The fractured afternoon of a stay-at-home parent

In recent months, it’s gotten easier to do my own projects around the house while alone with Miles. He’s grown more interested in mimicking what I’m doing. When I vacuum, he proudly retrieves his toy vacuum and follows me from room to room, even making sure to get under the bed.

The other day, after spending a half hour crawling around on my knees with a three-year-old and his trains, I decided it was time to “work together” in the attic.

Our attic office was supposed to remain a space apart from the house. A peaceful place where Travis or I can retire to forget about other household or kid-o concerns. But of course it has gradually attracted clutter: the baby gear we might one day need again, stacks of files, magazine clippings, empty picture frames, and potential images for the still-very-bare walls of our house. My goal for the day was to find something worthy of hanging on the wall of our newly painted bathroom.

With Miles relatively content to crash cars off a chair next to me, I started at the top of the pile with two copies of Parent‘s magazines from 1944, retrieved from grandma’s house before she moved. I found an ad that promoted eating candy because sugar builds strength.

And another that marketed kitchen appliances to liberate (white, middle class) women from the “trudgery” of domestic life.

I found these only after being interrupted about 10 times by requests to play bowling, get a snack, and find a play tool kit. It was also necessary to put an end to crashing that was getting out of hand. I tell myself there is some benefit, which I’ll one day reap, to learning how to get things done with such fractured attention. I’m sure it has changed the structure of my brain. It really is a different way of being.

I kept at the task, following my non-linear path (flip to page 12 of the magazine, pull out something new for Miles to do, run downstairs to get him a drink, back up to the attic and now on page 13). In the end I decided to use clips for the wall from another domestic 1940s magazine. A double-page spread of sewing instructions (below) seemed simpler, less burdened by irony, and they fit the frame better anyway. To get it framed and on the wall, I had to navigate a new obstacle course full of booby traps. With fractured consciousness comes a great deal of absentmindedness. I think I had to return to the basement four times to retrieve the right nails and picture hanger. Then when Miles saw me return with a hammer, he got out his own little hammer and insisted he be allowed to pound nails too. Grabbing ensued. I pushed away the recurring temptation to plant him in front of a video.

At school, they have “work” involving hammers, small nails, and peg boards. He loves this kind of thing lately. His teacher tells me it’s because he’s in the sensitive period for fine motor skills. So despite wanting to plow through and finally finish what had seemed, at the outset, like a simple task of framing a picture and hanging it, I decided to return to the basement in search of a piece of wood. I would let him put some nails into it.

At first I didn’t allow him to touch my hammer by himself so he, very resourcefully, got his own wooden play hammer. I figured it wouldn’t be strong enough to get the nail in, but he persevered. It was beautiful to watch him fall so deeply into the act of mastering the nail and the hammer.

He got the nail all the way into the wood, and he beamed. His dexterity surprised me, so I handed over the big hammer, wondering if we’d be visiting the hospital for a crushed thumb. He stepped up again, with care and concentration. A few crooked nails but no catastrophe. The only thing distracting him was me taking pictures, which does seem obnoxious. So I put away the camera.

About 90 minutes after starting, I hung the new picture while playing defense against Miles’ desire to hammer nails into the newly painted wall with me.

Then it was time to start dinner.


5 thoughts on “The fractured afternoon of a stay-at-home parent

    • It never fails to blow my mind when I realize, unlike any other job, this one is hard to master. There are certainly some skills and tactics I can trot out every now and again, but mostly it seems like being well rested, patient, and spontaneous are the things that count. And those are things I aspire to and only occasionally achieve.

  1. Man do I hear you on the fractured-ness of the day as a stay-at-home parent. It really is unlike anything else I’ve ever done.

    Also, is Miles in a Montessori school? Your description had me thinking that was a possibility. We’re looking that direction for Yogi and feeling pretty excited about it, thinking it will be a good fit for our family. I would love to hear your thoughts on the Montessori thing if 1) it applies to your family and 2) you have the time and inclination to discuss. You know…. perhaps you’ve written about this. Off to check that out.

    • Yes, Miles is going to a Montessori school, and we love it. I’d had a few friends who were Montessori educators, and after we visited the school here we immediately knew it was right for Miles. I have heard that every school is a bit different, even though they generally follow the same philosophy. (Makes sense.)

      I’d be more than happy to talk/email more about it offline — But here are a few reasons why I like Miles’ school:
      – The combination of freedom within structure. During the morning, they have almost two hours of time to do their “work,” any work they choose. An example of work is a small peg board with little shapes that can be nailed down. Or using tongs to pluck koosh balls from one ice cream dish to another. A more advanced project is using tiny push pins to push out the outline of all of the continents on paper, eventually adding the continent cut-outs to a world map. The kids are expected to put everything away and do the work on their own rug, which they must carefully roll out and put away when finished. As the kids grow older and indicate a readiness, the teacher will occasionally invite them for one-on-one lessons in things like counting, letter sounds, etc. They also do gym class, Spanish, and music.
      – The mixed-age classroom. It’s three-year-old’s through six-year-old’s. It’s super cool to see how the older kids gain confidence from growing up through that environment, mastering new things, and then taking the younger kids under their wings.
      – It’s not play-based. I found this to be a divide in the schools we looked at. And I can certainly understand why some parents want different things. I guess play-based schools are what they sound like—less structure, more play time, albeit organized around themes, activities, and reading time. Maybe because I’m a stay-at-home parent, I feel like Miles gets plenty of play time and it seemed clear to me he was ready for a new level of stimulation. I have to confess, because he’s particularly active, I worried a little that he’d have a hard time eventually in school….I like how Montessori helps kids learn self regulation early within a framework that lets them explore their own interests.
      – The emphasis on peacefulness and conflict resolution. If one kid feels another kid hurt him or her, they invite the other to the “peace table.” At our school, there’s one rock on the table. Whoever holds the rock can speak about why their feelings got hurt, but then must listen to the other kid. It can sound a little too hippy-dippy, but I really like how it models communication. If the teachers are good at monitoring and staying tuned, I think it can work especially well to check agressive kids.

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