01 September 2011

What do I do during the day?

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_ky1bf81QrMw/TFhSuypQOrI/AAAAAAAAApQ/JE0YnlIpa8A/s1600/2658339647_db087cef22.jpgSomeone I consider a friend asked me this week, "what do you do during the day?". (and boy do I wish I looked that young and had a kitchen like that- although not in yellow.)

I looked at her, as she sat at my computer, finishing up work that she had not done (due to a computer problem) nor found a different way (than coming to my place on her schedule) to do and mentioned that I generally go to class during the day and that I was sitting there, available to her, because I have two weeks of vacation.

She had wondered why I couldn't join her on a walk starting in a different section of Berlin the following day, at 9 am: I pointed out that, after getting up at 6:15 , getting myself and the kids and their schoolwork and boxes read, driving them to school and returning, that I get home at between 8:40 and 9, on a good day, without traffic, and therefore couldn't be in a different section of Berlin ready to start walking at 9 am. Something that I thought she might know considering that I don't call her before 10 am because she is generally asleep.

This is a friend, and someone that I respect and I wonder: if she wonders what I do during the day, does she wonder what she does during the day?

I start at 6:15 am, as above. At 9 am I am in German class. At 1 pm I am generally home. At 3 pm I need to leave to get the children. After school we have tennis, art school, math nach-hilfe, swimming and going to playgrounds. Then I need to have a meal on the table, follow up on homework, read books, bathe children, set clothes and rucksacks out for the next day, put the kids to bed.

In the interstices I:
  • wash clothes and bedding for 4 (including sports classes and swim classes),
  • shop for 4 and cook for 3 (with the German here 3 nights a week being 4),
  • bake for the children and their classes,
  • make occasional visits to the drugstore/Apotheke for all the items not at a German store,
  • tidy our apartment (daily, with two kids),
  • go through clothes and switch them out/buy more if needed,
  • visit doctors (which generally requires missing class),
  • take care of our (pia) tenants in NY and the other (non-pia) rental in upstate (this week leakage in both houses due to Irene, luckily nothing worse),
  • manage the children's drs' appointments (5 in these three weeks, two being emergency orthodontist appointments)
  • try to deal with as much insurance interaction as I can, especially as we are in the process of switching over to German insurance and need to handle "the long tail", or deciding what we want to retain from the American side. On average, every doctor's visit here has required at least one interaction with the American insurance company beyond submitting a claim. Some have required multiple calls and submissions. The best thing we ever did was get an unlimited calling plan to the US, or we would lose money on our claims!
  • work on our taxes, consider legal action against a former tenant, think about doing German HW?
Whereas my friend, and many expat trailing spouses I know, have only to consider how to pencil in their social activities. They don't need to clean, because they are, perhaps, two adults in one apartment. That doesn't create a lot of mess.

In this case, my friend's husband has been traveling: she is alone, with no mess or responsibilities for weeks at a time. Does she mean to imply that I use my time poorly or frivolously? Does she believe that this two week period, when the kids are in school and when I am not yet in class, is too long a period not to require a scheduled activity? Most of the expat spouses I know (including this one) take a 4-8 week vacation over the summer with relatives in their home countries.

In this two week period, I took 5 days of cooking courses, had a birthday, went to the doctor, had an MRI, cared for my children alone for half of each week, spoke to teachers, went through a season's worth of clothes for three people, went shopping, cooked meals and cakes, edited a newsletter, wrote an apa, did all the ordinary things I always do— but had an extra 4 hours a day when I was not in class. I really enjoyed it: sitting on the ground, watching my way through Bones, working through paperwork and organizing the kids' last two years of paperwork, filling out applications for things and setting up vereins and classes. My apartment is a lot tidier than it is when I am in class.

But I wonder: does no one respect the work that the stay at home parent does? Speaking for myself, it's a lot more mind-numbing and harder than when I worked 10 hours a day out of the home and got both respect and a fat paycheck for it. I expect those who go out to work to, perhaps, not respect being a stay at home mom, but when those who don't work out of the home also disrespect the homemaker and parent, it's pretty depressing. And if my husband had to replace my work, it would cost him a pretty penny.
(edit: and now I am defiantly off to bake a Molasses Spice cake- what a frivolous use of my time- perhaps I should instead be doing something more meaningful?)


Joyce said...

Your photo's era would be my mother's childraising years. Like almost all of the women in our neighborhood she was a stay at home mom. Some of the daily housework was farmed out to us kids, but she still had all the heavy cleaning, cooking, budgeting, shopping, and laundry for a 9-person household. For 13 years there were always diapers to wash, too.
I admire the stay at home moms I know and acknowledge that they are busy people who accomplish great things. And today's women usually have better hobbies and outlets than mom did--almost daily kaffeeklatches to discuss whatever was big in Mom World at the time.
Hope the cake worked out.

AstroYoga said...

ouch. It makes my headache just reading the list (I try not to write it all down myself because it scares me). Is it bad to want to work outside the home just to make enough money to pay someone else to think about that list?

G in Berlin said...

It's not bad. But when I was making a very good wage, I still wasn't making enough to pay someone to give my kids the same quality of care they get from me. I sometimes very much miss having a work life and if I were in the US, I would be thinking about a part-time job now. But here, any job I would get would not be either interesting enough or remunerative enough to be worth the effort it would take and the stress of taking the time from the kids, due to the school schedules here in Germany (and the lack of jobs in my field in Berlin). I'll take a pause from German class after B2 and my stress level will markedly decrease.

G in Berlin said...

Joyce- The cake was fabulous. I made it again for my in-laws this weekend, still without the allspice, which I haven't yet found. Very light and delicious warm. I should have taken pictures and posted them with the recipe, but it was eaten too quickly!

Joyce said...

I'm so glad everyone liked the cake. It's especially good when the wind is howling and snow is on the ground. I'll send the similarly baked lemon cake and, if I can find it, a smashing apple cake. And do you want some allspice? The Penzey's catalog arrived Friday...

Betsy said...

Sometimes when I'm feeling overwhelmed by everything I'm juggling as a SAHM I notice myself taking over the voice of your friend and saying: "How can you be feeling so stressed? You have nowhere near the workload that your husband has in his job!" Which is, of course, utterly ridiculous! You felt like your friend wasn't giving you the respect you deserve, and I think that sometimes even "I" don't take time to realize just how full my life really is here at home! Thanks for the reminder and the wake-up call! :-)