Having had Doah at home for a couple of weeks now, once again balancing family needs and work requirements, I find myself remembering the days when all the kids were home and I was doing the same -- balancing family needs and work requirements.
At one point, years ago, I needed to have a psychologist's note for work. It was a routine type of thing, dealing with a back injury that had reared its head, something that rarely happens but was probably the result of both work stress (the reason the psychologist was involved although, for Heaven's sake, a simple doctor's note should have done but was unacceptable because this was a ten-year-old injury, not a new one) and the physical stress of caring for seven children, one of whom could not walk (due to paraplegia) and was getting pretty big for lifting and carrying. All I needed was the note, relieving me from certain activities at work for a few weeks, and in the end that was exactly what I got. However, being a psychologist, the lady felt that she should have a little psychological discussion with me. It went something like this:
She: So, tell me, how do you spend your days?
I: Well, I get seven kids ready for school in the morning, then dash off to work, where I sit in front of a computer for long hours at a stretch, answering dozens of email notes, then I run around visiting classes, counseling teachers, attending and conducting meetings, hiring people, firing people, and working together with our resource office on budgets that don't quite meet the needs of work requirements, a very stressful endeavor. The physical running around is actually great. It relieves the stress on my back, but the sitting at the computer, in the classes, and at long meetings has been problematic lately.
She: Forget the back, let's get back to your schedule.
I: Okay, well, after work, my oldest daughter picks me up because she has the car during the day. She needs it for work more than I do because I can walk to and from each of my 12 buildings, which is good for my back.
She: Forget the back for a while. Let's get back to your daily routine. What do you do when you get home?
I: Oh, well, fortunately, I don't have to make supper. My kids won't eat anything I cook, so my husband does that. While he is preparing supper, I go over the homework of my teenage son who is being homeschooled. We discuss the various papers he has written, research he has done, and any questions he might have. I also want to know what he thinks he has learned. I check his understanding of the books that are not in English, and we have some debates over the meaning of various novels and stories he has read. Then I work with the littlest one. He is retarded so the schools think he cannot learn, but he can. He just has his own way of learning. Right now, he and I are working our way through 1984, and he gets Orwell's intent. However, he explains it in ways that would not work in a regular seventh grade class because of his speech disinhibition. I know he understands much more than he communicate because when I ask him who the protagonist is, he will say "little guy, like me." Then, dinner is usually ready. I always forget to make sure that the kids have washed up. They seem to remind themselves, though, and at the table we discuss what the other kids have done during the day, any particular problems (often, we attack the problems as a group), and highlights in which to delight. Then, Noelle has to catetherize; she does that pretty well for herself but I need to ensure that she has no oncoming urine infection or body sores. If she is out of her braces because they are being repaired, then I have to do range of motion exercises on her. After that, there is a scramble for baths, one on one time with the kids, helping with homework with the kids who are still in school: Lizzie and Ksenya have graduated and help as they can. Then, often, Ksenya, who is not my birth daughter, likes to crawl up in my lap because she misses her mother in Moscow; we spend time reminiscing about Moscow in Russian. Sometimes, Lizzie joins us because she went to school in Moscow and can speak Russian; it is good for her not to forget Russian. On a school night, the kids go to bed around 10:00, but if it is a Friday night, we generally gather at that time for a family meeting to make family decisions on expenditures (money is always tight) and forthcoming activities.
She: Well, that's interesting, but what do you do for yourself?
I: Oh, right, after that, somehow I squeeze in dishes. It's only fair I do them since Donnie makes dinner, and I get some thinking time while washing them. Also, laundry and some light housekeeping. Donnie does the trash detail. The kids help, too, and the heavy cleaning we do as a family on Saturday morning.
She: That's not what I meant. I mean for yourself personally.
I: Well, I used to do some exercises to try to keep my weight normal, but I cannot do many of them lately because of my back -- which is why I need to have that piece of paper I came here for -- so that I can take a couple of weeks off and let the back recuperate.
She: We can talk about your back later. I am curious as to what you do for self fulfillment.
I: I thought I already told you. I get the delight of entering my children's minds every night and helping to develop their thinking -- both ethical and analytical. I get to discuss literature that I love with my own children. I get to shape the education of my home-schooled son. I get some one-on-one time with myself while doing dishes and laundry. I get to relax with my "adopted" daughter and my oldest daughter, reminiscing about Moscow and helping the former make the transition between cultures. Sometimes, I even get to talk to my husband before or right after tumbling into bed -- and sometimes the two of us get to talk even more while doing chores together. If I have time, I will help him with the trash, and he will help me with the dishes. (Actually, we met doing dishes, so that is appropriate.) And, if my back is okay, I spend a few minutes exercising.
She: Lizzie, you have a serious problem. When do you put your family aside and do things for yourself?
I: I don't quite understand your question. I would want to put my family aside, why? Doing things for my family is doing things for myself. That's the source of my happiness. You are right, though. I do have a serious problem. I need that note for work so I can take a couple of weeks off to heal my back!
She sighed and gave me the note. Mission accomplished. Sheesh! Why did it have to take so long? I would be late getting home and miss my reading time with Doah. Big help that lady was!