Thorny Knits

I've got a husband, twin toddlers, a cat who I probably forgot to feed this morning, and never, ever enough time to knit.

9.19.2006

What's it worth to ya?

I had a discussion recently with a friend of mine, about whether pursuing activities you will never "excel" in or make money at is worthwhile.

He's never really had much occasion to work on something he wasn't naturally already pretty good at, and he also comes from an upbringing that prizes excellence and income over those little things like personal fulfillment and the like. Which, you know, different strokes and all that. But he's hit a bit of a slump lately, and we were talking about it, and I realized something kinda odd.

See, while my faithful blog readers don't often see it (count yourselves lucky), I often carry a pretty large chip on my shoulder about the way parenting is treated in this country. I mean, I'm never going to say that having a uterus is the sole determinant of a woman's destiny, because it's certainly not. This uterus was built for baby-building, these hips were made for birthin', these breasts were made for nursing, but none of that changes that this brain was made for thinkin', y'know? And the brain means I get to decide if I put the uterus and the rest to work or not, all by my smart little lonesome. Dammit.

But still - baby-making is an option, and it's something I've chosen to do. And while I don't expect a giant reward or something for it, I do think it's a friggin' crime that if I spend my days taking care of my own children, I'm a worthless freeloader, but if I spend my days taking care of someone else's children, I'm a hardworking, contributing citizen.

So on the one hand there are all these paeans to motherhood and how being a mother is so good and noble and yadda yadda, but at the same time the work mothers do is taken utterly for granted, and is assigned literally no value in our culture. Which bugs me. I hate that I bust my ass every day, not just feeding and diapering and keeping my kids from doing something completely boneheaded and dangerous, but also encouraging them to develop their physical skills, teaching them words and numbers and how the world works, and trying to shape their morals as well, with no guaranteed breaks, no guaranteed lunch, and then I get told loud and clear that all the work I do isn't "worth" anything.

Like I say, it's something I've got more than a small chip on my shoulder about. I try to be mature and all, but sometimes I'm more successful than others.

But so anyway, I was having this discussion recently with my friend, wherein I was encouraging him to think about what he wants to do, and never mind if he's all that good at it or if it'll make him money or any of that. He should just do what he wants to do. And the entire idea seemed really foreign to him.

And I realized that, for all that I still get really frustrated with the hypocritical way mothers are treated in our culture, and frustrated by the weird mix of adulation/utter disdain I get treated to, when people find out I'm an at-home mom, this time outside the world of paid work has given me something of an interesting perspective.

In fact, it kinda ties in with the stuff I was talking about the other day, to do with Judith Levine's Not Buying It. She stepped out of the capitalist world in terms of shopping, I've stepped out of it in terms of working for pay. But it's still the same thing - where you really begin to break that link between the "value" of something and the dollar amount assigned to whatever the item or service might be.

Just that we're so conditioned to think the dollar-cost is the best, and often only, way to determine what something is worth, that it's not always easy to really feel entitled to devote time or energy to something which doesn't add to the bottom line. As if "happiness" or "self-fulfillment" or "personal enrichment" are unworthy goals because they don't have a spot in the Assets column of our personal ledgers. And let's face it, the assumption in our culture is that anything that's not an asset must be a liability.

And so my friend really had a hard time grasping this idea of just doing something because you enjoy it, and never mind if you'll ever be "stellar" at it or if you'll ever make money from it.

It's something I've noticed, actually, as people in my life come to realize that this knitting thing is gonna stick around a while. Lots of people saying things like, "Ooh, you know, you could totally sell scarves to people online!" Which, you know, I appreciate that they think I do a good job at my knitting, but it's so NOT the point.

I knit because I like to. I'm not a full-on "process" knitter - I am pretty keen on the products I get at the end, after all - but I honestly think that I would in no way enjoy knitting for money. And not just because making something actually worth the time investment a knitted project requires would price it completely beyond what anyone would be willing to pay. It just... it's what I do for fun. It's what I do for ME.

When my kids were newborns, knitting was practically all I had that was simply for myself. I'd wind up sitting on the couch, with each kid balanced on a pillow on my lap, nursing or bottle-feeding them to sleep in the afternoons, and then I'd have a little time to myself. Except I couldn't move. I couldn't get up to pee, or take a shower, or get something to eat, or check my email or any of that. Because if the kids weren't right there, on top of me, they wouldn't nap for very long at all. An hour at best, 20 minutes at worst. But if I stayed right where I was and kept the TV volume turned kinda low, the kids would sleep for a couple of hours at a time.

Sometimes I'd just go to sleep right there with them. But as they got a bit older and would actually, you know, sleep at night (man, I remember what a miracle that seemed like at the time - it still makes me wanna cackle like someone who just escaped from the psych ward), I'd be wanting to actually /do/ something while they slept. And that's when I really got into knitting, after Meg (who just finished an amazing quilt, you should check it out) taught me several months before. It was my one way to do something for myself, even though I was still trapped under this little puppy-pile of sleeping babies. (Which is why all my early FOs were hats - I could knit them over the kids' heads without the fabric dangling onto their faces.)

Of course, knitting isn't the only thing that I do that sidesteps the traditional capitalist model of living. Breastfeeding as long as I have also kinda puts that whole thing on its head. The whole idea of doing something that I don't /have/ to do (according to many people), never mind that it's available for free, kinda leaves that whole "capitalism" thing out in the cold. And I think there are a lot of people who don't know quite how to handle situations like that.

Anyway. The point is that being in this weird limbo as far as "not working" right now gives me kind of a different perspective on things. I don't /have/ to look at everything as an asset or a liability. Or rather, there are things on my personal ledger that I think a lot of people don't have or don't allow themselves room for. Things like Happiness and Personal Enrichment, things which don't look good on a resume, which don't help pay the rent, which don't make for a quick one-sentence introduction at parties (not that I go to many, but you get the idea).

When I got pregnant, I never planned on leaving my job. Even when I found out I was having twins, the thought of leaving my job never occurred to me, not until I found out that losing my entire contribution to the household income would actually be less expensive than day care for twin infants. And I remember having a hard time adjusting to the notion of no longer having a 'job'. And then as I began to really experience how undersupported mothers are in our society, that chip on my shoulder began to grow.

But I still think it's the right decision for us. I still think my kids are better off and our whole family is better off by my being home. And I've come to appreciate some of the things I am able to do, some of the things I've been able to experience that I wouldn't have if I had gone back to work already. And now I'm appreciating the perspective all this has given me, the chance to really see (not just talk platitudes about) that the price tag assigned to something is at best only somewhat related to how worthwhile it may or may not be.

(ANTI-"MOMMY WARS" NOTE: Please, do not think I'm talking about any mother's decisions but my own here. Work for pay vs. stay at home are decisions all moms must make for themselves, and I would never presume to tell any woman that I know better than she what's best for her and her family. There are benefits and drawbacks to each, and I'm certainly not qualified to weigh all the pros and cons for anyone but myself.)

9 Comments:

  • At Tue Sep 19, 09:06:00 AM CDT, Blogger FemiKnitMafia said…

    This working non-bio-Mom says: I totally agree.

     
  • At Tue Sep 19, 10:05:00 AM CDT, Blogger Suze said…

    great post here. you know what's kind of funny: i'm in a field - music - where most people are doing it because it's what they are pulled to do. god knows no one gets into music for the money. talk to any musician about the career choice he/she made and one day out of three he/she will say something along the lines of "i'm so sick of not being able to afford health insurance/groceries/rent, sometimes i wish i'd gone to business school." the grass is always greener, i suppose.

     
  • At Tue Sep 19, 11:15:00 AM CDT, Anonymous Ivy said…

    That was increadibly insightful. You're so right. We've overvalued the dollar to the point where it rules rather than serves us and in so doing, we've undervalued life and joy and people. Thank you. I learned a lot from your blog entry.

     
  • At Tue Sep 19, 12:01:00 PM CDT, Blogger Aprilynne said…

    As a woman who has had all sorts of situations in life. Self Supporting Domestic Missionary, Full Time Career Woman, etc - Being a stay at home mom has been the hardest job I've ever had. The no guarenteed lunches, breaks or nights of sleep, not to mention that there is NO SUCH THING as a vacation for us OR a day off is a big part of why it's so hard. Relentless. At the same time, I've never been happier with my life. And if I continue to nurse my kids until they are ready to be weaned.... again, MY decision and no one's biz.

    I've got the chip, too =)

     
  • At Tue Sep 19, 12:49:00 PM CDT, Blogger Marz said…

    Bravo. Well written and articulated.

    I have a degree in costume design and I used it professionally for about two years before I got sick and tired of sewing for other people. It is an art and I still consider myself an artist but it is not something I want/can do for a career. I miss it sometimes but...

    Money is a necessary evil in our world (Rent/medical coverage and such) but personal happiness and fullfilment means so much more.

    Again, bravo.

     
  • At Tue Sep 19, 01:39:00 PM CDT, Anonymous meesh said…

    Amazing post, Thorny! So much to think about and respond to. As far as the monetary value put on being a mom, I agree, our society totally undervalues mothers. You are doing one of the hardest and most important jobs there is and it's ridiculous that we as a society don't recognize that. (btw, have you heard of MomsRising? http://www.momsrising.org )

    One of the things about feminisim that drives me crazy is that people assume that feminists are anti-kid/mom. So not true. Feminism is about women having the opportunity to choose what they want to do with their lives. And if that choice is to stay at home and be a mom, then that's ephin' amazing. I don't know if I could handle twins! lol

    How sad that your friend really had never considered what he really wants to do in life, not just what will make him money. I know that money is important. It's good to have the rent/mortgage paid and the bills not arriving on scary red paper. :) But it shouldn't be the only consideration. What kind of a life is that? I hope he at least finds a hobby or something that he can just do for the fun of it. Maybe you should lend him a pair of sticks and some yarn. Guys knit too these days!

    P.S. Thanks for the comment on my little blog. You should totally check out Gretchen Wilson. :)

     
  • At Tue Sep 19, 01:45:00 PM CDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was/am at at home/work at home mom.. my kids are 13 and 14 now and let me tell you, I do not regret 1 SECOND of the time I spent at home with them...
    It was the best "work" I've ever done.. and the hardest... being there to shape them into the humans they are today.

    I am so grateful I was able to stay home. I made wise choices.. it saddens me that many women aren't willing to "give something up" in order to stay home.

    -melody
    melomeals.blogspot.com

     
  • At Fri Oct 20, 05:12:00 AM CDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I love your post. What can I say, I've been an at home mom for years, and don't regret a second of it. I enjoyed seeing their first steps, their first words, their first.... everything.

    It's a choice. Living on one income means that I'm choosing not to purchase many things other people are chasing. But for the piddly price of staying home, I'm getting something more valuable.

     
  • At Fri Oct 20, 08:21:00 AM CDT, Blogger Abby said…

    I just found your blog through Two Sock Knitters blog, and I found myself nodding and hmmhmming along as I read.
    I do not yet have any children, but as an intern pastor in an inner-city, I can tell you that motherhood is neither superfluous nor worthless.
    Living so close to the edge, I can see the difference in the kids that have parents who are able to parent them and kids who don't. When we listen to a child read, the ones with parents who have the time and the know-how to work with their kids excel far past those without. You can tell by a child's behavior whether Mom or Dad has taught them about responsibility, morals, courtesy, or even about sneezing into their elbows or washing their hands. It's not to say that the ones with "present" moms are perfect- but the ones with "absent" moms lag so far behind, even at very tender ages, that it breaks my heart.
    Moving here has taught me that I have taken my middle-class upbringing and my very educated mother too much for granted.
    So a shout out to all the moms out there who are teaching your children about how to resolve a conflict peacefully, justice, speaking your mind and heart, and how to act with love toward brothers and sisters. May the Creator bless your hearts and your hands and your minds. And thank you for raising your sons and daughters in a loving and caring way.

     

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