The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 27, 2005


Having fun whether you want to or not: A day in the life of a (usually) happy parent

Because the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory in Waterbury, Vermont, is on the way to many other Vermont destinations and kids love it, we've stopped there three or four times in the past few years. Toward the end of the very informative factory tour, you reach an industrial kitchen in which sits a woman surrounded by spoons. The tour guide explains that she is one of the company's official ice cream tasters. Inevitably, some member of the tour group will say, "Boy, that sounds like a tough job, ha ha! You mean she really just sits there and tastes ice cream all day?"

Sure, it sounds like a good jobbut it doesn't take more than a few moments of contemplation for even the most obtuse tourist to realize what the catch is. Yes, she gets to taste ice cream all day. Moreover, she has to taste ice cream all day. It's her job. On days she feels fat. On the day after Thanksgiving. On days she'd rather eat carrots all day, or Camembert, or go on a juice fast. No matter what kind of day she's having, her job is to eat ice cream.

I find myself thinking about the ice cream taster a lot lately, because it's the best metaphor I can come up with for what my life as a stay-at-home mother of two children is really like. We go to the library, the playground, we visit friends, we host playdates, we take walks, we bake cookies. We play and have fun all day. And yes, just like tasting ice cream as a profession, it's wonderful — except on those days I'd rather be doing something else. Like folding laundry, or researching the food pyramid, or balancing my electronic checkbook, or interviewing the producer of a new independent film. Sometimes I remember what it was like to go into an office every day and fill the hours with trivial paperwork and superficial conversation, and I think to myself, This is so much more enjoyable, so much more satisfying. But once in a while, I'm tired of having fun and want to go back to inserting commas and debating hyphen usage just one more time.

I was thinking about this yesterday, toward the end of what had been a quintessentially fun-filled day. My younger child had playgroup, so we passed the morning with ten other toddler/mom pairs we like; then we strolled up to the school to pick up my kindergartner. After lunch, we spent an hour at the library, then dropped by the playground for a little while. We were still there when the middle school baseball team started setting up for a practice, so my son, an avid sports fan, suggested we stay. He stood glued to the fence watching seventh and eighth graders practice fly balls; he couldn't have been more captivated had we been at Fenway Park.

This is definitely better than office work, I found myself thinking. It's almost like being on vacation. But as I looked around the baseball field, I couldn't help noticing something. Since it was a practice rather than a game, no one else was watching. The only adult in sight was the baseball coach. I wondered what all the players' mothers were doing right then. When you have a thirteen-year-old, you don't have to play and have fun all day. You can go do something else while they're at baseball practice. You can write, or do an errand, or look something up at the library, or fold laundry. You can have an office job without paying for childcare.

I wondered what those same mothers thought as they drifted by at the end of the practice to pick up their sons. Did they see me and think, "Those were the days, spending hours in the sun, at the playground, blowing bubbles, having fun. Never worrying about MCAS scores or peer pressure..."? Or did they instead recall what it's like to have small people follow you into the bathroom on a regular basis?

Mindful parenting is so important, but so hard to do sometimes. I remind myself constantly to live in the present, to realize that the best times I'll ever have might very well be these days right now. Maybe by the time my son is old enough to be dropped off at baseball practice, I'll be back in the office environment by necessity, working harder than ever as I make my way through the trivial paperwork and the insignificant workplace conversations.

I wonder if the ice cream taster had a good day today, and if she ever gets tired of people telling her she has the best job in the world. She might very well agree with them. But I bet there are some days when she just looks into her ice cream spoon and sighs.

Lovingly, of course.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito