Sunday, May 3, 2009

Rediscovering Motherhood by Necessity

Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel

Sometimes I feel I must be "waxing poetic" a bit heavily on the pleasures (and trials) of being a mother. I have an excuse -- if I need one -- and that is though I had my children by desire, I was, however, in the midst of working very long hours and endless days on a business I loved and gave everything to. My kids came, I was able to nurse them for a good long while, for which I'm grateful, but I wasn't there to raise them, no matter that it was a home-based business. Or so it seems in retrospect and so quite a few of my au pairs would independently confirm I'm sure.

While we ran the businesses (b&b and cooking school), I worked from 7AM to 11PM more often than not. First the breakfast shift, then dishes, then laundry (never-ending laundry... sing it to the theme song of the Never-Ending Story), then emails, then more laundry, then shopping/prepping for a cooking class, then a brief break, then cooking class, feast, dishes, and bed. On other days I was up at 7, making a quiche, preparing a picnic, coming out to be sociable at breakfast, then out the door at 9, driving from 30 minutes to an hour to our destination, visiting/hiking/wine tasting (things I very much adored), lunch, then back to the b&b. While the clients rested I was on email, paper work, then the kids would walk in the door, and I'd cross them as I went down to the cooking class, dinner, dishes, bed.

Where did the kids fit into all this? In fits and spurts. From November till March we were more available, but from Easter through October, mostly not. The result -- which rather hit me in the face a couple of years back -- was children who had minimal to no table manners, chaotic schedules, too little sleep, anxious behavior in school, and the beginnings of the syndrome "tuning out all around me."

Hard to limit TV time when you're not there to turn off the tube and propose a game of Monopoly. Hard to insist on reading if you're not there to encourage the early efforts. Hard to insist on green vegetables when you're not at the table. Hard to teach them what it is to converse, be considerate, wait to speak, say please and thank you... if you're not there. Social skills come from being socialized. Civility comes from being a part of civilization. School and au pairs can't do it for you.

So, as I saw myself unhappy in my marriage, I also saw the beginnings of a nightmare with my two children. This is not what I wanted in my life, nor intended. I did not put these two beings on this earth to badly raise them. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Subtlety was never my strong point.

When I first moved to Avignon -- in the winter of 2006 -- it was the first time the boys and I were alone together. No father, and no au pair. Being "off-season" I had four months to instill a schedule, expectations, rhythms. These were regularly put into jeopardy by our weekends back in Arles. But nonetheless I persevered. However I had need of au pairs still. Though not at the b&b on weekdays, I still held to my position as the person who did all the day trips, and orchestrated the adventures of our culinary travels. As such, my au pair handled the home base, school trips, etc., and I headed south to Arles and my clients from April through the fall. And, as might be expected, the kids regressed to spoiled brats (sweet spoiled brats, but, spoiled nonetheless).

No matter that I would want the au pairs to help the kids clean their rooms by themselves, or to eat vegetables or whatever, that is a lot to ask. When faced with stubborn and lazy children, how many young women have the fortitude to insist? So, they cleaned for, not with, did for, etc., Be it dishes, laundry, cleaning their room, putting away their clothes, it was easier to do it themselves then to fight stubborn little boys.

When present I would lay down the law. When with my mother, she would help me. But again, can you raise kids in fits and starts?

Since last year, I've worked far less, and completely passed the b&b to Erick (until it sells). I still love doing the day trips, visiting the food artisans, tasting wine, hiking in the wonderful countryside of Provence. I very much want to continue my business, but, on a much smaller scale. I'd rather cut back my financial needs, work when my kids are in school, and be there for them when they are home.

For the first year in many, I've no au pair. No au pair, and three extra bodies to feed and care for! It's a handful--an exchange of sorts. But, the teen boarders are equals to my kids. Together we've put together weekly schedules of household tasks. My kids no longer mistakenly think they are princes to be waited on hand and foot. They understand that we are a household where everyone pitches in.

And, if I weren't seeing impressive results in their behavior, their gratitude, their willingness to help, their socialization in public, their eating habits... I perhaps wouldn't be as militant in my unwillingness to leave their education to chance again.

Hence yes, I do wax rhapsodic on the wonderful moments. I try not to think of the many special times I no doubt missed out on. Life is lived in waves and stages. It took a while for me to fully acknowledge and accept my state of motherhood. The career-woman in me had a hard time contemplating putting work on the back burner. But now that I have... it is my obligation to raise these boys to be civil, considerate, healthy and happy adults. It's visceral, if not all-consuming.

I don't see myself as truly off the treadmill, just re-adjusting my priorities (and thus my income) till a certain task is finished. Hopefully, doing lots of yoga, staying fit and able, working more at 50 won't be too difficult.

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