My experience as the child of a working mother comes full circle these evenings when, after a long day at work, I walk in the door to a pile of crayons and rapidly drying clay on the living room carpet! If I don't scold, it's because I remember getting carried away with projects myself -- not as a naughty child but as a child trying to pass the time until my mother walked in the door.
My children are not my employees, so instead of "bossing" them and scheduling a cleanup as I would schedule one at work, I try to be more casual.But I am firm about not doing the cleanup for them.
There is an immediacym about children's needs. They can't wait for me to take off my coat before they pour out the explosive news they have been holding in for the past several hours of waiting -- the good grade, the compliment from a teacher, the lost lunch money. I try not to resent this, even when all three of my children set up a chorus of "Hey, Mom, hey, Mom, hey, Mom."
Children don't comprehend a parent's need to "wind down" from a day at work. My husband and I understand this, so whichever of us gets home first gives priority to listening to the children.
I start winding down in the car. Sometimes it requires an extra drive around the block before I have "parked" my work experiences of the day. I usually finish winding down while I am cooking dinner.
I've seldom had a problem that couldn't be dealt with by the time dinner was on the stove. Zach, 8, once let me know he was worried about a coming spelling test. In the two hours of waiting for me, he had built his fear into an insurmountable mountain. While I hit the cookbook, he hit his spelling book and called out words. We both soon realized he would sail through his test, and we went off to play with a great sense of relief.
Autumn, 7, once asked me why i said, "Aha, aha, aha," all the time. She was pointing out that I wasn't really paying attention, and she was right. Now I say something like, "Oh, that's great," and try to sort out later what it was that was so great.
Every parent's nightmare is the child who remembers, at 7:30 a.m., that he or she is supposed to bring a dozen homemade cookies to school that morning. It's especially traumatic for the working parent and entails special effort to check every night on what is due tomorrow. Even so, allow for occasional slip- ups -- children don't always learn from experience on this one.
For me, it also involves keeping a box of instant cake mix handy at all times. I dom learn from experience. The last time Josh, 11, requested cookies at dawn, we had to make them with salad oil and pancake mix because we were out of margarine and flour. They were far from being culinary masterpieces, but they were done by the time he went to school and I went to work.
One of the blessings of working is seeing my formerly dependent children make their own lunches, pour milk, find their mittens, and move quickly in the morning because I have to eat and dress as well. It's surprising, on my day off , how they regress and again become dependent. How can I go to work and leave them, I wonder? But I go to work and sure enough, they are once again models of self-reliance and independence.
Occasionally I come home to find they have had a spurt of responsible behavior. The carpet is vacuumed. The kitchen is relatively clean and ready to cook in. Their beds are made, and homework is well under way. They just aren't consistent, that's all, but then, neither am I. On some of my days off, I accomplish a great deal more than on others.
Perhaps it's a matter of expectations. When I work, they know what is expected of them. When I'm home, they relax -- and so do I.
One thing is certain -- nothing goes according to routine. Last night, when I came in the door, not one of the children said, "Hey, Mom." I felt positively le ft out.