Labor Day with a Twist
Each year, as the summer draws to a close, we gather together with our families for one last summer barbecue, pool/beach fling to celebrate… Labor Day? I spend the first half of the day chasing my 4-year-old identical twin boys who happen to have been blessed with an extra 21st chromosome (aka Down syndrome) away from my sister’s pool. Hopeful, but, in the end, unsuccessful at putting off actually donning my bathing suit in front of family and friends yet one more time and squeezing the little guys into their swimmy diaps, bathing trunks, floaty suits and life vests… all at once – in a feeble and barely successful attempt to keep their beefy little chins above the water line – to let them swim one last time before school starts. This year, in the midst of my back-to-school frenzy I gave some thought to this particular, if not somewhat peculiar, celebration. What and why is Labor Day?
Many years ago, during the times preceding the American Industrial Revolution – what’d we call those, the Dark Ages? — rules governing labor were necessary as laborers were pushed for untold hours with little or no reward for their efforts all to someone else’s benefit. It was right and necessary that someone stand up for the poor laborers and institute controls to protect their health and well-being. The process of instituting labor rules is how Labor Day came to be. 8 hour work days. Hour-long lunches. Regular breaks. Weekends off. And, more!
So, here’s my twisted rant… LOL
Well, let me tell you, I know all about laboring! I do it every day, for long hours and without a break! What mother doesn’t? Where are the rules governing motherhood-associated labor?
In the old days, laboring was productive. It started out where you were pushed [to push]… by the midwife. You worked hard, sweating, not able to shower or change your clothes or brush your hair or freshen up your make-up, sometimes for days without a break, and the output was a wonderful product you could be proud of… a beautiful healthy baby. Today, with all the in-vitro procedures (where’s the labor in that?), drugs and epidurals, who labors? Mothers are wheeled in at the convenience of their Obstetrician’s schedule without ever having felt a single contraction. They’re shot up with Pitocin to bring on the labor, and then given an epidural so they don’t feel the pains of labor. Once they’re comfortably numb, they’re sliced and diced, and their babies are carefully removed by a very well paid doctor who’s spent no more than 20 minutes in the O.R. with the barely laboring mom. No one’s pushing or laboring much at all anymore. Pain killers ensure that we feel little if any post-labor discomfort. Nurses whisk the baby away to care for them completely while Mom freshens up for the well-wishers who come to share their congratulations. The baby is in the nursery down the hall being fed and burped and changed. Meals are delivered, flowers decorate the room and mom is encouraged to sleep! This makes us believe that the LABOR of motherhood will always be so well-controlled and evenly distributed across many helpers who each take a piece of the task just as Labor rules intended.
So far from the reality! Motherhood is not an assembly line. It’s a sole proprietorship!
I’m up at dawn doing laundry, stowing dishes, packing the dishwasher, sweeping (no vacuum; too early; it’ll wake the kids). Then onto readying the outfits, lunches, snacks, backpacks and breakfasts for my 3 children. I feed and water the cats then clean out the dog’s eyes with saline solution and cotton balls and alternate medicating/moisturizing them as I do every day, five more times throughout the day. An hour later, and most days, I need to gently force all 3 kids out of bed, down the stairs, into clothes and food in their mouths to ensure a timely start to the day. Somewhere in there, I gobble down a Fiber 1 bar… my breakfast. I’ve been up now and working for 2 hours with no breaks yet. I put the kids, their carefully loaded backpacks and refilled juice cups into the car, buckle everyone in, grab the hair brush (because Olivia hasn’t done that part of the morning routine on her own yet? Still?), my keys and phone (just in case someone needs to reach me), and begin the first half of my 3-hours/day school drop-off commute. I drive the old soul around the block to get in line in the traffic-jam that is morning drop-offs. I circle the block twice to find an open and legal spot. I jump out, brush and braid her hair, help her strap on her backpack, instruct her to kiss her little brothers goodbye and keep watch as she pleasantly meanders up the walkway, saving worms, picking clovers and finally vanishing into the halls of academia with its own special set of rules and regulations also meant to improve (read: control) the outcome. Once she’s out of sight, I jump back into the car for the 50-minutes-in-morning-traffic drive to the boys’ school. Keeping up the lively conversation, I-spy game-playing, color-naming and singing all the while lest I lose my job to a more competent…. ?Bus driver/bus matron team? who can do it in a more-timely but less-fun-for-my boys fashion… as their teacher reminds me daily when we arrive late… again. We pull into the parking lot and search for a spot as close to the door (ha!) as possible. Our arrival, inevitably 10 minutes late, results in a hasty de-car-ing process. Even still, as a quality mother I cannot skip the teaching moments as the boys learn about how to clip and unclip their car seat buckles, look-both-ways-for-moving-cars before crossing the parking lot, do the up-down walk on the curb to strengthen their hip flexors, count 1-8, alternating feet as they walk down the stairs and then play on-your-mark; get-set; go as we race-walk, all the while holding their little hands and 2 overstuffed backpacks on our way through the atrium and into the school’s vestibule. I sign in at 8:45 (their clock is 2 minutes fast!). I wait for the teacher or aide to come and fetch Brian. Since the boys’ surgery, she has to make a 2nd trip, coming back separately for Michael who needs his own good-bye time with Mommy and then, ultimately, I help deliver him reluctantly to his classroom and then race back down the hall, through the atrium and to the car lest he see me linger and change his mind about wanting to attend school today. I’m officially “done” with the required morning drop-off routine. It’s 9am. I’ve been up for 3 hours. No breaks yet!
I drive the ½ hour straight to BJs warehouse to stock up on food supplies and staples for the whole family. A solid 45 minutes literally jogging through the store, I pay, pack out the shopping cart into the car and drive the 15-minutes back home. It’s now 11am. I treat the dog’s eyes again, let both dogs out in the yard and unpack the car and groceries, stowing them into their respective cabinets, drawers, freezer and/or fridge. I take a 2-minute potty break with the door open so the dogs can come in and greet/eat/drink in good company. Mine. It’s my first “break” of the day. They’ve missed me so I pet them. Give them a treat. It’s 11:30am. I’ve been at it for 5 ½ hours so far. I grab a glass of water and take a vitamin.
I have maybe 2 ½ hours before I have to start the 2nd half of my commuting job to pick up the kids from school. I grab a couple of the 10-foot-long 1x4s I purchased to trim the windows in the great room and transfer them to the back steps. (They’ve been sitting in the middle of the living room since I purchased them – with all 3 kids in tow – last week at The Home Depot.) I search through the mess in the barn and drag the circular-saw, table-saw and hand-sander out of the barn and set them up on the back “deck” (if you could call it that). I retrieve the tape measure from the kitchen counter where all the tools we’ve used in the past month pile-up, patiently waiting their return to the tool boxes, shelf or floor of the barn. I find the sketch I drew of the windows and measurements buried beneath a pile of “Need Action” papers and the appointment calendar stacked on the kitchen table. I’m ready. I recall my Dad’s warning, “measure twice, cut once” so I go back in and measure the windows a 2nd time. My first set of measurements are right on. Back outside, I cut the top piece for the first window. I lightly sand the flat surfaces and edges then test the piece by holding it above the window. If I’m lucky, it’ll fit. Digging through the 6 tool boxes/bags each containing an incomplete set of tools with no rhyme or reason for their placement, I find the stud finder my mother gave me a few years back. In the great room again, I locate the studs and carefully center and nail the first board in place. It’s 12:15pm. I treat the dog’s eyes then, like the instructions on a shampoo bottle “rinse and repeat”, I start the process again. Wiping the sawdust away, I grab the next piece of wood. Measure. Cut. Nail. 1 ½ hours later, one window is framed. Not stained or painted yet – that may take another 2 years — but at least it’s in place. I’ve got to clean up and leave for the after-school pick-up routine quickly.
If there’s time, I jump in the shower for 5 minutes. If not, I hate to admit this but I simply dab on additional deodorant, change out of my work clothes and into something vaguely more respectable, refill the juice cups, grab the bag of Tostitos and my cell phone (as per the reminder post-it note stuck by the front door) and sprint out to the car. I’m already probably, typically, 5-minutes later than I want to be/should be. I’ve got another Fiber 1 bar with me, if I’m lucky. Otherwise, I’m shoveling Tostitos into my mouth as I back out of the driveway. I’m driving again. This time of day there’s no traffic. And, though technically, I’m “working”, I put 104.3 classic rock on the radio and consider this my first real break of the day. 15-minutes into the ½ hour drive, I grab the hands-free blue tooth phone ear-jack, plug it in, turn down the music and call my Dad just in time to remind him to go and pick up Olivia from school. His memory is slipping so this is a daily procedure to ensure that, should I get stuck in traffic or the boys’ teacher doesn’t deliver them out to me right away, or the planets don’t align just right and I miss the 3:05pm pick up at her school, there’s another adult there to claim Olivia. If Grandpa doesn’t answer the phone, that sets in motion another course of action that includes contacting any one of several mothers in Olivia’s class who can let me know if Grandpa has arrived at the school yard, remembering her pick-up without prompting OR if he’s MIA. If the latter, I must quickly identify another of these spy-moms who might be available to hold Olivia for the extra 10 minutes – maybe on the playground, maybe at their house – until I arrive. If not, she’s in the office and will be emotionally upset with me at being “forgotten”. As if!!!!
I arrive at the boys’ school 10 minutes before the end of the day. If the teacher is feeling generous, she might let them forgo part of circle time and bring them out to me a bit early. Otherwise, I wait until the official dismissal time of 2:30pm. For the 2nd time in the day, I race against the clock and traffic. As quickly as possible, I gently coax the boys — who’ve barely had time to be physically active all day but desperately want to be so — through the atrium and into the car without letting on that we’re in a hurry. This is the ultimate test of a good and patient mother. Maybe we have the extra 2 minutes to ride the elevator down one floor to the sub-level where there’s a great echo chamber they love to test. Perhaps we can run back-and-forth with our friend Lucas for another minute before we have to count 1-8 back up the steps, do the up-down walk with the other leg to strengthen the opposite hip flexor from this morning and then climb into the car, review our buckle-up lessons, and set-up the juice and Tostitos snack for the ride home. If it’s pre-2:30pm, I have a fighting chance at arriving at Olivia’s school JUST in the nick of time for pick-up (as long as it’s not raining and there are no accidents on the 2 parkways I travel). And, if I’ve been a good mom and the angels are sympathetic, I might even get a reasonably close parking space near the entrance where her class let’s out. In record time, I release the boys from their car-seats and run to the pick-up door just in time to grab her before the teacher deposits all the unclaimed children in the main office. If I’m really lucky, Grandpa is there, — which I have by now confirmed either with him or with another class mother – and none of this matters. In that case, when I arrive in the area, I pick up the happy pair – Grandpa and Olivia — from the playground or on their walk home – a nature walk that always results in handfuls of rocks, sticks and 4-leaf-clovers (Olivia’s miraculously proficient – like my paternal grandmother – at finding these EVERY WHERE!). We are now 5 passengers full! It’s 3:15pm. 8 hours and 15 minutes since I dragged my weary bones out of bed. I’ve had a 2-minute potty-break and 5-minute shower break so far… not including the classic rock drive time.
We drop Grandpa back to his house, say our goodbye’s and thank-you’s, and make our way home. If the boys are sleeping – depending upon whether they actually slept, versus just rested, during school nap time – I leave them in the car and gingerly coax Olivia into the house for a 10-minute snack before the homework routine starts. This part kills me because, as it’s still early in the school year, I know the daylight and nice weather will be waning soon so I’d like to stay outside to play and garden with Olivia… always her preference. But, the good, conforming mother says, “Let’s get our homework out of the way”. Honestly, it doesn’t always work this way (for me or for her) but I always give it a shot! Homework, depending upon the day and mood, could take 20 minutes or 2 hours. If the boys aren’t sleeping, they share in the quick pre-homework snack. If they are, I sit by Olivia in the office – after cleaning and medicating/moisturizing the dog’s eyes — while I blog and she [home]works. You might consider this yet another break in the day, but for the record, my blog is an effort to connect with other parents of children with Down syndrome. To share ideas, find solutions to the issues I face, connect with like-minded, like-living mothers. It’s about mothering and my kids. Not about me. OK, it’s a little about me. It’s a release and I love to write. But, eventually, hopefully, this blog will be linked to a DS-related e-commerce site — one I hope will help other parents of children with Ds with developmental challenges — that I plan to start and manage in my free time. LOL! Not that I don’t enjoy blogging and connecting with other Moms, I do. But it’s not just pleasure. I HAVE to do this… Besides, most of the time, I’m sitting beside Olivia coaxing her to continue working on her math problems.
She’s done with her homework and I’ve checked it over and initialed it. It’s 5PM. Time for dinner. The boys are long up from their naps if that was their latest activity OR done watching their movie (meant as a distraction — one I’m riddled with guilt over but have few alternative options — while Olivia does her homework). Hubby should be rolling in shortly too. For the record, I don’t enjoy cooking. Especially since each of my children only eat and strongly prefer a different meal from each other. I throw a hamburger and a hot dog on the grill, a slice of pizza in the toaster oven, fill a plate with Tostitos, sprinkle it with cheese and pop it into the microwave…. The latter is the only common food choice they like. This covers the kids’ supper. There’s often no veggies. Sure I try, sometimes. But, they don’t eat them so why cook them? The Sarg is late with overtime and on his own for dinner, again. Besides, I just don’t want to do any more than I’ve already done. I pull the dinners out of their respective cooking locations, carefully dump them onto plates on the table, cut and dice and divvy up as needed, put in a new movie to distract the boys enough to get them to eat but not enough to distract Olivia from eating and TRY to get everyone to sit down at the table. It’s 6pm-ish! Later, if I haven’t been really diligent about staying on track. It’s bath night which has to begin no later than 7pm or I won’t have them all done and in bed by 8pm… ish! Me and Ajax or Scrubbing Bubbles clean the tub so that I’m comfortable they’re not going to be dirtier coming out of it than they were going in. Fill the tub, grab the diapers, pjs, bath toys and boys. First a potty-attempt (usually unsuccessful but I try every time, counting 1-10 x 2 boys) and then into the bath where the cleansing process begins. Wet hair. Dime-sized portion of shampoo. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. No, I don’t do it twice on one head…. I have twins. So I do it twice… once on each head. That’s the repeat part. “What’s next boys?” I ask. “BUBBLES!” “Are these the bubbles?” I ask holding up a white bottle? I ask again with the yellow soap bottle. And, again with the pink bottle. “NOOOOOO” they say until I hold up the purple bottle of bubbles. “Right!” We’re practicing colors again. Bubbles poured, wash-cloth in hand, I name each body part as I wash it, explaining to the boys which part it is, its function (which can get interesting) and why it’s important to keep it clean as I go along. Rinse and repeat. It’s 7:30pm. I grab a crossword puzzle I’ve previously ripped from the Pennysaver or newspaper while checking for fun upcoming Community Activities I can do with the kids on the weekends. I get my 3rd official “break” of the day… confined to the bathroom. As the boys play in the tub, I spend 10 minutes with the crossword puzzle. This may or may not be time enough to finish the puzzle but I hope it’s helping to keep my 46-years-old-and-aging brain from atrophying. By 7:45pm the boys are done. One more potty-attempt, then diaped and in pajamas. Hair combed against their will. You’re right, it’s probably 8pm. And, it’s Olivia’s turn… also against her will. The bath is emptied, the shower is adjusted to just-the-right-temperature and she’s in. “Call me when your hair is completely wet.” She never does. I check on her in 5 minutes. Wash her hair – lather, rinse, condition, rinse and clip it up – then instruct her to wash the rest of her self. I don’t go through the body parts any more with her… though sometimes I remind her of the importance of washing parts that get particularly dirty or stinky… like feet and armpits. I set out the towel and her pajamas beside the shower so she can reach and return to the kitchen to pack the day’s dishes into the dishwasher and brush the boys’ teeth. By the time I coax Olivia out of the shower she didn’t want to take, it’s 8:30pm. Or later. Sometimes much later. I take care of the dog’s eyes one last time. I transfer the wash to the dryer, load and start the washing machine and dryer, start the dish washer, shut off the television, the computer, all the lights, and grab a boy – usually Michael – for a ride upstairs while Daddy carries Brian up. I arrange everyone in their beds, kiss Olivia good night, float the sheet gently over her (because she loves this), choose and read 2 or 3 books or let the boys watch a movie (bad mama) until everyone passes out. It’s a cr*p-shoot as to who goes out first. Rarely it’s Olivia. Ocassionally it’s Brian or Michael. Sometimes it’s me. Mostly it’s Daddy. It’s now between 9 and 10pm. I’ve been up and working nearly 16 hours. I’ve had MAYBE 20 minutes worth of breaks throughout the day. The night may or may not afford me unbroken sleep depending upon whether the boys have eaten something that unsettles their stomachs, been bitten by too many mosquitoes, have stuffy noses, are too hot, too cold or any other affliction that will wake them from their slumber… Then, I’m up again with them. Otherwise, I’m up to go to the bathroom. That’s all the way downstairs.
Granted I don’t frame windows or shop at BJs Warehouse every day. Some days I clean the house, vacuum and mop the floors, clear the counters, sort through and donate out old toys, do the laundry, prepare for dinner, transfer seasonal clothes out of/into bins and dressers, garden and/or landscape, organize the tools in the barn for the 5th time, lay a brick-in-sand patio, mow the lawn, paint or spackle a wall, groom the dog, call/wait for the appliance repairman, take my father or the boys to one doctor or another, pay the bills or any number of other necessary activities. Once every 6 months or so I have the good fortune to have lunch with my mother or my aunt. And, once every few years, I have a dinner salad with a girlfriend. Sure, this job might be a little easier if my boys didn’t have special needs or if I didn’t care so much about the quality of my work or the outcome… I’m striving for a good finished product. But, as long as those things matter to me, this is the hardest job in the world. There is no rest for mothers. No built in breaks. No labor rules or regulations affording me time off. It is non-stop. Without breaks. Without pay. Recognition is pretty much nil and the rewards are not monetary… but they are GREAT… They are intrinsic rewards. I see my children growing up to be interesting, knowledgeable and responsible, caring and compassionate human beings. I see them living up to their fullest potential. I see them becoming good, honest and faithful people. This is the best job I’ve ever had. The most important job in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for any other job. No, it’s not for the weak-willed or weary or selfish or lazy. And, the Labor laws developed to help the overworked, underpaid and under-represented workers do not apply here.
As the summer closes and I prepare my young children for yet another year of school, it’s this labor of love that defines what motherhood — and real labor — means to me. This is what I will celebrate each Labor Day from now on.
Somehow, with just a little bit of reflection, some humor and a whole lot of typing, this inane holiday just took on a whole new meaning for me.