushy office job almost eight years ago to stay home and write as a freelancer, and I took on the Charlotte series in addition to the Martha books I had already agreed to write, we divvied up some of the housework. I haven't done laundry in eight years.
Every blog post I write is a load of socks I haven't had to fold.
Aha! you're saying. It's all becoming clear. Scott works (does work that brings in income, I mean, written work) from nine to three, more or less. When I'm working on a book, I write from three to six, during which time he is taking care of the children, buying groceries, and, yes, folding laundry.
(Lest this all sound too good to be true, lest it zoom you right past admiration to envy, honesty requires me to add that the vast benefits of the freelance lifestyle are counterbalanced by some weighty disadvantages: most notably, job (in)security and lack of benefits. Sometimes we have work, and sometimes we don't. And our health care costs are through the roof.)
Freedom from laundry is an ongoing, long-term element of my unique situation. Now we come to factors pertaining specifically to our current post-partum phase:
This month, I'm not working on a book. Call it maternity leave. I've written many a novel with a baby tucked in my sling, and in a few weeks those days will come round again. But right now, this month, I'm not writing in the afternoons. Which means I've had lots more free time than usual, because the older kids are outside playing every afternoon, and Scott often grabs Wonderboy and heads out to run errands. There have actually been times I've found myself at loose ends, with a sleeping infant beside me and no one needing mommy at the moment!
Also, the neighbors are bringing us meals. My parents were here for the first week after the baby was born (so my mom did all the cooking), and since then there has been a steady stream of meals arriving on my doorstep. Dessert and everything—my children are in heaven!
See, no superpowers: just a lot of help. Time was, I found it difficult to accept offers of help. Jane's long illness cured me of that, though. Now I just grin gratefully and say yes to everything.
I am far from perfectly organized. My current filing system for important papers is an overflowing basket on my kitchen floor. It's a pretty basket, or it would be if it were filled with, say, fruit. In its current condition it is somewhat, shall we say, unattractive. Or, as a close friend put it not long ago: "Honey, WHAT is the deal with this basket?"
I manage to keep up with the blog because I get up very early in the morning to write the day's post. I don't much like being awake before dawn, but when I was pregnant I couldn't help it; I was just too uncomfortable to sleep. And now it's the baby: she sleeps all night, beautifully, snuggled up next to me, waking just enough to nurse now and then, but not enough to fuss; she just chirps a little and then we both go back to sleep. But around five in the morning, she's ready to be awake for a little while. So I get up with her, change her, nurse her, pop her in the sling, and write for a little while before the rest of the gang staggers in.
In the middle of the day, everyone (except Scott, of course, who is working) has a nap or an hour of quiet time. Lately, I've been napping a lot during this daily interlude. Either that, or I fall asleep at night with a book on my face.
As for educational stuff, it's true that we're really doing quite a lot these days, and I didn't expect that, so soon after the baby's arrival. I figured we'd have a nice long low-tide time. But I don't know, somehow we just hit a rhythm and our mornings have been quite structured and productive. The thing to remember is that it all happens in a period of two or three hours, no more. An hour or so of good read-alouds, and wham, there's history, literature, science (natural history), and religion. Each child narrates one or two passages from the reading, which fixes the material in the children's minds far better than any kind of testing. Add a few minutes for a German lesson (a very few minutes—just a couple of words or phrases a day); perhaps half an hour for math; twenty minutes or so for Latin (more on Latin in a future post); and we fill up the corners with poetry, picture study, music, and sign language. This makes for a rich, busy morning with lots of learning, but it's mellow learning, if you see what I mean. Just about everything we do by way of structured learning fits into a basket on the floor at my feet. (This one is no eyesore; it's everything a full basket should be.)
I find that a well-stocked arts-and-crafts shelf and quantities of good books in every room make for an effortlessly (really!) rich and educational day. Then it's just a matter of my being available to listen to the children's discoveries, and to discuss the big ideas they are wrestling with. It is also vital to involve them in (even when inconvenient) whatever I am doing, whether it be housework, blog design, menu planning, gardening, or paying bills. If I shift into hyper-efficient no-nonsense work mode, everything begins to unravel. The joyful atmosphere I strive for (and believe it is my responsibility, as wife and mother, to maintain) quickly goes sour if I put more focus on getting things done than on doing things together.
In any case, things are far from perfect around here. I don't have the tidiest house on the block, certainly not the best decorated, and I won't ever win awards for my cooking or my flower garden. Nor do I have perfectly behaved children who never complain or quarrel. We have our grumbly and fractious days just like everyone else. Usually this is my fault for being preoccupied and impatient, or for neglecting to include the kids in my activities. I am much more a fumbling Clark Kent kind of mom than a Supermom. I realized a long time ago that I was never going to be the Cookie-Baking Mom or the Sewing Mom or the Better Homes and Gardens Mom or the Ma Ingalls Mom: I figured the best I could do was try to be the Fun Mom. The nice thing about the Fun Mom is that she doesn't have to get cross or discouraged by the disgraceful state of her kitchen floor: she gets to laugh about it.
And that, I think, really is super.