The Productivity Conundrum

As soon as the baby goes down for her nap, it’s time to be “productive.” Unload the dishes. Switch the laundry. Reply to emails. Place an order on Amazon. Sweep up the never-ending sea of crumbs under the dining room table. Prep dinner. Pack afternoon snacks. I have approximately two hours before she wakes up, at which point I will struggle to extract her from the house to pick up her siblings from school.

Why is taking care of children not productive? Why does it eat into worthwhile and necessary activities and chores? And am I the only one who just noticed how fucked up that is?

My horror at this late-breaking revelation is that three kids in, I have not considered taking care of my kids as a “productive activity.” And as a stay-at-home mom, this might be pivotal in my descending sense of self worth.

I think that most of us want to feel productive and accomplished. Even on days that we do “nothing,” we deem it necessary to categorize our lack of productivity as “catching up on rest,” and self-indulgent activities like pedicures are labeled as valuable “me time.” But what do we call days spent wiping butts and managing tantrums and ending with chicken nuggets and carrot sticks? A day I got nothing done.

Today was a painful reminder of this ingrained undervalue of childcare. I have two sick kids at home. And not just sick – hand, foot,and mouth sick – often referred to as the devil child disease. So clearly I wasn’t going anywhere. I was trapped at home with a baby, who although is finally on the mend, still has painful sores, and my 4-year-old, who began his rapid decline into sickness and devil-dom last night with a significant fever.

But I was the one drowning in despair by 9:45 this morning. I had plans for today – Zumba at the YMCA, grocery shopping, preparing for a weekend trip to Tahoe, the endless tidying up, and maybe even a little writing. I accomplished none of that.

I did, however, wash sweat-soaked sheets, bake blueberry muffins so my 4-year-old could lick the bowl for an hour (and yes, he will spend an entire hour licking a bowl), hard boiled and dyed Easter eggs so the kids could spend 5 minutes applying stickers before losing interest in the process and deciding they would rather eat the eggs, granting the baby control of the all-purpose cleaning spray if she let me clean the bathroom counters, finally broke open the brand new purple play doh, and allowed an unprecedented amount of TV watching because sick kids should be allowed to binge watch cartoons.

So why do I feel so unproductive? Why do I struggle to value my contributions?

It also happens to be the first day of spring, and like clockwork, a pair of finches has moved into our little bird house out front. Having claimed this house as theirs for the season, they got right to work, finding the perfect twigs for their nest, hidden safely from the aggressive blue jays that will try and fail to gain access to the little house and the eggs and chicks that are coming soon,

Mama bird here isn’t looking for validation for her contributions to society. She is just doing her mama bird business – preparing that nest for her babies and protecting them from harm. She will even regurgitate worms into her chicks’ mouths without having an existential crisis in this process. Her role and responsibilities are her nature and she doesn’t deny them.

I trust that I am a bit more complicated than my feathered friend, but I might try and emulate the grace and fierceness with which she approaches her role as a beautiful and productive mother to some very lucky chicks.

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