A mother's essay: I am 'me' first

WRDW

Do you ever wonder how much things have changed for parents over the last couple of generations? One woman’s personal account of her everyday life in the 1970s sheds a little light on that -- and it seems the parents in the typewriter generation had a lot more in common with today’s blogging generation than you might think.

“My mom passed away on New Years Eve,” said Bill Henry. “And in late January my dad was going through papers that accumulated over the years and he came across this essay. It wasn’t really a journal and it wasn’t some sort of diary. It was something she just kind of wrote down and my father found it on two pieces of paper. “Somehow that paper stayed in her life for the next 45 years.”

ESSAY EXCERPT:

As a thirty-four year old mother of nine children, ranging in age from 2 to 12, I am constantly asked by friends and acquaintances, “How do you do it?” I find this a very thought provoking question: How do I do WHAT? How do I sit here writing with four children breathing down my neck? How do I wade through the house with 18 shoes and numerous unmatched socks strewn on the floor? (not to mention the toys, barrettes, paper dolls and crayons). How do I manage to be a compulsive read of mysteries, novels and pop psychology? How do I retain my sanity and my natural immunity to chicken pox when eight of the children pop out with them, one by one within 5 hours? How do I enjoy a two-hour philosophical discussion on the phone while 4-year old Karen consumes 24 lollipops and 9 slices of cheese? How do I control myself when I discover at church that Billy’s hair isn’t combed, Elaine’s dress isn’t zipped and no one is wearing matching socks?

“Yeah, it was pretty chaotic,” Bill recalls. “As everybody knows that’s an awful lot to be responsible for.”

What is it about “me” that enables me to “do it”? Before I go any further, the most fortunate thing I ever did was to marry a lovable, handsome guy who had no aversions to taking turns getting up during the night with our infants, changing diapers, cleaning up vomit, washing dishes, throwing the laundry into the washer or cooking a delicious meal when I am sick.

“A big part of our life was we moved from Long Island to Vermont in 1970,” said Bill.

“As we moved north we moved further away from my parents brothers and sisters they were from the Philadelphia area, and so we were somewhat isolated from that standpoint. We would have people come once or twice a year but really we dug into the community. We pretty much knew everybody because there was somebody in every grade for almost 10 straight years! My mom started volunteering at the local library and she really enjoyed that because it got her around the books that she loved and it also got her around more people.”

At this point you must be wondering how my job and activities affect my husband and children. They are proud to say I am “working”. However, since I am happier, I am more patient and considerate to them. I feel my basic goal in life is to achieve my greatest potential. I am “Me” before I am “Mom” and “Jim’s Wife”. If I cannot fulfill some of my own desires and yearnings, I cannot help Jim and the children fulfill theirs. A dissatisfied, frustrated individual cannot relate or communicate with others. I cannot confine the dimension of motherhood to nursing, weaning, training and wiping running noses! I feel that I can offer my children more than the physical routines. I must love, listen and respond. If I cannot mature, can they? I want them to see me as a “person”, not simply as their “mother.

“The essay really spells it out,” Bill said. “As she described if I’m not happy how can I help other people be happy.

Each of us is gifted with certain talents and inclinations. I feel obligated to make use of those gifts. Unfortunately, I don’t particularly feel gifted or inspired while scrubbing a floor, sorting laundry or picking up the various items which seem to grow on the floors and tables in our home.

“The essay only appeared a month ago,” Bill said. “I never really understood if anybody ever knew that it was there, but it hasn't been seen in a long time I’m sure of that! It’s pretty remarkable.”

How do I do it? It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun! It would be impossible without babysitters like Mary, Cindy or Polly. I don’t “do it” perfectly; I’m sure I don’t “do it” well by most standards. I just keep working on the never ending goal – to “do it” better!







--------------- ESSAY --------------

 

“How I Do It?”

By Mrs. Barbara Henry

As a thirty-four year old mother of nine children, ranging in age from 2 to 12, I am constantly asked by friends and acquaintances, “How do you do it?” I find this a very thought provoking question: How do I do WHAT????

How do I sit here writing with four children breathing down my neck? How do I wade through the house with 18 shoes and numerous unmatched socks strewn on the floor? (not to mention the toys, barrettes, paper dolls and crayons). How do I manage to be a compulsive read of mysteries, novels and pop psychology? How do I retain my sanity and my natural immunity to chicken pox when eight of the children pop out with them, one by one within 5 hours? How do I enjoy a two-hour philosophical discussion on the phone while 4-year old Karen consumes 24 lollipops and 9 slices of cheese? How do I control myself when I discover at church that Billy’s hair isn’t combed, Elaine’s dress isn’t zipped and no one is wearing matching socks? How do I continue to think it was a good idea to go to the drive-in when it’s pouring rain and every child is screaming that there is someone blocking their view of “Tom Sawyer”?

After I mentally interrogate myself, I frown and shrug. What is it about “me” that enables me to “do it”? Before I go any further, the most fortunate thing I ever did was to marry a lovable, handsome guy who had no aversions to taking turns getting up during the night with our infants, changing diapers, cleaning up vomit, washing dishes, throwing the laundry into the washer or cooking a delicious meal when I am sick. While there is a mild conflict between us on what I DON’T do (e.g. routine housework), Jim is extremely supportive toward everything I do.

About eight years ago, I became aware of many middle-aged women who were in a dissatisfied and bored state because their children had left the “nest”, their mother role had ceased. Since they had never been involved in activities outside of the home, few of them had either the inclination or courage to do so. 

It occurred to me that I certainly was not going to let it happen to me. I joined and was active in parish organization, took a few art courses which were enjoyable.

Three years ago, we moved to Vermont from Long Island. I came in contact with a number of impressive women who were involved in the community and seemed to be quite “liberated” individuals. (To me, liberation is a personal thing).

I discovered that to be happy in my new surroundings, I had to continue to “grow”. After much soul searching, I began to do my own thing.

I painted signs for the recycling project, accepted an offer to run a Christmas Craft project for the children, began attending school board meetings and joined the League of Women Voters. While I still indulge myself in my personal hobbies like art, astrology and yoga courses from time to time, I feel a strong need to be a part of the community and be involved in activities which I feel are worth my time and energy.

Last winter, we had the opportunity to take in an unmarried pregnant girl. It was my chance in twelve years to do something outside of the home (during the day). I decided to volunteer at the local library and all kinds of doubts and insecurities rose to the surface.

I was convinced that I’d do everything wrong and turn the whole library into a shambles. I blurted out my feelings to Jim at bedtime one night, and we proceeded to analyze and discuss my problem until 4:00 A.M. I called the librarian the next morning and set a date when I would start. I was overjoyed a few months later when she asked me if I’d be the summer substitute. I am currently working from six to ten hours during a two-week period and love it!

At this point you must be wondering how my job and activities affect my husband and children. They are proud to say I am “working”. However, since I am happier, I am more patient and considerate to them.

I feel my basic goal in life is to achieve my greatest potential. I am “Me” before I am “Mom” and “Jim’s Wife”. If I cannot fulfill some of my own desires and yearnings, I cannot help Jim and the children fulfill theirs. A dissatisfied, frustrated individual cannot relate or communicate with others. I cannot confine the dimension of motherhood to nursing, weaning, training and wiping running noses! I feel that I can offer my children more than the physical routines. I must love, listen and respond. If I cannot mature, can they? I want them to see me as a “person”, not simply as their “mother”.

My husband needs a person who has more to offer than a domestic worker who scrubs and waxes. I must be able to communicate with him. I must be mature enough to accept his innermost thoughts and feelings. I must be able to give and be willing to receive.

I hope my children will benefit by witnessing our ongoing attempt to relate to one another and work out our differences in a loving and mature way.

I have never been able to use my children as an excuse for not doing anything. Any difficulties that have arisen in my not being able to fulfill myself have been due to my hang-ups or inhibitions.

Each of us is gifted with certain talents and inclinations. I feel obligated to make use of those gifts. Unfortunately, I don’t particularly feel gifted or inspired while scrubbing a floor, sorting laundry or picking up the various items which seem to grow on the floors and tables in our home. We have teams of dishwashers, alternate laundry folders and Saturday is “clean up” day. It is a traumatic experience for any friend or salesman who drops in unexpectedly on a Friday!!!

While the children certainly do not enjoy their tasks, they accept the fact that they must do them. I must add that they do an excellent job!!! I do enjoy the cooking, canning and pickling and spend my most of my “houseworking” time in the kitchen. I try to do one planned project each morning and spend the afternoon with Karen while Janine, two, naps and the others are in school. When the children arrive from school, all I can do is try and keep track of where they are, where they are going, who they are going with, and remind them they have to be home by five.

How do I do it? It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun! It would be impossible without babysitters like Mary, Cindy or Polly. I don’t “do it” perfectly; I’m sure I don’t “do it” well by most standards. I just keep working on the never ending goal – to “do it” BETTER!

P.S. After she reads this, lovely blossoming twelve-year old Barbie insisted SHE hasn’t worn unmatched socks in ages!!