Saturday, March 15, 2008

Day Six

I feel like I'm live-blogging the Virus From Hell. How long can this possibly go on? Believe it or not, on this sixth day of being sick, I am still sporting a fever, double-pinkeye, aching head and ears, and a fine case of all-encompassing congestion. My sore throat has finally abated, however, so things are looking up.

This morning as I was stuffing germ-laden sheets and towels into the washing machine and attempting to break up a baby-toddler argument over who was taking whose toys away from whom, it occurred to me that the last time I was this sick for this long was probably spring 1999, during the end stages of my graduate studies--when, come to think of it, I had the same sort of virus I have now, complete with pinkeye, which, if memory serves, actually recurred--TWICE! GAH. Back then, I was taking a full load of doctoral-level courses, working the equivalent of three part-time jobs, preparing for my upcoming psychology residency, and frantically analyzing data for my June 1 dissertation defense deadline. I didn't have time to rest in bed all day, which--coincidence?--I also don't have time to do now. Hmmm..... There may be a frustrating lesson in there somewhere.

At any rate, I am starting to get worried about Christopher's trip tomorrow. Back when I started feeling sick nearly a week ago, I thought to myself, Well surely there is no way I'll still be sick by the time Christopher leaves, so all will be well. Don't ever think things like that, people. Clearly I cursed myself when I did so. And was I concerned that, only two days after Christopher returns from his business trip, we are leaving on a four-day out-of-town trip to visit family for Easter? And that sometime during the next week I need to start getting organized for going away, planning the girls' Easter outfits and making packing lists and remembering to bring the Easter baskets along, in addition to just running the household and doing all the usual stuff with the girls on my own? No, of course not. Because I did not think that I would be ON MY DEATHBED FROM THIS VIRUS FROM HELL.

Which--not the deathbed part, but the Easter part--brings me to a question. I keep seeing these TV commercials for Burlington Coat Factory, advertising all sorts of dressy Easter clothes: the girls in pastel ribbon-tied dresses with white patent Mary Janes, the little boys in miniature suits. And the glamorous moms in lovely spring dresses, stockings, and heels.

Putting aside the obvious issue of these moms being superhumanly beautiful models, and so not really like normal people you or I would see in the mirror or at Easter church, I couldn't help but think: Why don't I ever dress like that for Easter? I mean, my first reaction was, Oh, pretty, but not me--I'll just be wearing my black Ann Taylor Loft trousers with a blouse and some flats [BOR-ING], because I don't have any clothes like that and I'm not going to go out and buy a new dress and heels just to wear one time at Easter church. But that got me thinking; why not? I mean, if you're not going to dress up in a pretty dress and heels on a holiday, when are you? And don't those commercials--annoying marketing propaganda as they may be--encompass at least part of what you think a certain type of mom should look like on Easter? And are you that mom? And if you hope your daughters grow up thinking of you as not just a good person and a loving mom but also as someone who values HER OWN SELF enough to look nice and take care of herself and even spend some money on herself in order to dress up now and then--to be that pulled-together, pretty mom when the occasion calls for it--well, shouldn't you start being that mom, now? And if not, when are you going to start?

Of course, I'm under the influence of cold medicine and it may be that I've watched too much "What Not to Wear." And clearly, the Virus From Hell is going to prevent me, this year, from going shopping for a new Easter outfit even if I wanted to.

But tell me, fellow Internet moms: what do YOU look like on Easter? Just wondering.


squab said...

God, I feel so bad for you! There is nothing more sucky than having to parent while sick. And that goes double if you're the only one on duty. Karma owes you one, big time.

Regarding Easter-wear, I expect this year will see me attired in my usual uniform of "whatever is comfortable and relatively clean." Emphasis on the "relatively." But I totally see your point.

Shan said...

Yeah, I've been thinking a lot about the messages we, as mothers, send our children--especially girls--when we routinely settle for less: less than pulled-together, less than nicely groomed, less than well-dressed, etc. Do we want our girls to think that moms--especially SAHMs, who aren't contributing income to the household and who thus are often reluctant to buy themselves new clothes or shoes or makeup or whatever--don't take care of themselves, and that that's okay? Do we want them to learn that it's fine to take care of everyone else except yourself? That moms are people who look frumpy, too casual, scrimped on? What do I want my older girls to think of when they think of me during their early girlhoods? Pretty and well-dressed and appropriately stylish, or haphazardly clad in whatever years-old outfit I can find in my closet, and with an old stretched-out nursing bra on underneath? And what does that tell them about the worth of a woman? Hmmm, am I thinking to hard for someone who is sick?

Rob Hardy said...

A) Don't think so hard when you're sick!
B) You're beautiful.
C) Don't focus too much on the material things, like income and clothes, etc. What you contribute, as a SAHM, is priceless and precious, even if the society at large insists on putting a monetary value on everything. You deserve to treat yourself now and then without feeling guilty about it. But keep in mind that there are other ways to take care of yourself that don't involve buying yourself stuff.

(Idea: Are you interested in a writer's group? Think about it. Back when I was a stay-at-home dad (SAHD sounds so sad), it really gave me a boost to get together with other writers and feel that, yes, there was more to me than being an exhausted full-time parent. Let me know if it sounds like a good idea, and we'll make it work out.)

Rob Hardy said...

P.S. Clara, who has always been the steady income-earner in our family,. says, "Figure out what it would cost to have both girls in daycare, and count that as your income." I bet you can buy a lot of new clothes with that!

Shan said...

I heart the Hardy family.

Shan said...

Now I am stopping all this tiring thinking and going back to bed.

Jordan said...

Sorry to hear you're so sick. Truthfully, I don't think that when the girls look back on these years, your wardrobe is going to enter their memories. I know of one mom whose 5th grader goes crazy when she wears sweats out of the house, but I don't think it matters to girls this young - when they look back they're going to remember what you did with them, not what you looked like. They'll remember if you were happy or not, so if what you're saying is YOU'D be happier if you had some new clothes and make-up, then do it - but if a book group or something else makes you happier, then do that. A happy mom makes for happy kids.

As for Easter, I have no idea. I don't dress up for it. We'll go to church and Matt's parents' house, but it's all super casual. I may well wear jeans and the kids probably will, too. We don't really do special holiday outfits. Something that looks good with chocolatey finger prints all over it, basically.

Heidi said...

Thanks, Rob & Jordan, for talking some sense into my sister! I definitely think you're limiting your thinking by focusing on purchases. Take Rob up on the writers' group idea; how cool is *that*?! No such thing in *my* little town! And I don't believe in buying kids (or self) new outfits that will only be worn on one holiday before they're outgrown (by the kids, anyway). We find something nice-looking in the boys' closets--something they may have worn to church two weeks ago and will probably wear again two weeks hence--and that's what they wear.

Anonymous said...

I heart everyone who's posted here, including especially the second, fifth, and sixth commenters.

Anonymous said...

Just to pursue Rob's/Clara's idea all the way, I just looked up the rates for all-day care at the local Montessori. They run about $800 per month per child, with a 10% discount for enrolling more than one kid:

($800x12)+($720*12) = $18,240.00

Not bad for having a Ph.D.!

Now that we're earning so much more, maybe I can finally get that iPhone. You know, so I can call the daycare if I'm running late.

Shan said...

I wonder if readers--or, at least, some--might be misunderstanding my point. (No offense intended; I've thoroughly enjoyed climbing out of my sickbed to read your comments, all!)

I see this minor issue as symbolic of a larger issue. Not so much about spending money, per se--or at least, not about spending a LOT of money; any new dress I might buy would surely be from Target or the Kohl's in Burnsville--but about how we, as moms, perceive ourselves. Do we run around in yoga pants and jeans all the time, even in situations when conventional norms would suggest we should, perhaps, pull ourselves together a bit more? Do we do that because we don't think we deserve to have our needs count too? Is that about money, time, or something else?

The holiday dress is just one example. To me it's a bigger issue of how I hope my girls think of me as they grow up: not as looks-obsessed or materialistic but also not as a tired sloppy mom who never dresses up--even when the occasion calls for it--because she never takes the time (and money, sure) to take care of herself.

Jordan's comment is a welcome insight, especially, so thanks Jordan, for reminding me that at this age it's not at all (yet) about what clothes Mama wears. But some day it will be, and while I of course hope to discourage my girls from thinking that they are what they look like, I do believe there's a fine line there, that moms of girls especially need to be careful about---between focussing only on appearance (bad!) and neglecting one's self in a big way because one is the mom who isn't earning any money and who therefore feels she needs to always put her material needs last (also bad!). In a convoluted way that I should probably just expand into an essay for publication somewhere, I do believe there's some feminist issues in there somewhere.

Rob Hardy said...

I recently got an interesting insight into how my 16-year old son perceives me. Clara asked him, "When you get married, are you going to tell your wife she's cute as much as your Dad does?" And Will answered, "No, I'm going to have a real job."

No matter what you do, they somehow manage to become their own people!

Anonymous said...

I think Jordan is so right? Is this really about what your girls will think of you or what you think of yourself? Are you happy?

Shan said...

To anonymous--
Well, right this second I'm not happy, no, because I've been extremely sick for 7 days and am not getting any better and my spouse is leaving on a trip today for 2-1/2 days, but if you mean am I generally happy with my mothering life, complete with its many challenges and sacrifices?, I'd say yes. This issue, for me, isn't so much about happiness as it is about complacency. I do think many SAHMs become complacent in their casual-life circumstances, and without noticing it they gradually take less and less good care of themselves. Until they end up not even owning dressy clothes for a holiday (or, fill in the blank: wedding, party, whatever).

I think it's clear that I am thinking about this question (Easter dress, or no Easter dress?) in a much deeper way than anyone else! I blame the Benadryl! But seriously: there is something under there about taking time and energy to look nice without going overboard, about what we teach our girls through our own acts of self-care (or non-care), and about modern super-casual life vs. what I think of as an older convention of dressing nicely when the situation calls for it (i.e., a holiday).

donna said...

I agree with Jordan on this. If you're happy, then the kids will remember that (and be better off for it. I mean, if you weren't happy being a stay-at-home-mom, then what's the point of doing it? They'd be better off being in a daycare with someone who enjoyed it while you enjoyed being at work and came home to them feeling good about yourself. But, it's just not an issue for you so I'm not even sure why I mentioned it...)


It's not about material possessions, but about taking pride in who YOU are - as Shannon, not "Mama" - and doing the little things that make you feel better about yourself and feed your soul - whatever they may be.

You deserve to take care of yourself, too.

Shan said...

I realize I'm beating a dead horse. But what about STYLE, people? Does anyone care about having style? What if this isn't about happiness or self-satisfaction or personal fulfillment but just this: do you other moms care about having a little style on a holiday, or not? Is having some style part of how you want to present your outward self to the world, including your children? Or do you really not care? That's what I was actually truly curious about, and also what either answer (yes or no) means about modern moms.

Shan said...

Oh, one more thing: In my world-view (and in the comment above), "having some style" is NOT synonymous with: vanity, being overly materialistic, spending a ton of money on clothes (or anything else), or valuing appearance over inner beauty. Just to be clear. I firmly believe you can have style and not be obsessed with looks or have your priorities and values all messed up. I'm not talking about an extreme, here.

Jordan said...

I think we do actually hear what you're saying, Shannon. It's what Susan Wagner preaches every day. Have some self-respect, take care of yourself, enjoy dressing decently, and don't wear the yoga pants to preschool pick-up. All that stuff.

Of course. That's great. If it sends a message of self-respect to your girls, who would argue? Other moms might wear "frumpy" yoga pants and sloppy t-shirts 24/7 and have totally different, equally effective ways to send a message of the importance of self-care and self-respect to their daughters. Maybe they do yoga or go running, maybe they take quiet time out to read every day, maybe they have regular time to go "play" with their friends. As long as they're not sweeping themselves under the family rug, do we care how they do it? Is a new inexpensive dress or more attention to one's grooming inherently better?

Although I do take care of myself pretty well (despite the fact that I don't own any holiday dresses) and certainly don't put myself last in my family (no one is last in my family), I don't consider my fashion sense or undying love of Benefit make-up to be a primary way for my kids to get a sense of my strong self-respect and confidence. Those things are fun for me, I enjoy doing them, but I model self-care and self-respect in a lot of other ways that I value more.

The feminist message in there is clear and it's a critical one - that women must have self-respect and do things to care for themselves, and to support their daughters and sons in developing their own self respect and respect for each other.

I think the reason you're getting these ambivalent responses about style, or caring about one's appearance, is because that's a self-care path you're considering improving upon but not necessarily one that your readers are considering, and they're expressing why they don't. Most of your commenters are saying, "If it makes you happy, go forth and enjoy!" and that's heartfelt. But be careful not to assume that no one's "getting it" at a deeper level simply because it's not their path of choice.

And herein ends the comment that might as well be titled "Never Bring Up these Issues with a Women's Studies Minor at 10:30 at Night When Her Husband is Out of Town and the House is Too Quiet".

Anonymous said...

Interesting conversation! I have a question... Does anyone remember what their own mother wore back then? I have no idea (except maybe those really nice pieces of jewlery...). I highly doubt my mother would have been considered to have a ton of "style" (no offense mom!). I do remember baking cookies, being silly, having a shoulder to cry on, reading books, etc... All the things you are doing with your kids! I bet this is what the girls will remember too!

donna said...

It's about doing the things that make you feel good about yourself. For me, that does include a LITTLE bit of style. (I would LOVE to have more of a sense of style, but that would require more time than I'm willing to put in right since I know I have enough style to by on the high-end of the style spectrum in my office (which, actually, means very little).

When I dress with a little style (vs just wearing what is comfy), I do feel better about myself. It is about taking the time to take care of myself to be a better me.

When I was on maternity leave with my son, I set a little rule for myself that I had to put makeup on every morning by 9am, even if we weren't leaving the house. It was a little way of making sure I still took care of myself. (Note that the rule when I was on leave with my daughter was to have my teeth brushed by 9am. (My how things change when you add another little body!) But, I also made it a point to get out of the house at least 4 days a week with her - getting out of the house was my way of preserving my sanity when I was on leave with her.)

As for 'holiday wear,' I don't buy anything special for that holiday (for me, the husband or the kids), but we will dress up more than usual for church - in clothes that we already have - but will go to our easter egg hunt in very casual wear.