Career and Family
By Chastity Lillicreme
December 27, 1999
No working mother who balances the demands of a career and a family on a daily basis is a stranger to stress. Sometimes everything in the world seems to be happening at once. I've had mornings where the editor is on the phone demanding a column that's a month late, my daughters are fighting about whose breasts are more scrumptious, my husband is honking the horn while he warms up the car in the garage, and through all this I'm trying to hold my howling dog's tail in the garbage disposal. It's enough to make me want to grab a handful of my own hair and yank out a good-sized bloody clump, but that wouldn't hurt anybody but me, and thus wouldn't be very productive.
When the pressures of life get to be too much for me, instead of exploding in a blind rage that will get me sent back to Elan House, I just step back, take a breath, and light a couple cigarettes. This technique got me through my wedding, two rough pregnancies and a dark couple months where I impersonated a nurse at the local hospital in order to steal prescription drugs.
It's this little trick that enables many mothers to handle stress in a way that doesn't involve drugs or harm their health. So the gas pump dribbled all over your new skirt right before the board meeting? Grab a cigarette. The baby's been crying all night waiting for someone to change its lipstic? Grab a cigarette. The husband's cheating on you with a girl you teach in your sixth grade class? Grab a cigarette. Again? Grab two.
But what do we do when our kids come to us with watered-down, trivial kiddie versions of the same problems? Some mothers would say hey, give 'em a cigarette. But I don't live in a trailer court and neither do my children -- they will NOT be smoking unless they either need to lose few pounds fast or induce a miscarriage, and even then not until they're at least sixteen.
This very question arose at my house about two weeks before Christmas vacation began, as my daughter Jennifer appeared to be becoming stressed over final tests and end-of-semester projects. I confronted her and told her I thought she needed to rest. "Pay me to rest you heartless bitch," she retorted with a twitch, "you never loved me!" This got me to thinking; why the heck shouldn't I pay my sweet little angel to take a break from her studies? I expect my daughter to earn good grades, stay away from drugs, warm my newspaper every morning and even scrub the undercarriage of my minivan with her own toothbrush, all for free. Why not, if she needs rest, reward her for resting? At the very worst, I figured, she would learn that taking time away from work is valuable, and at the best, I hoped her hair and teeth would stop falling out, at least not so rapidly.
After considering it over dinner, which on my new diet consists of two cigarettes and a shot of bourbon, I told my daughter I would pay her ten dollars if she would rest all weekend before the last week of the semester. But, I made clear, if I were going to be forking over ten dollars, I wanted to be absolutely certain she was resting. Jennifer would be expected to remain in bed the entire weekend, with a fifteen minute break every four hours in which not to rest and a half an hour for a supervised lunch that would consist of no more than a health shake and an apple.
Our arrangement began on Friday night. It was difficult to establish a rhythm that worked for both of us, but eventually I fell into the groove of checking her every ten minutes to make sure she was not doing any work and hadn't rolled over. I was forced to change the rules a bit to say that no lights would be allowed on in the room after I discovered she had been counting the dots on the wallpaper. Saturday morning brought an interesting problem, as Jennifer complained she had to go to the bathroom, but didn't have another scheduled break for two hours and fifteen minutes. Luckily, I had an old catheter tucked away in the closet from my days of impersonating a nurse. It was a little rusty, but it still worked adequately with just a minor leak or two.
By Sunday afternoon, Jennifer looked very relaxed. The dark circles had vanished from under her eyes, and I noticed some promising bedsores forming on the backs of her shoulders. When it was all over and Jennifer climbed out of bed Monday morning, I was rewarded with a brand new daughter. This Jennifer wasn't the girl I had become accustomed to over the last fourteen years. This Jennifer wasn't blinking and twitching uncontrollably, shouting random obscenities at the television and hiding burnt teaspoons under her bed. She seemed to have a new life inside her, a new vigor, and a crisp ten dollar bill in her pocket which I hope she spent on study materials but suspect she blew on speed pills. Sigh.
But the experiment was a success; Jennifer got all her final projects completed and received the straight A's required to keep me loving her. And I had reassured myself that while our society may be putting more and more stress on our kids as the pace of life continues to speed up in the new millennium, we mothers will always be there to slow things down and help our kids savor the fleeting moments of childhood.
So what do you think? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any tips or insights on how you help your kids deal with stress.
Until next time, may love and reason guide you,
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