Thursday, June 11, 2009

Overachiever or Just Really Bored?

My Psych major daughter and I were talking yesterday about some very interesting things that I’m doing right now, and what she said completely blew me away.

She said I was the smartest woman she knew. Why should that surprise me? Because I have not adjusted to the fact that she’s past the phase where parents get ‘stupid.’

When the children were little, they both thought I was brilliant. But as they become teenagers I, as their primary caregiver, became just too stupid to be believed any more. Because I had my kids so far apart, my daughter finally slipped out of that phase just as my son hit it this spring. Sigh.

I’ve had to bite my tongue for so long with my daughter that I forgot that I even had a tongue. I forgot that while I only got a bachelors degree (in general studies at that), I made extremely good grades in any class that interested me, the first college degree for any woman in my family, out to 2nd cousins. I forgot that I had a vocabulary that most PhD’s envy, along with the ability to explain things to small children as well as my friends who didn’t graduate from high school.

I forgot that I have raised two highly gifted children, constantly on the prowl for something that would keep them entertained, and enriched at the same time. That I was always just one step ahead of my kids, keeping them out of mischief and boredom. Raising children well takes extraordinary time and talent and I’ve forgotten that in the hubbub of daily living. There’s no time left (or perhaps I should say energy) at the end of a day to study higher math.

My kids and I often poured over my college anatomy texts to explain things like why cold and flu season starts right after Halloween. Or going to their father’s physics book, that I had never opened before, so we could talk about parabolas and why a snow saucer is that shape. We didn’t get into the calculus books until my daughter was in high school taking statistics. She was really mad that they wouldn’t let her use calculus to take the test.

One of the things that has contributed to not feeling brilliant anymore for every non-housewife that I met, approximately 80% of them had a conversation with me that went something like this:

“What do you do, Gayle?”
“I’m a housewife. I am spending my time raising my kids.”
“Oh,” he said, as his eyes glazed over and he hurried away to talk to someone more interesting, like the CPA.

What should I have said? “I am the housewife, who is spending 18 hours a day, chasing two brilliant children, teaching them college vocabulary before they can read. I am the woman who successfully, as president of our Homes Association, led the fight to keep out a big box store from our backyards. Speaking in front of county commissioners, television cameras and the public, and making it look easy. I am the woman who organized and ran classroom parties for both my children’s classes. Parties that these kids and the other volunteers are still talking about ten years later. The information I gathered about giving a children’s party for an organization is a ½ done eBook. I got bored.

Should I have said to these people who dismissed my ‘career’ as a housewife “I am a woman who built a warm and loving home, furnished on a shoe string from estate and garage sales. That my home was as nice or nicer than that of those of you who make twice what my (now ex-) husband makes. That I decorated it with things made lovingly with care, and quality, used these things for a while and gave them away, because it was time for new things. I am a woman who made sure my kids were fed, and cared for. And a surprising amount of time – your kids too, because you were too busy to care for your own children.” My home was only minimally messy. The yard was mowed, trees trimmed, gardens full of wild flowers and perennials, the dandelions dug out of the one acre yard by hand because I didn’t want to use chemicals on the land, that would flow into the nearby artesian spring. The only water for ½ a mile around that is still running in the dead of winter for the wildlife that the animals drink from. That I figured out what cleaners I could use that wouldn’t impact their water quality because our septic tank drained into the land from which the spring came.

I should have said “I am the woman who made those cookies you so gleefully snarfed up after the Xmas cookie party. I only made 90 dozen cookies this year. It was a slow year.” I am the woman who for her daughters 3 week classroom lesson in economics spent less than 30 dollars and (with her helping) made 9,000 deep fried Swedish Rosettes. A product that not only made a profit but made what was described as a staggering profit of about $500 which was donated to the school library, liquidating our entire stock, every single day for 15 days in a row. A school record that still stands. (While entertaining her younger brother with stories, word games, and building blocks.)

I am the woman who designed and built the main flowerbed for the school, organized the planting of 550 tulip and daffodil bulbs (one for every student-planted by the students themselves). Flowering bulbs that are still gracing the school 10 years later. I am the woman who learned how to use a database software package in an effort to combine the various different types of information previously kept in people’s heads for the school. The database structure is still being utilized today, 5 years after I handed it over to another mother. Clean simple elegant.

I am the woman who was always ready at a phone call to sit with a heartbroken friend, nurse ungrateful in-laws for weeks after surgery, cope with a mother with dementia, run a successful wrapping paper sale for the PTA sale three years in a row, attend most of the PTA meetings, listening and offering constructive suggestions. Teaching these chattering women how to keep a meeting running smoothly and moving forward, in spite of never being the president. And this does not include the things that I've forgotten that are really too minor to mention, but which make life infinitely easier for the people involved.

I am the overachiever who everybody misses when she’s gone. But whom makes everybody uncomfortable when she’s there, because she does so much, has her fingers on the pulse of the organization. Who knows where the bodies are buried, and who to go to for information.

I am the woman who, on top of everything else, insisted on going to choir every week and church on Sundays because I had to have an outlet that was just for me. Where I could learn something new (music) and receive spiritual sustenance too.

I didn’t get to be that overachiever by being stupid. I did it because I was easily bored. And to keep from being bored, I had to stay busy.

And even though I know better, I have felt unintelligent because I didn't have an alphabet after my name, and a career making more money than I knew how to spend. I've felt stupid for a long time. Made more so because last October, I suddenly couldn't add or subtract without using my fingers. I had to go get flash cards to relearn this simple skill. And I managed to hide this from everybody except one friend. And it only came out because I couldn't keep score when we played gin. And yet now I'm looking at simple matrix logic problems and saying to myself "when is he going to get to something new?"

I KNOW that I couldn’t have done all of those things if I’d been just an ordinary woman, it still surprised me when my daughter recognizes that not only am I an extraordinary mother, but that

I am

the smartest woman she knows.

I am !



_Decode_ said...

This is an amazing post. I like it a lot. You have a nice flow with you writing, Gayle. I look forward to reading more!

Renee said...

I say to this: "Damn straight".

Also: Holy shit can I be like you when I grow up? ^_^


You have my total admiration!



Gayle McCain said...

Ladies - thank you. Words fail me. Thank you!


Zoey said...

Awesome post Gayle!! Moms are often overlooked even though their mad skills help build companies, educate and guide children, and help dreams to take flight. You're daughter is right...her mother is an amazing woman. What a great journey you are on :)

Gayle McCain said...

Thank you, Zoey.

Remember a mom returning to the workforce has LOTS more experience than her resume indicates.