Monthly Archives: July 2021

Bathroom business

As first-time pet rabbit owners, we’ve learned a lot these past few months about what it means to have a free-range bunny in the house. Cecil is an amazing pet in many ways but does possess a laundry list of behaviors that we’d prefer to eliminate if possible. One of these is a strange pattern that appears to be cyclical; he’ll go weeks without depositing his little round pellets of excrement outside of his litter boxes, followed by a week or so when he feels compelled to mark all of his favorite spots in the house multiple times a day. The little pellets aren’t really that bad; in fact, we all agree that they are less repellent than guinea pig scat, and we’ve certainly seen worse having diapered three children. Not to expound too much on this subject, but the pellets are almost perfectly spherical and, because his diet consists primarily of dried grass, they essentially lack moisture and odor. I think of them like miniaturized hay bales, though I realize this may be a somewhat euphemistic interpretation as a way to minimize my annoyance at having to pick up after him repeatedly during these phases.

Another example of unwelcome behavior is his constantly being underfoot, begging to be picked up and petted. He’d be content on a lap with a human hand stroking his fur for hours upon hours every day; I think it’s realistic to say that he literally cannot get enough of this kind of attention. He follows me everywhere I go, or at least tries to, licking and nipping at my ankles as a way of begging for my palm’s undivided devotion. Based on the success we’ve experienced having added a second guinea pig to our milieu, we’ve been on the lookout for another bunny to hopefully ameliorate Cecil’s physical attention deficit, thinking that the benefits of increasing our menagerie would outweigh the detriments. In perusing Craigslist, I came upon this post:

At first, I thought this was completely preposterous. Here was a person trying to SELL his or her pet dung, going so far as to buy bags with cellophane windows to showcase the very thing I literally threw in the garbage every single day, and composing an almost poetically scientific paragraph on its benefits. When I got to the word “tea”, I almost laughed out loud. When I showed the post to my husband when he got home, he branded it “genius”, which made me think. Was this actually a good idea? Had I been foolish to dispose of so many litter boxes full of this stuff, ignorant of its horticultural benefits? I had a vision of myself at a booth at a farmer’s market, sitting on a folding chair and petting Cecil while my children merchandised the fruits of his digestive system, aided by “before” and “after” pictures of my plants to corroborate the utility of our wares. It was laughable, I know, but what an idea: marketable waste! People buy all sorts of crap, so why not see if they’ll buy the real thing?!

I don’t think I’ll get into the business of peddling poop, but this idea did reframe the way I began to consider Cecil’s territorial demarcation habits. Now, when I go around with a tissue to collect the deposits, rather than double back to throw them in the trash can, I drop them into the nearest potted plant (there is no shortage of those in this house). If the Craigslist poster will go to such lengths to sell the stuff, certainly it can’t hurt to try using what’s literally on hand. Now the nuisance of removing his leavings from the floor seems less of a chore because I see it as our pet doing his part to help fertilize. And maybe I’m imagining it, but I swear these plants are looking more enriched and prosperous than ever, perhaps due to the salubrious seasoning supplementing the soil.

As for the Craigslist vendor, I hope he or she is successful in this uncommon entrepreneurial venture. I do appreciate that one of the images included in the post captures the creature whose biology is responsible for its owner’s unlikely source of income, despite the fact that the animal appears nonplussed. I can’t really blame the little guy, though; who WOULD want pictures of their feces pasted up all over the internet?

Fortune in our own backyard

We decided a couple of years ago to cultivate a clover yard, as we were already well on the way there with a few patches of the deep green stuff elbowing the grass out of the way. One patch in particular really captured our fancy because, besides being viridescent and healthy and plush underfoot, it produces an unbelievable number of four-leaf clovers (and many five- and six-leafers too!). All one has to do is stand in it and look down, and in only a few seconds the eyes will fall on at least one of these lucky little plants. I say “lucky” because I imagine that a clover with more than three leaves, by virtue of the extra surface area favoring photosynthesis, has an evolutionary leg up on its lesser-leafed brethren. These clovers are also remarkable because they’re botanical behemoths; I’m not exaggerating when I say some are broader than my palm from leaf tip to leaf tip. Every year, this crop of uncommon clover yields more four-plus-leaf clovers in a month than I ever imagined a person being able to find in his or her lifetime. It felt like a crime to consider mowing it, so we left it to flower and bid it be fruitful and multiply.

Slowly the patches are growing larger and closer to each other, kind of like a reverse Pangaea situation, each continent of clover enlarging its hegemony over the yard until some point a few years in the future when they will converge, having ousted the graminaceous government of grass completely. We’ve let the dandelions stay, too, and a few swaths of purple dead nettle and hairy bittercress punctuate the parcel. Not only is this a happily organic feast for the eyes, but it’s also a ready (and free!) source of nourishment for our guinea pigs (yes, there is a second one of those now that the preschool petsitting job turned into a foster care and then adoption scenario) and Cecil, our houserabbit. We love the wild carpet out back, and so do a few other precious animals, particularly the bees and my mother. She described our yard as “lush, verdant, interesting, countable, soft green”, which I think is just about perfect.

Ever the speculative opportunist, I wondered if there were some way to capitalize monetarily on the multiplicity of many-leaved clover our yard produces, so naturally I typed the inquiry into Google, hoping against all odds that there was a seller’s market for them somehow. I wrote in the search bar: “can I make money with four leaf clovers”, and the internet immediately responded to my question in that way it has of providing the answer to a different question as a way of telling you that your question has no easily accessible precedent to provide a basis for an actual answer. That’s right: what came up were several different tutorials for making a clover out of money, which is basically the converse of what I wanted to know. As for my original inquiry, please let me know if you have any ideas because it sure would be great to turn this molehill of greenscape into a mountain of greenbacks.

P.S. For you origami enthusiasts out there, here’s what I got from the worldwide web and its sardonic sense of humor:

On the occasion of Cornelia’s twelfth birthday 2.0

Last spring, the second graders were learning about Thomas Jefferson, and Summerly came home to tell me that one of her teachers had read to them the list of twelve pieces of advice he’d given to his granddaughter. She didn’t remember specifics, but after they went to bed I looked this up, thinking it was just the kind of thing I might find useful, or at least interesting. Here’s what I found on the official Monticello site:

According to the site, Jefferson gave this list to his granddaughter, Cornelia, when she turned twelve. It’s important to remember the context here; this advice was compiled over two centuries ago, and the world looks drastically different now than it did then. Racially, socially, politically, practically, technologically, psychologically, ideologically: our perspective today is unrecognizable as compared to the conceptual landscape of the early nineteenth century, and rightfully so. Having said that, and with no disrespect to old TJ (well, aside from the whole Sally Hemings and slaveholding bit), I politely beg to wildly differ, and I can’t help feeling a little sorry for little Cornelia, who no doubt incorporated these pompous postulates graciously provided by her august and influential grandfather into her life as she two-stepped into womanhood. In her memory, here is a line-by-line response for girls in modern times:

  1. Unless it’s something you really want to do today, if it’s not one of your carefully-considered topmost priorities, it can most likely wait until tomorrow. Sometimes it helps to write it down for the next day to aid intentionality.
  2. If you can handle it without feeling overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted, lonely, under-appreciated, or desperate, handle it if that feels right and doesn’t do a disservice to yourself or others in the long run. Otherwise, recognize and express that you would like help, even if you don’t absolutely need it.
  3. It’s theoretically a good idea to avoid debt, but if you have no choice, look into options for financing, and shop around for a credit card with a low APR and airline mile options. Never miss a monthly payment, and bring your balance to zero as soon as you can. Also, it’s usually wiser to pay a mortgage than monthly rent.
  4. This one is perplexing due to the comma splice and the dual meaning of the word “dear”, but here’s a fresh take: usually you get what you pay for, but sometimes you pay for what you get. Definitely include gift receipts when that’s an option.
  5. I’m not sure what to make of this one, honestly. There are so many ways to interpret it that instead I’ll say this: keep the change. (I’m not talking about money.)
  6. These couple hundred years have wrought transformation upon the notion of “pride”. The word itself has been reappropriated, rendering its meaning basically bereft of the negative connotations it once implied. Now we use more specific words to express the trappings of excessive pride as insinuated by Jefferson here (words like self-aggrandizing, inflexible, close-minded, uncompromising, or having either a fixed mindset or a superiority complex). Nowadays every person deserves to feel a sense of pride as a derivative of accomplishments earned, however small, as long as we understand that possessing pride is not a contraindication of a sense of humility. If we keep those in equilibrium and act accordingly, harmony is the byproduct of balance.
  7. Ah, another example of the evolution of language is evident here; in recent years the portmanteau “hangry” has crept into our vernacular. If you know what that means, then you know a person can indeed repent from having eaten too little. Never underestimate the power of a banana and a glass of milk.
  8. There will be countless times in your life that you’ll do things willingly despite the fact that they are troublesome. Be cautious about overcommitting, however, and use the word “yes” parsimoniously when the net inconvenience outweighs the net benefit, particularly as it relates to interactions with people outside of your nearest and dearest.
  9. It’s human nature to worry about outcomes, to consider misfortune, disaster, even tragedy. In some ways it’s healthy to allow our brains to explore worst-case scenarios as a kind of defense mechanism against the shock of disappointment or being blindsided by distress because the surprise factor can intensify the negative effects of such an eventuality. It can be comforting to feel prepared, mentally and logistically, especially if you are someone who like to have a plan. However, dwelling on the catastrophe potential of any given situation doesn’t usually do much good. It’s that beauty of fine balance again: don’t be afraid to wonder if things will end badly if it feels like taking out insurance against gratitude, but don’t devote the occupation of your thoughts exclusively to it lest you contribute to manifesting that unwelcome outcome. Think also of how things can end well.
  10. This one makes me laugh. Is it a metaphor? Either way, I think it’s a pretty solid piece of advice, but first make sure that the handle is properly affixed to whatever you’re trying to take. If a handle appears innocuous but might come off in your grasp, thereby compromising the integrity of the whole, maybe try securing what you’re hoping to attain by supporting it from underneath. Use both hands, and lift with your legs, not your back.
  11. Practice tolerance of those who do not share your opinions, and offer them grace in whatever ways you can. This does not mean that you should shy away from confrontation if it’s approached holistically with the objective of learning through listening, sharing, and thinking in equal parts. If we ignore different perspectives or refuse to engage in discourse surrounding points of disagreement, we cannot evolve. If we reject opportunities for interchange, we choose stagnation and avoidance over interpersonal ignition and reactivity, the fission and fusion that further civilization. Conflagration yields new growth. My answer to “can’t we all just get along?” is yes, we probably can. But we shouldn’t. Not all the time. It certainly won’t make us happy.
  12. The dozenth canon has withstood the test of time. This one is easier said than done, however, and I’ll also add that taking deep breaths while counting doubles down on the effects of this strategy. And while you count, it can’t hurt to reach for a banana and a glass of milk or, if you’re counting to 100, consider swapping out the milk for some ice cream.


Recently Summerly expressed interest in learning ASL, so I pounced on the opportunity and excavated my Baby Signs books from the now very narrow section of “parenting babies” references I’ve kept in the basement. She thumbed through one book and came upon a photograph tucked into the pages. As soon as she handed it to me, the memory came back: I was staying at my mom’s house on a visit to Virginia while living in Connecticut over ten years ago, sitting on her sofa and learning some new ways to communicate with my new son. As a bookmark I was using a photograph I’d found in an old album earlier that day because I felt it was the perfect portrait of parenthood. Here it is, fresh from October of 1982:

The little boy was a neighbor, and the woman reflected in the glass is his mother. I could write a novella on this image, beginning with the boy’s bowl cut, his little fingers gripping the muntin on the door, his baby belly under that shirt with lap shoulders surely made by Gerber, the expression of guileless bemusement he’s wearing. And his mother’s mouth, just visible behind the camera, sporting a smile so broad it creases a circumflex into her cheek as she’s perched on the balls of her sockfeet in a squat to capture her child at eye level. Not to be overlooked is the fact that they’re on opposite sides of a door that is also a window while the lens of her attention is focused on him, on freezing that moment in time onto film, while he gazes elsewhere. There’s also the gauzy, ethereal feeling to the light, partly due to the double exposure–a photograph taken on top of a photograph–which is so often how parenthood feels. Here you are, beholding this human who may bear your resemblance in some fashion but is completely his or her own person, embodying a form that you only know how to see through your own eyes. There’s yet another door and another window in one of the exposures or the other, evidence of passages beyond and through, avenues that sometimes beckon and sometimes repel, pathways that can be closed with intention, opened in invitation, or locked against our every inclination.

And there’s that line of fire licking up at the linoleum along the bottom edge, no doubt the result of light landing on the film when someone opened the back of the camera before the roll had rewound safely back into the blackness of its canister, a reminder that light, while essential to creating a photograph, has the power to burn. Used in just the right applications and amounts, it can create a beautiful composition but, just like so many other things, can wreak ruin if administered in deleterious ways. There’s that child-sized table and chair set in the second exposure (or is that an ironing board?), and what I’m almost positive is a little forlorn-looking white poodle tucked almost impossibly under the contour of the woman’s upraised arm: signs of life, of work and play, of so much else going on to operate the functionality of a family.

After inspecting this photograph for very many minutes, I began to wonder: is the woman reflected in the glass in the first exposure as I’d initially assumed, or was her image part of the second exposure overlaid atop the first? Was she the photographer capturing her son as he stood there on the threshold, or was her image secondarily applied to the film, captured elsewhere at a different time in a context unrelated to the little boy at the door? Was she engaged in the moment or an interloper on the scene, an accidental juxtaposition precipitated by a combination of mechanical and human error? Was she the woman I’d assumed she was in this moment for all of these years, the adoringly proud parent with her focus funneled through the F-stop to suspend this memory in perpetuity? Or was she a specter interfacing with the boy in the doorway, just another of the intersecting angles showcased in this composite image?

I’m sure a professional photographer could answer this question, but I’m content to hold both possibilities as a reflection in and of itself, just as parenthood is a picture made up of blurred lines and counterpoints of ambivalence, a confluence of assuredness tangled up with second-guessing, a swirl of light and color in shades of gray, a cloudburst at noon on a sunny day. The composition of life, like any other kind of art, engenders a multiplicity of interpretations that all exist in a breathless simultaneity, a beautiful nebulousness that actively defies singularity. The line between the known and unknown is as fine as the spine of the tiniest feather, as diaphanous as a thin veil of smoke throwing everything just the slightest bit out of focus. All we can do to impress a precious moment into the future is squint through that viewfinder, invite the right balance of light, twist the lens toward clarity, release the shutter, and hope for the best.

Cautionary tale

Disclaimer: If you don’t want to worry more about your children than you already do, please read no further! In other words, goodbye, everyone, and enjoy the rest of your day 😉

Once upon a time there was a girl who was really smart on paper. She took poetry classes at a local university during her last two years of high school. She was always on honor roll, took AP courses in every subject, and earned a perfect score (back in the day that was an 800) on her English SAT. She regularly collected the gold “summa cum laude” medal with her annual National Latin Exam results. She won the English prize at high school graduation and was one of the handful of kids in her graduating class inducted into her school’s Cum Laude Society. She was hardworking, too, and responsible about her schoolwork, never skipping classes or leaving things until the last minute. Even in college, despite the fact that her freshman MWF 8:00-9:00 am Calculus class was a twenty minute walk from her dorm, the only classes she missed were one Wednesday in April when she traveled home for the birth of her sister. She made Dean’s List one semester after another and collected her diploma at graduation with honors. See? Smart on paper.

This girl, however, was also really, really stupid. At the same time that she was hitting the books and earning academic accolades, she was also climbing through her bedroom window out onto the roof to smoke the Camel Light Menthols (easily the stupidest cigarettes ever) she’d bought from Habib, the guy who worked at a local gas station, using a terrible fake ID she’d gotten on a trip with friends to Washington DC for that express purpose. This girl threw a party at her house one weekend when her parents were out of town and she was supposed to be staying with a friend, and then took the stupidity to the next level by mailing off a disposable camera to have the photos from the party developed, only to have her mother get the mail a couple of weeks later and and open the packet of pictures because, well, it was addressed to her. Despite having been caught in the act, this girl threw ANOTHER house party a year or two later, during which people got so out of hand that a huge glass vase full of marbles smashed on a bedroom floor, and one of the guys had a flashback to a bad LSD trip and punched a hole in the wall. The girl’s solution to this was to move a framed picture from one wall to another to cover up the hole (which was approximately three feet from the ceiling because this boy was TALL, making the small frame look preposterous). See? Stupid. Somehow, her mother was gracious enough to give the girl a Xanax and send her to her room to binge watch Daria, waiting to deal with consequences until she’d slept off her massive hangover.

But it gets worse. This girl also, on more than one occasion, escaped through yet another window, this one belonging to her friend whose bedroom was on the lower floor of a split-level home so that the window, which was approximately 24″ x 36″, terminated right above ground. The two girls would sneak out in the early hours of the morning in the summer and walk to an outdoor pool owned by a local athletic club, climb over the probably ten-foot fence, and jump in the pool. Apparently “pool jumping” was a theme among this girl’s friend group because on a beach trip to Florida for spring break with another friend (also really smart on paper), they would tiptoe out of the rental house in the middle of the night and go jump in pool after pool after pool belonging to the neighboring rental houses while the vacationing families inside may or may not have been sleeping.

Don’t worry; it gets worse still. On at least one occasion, this girl and a group of her friends paid a visit to a country club in the middle of another night, where they proceeded to climb onto the roof of a clubhouse and (you guessed it) jump into the lane pools below. And then, perhaps most stupidly of all, this girl and a different group of friends got into quarry jumping, which is every bit as dangerous as it sounds. Who knows how they knew the location of these quarries, but I’m almost positive they didn’t know just how deep that water below them actually was when their foolish feet left the cliffside.

I have no idea how this girl and her friends somehow escaped injury or major trouble, but I’d have to chalk it up to dumb luck. This is why, when my future teenager brings home a trophy from debate team or a stack of papers with stunning marks, when he’s elected to student council or placed in accelerated courses, when her report card is comprised of glowing comments or she patents her idea for a digital locket necklace before she can drive, I’m not going to be any less nervous. If the technology exists by then for parents to microchip their teenagers with a constantly trackable GPS sensor so that their location can be pinpointed through an app on their parents’ phones at any moment of any day, let’s just say I’ll allow notifications.

P.S. I’m sorry, Mom and Dad. In all fairness, though, I did include a disclaimer up there that maybe you shouldn’t have ignored.

Buckle up and hold on tightly

It’s a rare occasion when I get one-on-one time with Liam, but recently one evening he asked to play Uno and, because this coincided with another rare occasion, which was that all three kids were having school lunch the next day so I needn’t pack any, dinner was easy and already ready, and the other two children were happily engaged together elsewhere in the house, I actually could stop what I was doing and sit down to engage with him. We played two rounds of rip-roaring two-player Uno, and I commented on how much I was enjoying it. Brian overheard this and said, “Right?! Life with one!”, meaning “How different and great (at times) would it be to only have a singleton as offspring!”

A few days later:

Arlo: “Does anybody want to play catch?”
Alison: “Sure, I’d like to play catch with you!”
Arlo: “No, I asked if anybody wants to play CATS.”
Alison: “Oh.”
Summerly: “I’ll play cats!”
Alison: (to myself) ‘Thank god I have all these kids because I have absolutely no desire to play cats ever again until maybe I’m a grandmother but probably not even then.”

And a couple of nights after that:

Alison (to Brian): “It’s been the kind of day that, if a person could die from being tested by one’s kids, you’d be writing my obituary.”
Brian: “How many years ago?”

As of this writing, the “Falcon’s Flight” rollercoaster in Saudi Arabia is in the design stage, but when completed, it will edge out Japan’s “Steel Dragon 2000” to take the title of “longest rollercoaster in the world” with a ride of approximately three minutes’ duration. According to a press release made by the Six Flags Qiddiya’s CEO, Falcon’s Flight “won’t be for the fainthearted”. Take a knee, Falcon’s Flight. The longest rollercoaster in the world will always be Parenthood, and the ride lasts for a minimum of eighteen years.

How to privilege a problem

I was listening to a podcast in the car one day in which a woman was explaining her complicated situation to a therapist. During the discussion, she referenced a workshop she’d attended at which the presenter had asked everyone to write down what they would identify as the most significant problems in their lives. The presenter asked them to consider these problems for a minute while looking at the words on paper. Then the woman recalling this experience paraphrased the presenter’s next point, and I rewound the podcast so many times I lost count, listening to this explanation over and over again until I’d committed it to memory. These are the exact words she used: “The problems you have today are the problems you’re not willing to give up for the ones that you would have if you gave them up.”

For some reason, I found this tremendously profound, probably partly because it’s also so obvious. But hearing it pronounced this way, in that one succinctly lucid sentence, struck a chord. Not only did this idea train a spotlight on the veracity of the concept as it applies to many people, but it also shed perspective on the place of privilege that one inhabits if this statement rings true. If the most pronounced problems in our lives are ones we choose to keep lest we face other, more difficult or unpleasant problems, we are among the most fortunate. Think of those whose greatest challenges can’t just be exchanged for another set of challenges; think of those who would leap at the chance to change their station because their problems are so onerous that no alternative could be less desirable. I’m talking about people who would consider their race to be the issue that presents the most difficulty. I’m talking about people who would cite their gender at birth as such. Homeless people. People with a disability or a disease. People who are bereft and grieving a loved one. People without access to enough food. People who live unhappily with an addiction or mental health affliction. This list, I’m sure, could continue.

I know, the presenter at that workshop was aware of the demographic of his or her audience and was speaking directly to them. For them, and for people like me, I love the frame of reference those words provide: many, if not all, of our problems are ones we have by choice. We keep those problems around voluntarily because we’re averse to the alternatives. This perspective makes these problems feel less like problems and more like opportunities; it makes them feel less oppressive and more intentional. It divests them of some of their negative power, which makes more space for gratitude. I want to keep that sentence fresh in my mind, at the forefront of my consciousness, as I go through this incredibly lucky life, so I remember to keep flipping the script on the plights that blight my time on this earth. And I want to introduce the idea to my children while they’re still really young to give them a tool to carry around in their social-emotional pocket, in hopes that they can pull it out to pick the locks on the doors life tends to put up. I want them to learn to turn those doors into mirrors that then become windows. For once, I’ll be the one asking them questions that begin with those two little words kids love to use with their parents. When they identify a complaint that shows their good fortune or privilege, when they express displeasure about a problem they have that could be considered a gift in disguise, once in a while I want to respond with, “What if you didn’t?”

We deserve a multisyllabic moniker

Something that has bothered me for a very long time is that people are still commonly using the term “stay-at-home mom.” Most people these days even recognize its initialism form (SAHM), which entered our parlance via internet shorthand. First of all, the term doesn’t account for situations where the father is the one holding down the fort while the mother contributes as part of the workforce to bankroll the household. Society “solved” that by adopting “stay-at-home dad” or the less specific “stay-at-home parent”, but these don’t measure up either. Sure, during Covid those parents who didn’t have income-producing jobs probably did spend a lot of their time at home, but even then the term seems so insufficient to express the most essential aspects of what the parent who doesn’t head into work every day (in person or via Zoom during that time) does all day. During non-pandemic times, these parents are rarely just “at home”, or even if they are, that fact does so little to illustrate the nature of their occupation. It beggars belief that, of all of the ways we could describe these parents (or even those who are NOT parents but aren’t traditionally employed for other reasons), the phrase “at home” is the one chosen to identify them. Some posit the option “full-time parent”, but I find this insulting to parents who work because it’s not like they’re only parents when they’re not working. Working parents aren’t “part-time parents”; in fact, one of the major reasons they work is to provide for their family’s livelihood. And don’t even get me started on the obsolete notion of the term “housewife”.

What are they doing if they’re “at home”? Cleaning, shopping, driving kids to and from school and appointments and activities, planning those appointments and activities, reading and sending school-related emails, communicating with family members and friends about things like holidays and birthdays, making sure there are enough clothes to fit each growing child as the seasons change, meal planning and cooking or arranging for food to be available in sufficient quantities and variety to suit dietary preferences or requirements balanced with nutritional needs, scheduling service appointments for vehicle- and home-related repairs or maintenance, volunteering for school parties and field trips, and researching things that would only serve to benefit the family, like the best deals on pet food or what new release chapter books are available in the library. They are picking up prescriptions and making sure all of the bathrooms have enough toilet paper, rotating pantry stock after unloading the groceries, washing and folding laundry, changing the sheets, sewing buttons back on jackets, wiping fingerprints and footprints off the walls, helping with homework just enough but not too much, organizing family photographs so that they aren’t accidentally deleted, doing dishes and vacuuming cat hair from underneath the sofa, mailing the thank-you letters and looking up answers to questions the kids have asked. The list is probably actually endless.

What are those parents NOT doing? Sitting around idly at home. My friend Carmen, who was teaching French and math part-time at a girls’ school, was leaving work one day when a colleague noticed her packing up her stuff. He said, “So, you’re heading home now, huh?” as if she were just cutting out early to go put her feet up (as if that were such a terrible thing for someone getting paid to work part-time to do). I’m sure she wasn’t as scathing in her reply as I’d have been tempted to be, but she did say something like, “Well, now that I’ve finished teaching for today, I’m going to pick up my youngest at preschool, then I’ll make him lunch and entertain him while I prepare dinner before I have to pick up my other three kids at their school so I can get them home and finished with homework and fed in time for my oldest’s virtual ballet class.”

What are other “stay-at-home” adults doing? Caring for an ailing family member, perhaps. Volunteering at any number of organizations. Doing the heavy lifting during a project like a home renovation or landscape overhaul. Walking the dog. Taking care of things that the working parent then does not have to handle, allowing him or her to focus more fully on professionalism, which then favors his or her ability to do better work. And maybe, just maybe, they are taking some time for themselves to do something that helps them function at such a high level for the rest of the day: reading a book, creating art, going for a run, talking to a friend. They might even (perish the thought!) take a nap to prepare for the arduous afternoon and evening of devoting attention, time and energy to others after a morning of the same. Humans (in general) aren’t programmed to be happy if they are constantly giving to others without also giving to themselves. Those moments of time that might seem selfish are actually quite the opposite; for me, at least, when I’ve spent half an hour reading a book for pleasure or taken the morning to write or turned on a podcast while I whittle away at a craft project for a little while in between all of the tasks and line items on my “to-do” list, I do better for my family. I’m more patient and less distracted. I’m more inclined to genuinely enjoy spending time with them rather than feel exhausted by their incessantness (and they definitely pick up on this). The metaphors abound: who wants an overtired pilot flying their plane? Who would choose to board a ship with a nervous wreck for a captain? How happy can a workplace be when run by a resentful boss? No one can run a marathon on an empty stomach, and even if they could, neither would the results yield “personal best”, nor would it be healthy.

I’m going to suggest that we espouse a new term to replace the old ones: Family Administration, Management, and Life Improvement Executive, or, in short, FAMLIE. We could use the acronym in writing, but I think when we’re asked what we “do”, we should answer in full to give verbal recognition to the multiplicity and breadth of our occupation. We have certainly earned those twenty syllables.