When I became a mother I pictured the standard baby-care tasks: changing diapers, nursing or giving bottles, cooking nutritious and delicious meals. What I didn’t picture were the dozens of seemingly unrelated tasks that are folded into the work of parenting. Below, seven other jobs that I didn’t know were part of being a mother.
1. Haz Mat Specialist. Before I had kids, I saw the detergent ads on the TV just like everyone else. But I didn’t know that “protein stain” is a dog whistle to mothers, letting us know which laundry soaps will remove even the most disgusting emissions. Also, I’ve gotten really fast at scrubbing vomit off walls in the middle of the night.
2. Chief Archivist. I am not an organized person. I agonize over how the file cabinet should be alphabetized; I leave bills in stacks and pay them only when my desk is awash with third notices. So the volume of artwork, keepsakes, and mementos that come with kids has been overwhelming to say the least. Every day I stand with some potential treasure in my hand, like the notebook we recorded my first son’s wet and dirty diapers, five years ago (“1:20 poop. 1:45 poop. 2:15 poop. 4:00 no poop in over an hour, called the pediatrician. 4:20 poop.”) and decide whether to store it or toss. The same goes with each of the 971 drawings my son generates every day.
3. Flight Attendant. This job is mainly characterized by how many times I have to buckle someone into place, and then be hauled out of my seat repeatedly to slake the thirst of a surly person who’s had way too much to drink already. Also I’m really good at pretending to be cheerful even when enraged.
4. Water Bottle Researcher/Tester. In 5 years, I have spent $923 dollars on sippy cups and water bottles. At this point I have given up on finding any that don’t leak, can be opened by the child by himself, and don’t grow colonies of mildew in the various valves and straws.
5. Social Secretary. I grew up in the free-range 70’s and 80’s. I don’t think my mother knew the names of my friends until I was college-aged. Before that, if I wanted to see a little playmate, I walked or biked over to their house and rang the doorbell. For my kids, I have an extensive network of moms and kids and playdates, not to mention the web of after-school activities. My calendar looks like the scrawlings of an insane person trying to puzzle out the electoral college.
6. Hoarders’ Removal Specialist. This is a companion job to Chief Archivist. We four live in an apartment my husband used to live in alone, and even then he was a little cramped. This means I have to make regular sweeps of stuff because we just. don’t. have. enough. space. I’m pretty ruthless about broken toys, ripped pop-up books, all the school drawings from 2 years ago. But it means that just about every month I’m sorting and junking a couple of bags of trash and Goodwill stuff.
7. Valet. For people who have extensive, well-tended, and well-organized wardrobes, the “turning of the closet” is a twice-yearly ritual in which the off-season’s clothes are placed into storage and the coming season’s clothes are taken out of storage. Now, I’ve never participated in this practice, preferring to leave my crummy, summer Old Navy pants mixed in with my crummy, winter Old Navy pants all year round. But when you have small kids, every October and April, say, brings basically a day’s labor of clearing out the too-small clothes, discarding the outgrown ones (or storing them for another baby), opening up the stored clothes for kid #2, and buying what #1 needs.
I’ve come to think of “mother” as an umbrella term, containing all these sub-jobs within it. To be honest, I like most of these tasks, and I’m a more organized, capable person now than I was pre-kids. And also, I’ve gotten really good at getting out protein stains.