In less than a month, I’m going to be entering the rat race, big time. I will be leaving the simple life of the past three years for a conventional one of complexity.
Shmaaya, now over three years old, will enter preschool for the first time. As mandatory education, it’s basically free. He’s ripe. Having grown up more around animals than children, I feel the discrepancy between him and others his age, in his interests, in his social suavity. It will be a hard transition, and not without its downsides, but he’ll get a lot out of it. I did not register him for latch-key, though. Our life on the prairie is too beautiful not to be lived for at least a few hours each day. So he’ll have to be picked up at 2 Pm rather than 5.
Myself, a mother of over three years, will enter school again for the first time since before my wedding. I would have happily avoided it, but I’d developed a desire to teach in a school, or in other words, the desire for a job where I get paid by the same well-endowed, faceless entity, every month, regardless of my success or productivity. It’s been a smooth arch as a self-employed person for the past seven years, from hopefulness and creativity, to a more determined pragmatism (hustling), to a weary defeatism. I want to be told where to be, when, and what to do.
At least, I think so.
So the studies for my art teaching degree will be mercifully brief, but intensive: one full day a week in Kfar Saba (a one-hour drive in rush hour, there and back) and another, shorter, day of student teaching in several schools in Tel Aviv or northward (also rush-hour traffic). My mother agreed early on to babysit my little one, Shalva, on those days, but there are two issues with this: one is the length of her “shift”: from 7 AM till around 7 PM. Two is, what will the rest of the week look like for poor Shalva stuck at home with only me, after being accustomed all her life (admittedly short) to her big brother, Shmaaya?
I’ll have to resume regular morning trips to the playground to escape my sense of guilt over depriving her of social interaction. I’ll have to scramble each morning to prepare cut-up fruits in containers with which I might be able to distract her from the puffed Cheetos the other kids are eating and distributing, at their caretakers’ encouragement, in order to learn the valuable lesson of sharing. With my cut-up fruits I’ll also demonstrate that I, too, have what to contribute, and that I consider it important to teach my child the value of sharing. But deep inside I’ll actually be wishing that Shalva would play with the other kids, which is what we came here for, instead of just eating. I’ll have to chat with women in whom I’m not interested, and towards whom I develop a growing suspicion that I’m being judged, or my kid is, or our not-very-clean clothes are. I’ll watch the other kids grow up and drop out of the playground circle one by one, as they enter various forms of day-care, both so that their mommies can resume work, and so that they can start to really learn stuff.
No, the only logical thing is to sign her up for day-care, too. That way I’ll be free to work (that suddenly sounds like an oxymoron), with a clean conscience that my daughter is living a rich and stimulating life. But daycare is expensive and I’m banking on government assistance. At the moment I’m not eligible, but as a student and a working mom, I probably will be. After a few months, when I can show pay-stubs from many hours toiled under a well-endowed and faceless employer, I should be able to get retroactive subsidy. At least, I hope so. Otherwise, as far as I’m concerned, daycare will be like living the life of the rich and famous without really being rich or famous.
Even if I work a job teaching enrichment classes in schools, the earliest I can hope to finish is 2 or 2:30 PM, so I still won’t get back in time to pick up Shmaaya. Shalva’s day-care is until 4 PM so, while I aspire to pick her up early so she also gets to live a few daylight hours on the prairie, we’ll see what happens.
Thus far has been a picture of what WILL be. I haven’t listed yet what won’t be.
If the green grocers send by boxes and boxes of vegetables for the animals, I probably won’t be around to pick the best ones out for domestic use, and put them away in the refrigerator. I may have to shop more often. I think that costs money, and I’m sure it costs time, too. I still hope to avoid it.
I don’t know if I’ll find the time to pick oranges, mulberries, etc., when they’re in season. Oranges can afford to linger on the tree for a while before anything happens to them, but mulberries fall off the tree soon after they ripen, and if you want to catch them in time, so you can freeze them, make them into jelly and more, you really should pick twice a day. And oranges take some time to pick; it’s not so easy with trees as tall as ours. Plus, distributing them to family takes time too. Maybe I’ll have my mom pick and distribute as part of babysitting duty.
I can’t see myself giving up milking goats, because I just can’t see myself buying milk, plus having a little pocket money from selling milk each day is nice, though I certainly won’t have time to hand-deliver it to my clients as I’ve been doing, usually on outings with the kids and stroller. I mean, maybe I WILL have time for outings and milk delivery, but I’m not counting on it. But in any case, I’ll be waking up an extra 15 minutes earlier to squeeze goat teats before getting in the car for an hour of traffic.
Laundry. I don’t think I’ll have time for laundry. Especially in the winter, not having an electric dryer (dad, don’t try to convince me in the comments to get a dryer. I don’t want one), sun-drying clothes requires keeping a finger on the pulse of the weather, and being able to pull the rack under the porch roof whenever it starts to drizzle. I don’t yet know how I’ll juggle that with a job, unless there’s an app for that. On the other hand, I do have sacks of hand-me-downs in storage, so I might be able to manage for a year using the clothes and throwing them away when they get dirty. But on the first hand, hundreds of women, and maybe more, manage to hold a job and do laundry, so I guess I’ll figure that out when it’s time.
What I most fear missing out on is motherhood. Now, when the kids wake me up in the morning- or will I be waking them up now? weird- instead of the existential struggle of smiling upon my children and my life despite my bitterness over not being asleep, I’ll be facing a totally different challenge: to get them presentable and situated within the walls of their day-cares, in time for me to get in the car for some traffic. There, they’ll happily eat lots of dairy products (I already checked- unless they’re lactose intolerant, I have no grounds for requesting they not be served that) and white bread instead of my home-made goat cheese and whatever other wholesome food I have in abundance, anyway (thank God).
I prize the social practice they’re going to get facing their peers, even if it’s sometimes painful. What I’m more worried about is the intervention of the teachers who, like most adults presiding over kids, assume they know what’s going on and can mediate wisely. My kids will assimilate daycare culture. Will they come home and tattle on each other?
Lastly, what will become of my art? Admittedly, I haven’t devoted a minute to editing my grand-masterpiece-about-all-subjects in months, but I plan to, once I get a few little projects out of the way. But once I’m studying and working, potentially even meaningful studies and work, will I have time or motivation to cultivate my own art, my most thoughtful statement? It will be far too easy to justify forgetting the three terabytes of footage I’ve accumulated of my kids growing up on a farm. And life moments which I consider critical to this documentary-in-progress, like Shmaaya’s entrance into preschool (and civilisation), once they actually roll around, I may be so inundated that I may excuse myself for not actually recording them. Lord forgive me if on Shmaaya’s first day of daycare, I don’t bring my camera, or bring it, but don’t turn it on, out of sensitivity to what the other parents are thinking. And Lord help me if I never actually get around to piecing together this documentary masterpiece. I will be truly selling out to the conventional life.
Let me try to visualise the best-case scenario: I find inspiration in my studies, and hope for a future of impacting kids through art. My job is not draining, but rather satisfying. I miraculously discover hidden reserves of energy, time and motivation amid the hectic schedule and endless tasks. I manage to encompass elements of all these new parts of my life in my art. Maybe the kids whose work I cultivate give me the clarity on how to construct my own life’s masterpiece.
Um. The End.