I've just filled in many of the newly scheduled practices, appointments and meetings for the coming year on my new tablet. To do it all at once was time consuming and a bit of a shock, I started reflecting on the number of hours a week that I spend just sitting and waiting for my daughter.
I recently read a book More Work For Mother: The Ironies of Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave about the changes in household duties for housewives/homemakers/stay-at-home moms. Each name we have used reflects the focus of the time, the housewives focused on cleaning the house and preparing meals, the babies were in a playpen, the kids running around the neighborhood or in school. No playgroups, play dates, or even pre-school, the mother was focused on waxing the kitchen floor, not the social development of the child. Homemakers add another layer, not only was the house supposed to be clean and the meals prepared, but there was an expected effort on interior decorating and making the house homey. Those kids still tore through the neighborhood at will. Then comes the stay at home mom (or dad), housekeeping, homemaking, and a focus on the child. Leaving a child in a porta-crib or bedroom all day is not an option, social services might come find you. The focus is on the development of the child, the safety of the child, and the wants and needs of the child. Sure there are washing machines without wringers now, dishwashers, and wrinkle-free clothing, but there are added chores that either didn't exist or used to be the domain of their spouse.
In pre-automobile and early automobile culture, the person working away from home would pick up things on the way home from work or the groceries were purchased at a corner grocery, which was reached by walking. The milk was delivered, sometimes eggs, meat or groceries were also delivered. Now grocery shopping entails a car and a drive, and a serious time commitment inside a warehouse sized building. For me it is a twelve minute drive, forty-five minutes (sometimes more) inside the store and twelve minutes back to the house, for basic shopping. During the week, I will need to go once or twice for fill in shops for more milk and bread (they have cut back on the preservatives in some the bread, it can actually go moldy!!). Each one of those trips take a minimum of 15 minutes of driving and fifteen minutes of shopping and self-check-out.
The one thing the author had found changed the most was the amount of time the parent spent driving, before cars it was never dreamed that a child would attend meetings, practices or games twenty miles from home on a school night. If they couldn't walk to the meeting, they didn't go. Now the parents drive the child and sit there waiting for the meeting to end, because the meetings seem to be scheduled in places where an errand is just out of reach with the time limit. So, the parent sits on Facebook for part of the time, plays Candy Crush, reads a little and stares off into space for an hour to an hour and a half. Then they get back into the car to go straight home, past all of the places where they could run errands, because it is a school night and it is already too late.
This coming week I'm anticipating 5-6 hours of sitting and waiting for my child and three hours and 20 minutes of driving her to and from basketball, a 4-H related activity, and coding sessions at the public library (not the local branch, of course). This does not include the nagging needed for the child to arrive at the activity clean, appropriately dressed, with the correct equipment and with homework completed beforehand, nor does it include the time required to get the kid into the shower after practice and to get all equipment and clothing placed in the appropriate spots. Looking at it this way it easily takes 15-20 hours a week just to have my kid participate in activities, it's like a part-time job. How do parents with many children and full-time jobs do it? From my observations, they appear to do it with sugar, caffeine and sleep deprivation.
The next question is why do we put ourselves through this? Much of it boils down to the fact that getting into a good university these days is not just about having straight A's, though that is part of it. A child has to start building their resume for their college applications from the moment they start attending school. A kid can't expect to make the soccer team if they never played before the 9th grade, but they need that for the application, the other kids have been playing since they were four and attending summer camps focused on skill development. In order to stay competitive and have half a chance, they have to start developing the skills they need early. It really sucks, because sometimes a kid isn't interested in something until they reach the age of fourteen, but the others their age have been groomed since pre-school in that activity and to catch up and surpass them is a daunting task.
I spent much of my youth running around in the woods, riding my bike (with no helmet), smashing rocks together to see which shattered first (with no safety glasses), and trying to figure out what kinds or rocks they were. I spent it bird watching from the back window. Floating leaves down the stream. Reading books. Arguing with my sisters. Playing with my sisters. Hauling firewood. Pulling rocks out of my mother's garden, and putting them into a giant pile (see smashing rocks). Coloring. Not one thing would be fit for a resume, nothing quantifiable before I enter high school, except four years in Campfire Girls.
It was the transition time between the housewife years and the homemaker years. We were told to go outside and play and were only expected to come inside to retrieve something or to use the bathroom. The neighbor kids had the house door locked behind them and it wouldn't be unlocked until lunchtime, I guess their mom was still a housewife. They still used mecurochrome. Of the six kids, between us and the neighbors, all six went to college, and at least three of us have advanced degrees. Would that happen today? Would they be placed in foster care for neglect and deliberate exposure to toxic substances?
Those days are gone.
For Christmas I received a tablet computer, I hope to be able to write while I wait. Its case, with a wireless keyboard built in, is due to be delivered by Santa's elves in the brown truck any day now. Bring on the activities!