I think quality time
is a crock of bull. You can't "get more" in terms of your
relationship with your kids by parenting intensely for fifteen minute
chunks. Parenting is a hands-on enterprise. You can't step out because
it's messy or boring or irritating and expect to be welcomed back
in for the high moments. Generations worth of workaholic Dads who
paused to toss a ball directively with junior on Saturday morning
have proven that quality time, in and of itself, is not enough.
How about the house?
Can you at least contract out all that work without ill effect?
There does seem to be a proliferation of household management services,
and oh, are they pricey--children's birthday planners, closet reorganizers,
professional bill payers. Living in a reasonably-sized city in the
year 2000 with completely unlimited income, you could probably pay
someone to do literally everything in your house. But if you're
a slob like me, one kitchen reorganization won't hold you long.
I'd need those people, those domestic managers, to move in.
I have a confession to
make. I could manage a house quite well. I have the skills. I'm
not a born slob, I certainly wasn't trained by my mother to be a
slob--just the opposite. I'm a self-made slob. An aggressive slob.
I slob on purpose. I slob to say fuck the Betty Crocker crap.
It's an adolescent stance,
I admit, and it leads to utter chaos and, on occasion, deeper challenges
to hygiene, decency, and safety. I am trying to stop, I truly am,
but I'm angry. I want a life of the mind--it's what I've always
wanted in a way. Are there those who dream of cooking a perfect
pot roast? Or is everyone who prides herself on her domestic skills
settling for less than what she feels she has a right to want? I
don't know, and I'm aware that it will piss a lot of women off to
ask this question. For myself, a very significant part of me wants
to be the absent-minded writer, the privileged man of letters.
Were there ever guys
like this? Men who got to live out some fey, aristocratic life of
intellectual excitement and complete freedom from domestic responsibilities?
I just finished Ernest Hemingway's autobiography, and while not
all of it sounds enviable in the least, I did notice that he didn't
mention a lot of time spent sweeping up Cheerios. Sometimes, I want
to be Ernest Hemingway. Not when he shot himself. But the other
times, the writing times at cafes in Paris and Madrid.
In David Mamet's essay,
"The Diner," he says: "Writing, in my experience,
consists of long periods of hanging out...To hang out is to proclaim
and endorse our need for leisure and autonomy." Leisure and
autonomy seem to me the most taboo qualities imaginable for a mother
of young kids. You might as well go around saying: "I want
to have sex with a cat." And yet I agree with Mamet that leisure
and autonomy are essential for good writing. And for healthy living.
While lamenting the paucity of good diners--Mamet's preferred place
to write--he says: "one cannot write at home, for those we
love might there confound our occupation with Sitting Around and
suggest we fix the shower rod." For me, the one--and surely,
Mamet envisions a woman here--who nags me to fix the shower rod
is in my own head. I'm supposed to be queen of the domestic arena,
keeper of the hearth, nurturer of the kids, scheduler of car tune-ups,
dental work, violin lessons, and here I am wanting a life of the
mind. An unencumbered life, a life with leisure and autonomy, time
to think and then time to truly hang out with the kids instead of
keeping one furtive, unfocused eye on them while I microwave dinner,
throw in a load of laundry, and scrub two-day-old oatmeal off a