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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Down That Slippery Slope

A long, long time ago before I had children I lived in Egypt.  Brandon was a student, and I came along for the ride.  While we lived there, I made friends with some ladies who were there with State.  Brandon and I were in Cairo completely on our own funding, with no outside help.  I remember the first time I visited one of the State apartments.  I was floored.  It was large, it was beautiful, it had nice American furniture, and well, it was large.  I asked my friend how she ever kept the place clean.  "Rere," she told me, "my housekeeper.  She comes every day."

Being young and judgmental, I immediately thought less of her.  What kind of stay at home mom with only two children at home had to hire a housekeeper?  Couldn't she cut it on her own?  After all, isn't that part of our wife-mother identity?  Make delicious dinners and keep the house clean?  Because, you know, if somebody else does it, you don't get credit for having a lovely house.  And if women all over America can do it on their own, women overseas should be able to also [all of you women can now laugh at me].

And then I found out about another friend's housekeeper.  She had six children and ran a dance studio, so I guess it was okay.  But really?  Having someone fold your laundry and watch your child while you  ran errands?  After a few months I figured out that everyone had a housekeeper.  I was appalled.  If I ever live overseas, I told myself and my husband, I'll never hire a housekeeper.

Fast forward four years.  The same friend who had Rere as a housekeeper was leaving Cairo a month before we arrived.  During a dinner in Virginia, we worked out having Rere come and work for me as soon as I landed.  Two days after we arrived, Rere showed up.

And I've never looked back.  Back in Egypt, I attempted to justify hiring a housekeeper.  It was only two days a week, and we had such a large apartment and it was really so much work to go and get all of those lovely vegetables and really shopping with all three children and no car would be really not feasible.  So really, when you think about it, life is just so much harder in Cairo, so I need the extra help.

But really, I knew that I was only doing that - justifying.  Really, I just enjoy not cleaning my own bathrooms.  So much, that when we went to Virginia for language training, I couldn't break down and clean my own toilets in the US either.  It's quite sad so see how far your moral fiber has disintegrated.  But not sad enough to make any attempt to repair it.

When we got to Baku, hiring a housekeeper wasn't even a question.  It took a little while to work things out, but I confess that I didn't even attempt to clean my toilets while we were waiting for someone else to do it.  Like I said - moral fiber.  Completely.  Gone.

This whole time, however, I've still clung to the justification that at least I only had someone come two times a week.  I wasn't addicted.  I can quit any time I want.  Really.  I also comforted myself by doing my own laundry.  Really I felt quite virtuous about it.  See?  I'm still a housekeeping woman.  I can hack it.  I wash my own clothes.

But you know what they say about pride, right?

After we returned from R&R, I started school again.  Previously Kathleen had been doing kindergarten, which consisted of an hour or so of work each day.  But this year she's in first grade and I have some real educational responsibility because first graders actually have to know something when they're done.  And combined with the endless, excruciating task of teaching Sophia how to read, my whole morning from 8:30 until lunch time is non-stop busy with school.

And this would be fine if I had only two children.  It might even work with three children.  But four?  No way.  I know there are mothers in America who homeschool with four children under the age of seven.  I'm not the only one in this boat (a boat, I might add, I constructed entirely by myself).  I know they can hack it, mostly because they don't have any other choice, and probably because their moral fiber hasn't been weakened by years of having someone else clean their toilets for them.

But me?  I can't.  It's sad, and a little disheartening, but true.

By the third morning that ended with me bouncing a screaming Joseph on my hip, yelling at Sophia and Edwin to quit fighting already or someone is going to get SMACKED (thankfully the windows were closed.  I think) and trying to discuss cuneiform with Kathleen, I was done.

That night I talked with Brandon about putting Kathleen in Real School.  Because if I had years of this to look forward to, I wasn't going to be able to do it.  I would have a heart attack in months from the stress.  He cautioned me against it, but I really couldn't see any other way except for maybe hiring my housekeeper to help out during school in the morning.  But that would be a line too far.  Because I'll let her watch my children occasionally, but every day?  That's my job.  I'm their mother.  I can give up on housekeeping, but mothering?  That is the whole point of me staying home - to raise my children myself.  I don't want them to feel like they are less important then their older siblings.  I want them to want me.  And besides I need to have some moral fiber, right?

But you all know where this story goes.  Within three days, Naila was at our house at 9:30, ready to take Edwin and Joseph for a walk.  I felt guilty, but more than guilty I felt relieved.  Kathleen, Sophia, and I had a beautifully quiet, calm two hours of school.  We discussed wolves.  Kathleen memorized pronouns.  Sophia learned to write the letter "H."  And when the boys showed up for lunch, I wasn't a crazy, screaming, stressed-out wreck.  It was amazing.

I knowing I'm sliding down that slippery, slippery slope to total and complete uselessness.  But boy is it great, great ride.


Z. Marie said...

A great, great ride indeed.

Nisa said...

You are still mothering, silly, but you're doing something even more important. Your giving your older children time with you. Peaceful time where they get an education to boot. It's a terribly tough choice sending kids off to school or hiring a sitter. If we hadn't come to THIS school and felt strongly that it was time for the kids to go to school, I would still be homeschooling. And who knows? In three years at the next post, I probably will be. The thing is, you are their mother and you know what's best for them individually and you get a huge bonus of being able to have inspiration for them. And somehow it really does work out to be what's best for all of them. *hugs*

Denise said...

Ditto the great ride.
And I love your wit and sense of humor!
Keep it up :)

Lydia said...

Ahaha! If I could have packed Rere in my suitcase, I would have. Also, finding the right housekeeper isn't always a given. We've had a bumpy ride here and I've been "on my own" since February. Relish it while you've got it!

UnkaDave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
UnkaDave said...

I have a great housekeeper! Her name isn't Rere, it's Your Mother, Paula Jean! Ouch!! (she just hit me)

PaulaJean said...

I think one of our great faults as women is judging other women against what we would have done. I include myself in this group! We need to lighten up on each other and trust that what may be right for us, may not be right for other women.

Which is a long way of saying, enjoy your housekeeper! Maternal sanity is VERY important.

Bridget said...

Jeremy and I went from saying "never" to having a live-in housekeeper. So yes, it is a very slippery slope. :) ENJOY!!!

Conrad said...

I remember fondly the days growing up overseas and having a maid, gardener, a pool boy, and a driver. They were all part of the family, but never my mother. Writing this I feel like it was a dream. But a happy one where we were a happy loving family.

Just US said...

Man, did you want to send Naila over to my house when she is finished at yours? I am totally ready to hand at least a few of my children over to someone else for a couple of hours each day. What a great set-up you have! Enjoy every moment and relish that sanity!