• Joia

Today's rhaps is on ... A Mother's Day

Updated: Jun 3


Влади́мирская ико́на Бо́жией Ма́тери, 12thC

Our Lady of Vladimir was first sent as a gift from Constantinople to the newly converted Slavs in Kiev. The icon ended up in Vladimir because the horses stopped there and wouldn't go any further. Later it protected Moscow from the Tatar invasions, the evil chaos of forced rule. We pray it continues to do so from its current home in a bulletproof glass case in the Church of St. Nicholas in Tomalchi within the Tretyakov Gallery.


***

I always look at the baby's head in Madonna and Child paintings, whether it's one-eighth the size of the body, like an adult's, or one-fourth the size of a true infant. Art history figured this out at some point after the Renaissance, though a lot of parents continued to see their children as little extensions of themselves, performing and hustling on the same stage. In my case the accolades came from church missions, so dressing me up as a miniature Nazaré fishwife did the trick, for the four-part family harmonizing of As Benignidades do Senhor. Our $300 a month stipend from the Chicago mission board was a fortune in 1950s Leiria, though didn't go so far in Stateside furloughs.


When Fate brought me a child and PhD in the same year, I took my babies west. Had I known I was still a Portuguese citizen I might have returned to the real thing rather than the California substitute, but the tenure-track $36,000 job was irresistible. Single parent or not, this was heaven to a loan-saddled grad student.


I was right about the rocky coastline and having a real salary—wrong about the single parenting.


Minus a spouse technically made me a single parent, but I soon learned I had about as much in common with parents who shared childcare extra-maritally as with parents still under the same roof. These folks took turns, they had evenings, weekends, even vacations. Money came from multiple sources. Illness was allowed, emergencies absorbed, jobs sustained.


Wow! Even now, makes me breathless to contemplate.


I coined the term double parent to describe what I did. The guidebook, should you chance upon a copy, details how to be in two places at once. I never quite mastered this, though not for lack of trying.


When my daughter's temperature precluded preschool attendance, I should have been able to keep her in bed without cancelling my classes. So tucking her into the aqua Disney Ariel sleeping bag under the corner blackboard, though not listed as an option, worked as impromptu solution. My students didn't seem to mind their professor's distraction.


Midnight ER trips for ear infections had no effect on the 8 AM class schedule, so sleep deprivation extended a good many years beyond the preliminary infant feedings.


Downtime came after shopping, cooking, dinner, bathtime, reading library books,"Vinnie ze Pooh" bedtime stories, logic and term paper grading, the next day's lecture prep—about a quarter past exhaustion, falling onto my couch-bed. My daughter got the bedroom.


But none of this sounds weird or even looks bad! I know. None of this computes as extraordinary, as anything other than normal childcare. Regardless of culture and circumstance, "women's work" falls into a linguistic black hole such that the tiniest vestige of nontrivial labor is sucked out with venomous alacrity.

I once asked my mother what she would have done had my father disappeared. She didn’t understand the question. I asked my father. The “church women” would help if my mother hadn't been available! What was my problem?


At the time I remember thinking a lot about subsistence farming in underdeveloped countries. Go find a neighbor was not an option in middle-class white America. A few years into the tenure racket I wrote a grant for the San Diego Center for Women's Services, after interpreting for a Mozambique friend's domestic violence case. I listed what would have helped me get by: childcare, housecare, sickcare—adding eldercare completes what I now recognize as the fourfold creed of feminist economics. The "care" economy. What wives do, the unpaid work. Well, not really "work" since it's invisible. Somebody always does it! Non-GDP, therefore unaccounted for, as well as uncounted. Unless you're wealthy enough to pay for it, that is.


I've met only two other double parents, one from New Zealand and another from Seattle. We're pretty invisible out there, climbing an M. C. Escher staircase round and round, bumping elbows and feigning high-fives. Studies say we lose over a million dollars in lifetime pay for being single, and another million-plus for each child...owning and selling property tends to elude us. My old gedanken experiment comes back to haunt me, that all women cease working overnight, both paid and unpaid work, that the cheerleading pyramid of labor built upon our shoulders comes tumbling down....


Lately I've seen a number of lockdown articles about the "newly" revealed connection between work and childcare. You mean parents cannot go back to their jobs if their children are home from school? If all the daycares are closed? Who knew? Can't they just be in two places at once?


I love it when my daughter calls on Mother's Day.


I love it even more on Father's Day, when she calls to say, thanks Mom.


13 MAY 2020

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