I woke up sick and in pain at six o’clock this Sunday morning. I spent my first hour rotating between the bathroom and my bed, uncomfortable in either. I stood for a long time in the hot shower, hoping it would ease things.
By seven I started a load of laundry, and sang Loretta Lynn while scrubbing the dishes. Then another bathroom trip. Around eight I started writing my first blog post of the day, two hours after waking.
I cleaned up the mess that always happens in the kitchen, moved my clothes to the dryer. I went to three bathroom, then bagged up trash for my son to take to the dumpster and cajoled him into taking it.
I finished my first post, nearly threw up, and started browsing news stories for my next topic. Four hours after waking. Sick again. Then folding the clean laundry, assigning my son to pick up his toys, and another trip to the bathroom. Time to clean the litter box. Tell my son for the eighth time to put away his laundry. Find the strength to write more. Go to the bathroom.
When these chores are done, I have errands to do but no car, so I will be walking over two miles, just as soon as I think my guts can stand the journey. Putting it off isn’t an option, and taking a ride costs ten dollars, which is ten more than I can afford to spend.
This is my morning most mornings, trying to balance work and domestic chores with a complete lack of health. Plus parenting! People say “I don’t know how you do it!” I don’t think they comprehend how little choice I have.
If I don’t do it, no one will. If I don’t clean, I will live in filth. If I don’t earn, I will be back on the street. If I don’t meet my son’s needs, the world will stand in judgment but not meet those needs in my stead. I don’t have family in town or a romantic partner. The other biological parent earned a restraining order for making kidnapping threats so I don’t get every other weekend to sleep in.
It’s an endless, relentless job that I don’t get paid for and I can’t take a single day off from, no matter how awful I feel or how mutinous my body behaves. I love being my son’s mom and I love him, but we’re in a world so hostile to mothers, I can’t mention my exhaustion without that disclaimer.
And that disclaimer, that love parents have for our children, is used to justify keeping us and our children poor. It’s okay not to pay mothers because they love what they do, goes the thinking. Never mind that everyone else caring for or educating children is at least nominally paid for doing so. Even the best parents get sick or have accidents. We all need the occasional sick day off.
In a world with guaranteed minimum income and/or living wage stipends for custodial parents, I could pay a nanny or a babysitter to help clean my house and entertain my child while I work. I could take sick days off from both earning money writing and my unpaid job as mom. Instead we pretend parents are superhumans unaffected by the germs our kids constantly bring home.
And so I write.