Is this thing on?
Now, where was I?
A couple of weeks ago, as I was cleaning the kitchen, my son sat at his father's laptop playing educational flash games at an excellent, if somewhat goofy, phonics/reading site called Starfall.com (mad props to the mother of Bub and Pie for mentioning it briefly on her blog months ago). He came across a section of the site that focused on practicing the proper pronunciation of vowel pairs, such as "ai."
I listened to him surreptitiously as he read each practice word as it popped on the screen. Every time he would read a word, he would add a little commentary about it. something I've noticed him doing often as he learns to read-- I suspect it helps him remember new words.
"Snail. I like snails. They have shells."
"Pail. You can put water in a pail."
So, here I was, smiling proudly to myself as my three-year-old boy read real words, all by himself, when suddenly, I heard him say,
"Maid. Mommy is a maid!"
Now, why was I so appalled when I heard those words innocently escape his mouth?
I mean, it is rather understandable that he would draw such a conclusion. After all, my son sees me wiping counters, sweeping floors, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming rugs, dusting bookcases, folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, watering plants, etcetera, etcetera, day in and day out, every single day. A woman cleaning the house, according to the cartoon picture I assume must have accompanied the word, is called a maid. Mommy cleans the house, so Mommy must be a maid. It was a perfectly logical assumption for a three-year-old to make.
I laughed nervously, and called out cheerfully, "Isaac, mommy isn't a m-a-i-d, maid, because mommy doesn't get p-a-i-d, paid for cleaning the house!"
But inside my head, gears were grinding.
There's nothing wrong with housecleaning, of course. We all have to do it, or pay someone else to have it done. And, despite the stigma historically attached to it by our society, I believe strongly that the maintenance of a household is honorable, honest, important work, especially when associated with the care of children.
And wasn't that belief of mine part of the reason I decided to stay home with my son in the first place? Didn't I make this choice, in part, because if if I had gone back to my low-paying outside-the-home job, I would not have had the wherewithal to pay someone what I considered to be a fair wage to do the important work of keeping my home and caring for my son?
It wasn't the idea that my son might see me primarily as a housekeeper that bothered me, I decided. It was my fear that that might be all he saw me as.
After all how could he know-- how could he possibly know, at such a young age, all the other things I have been? All the things I have wanted to be?
How could he know, for instance, that in high school I ran long distance races, or that in college, I wrote high-minded papers analyzing literature and film in multiple languages, that I once spoke Spanish and Hindi well enough to write essays? How could he that I once won awards for my amateur photography? That I once built sets and hung lights in a theatre, where I met traveling performers from all over the world? How would he know that I used to have picnics in parks in at midnight? That, before I met his father, an adamant non-dancer, I used to go out regularly at night to dance swing or salsa late into the early morning?
How would he know that I have at least ten novels in my head that have never been written, let alone published? That sometimes I wish I could go back to school and get a second bachelor's degree in botany, just for the heck of it?
How would he know any of this, when, day in and day out, I get up in the morning, and clean, and cook, and tend the garden, and read my son a few books from the library, and help him practice learning to hold a pencil properly according to the instructions of his occupational therapist, and clean some more, and build a few towers with Duplos, and cook and clean again, and perhaps spend a few hours writing descriptions of dressers or something, or watch tv and read depressing news articles on the internet until I feel like a zombie, and then go to straight to bed?
I feel strongly that I am where I need to be right now, caring for a person that I love in the best way I know how, and yet, I can't help but fear on certain days that I'm losing my identity in such a way that, one day, when my son needs less of my time, it may be very difficult to find myself again.
How do you, the rest of you, find the balance between being a good parent, and being true to yourself?
Update: Lisa at Midwestern Mommy has nominated this a Perfect Post. Thanks, Lisa!