Friday, August 25, 2006

Multi-tasking

When I started writing this post, my husband called...we had a rather meandering conversation for a few moments while he tried to work and I tried to blog and we both tried to maintain a relationship that's lasted for 19 years without letting all of the responsibilities that come with it drop like glass boulders. While we were talking, our best friend called, and so I picked up her line decided to check my e-mail-- while I was doing that, Arwyn, who is in the other room being held by her sister, started to flirt with me... so I was checking my e-mail, talking to my friend, and flirting with my baby AND mediating a dispute between siblings.

My friend hung up, and now I'm typing this post, and flirting with my baby.

We have just returned from work and picking up my daughter--during my commute I write. Not physically but mentally--while I'm driving, my mind returns to my book and I plan and phrase and question and remember and catch plot-holes (and potholes) and have conversations and cry and laugh and do everything I do in front of my computer without having to type so that when I do type I can type like the wind. At the stoplights, if I'm not eating breakfast or getting the toddler's toy which got dropped, I knit.

Before the commute, I was at work--usually, at work, while the kids are doing quiet work, I enter their grades into the computer, but today, the grading program was down so I was writing. When I wasn't writing, I was stalking them up and down the aisles keeping them quiet while writing a key for the quiz I gave at the end of class.

During lunch, I was expressing milk for the baby, reading my e-mail, and looking for the Yarn-Harlot's blog in the internet but the internet was down so I was... wait. I wasn't expressing the milk for the baby. It wasn't coming out. So I had to stop and pull up a picture of Arwyn (I used the picture down on the blog) to try to make my milk come down, and she was so cute, and I had abandoned her with the (admittedly wonderful) daycare worker while she was grinning in my face. And then I cried. Just cried. No other task at hand. And then my milk dropped, and instead of checking my e-mail or doing something else while being the human cow, I thought.

Many of my students are from Muslim countries--they wear the headgear and the lovely kaftans and everything (I feel very foolish that I don't know the proper names for these things.) A couple of years ago I was talking to one of them about her arranged marriage. I've learned long ago not to get upset about things like this, even though the idea is alien to how I grew up: just because it's different, doesn't mean it's worse. I asked her if she was looking forward to going back and getting married, and leaving much of the independence she had here in the States behind.

She told me that it was wonderful being a woman in her country. She had seen me come into class upset and frazzled at leaving my children and that where she grew up, the woman spent the days in community, raising their children, keeping their homes beautiful, cooking good meals, and talking to each other the way American families don't seem to anymore.

I think of this student on days like today, and I especially thought of her at this moment, sobbing in my darkened classroom while trying to do one good thing for my child this day.

Did she and her family members multi-task?

Did they sweep and mind children or order groceries and do the dishes? Did any of them write while they were sweeping, or did they dream while they were plying needlework? Or was there simply a quiet blanket of peace, of heartbeats between tasks, of blessed meditation on the wonders of watching children grow and having something important to offer the world as they grew older and learned from their mistakes? But what if they did dream? Did those dreams come true? Were they composed of limitless options and 'sky is the limit' success? Or did those dreams have limits, boundaries, the littleness of lives circumsribed by tightly built, high walls?

I know that when I didn't work, I felt trapped, as though the limit to my life was the four walls I lived in and the yard beyond it, and the two small hearts that beat inside it with me were tethers to this tiny domain and helpless boredom of inactivity. But I was alone then, my husband was only home once a week, and there was no one to share my wonder in the children, or to ease my frusration at being the only parent for six days out of the week.

If I had been inside a peaceful high wall, with my mothers and friends and sisters, would I have learned the noble and honest multi-tasking of the homemaker? Would the freedom of the workforce have seemed quite so enticing?

Multi-tasking: Women have been doing it for centuries. You'd think eventually we'd get it right.

2 comments:

Roxie said...

We do get it right, every day all the time, or the world would disintigrate. Just because the job is too big to be completed doesn't mean we aren't doing it well.

I went to a girls' boarding school. Life behind high walls with other women is just like life in any other closed community. If you get along, it's boring. If you don't get along, it ranges from irritating to homicidal. I prefer the freedom to pick up and leave if I choose. Peace and meditation comes from within, not from the environment. External calm does make it easier, but you can be frantic in the most peaceful setting in the world.

You are good at the meditation of activity. stillness would make you itchy!

Starfish said...

Very interesting post. When I was home recouperating from surgery I went batty very quickly. Even though I had unlimited knitting time and the computer and tv all to myself. I couldn't wait to get back to work. I think you need to get out in order for you to be a well balanced mom for your children. It's got to be hard for everyone in their own way.