I’m No Superman

May 4, 2006 @ 3:03 am | Filed under: The Not Supermom Series

(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.


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Comments

20 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. What a wonderful refreshing post. and you still get more done in a day than I do.

  2. Thank you for your answer! Your point about getting things done instead of doing things together is great. I constantly fight that urge, and it is good to be reminded.

  3. What a wonderful, real, generous, funny and endearing post. I have to admit that, some days, it’s tempting to trade in excellent insurance benefits for never doing laundry again …. ;-)

  4. 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.

    I don’t which I liked best, the above or the part that you haven’t done laundry in eight years : ). Of course, the only part I have any experience with is the above, since the kids and I battle the laundry mountain/moster daily on our own lol.

    And I know about the lifestyle balance; we enjoy the freedom the farm and Tom’s building business give us, but Mother Nature is very fickle and doesn’t offer much in the way of tangible corporation-style benefits, though we are lucky to enjoy a national health care system, without which admittedly we might not be able to enjoy all that we do as far as farming, homeschooling, and me being at home.

    Kiss those little toes for me (when it’s safe, of course!)…

  5. Great post…I must admit I have been having alot of burnout lately, and reading beautiful blogs somehow made it worse- do not covet had slipped from my vocabulary.
    Thanks so much for the inspiriation and God Bless you.
    One quick question…
    Language arts…looking at your day, do your kids write, do dictation, read etc. or is this in tides (besides the reading, it is obvious that is the lifestyle in homes where literature is loved..)
    Thanks so much

  6. *Every blog post I write is a load of socks I haven’t had to fold.*

    That m’dear is pure poetry. This is a beautiful entry!

  7. But it’s not the Martha Stewart act that makes you a hero. It’s your sense of self. It’s the strength you manage to conjure when your children are ill. It’s being upbeat when most people would just sit about and cry. It’s the fact that your family comes together during a crisis when it’s easier to just walk out the door. It’s having 5 kids and still being able to see them each as individuals, to respect their dignaty, to suceed in helping them grow as people by “lighting the fire” as you call it. It’s having the strength to be true to yourself and not cave into societal ideals. It’s having the wisdom to be grateful for the little things. I think you’re in a class by yourself.

  8. It is nice to hear from another woman whose husband has the right idea about life. I also don’t do laundry. Not even the dirty diapers. And even though he doesn’t work at home my darling dh comes home from work most nights and cooks dinner and all of the grocery shopping as well. Congrats on your fantastic taste in husbands. It makes life a lot better doesn’t it ;-)

  9. Melissa, this is such a lovely and generous post, and it gives me much food for thought. Thank you for sharing!!

  10. Sorry, but I have to blow your cover and say you are twice as great–no, a hundred times as great–in reality as you come across in this blog!!!! And that’s pretty great!

  11. Sounds like your keys to success are having a husband who is really a partner and shares in the whole running of the family rather than thinking earning money is enough of a contribution, having reasonable standards of housekeeping, making sure everyone has a nap (are you sure the husband doesn’t do that? I know a lot of men who do even when they work in offices), and keeping the priorities straight. Thanks for sharing all the great ideas.

  12. Wonderful, helpful post! I was up with pregnancy hormones (our 5th) from 3-6am and thought about you and prayed for you. You’ve been a blessing to so many you don’t even know.

    Now for the nitty gritty. When do you find it best to shower? What type of language arts do you do (I saw that was asked already)? Do the kids do chores? I think half my battle is just getting the children to work on their little jobs and then 2 yr. old starts getting fussy, and soon it’s lunch time and the only thing anybody has done is copywork.

    I’m going to print out your post. Thanks again!
    Many blessings,
    Betty

  13. Those Darn Imposters

    Tuesday through Thursday I found myself faced with numerous deadlines and responsibilities combined with dear friends experiencing great difficulties. The children, of course, did not conform to “my knowledge” of what had to happen in order for…

  14. Those Darn Imposters

    Tuesday through Thursday I found myself faced with numerous deadlines and responsibilities combined with dear friends experiencing great difficulties. The children, of course, did not conform to “my knowledge” of what had to happen in order fo…

  15. Here’s another nitty gritty question: what is in your arts and crafts cabinet? I think that this is an area in which we are lacking, and it would be good to have some things on hand for rainy summer days. Any website suggestions for craft supplies?

    Here’s another question — how much of the fact that your tide has come back in do you think has to do wtih the girls being older now then they were when Wonderboy was born? I am starting to notice that my oldest will keep learning and helping us to keep on task with school routines even when I am sort of loosing track of things, I would imagine that your older girls, with the true love of learning that you have instilled in them, are making this happen?

  16. CityMom asked:

    “Here’s another question—how much of the fact that your tide has come back in do you think has to do wtih the girls being older now then they were when Wonderboy was born? I am starting to notice that my oldest will keep learning and helping us to keep on task with school routines even when I am sort of losing track of things, I would imagine that your older girls, with the true love of learning that you have instilled in them, are making this happen?”

    This is a point I wanted to add to my initial response to the kind mom who said:

    “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???”

    We have the same number of children, but where this mom has a three-year-old, I have an almost-eleven-year-old, and that is a major difference. I have an extra pair of helping hands where she has another pair of hands needing lots of help—busy, busy hands, to boot. Ten-year-olds can be an awful lot of help. (I always think about Anne of Green Gables taking care of three sets of twins before the age of ten. I mean, I know she was fictional, but Montgomery was reflecting the norm for her community.) Whenever I want to work one-on-one with any of the children, I can have either Jane or Rose entertain Wonderboy. It isn’t organization, it’s delegation.

    As for CityMom’s point, I think she is absolutely on the mark: it was easy to slip back to our routine after the baby arrived because my three older children are old enough to maintain the routine without a lot of prodding from me. They know how to do their chores, unsupervised. And our lesson time together is a fun chunk of the morning which we all enjoy. We listen to our Latin vocabulary chants together (Beanie likes this best of all) and then Jane and Rose can do their Latin bookwork independently. Then Jane goes to another (quieter) room to do her Math-U-See page; if she gets stuck on any problem she is supposed to circle it and bring it to me when she has finished the page. Meanwhile, Rose sits beside me and does her math. For the most part, she completes the work without my help while I play with her brother. Both girls can check their own work against the answer keys, and together we go over any problems they’ve missed.

    Those are our only formal lessons; after that work is finished, we spend the next hour or two with our various read-alouds (always accompanied by Mr. Putty, of course—Rose never lets me forget) while Wonderboy plays with Legos or Wedgits in our midst. Friday is our hands-on day for art and science: we move to the kitchen or porch for the messy stuff. Personally, I prefer the read-alouds; I had to carve out a day for the ooey gooey needs-seventeen-ingredients-and/or-a-microscope kind of activities—and commit myself by announcing it to the girls—or else I would never get around to making it happen.

    Adjusting to life with this baby has been the easiest transition yet—really!—easier than when I had just one baby, or two. Having a couple of seven-and-ups makes a huge difference. And Wonderboy got off to such a rough start…probably anything would seem easy compared to that.

    Speaking of the new baby, can you believe she’s a month old today? Snoozing here beside me, just as sweet as can be….

  17. ~~Welcome to the inaugural Celebration of Heart and Home! ~~

    I’m so glad you could join us. Won’t you please step into my cyberhome and enjoy the company of many special women? Let me take you on the grand tour.

    Lissa, Kim, and Elizabeth have settled into the family room and are enjoying the warmth of…

  18. […] work-at-home freelancer too. I wrote quite a bit about our work-and-family schedules in the “I’m No Supermom” series a couple of years ago, oh, and in an article called “The Homeschooling, […]

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  20. […] blog sometimes mistakenly think I am, and whereas I have to gently set those folks straight with posts like this, Becky really is kind of super. I mean, she cooks! And bakes pies, extra pies for giving away! Just […]