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TODAY

Saturday, June 15

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Airbags

The other day I was talking to a friend on the phone while putting laundry away. As is the custom with this particular friend, if we have a dull task that can't be put off any longer, one of us will call the other to chat in order to dull the pain. The mindless drudgery that has to get done in order for life with children to go on is much easier if it can be done on auto pilot while chatting with a friend.

We're both absorbed in conversation and working away at our tasks when suddenly she shouted "Awesome!" in my ear, sounding as excited as if she had just learned that her beautifully letterpressed book had been reviewed on an obscure but respected website.

"This waffle fits perfectly into this ziplock bag!"

And, reader, I understood exactly how awesome that was. Very awesome.

It's easy to assume that all mothers, particularly full time mothers, are dull creatures who think of nothing besides their kids. It's not that we don't think about them, obviously we are often allowed little time to think of anything else. But we are still here... the people we were before our bodies and our brains were commandeered. We do think.

A lot of the mothers that I am friends with are also working artists, musicians, teachers, dancers, writers. While solving their creative problems, they are simultaneously running through an endless to-do list, mapping out the day's agenda, setting appointments, making sure everyone, including pets, is clothed, fed, clean, scheduled, supported and ready to walk out the door. Those of us with younger children are also responding to an unending barrage of questions like "I dropped my toast," which isn't a question, but still needs an answer. That old adage, "all mothers are working mothers" is, like many old adages, true.

Even those of us who haven't pulled in a paycheck lately still have the nose to the grindstone. None of us are laying around eating bon-bons. (well, I did get some bon bons for my birthday, but I greedily and carefully rationed them.) All of the parents I know carve out time in their days for the real work that they do, whether it be printmaking, guitar playing, meditating or studying. Living your life completely with children means that your children see you, in all your glory, making your personal interests a priority on par with making sure that everyone is fed, loved and cared for. After all, as that other old adage goes, if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. I'm interested in knowing how other mothers spend their time and creative energy — besides creating nice people for the rest of us to enjoy.

This has also had me thinking about the vast resource that is the Mothers Network. If I need to know where to go to get a boot with a broken zipper fixed, or get a recommendation for a good plumber, haircut, massage or sewing class, the best person to ask is a mom. Moms don't generally have any time for stupid bullshit or ridiculous running around. We don't want to go to the sub-par shoe repair shop, our time is too valuable. We want the best, and we want one close. Furthermore, we don't want any attitude about having our kids in your business, because we will take our business, our kids and our word of mouth power and march right out the door and blacklist you. A simple "oh the people in that bead shop were really mean to my kid" dropped at a mommy and me yoga class could turn out to be one big stone rippling through the mother underground. That bead shop owner may notice a steady drop in her business, and wonder what happened, never suspecting that she's been mom listed. The mom list works both ways — we are just as free with the recommendations as we are with the blackballing.

With that in mind, I sent out a questionnaire to several mothers with the understanding that 80 percent of them would take one look at it and say "I don't have time to answer all of these questions, what in the world does she think I do all day long? Surf the internet?" and delete my email. I was counting on that other 20 percent, and thankfully they came through.

Without further ado, or rambling on of any sort, here are the questions I asked:

Q. What Music Are You Enjoying Right Now?

This turned out to be an interesting question, because I wasn't all that sure that people listen to music as much as they did before they had kids. I'm glad to know that many listen to music pretty much all of the time, as I do. I don't have the constant influx of new stuff that used to flow into my life, which was something that many respondents mentioned. Sadly, I can't remember the last time I used the music section of the Reader for anything other than a liner for the bird cage; it seems that the music scene carried on without me. I'm always happy to get new music recommendations, even if it's old music. So, here, music from the respondents — some old, some new.

Neko Case, The Tigers Have Spoken
The Detroit Cobras, Baby
The Au Pairs, Equal But Different (sort of like the Go-Go's when they were chubby and on drugs)
Shannon Wright, Let in The Light (also gets a write in vote for most amazing live show of last year)
Lila Downs, The Border
The Pupils, The Pupils
Express Rising, Memphix
Band of Horses, Cease to Begin and Everything All the Time
Gogol Bordello
Jolie Holland
The Carolina Chocolate Drops
Pink Martini and Paris Combo
Lou Reed, Berlin
Fiest, The Reminder
June Carter Cash, Wildwood Flower
Annie Lenox
Bruce Springstein, Live in Dublin
Andrew Byrd, Armchair Apocrypha
Amalea Tshilds, Painted Tiles
Sufjan Stevens
Iron and Wine w/ Calexico
Van Morrison, Moondance
Bob Dylan, Live in 1975- The Rolling Thunder Review
Elvis Costello, My Aim is True
Billy Bragg, Must I Paint You A Picture
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
The Arctic Monkeys

Q. What movies are you enjoying?

Surprise! We don't go to current releases often enough, but Netflix is raking in the dough from the parent crowd. Clearly there is a lot of movie watching going on, based on the popularity of this question.

Crash
Children Of Men
"Weeds" on DVD
Notes From A Scandal
Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix
Beauty and the Beast (several votes for favorite little girl movie)
Little Miss Sunshine
Pride and Prejudice
"Lost," purchased from Itunes (though who the hell even remembers what was going on?)
Through a Scanner Darkly
Mostly Martha
Persuasion, the BBC production
Casino Royale
Bourne Ultimatum
A History of Violence
David Attenboroug's "Life in Undergrowth"
"Flight of the Conchords"
"FireFly," the complete series on DVD
Born Into Brothels
Grizzly Man
The Beals of Gray Gardens
Brokeback Mountain (now with 100% more sadness!)
Murder Ball
Batman Begins
Coffee and Cigarettes
Maya Lin, A Strong Clear Vision
Rivers and Tides
Microcosmos
Pan's Labrynth
The Lives of Others

Q. What classes do you take for yourself?

Hmm. Not to many people taking classes for themselves. Mostly dancers responded to this one. Figures.

Ballet and Pilates at Hubbard Street
Jazz class at Joel Hall
Belly Dance at Jasmin Jahal
Spudnik Press printing class
Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course at Triton College in River Grove

Q. How do you fit exercise into your life?

There's a lot of mothers doing a lot of long walking and thinking, including the above mentioned, already active, over-achieving dancers. Walking was by far the most popular response, with good reason — even 10 minutes spent putting one foot in front of the other and not having anyone talk to me screws my head right back on.

Other responses: doing yoga at home, mom and tot aerobics and swimming, biking as much as possible, chopping firewood, hauling water (clearly an out of town responder.)

Q. You have two kid-free hours to yourself, what do you?
(Grocery shopping and house cleaning do not count, though the truth of the matter is that those two items are always top of the list.)

Thrifting, going to the library, having coffee with friends. Going for a long walk, listening to music really loud. Making art. Trying on clothes without any helpful assistants to tell you that you have a big fat tummy. Taking dance class, or going to the gym. Taking a "nap," preferably with another adult.

Clearly, given some kid free time, all of the extras fly out the window, we've pared it down to the essence: loud music, art, fresh air, adult companionship, books. All anyone really needs.

Almost every respondent qualified the previous three questions with a similar statement; "I don't get much free time." I can remain silent no longer. Ladies, maybe it's not that you don't get much free time, maybe you don't take much free time. I haven't figured out much about this parenting game, but this I get: I'm not doing anyone any favors by not taking care of myself. If we don't continue connecting with that part of who we are irrespective of anyone else, everyone loses out. Even if it's just a 10 minute walk around the block, take it. They'll manage.

Q. What is your favorite article of clothing?

Based on all of my internet research, I've discovered that a lot of people have the opinion that Mom's are not fashionable. Yep. Here's how much most mothers care: not at all.

The answers to this questions were, not surprisingly, random and had absolutely nothing to do with current fashion trends.

"jersey v-neck shirts with extra long sleeves, they make me feel like a princess or a twelve year old... same thing right?"
"my new full coverage shaping bra from Victoria's Secret! I LOVE it!"
"Instead of going the hit or miss thrift store route, I shelled out for two new pair of jeans from the Gap... they fit, and I wear them every day."
"a black empire waist cashmere cardigan that I got at Marshall's on my birthday"
"my little unlined boiled wool dark brown 3/4 length coat"
"a quilted vest that says "manager" on it." At last, clothing that speaks the truth.

Q. What is your favorite family friendly restaurant with delicious food?

Bite
Buzz Cafe (in Oak Park)
Kamahachi Japanese restaurant in Northbrook
Treat. "Amazing food, small place, but if you go around 5 or 6, you'll be out before the hipster rush starts."
Opart Thai on Western Avenue
Aki Hana
Feed
Caponies on Harlem

Q. Where would you go for dinner if kids and money weren't an issue?

Most people, quite tellingly, blew this one off. Such a ludicrous notion, going out to eat without kids.

Le Coq, authetic French bistro in Oak Park
Stained Glass in Evanston
French Laundry, CA
Lula on Valentines Day for the reservations only several course meal. Note to self: call tomorrow.
Room service in a swank hotel*
Ethiopian Diamond at 6121 N. Broadway
* That's what I'm talking about!

Q. What's your favorite field trip spot?

Many votes for Garfield Park Conservatory — as one person put it, "close, fun, familiar and free." I will add "fresh" to that. The place to go for a breath of summer in the dead of winter.

Chicago Architectural Boat Tour
Shedd Aquarium
Critical Mass Rides, "not for the feint of heart"
The Loop to see all of the sculpture China Town
The Swedish Museum Devon Avenue
Millennium Park, especially in the summer for a concert and a romp in the Crown Fountain

Q. Best Coffee Shop?

Julius Meinl
Ear Wax
Starbucks (this answer from a stock holder and a couple of far West Siders, where there is no other coffee shop, though those who live out West agree: if someone would open one, they would go.
Metropolis
First Slice Cafe
Beans and Bagels on Rockwell

Q. Bike Shop?

Since the owner of Rapid Transit in Wicker Park is a mother and also took the time to respond to this survey, they get the coveted number one slot in this somewhat obscure column. Way to go Rapid Transit! They were also the top vote getter from all respondents, with other favorites being:

Barnard Schwinn
Get A Grip
Village Cycle

Q. Are you an artist? are you crafty? What do you make?

Many women out there are making more than babies, with the added bonus of making stuff with babies and children around. Apparently all of the people who aren't leaving the house for classes and excercise are staying home and getting their work done instead. The tip of the iceberg:

Printmakers of all sorts.
Bookmakers
Sewers
Knitters
Paper crafters
musicians
cartoonists
Dancers

Q. What websites do you frequent?

Not a lot of time to surf, I guess, much like the music scene, the internet is flowing by without much notice from the mothers. Not all of them though, after all, it only takes a second to check in with Cute Overload, and really don't we all have a second now and then?

Clearly a few of us surf more than others, and those few people chimed in, get your bookmarkers out.

Design Sponge Desire to Inspire
A Dress A Day
2 Stroke Buzz
Fark
Mental Floss
Achewood
The Comics Curmudgeon
Media Matters
The Pixie Pit online Scrabble
Ze Frank
Relaxed Homeskool
Pandora Radio
The Natural Child Project
Dooce
The Museum of Online Museums
Mandala
Llewellyn Web Tarot
Schoolless
Mimi Smartypants
Indymedia

Thanks to everyone who took the time to think about these questions and respond. If you have opinions that you would like to share, Please feel free to leave your responses in the comments. Please only participate if this is interesting to you.

GB store

Comments

Beth and Steve / January 27, 2008 8:32 PM

We haven't talked in way too long, but have been reading faithfully, and Lori - we still click. We do have email in driftless Wisconsin. Drop us a line? ...or a ring in Viroqua at -6937

susan ross / January 28, 2008 11:28 AM

We love that you mentioned us and included a link to our website under FIELD TRIPS. In addition to the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise, we offer more than 8O other tours plus exhibitions and programs. CAF also offers exciting field trips and tours on Chicago’s built environment for students in grades K – 8 and high school (must be arranged through a school.)
www.architecture.org/fieldtrips.html
Thanks again

The Hoobie / January 29, 2008 3:06 PM

I generally love your articles, but the phrase "all mothers, particularly full time mothers" in this one hit me badly: Just like "every mother is a working mother," every mother is a full-time mother.

Just a semantic carp, though I do sympathize with the fact that it can be hard to describe "moms who work outside the house" and "moms who don't work outside the house" without seeming to devalue either one...

Lori / January 29, 2008 4:24 PM

You are right- absolutely.

thanks for reading-

Lori

emdub / January 31, 2008 2:02 PM

Hi- I also love your column, and I KNOW that the title of this piece is "Mothers Know Best"...but... I'd like to hear more inclusivity (is that even a word?) or at least acknowledgment of dads who also contribute to parenting, sometimes being the primary caregiver if their partner is working elsewhere than home.

Both my partner and I try and split parenting duties equally, and we both work outside the home. I would credit him with having the same skills I do in parenting.

I hate the stereotype of the "stupid dad" who can't figure out how to change a diaper/clean a toilet. If we are more inclusive in our expectations of fathers, maybe we can shift things a bit?

Thanks for your column, great writing!

Uncle Jim / February 2, 2008 10:32 AM

I am not a mom nor a dad, but I would like to say that my sister's daughter is very talented and loving. She's also found the best guy in the world to be her children's father. What was said about fathers above is correct, but it barely touches what this guy does for his kids. I'm proud to say I know this family and wish every child in the world had parents like these two.

 

About the Author(s)

Lori McClernon Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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