“What do you do?” Stay-at-home mom answers her daughter

Coming from a daughter, the question takes on new significance. Photo: UK Ministry of Information, public domain

CHICAGO, June 28, 2013 — Having spent years picking two boys up after school with conversations like this:


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Mom: “How was your day?”

Son: “Fine.”

Mom: “What did you do in school?”

Son: “Nothing.”


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I longed for the day when my daughter would hop in the car after school with a big smile on her face and share the exciting details of her day with me. She’s a talker.

I almost had it for a while there. Then she became a teenager.

She falls into the car at 5:30 exhausted after a long day of school, sports practice and drama rehearsals (what teenage girl on the planet needs to rehearse drama?), and the conversation goes something like this:

“Mom: “How was your day?”


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Daughter: “Fine.”

Mom: “What did you do in school?”

Daughter: “Nothing.”

Maybe she learned it from her brothers. Maybe they really aren’t doing anything in school. Maybe they all just need more sleep. Obviously, it’s not a boy/girl difference.

The girl does, however, add her own twist to it. She follows that “Nothing” with “What did you do?”

Ugh.

It’s a question dreaded by moms who stay home, whether by choice or necessity. But it’s especially hard to answer from a teenage daughter. She’s got her whole life ahead of her. She’s making decisions about who she wants to be and where she wants to go and what she wants to do. She’s excited. She’s nervous. She’s alive and enthusiastic and seeking out the world through senses heightened by growing confidence and curiosity (and hormones). And she’s watching you.

“What did you do, Mom?”

Truthfully, I intentionally rolled out of bed just in time to drive her to school. Getting up any earlier would have meant refereeing bathroom battles between her and her brother, countless rounds of “Mom! Have you seen my calculator/blue jacket/phone/etc.,” and making my 2,485th school lunch. If “What did you do?” is the dreaded question, making the school lunch is the dreaded morning activity. There was one school lunch that was a joy to make, but it involved a bunch of rocks and an impetuous 12-year-old who had misbehaved in front of Santa.

But back to the question at hand.

After dropping her at school, I returned home to load the dishwasher with last night’s dinner dishes, which meant putting off a shower because there’s not enough hot water for both. Coffee, yogurt, check the emails, out the door. Bank, groceries, post office. That’s more than an hour in the car before lunch. Shower (Finally!), load the laundry, call the orthodontist, the insurance company, and my own mom as I start prepping the vegies for dinner. Realize the living room/family room never got straightened up. Put away the pretzels, dance the dirty dishes to the kitchen (Katy Perry was on the radio), hide the computer charger that wasn’t supposed to be left out. “Yes, Dear, I know where it is, and if you had put it away, so would you!”

As I grabbed the mop to tackle the black, fuzzy stuff I discovered growing on the floor behind the toilet, I wondered what kind of example I’m setting. Someday, if she’s lucky, the girl is going to have to decide between her career and staying home. Should I have stayed on the career path and been the dynamic, successful woman I see the potential for in her?

I contented myself with the fact that, like my mother before me, I’m doing my best. Then I grabbed rubber gloves and a face mask before heading back to the bathroom. That stuff looks like it might fight back.

Back in the car to take the team equipment to practice, along with a snack. Whoever decided 10:30 a.m. is a good time for a school lunch should be the one providing the snacks, don’t you think? Home again to get dinner started, back to practice to pick up the equipment and the girl and hear the question.

“What did you do today?”

I listened to you stand up for yourself when someone tried to back you down. Today the bathroom, tomorrow the boardroom. I let you deal with the consequences of your actions with complete faith in your capabilities. Keep track of the calculator, and someday soon you may be trusted with the car keys.

I cut corners, juggled finances, attacked killer bacteria (and won, I think), provided sustenance, maintenance, and opportunities for you to grow. I marveled that you added craisins and last night’s leftover pork to salad greens and found a small container for some raspberry vinaigrette. Nice alternative to PB&J.

What did I do today?

I kept house, home and family intact as children and father/husband went out and took on the world. I spent one more day doing whatever I could to turn that screaming ball of flesh that came out of my body into a competent, caring adult.

My job is almost done. Then I’ll go to work.

Read more from Julia Goralka at End of the Day and Here, There, and Everywhere.

Leave a comment below or contact Julia via Facebook at www.facebook.com/julia.goralka or through Twitter @Julia_Goralka.The Ask Me a Question link above hasn’t worked since it was hacked a while back.


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Julia Goralka

In addition to her work at The Communities, Julia Goralka is a free-lance novel editor and has served as a volunteer board member or committee member for several local charitable organizations. Prior to writing and editing, Julia was the Division Coordinator for the interest rate derivatives marketing desk at a large financial institution based in Chicago.

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