motherhood, parenting

Shut the Front Door

I now know why my grandmother used to shoo her children outside – and lock the door. Her kids, of course, would object.  According to family lore, my two aunts would hover on the landing of their third-floor apartment waiting for her to let them back in.  My father, the only boy, would wander outside to find his friends.  In any event, it didn’t seem that any amount of begging or pleading would alter my grandmother’s decision or when she deemed it acceptable to return home.

I always appreciated this story and found it quite humorous (my grandmother had that certain amount of pluck that allowed her to get away with it), but now I can fully relate.

Last Tuesday was gorgeous; the last day in January, yet feeling more like a fine day in spring.  When I was able to bring my scraps to the compost bin in my shirtsleeves and not freeze, I went back in for the recyclables and lingered outside for a moment.  Angela abandoned the last of her lunch and joined me.  Encouraged by the weather, we began a joint effort to rid the yard of broken-off branches from winter windstorms.  A few minutes later, Julia, who had heretofore been deeply involved in a serious reenactment of Cars 2 in miniature, wandered out as well.

I tidied twigs.  Julia decided to play school.  Angela followed along.  If I had planned an afternoon outside, it couldn’t have gone any better.  The thing was, I hadn’t planned an afternoon outside.  Angela’s naptime was in ten minutes.  That meant Julia’s quiet time in ten minutes.  And Mommy’s chance for ‘me’ time.

“Ok, a few more minutes and then we’re going in,” I warned.  To which both girls objected, of course.

After wrestling Angela inside and into a new diaper while Julia bopped alongside the changing table telling me her plans for playtime, I realized resistance was futile.  If they were so invested in playing outside, maybe that was my best chance at uninterrupted work time.  This is why assumptions are so dangerous.

With the girls safely ensconced in the fenced backyard, I stationed myself by the window that looked directly onto their play area with my papers.  Maybe five minutes passed before I heard the first plaintive call by the door.  Once that issue was resolved, another five minutes passed before I heard the squeak of the screen door.  Then the stomp of feet.  The desperate plea for some indoor toy that was absolutely essential for their play outside.  Then a cry.  Another squeak.  A snack.

I could feel my blood pressure going up with each interruption.

“In or out,” I bellowed.

For kids who not so long ago were completely invested in playing outside, their actions were certainly not showing it.  Then Big Sister got home from school and a third set of feet beat a path back and forth.

“My God,” I thought.  “Now I know where Grandma got her motivation.”

Any mother knows it’s easier to get things done when there are no children under foot.  Unfortunately, society and culture have changed just enough that it’s no longer acceptable to boot our kids out the door for the day and welcome them home for dinner.  It’s no longer safe for our kids to play unsupervised in the open areas around our homes.  It’s no longer acceptable or expected for them to fill their own time with their own imaginings; we’re supposed to do it for them.

Not only does this culture shift take accountability and creativity away from our children, it makes the job of a mother a hell of a lot harder.

Now, please understand me, I’m not advocating for mothers across the world to lock their children out of the house.  It just seems to me that while the tension and tenderness between mothers and children is the same as in previous generations, the expected goals and duties of mothers have swelled with no subtractions from our job descriptions.

Kind of makes one want to lock the door and hide.  But, like my grandmother, I will always open my door to my children and welcome them in with open arms – even if I let them sit on the landing for a little while first.


4 thoughts on “Shut the Front Door

  1. mo says:

    During the long dark of winter, I long for the mild days when I can kick my kids out of the house and just sit in the quiet of the house. And the intense pleasure I relish is just as great at times as the guilt I feel relishing such moments. It’s really hard being a mom today and I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit.


  2. Jennifer Butler Basile says:

    I wholeheartedly agree! With both the kicking out and about being a mom today! You certainly deserve credit. Thanks for sharing your perspective.


  3. Sheri says:

    “It just seems to me that while the tension and tenderness between mothers and children is the same as in previous generations, the expected goals and duties of mothers have swelled with no subtractions from our job descriptions.”

    I have been looking for words to describe this for a long time. So true. I feel as though I am trying to do everything and, therefore, succeeding at nothing.
    I hope I can recognize those opportunities to live in the moment with my children before the times passes–and have a few afternoons where I boot them outside as well. It’s good for all of us to have some fresh air and distance now and then 🙂


    • Jennifer Butler Basile says:

      The line you pointed out is something I’ve been contemplating for awhile, something I want to explore even further, and something that plagues mothers no matter what their station in life. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s no easy answer – except trying to strike that balance and not punish yourself in the process. I know I’m my own worst critic.


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