Women’s work

“October,"  Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1878.

“October,” Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1878.

I have two grandchildren. One is eighteen months old, the other is six months old. The difficult part is that they’re siblings, a set of Irish twins. This doesn’t happen often anymore, but it was common enough when I was a child.

I’m an old hand at babies, having raised four (including a set of twins) myself.  My grandkids are very good children. The elder is a well-controlled wild child. The younger one is temperamentally sweet. They eat well, sleep well enough, and spend a minimum of time fussing.

Still, they’re two infants in radically different stages of development. Yesterday Grace got baby cereal mixed with whipped squash for lunch while Jake had a grilled-cheese-and-spinach sandwich, yogurt and a clementine. I made Jake’s sandwich in steps while spooning Grace’s muck into her. He is a nice boy and he pretended to not notice that lunch was slightly charred.

Grace still takes her bath in the kitchen sink, while Jake is big enough to bathe in the tub. Grace is—as you know if you’ve raised kids—easier to change, since her mobility is more limited. Dressing Jake is like dressing a greased monkey.

They’re growing children so they’re always hungry and thirsty. He has a cup of milk, she has a bottle, and they need changing again.

To tire them out we went to the playground where Gracie watched from her stroller while I chased Jake. We walked around the block. At the end, the most tired person was Grandma, who had just pushed a 60-lb. stroller over broken pavements.

Surely I’d kept them amused the better part of the day. But in fact, only twenty minutes had elapsed.

My daughter and son-in-law have their days programmed as tightly as the engineering systems they work with in their respective offices. Every step is choreographed; there is never much down time. They are chronically sleep-deprived. I empathize because a generation ago that was how I lived, too. That’s how every working parent of a young child lives.

“Le Livre des Cleres et Nobles Femmes,” artist unknown , French, 15th century

“Le Livre des Cleres et Nobles Femmes,” artist unknown , French, 15th century

That is not, however, how most parents lived in the past. Until the mid-20th century, all but the poorest of us had either daily maids or live-in help. Historically, women often had economically important roles in production or sales, but they weren’t expected to do that and keep house too.

I’m here helping because my son-in-law is traveling for work, but there are single mothers across this country who do this alone week after week, month after month. Not only do they work incredibly hard, they are also ignored for raises and promotions because their focus is elsewhere.

This is not really gender-specific or limited to single parents, however. Both parents are run ragged in this world of two-earner households. As a friend related yesterday, “I remember working like that, basically 24/7, working after dinner, and doing email before leaving for work. It’s what’s expected these days in technology jobs. Finally we said, ‘let’s not allow work on the weekend.’ That lasted a few weeks.”

All of which comes back around to the Presidential elections and the question of leadership in general. If you want a leader who can juggle multiple tasks, learn on the fly, work incredibly hard and go months and years with no sleep, find a person who has successfully raised his or her own kids (without benefit of full-time nannies) and who has worked while doing so.

Carol Douglas

About Carol Douglas

Carol L. Douglas is a painter who lives, works and teaches in Rockport, ME. Her annual workshop will again be held on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park, from August 6-11, 2017. Visit www.watch-me-paint.com/ for more information.