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05 March 2013

Living in the Abstract

"When two people each become windows for the other," oil on canvas, Pier Wright (my first cousin once removed).

I've been thinking a lot lately about the question,
"So what do you do all day? You know, being at home all the time."

Friends, new acquaintances, even strangers
ask me this surprisingly often.
And I always stammer out some lame answer:

"Um...well...I play with Addie. I read a lot. Yeah, I'm trying to get back into reading for pleasure.
I have this weird thing where I never finish books."
Et cetera.

I figured it was time for me to figure out a solid answer,
one that reflects how much I actually do every day.

First off, you have to understand that I now define doing much differently.
Instead of checking off and turning in, things you can tangibly see and make note of,
my doing has become more abstract.
My life abstracts. Abstractulates. I am abstracting.
I have come to love this, to thrive on this. But it took a while.
About a year, really.
This time last year I graduated from college, birthed my first child, and sat down in my armchair at home, thrilled to finally be settling in to the life I had always dreamed of.

And then I got bored.

Call it postpartum or baby blues or depression--I just felt bored.
I hardly thought at all. I hardly moved.
There were productive days where I'd push the stroller to the library, check out a stack of books, and then sit outside flipping through the pages.
But mostly I just sat. Fed the baby. Held her while she slept and I sat.

One day it finally dawned on me: My mind was not progressing. My mind had lost its purpose.
No professor was there to hand me a syllabus with a reading list and essay deadlines.
No boss was there to make sure I was clocking in on time and staying on task.

When I graduated, I had been so excited for the prospect of these things.
The problem was, I hadn't replaced them with anything.
I wasn't being held accountable--by a professor, a boss, or myself--for anything really at all.
When I finally realized this, I made some changes.

I bought myself a planner with plenty of space to write and check-list and meal-plan. I started a book (and finished it!) and then another and another. I made a weekly schedule for myself (Monday is grocery shopping, Tuesday is laundry, etc.).

So here's that question again: "What does a stay-at-home mom do all day?"

My answer: Progress.

I learn. I read. I write.
I get to know my daughter by actually playing with her on the ground. And then I sit back and watch what she does when she's by herself.
I cook and bake and clean. I'm learning how to run a household efficiently, the way I want to.
I research. I look up definitions. I read articles.
I simplify my life.
I serve. I reach out to others. I talk on the phone.
I make appointments. I drop by unexpectedly.
I remember birthdays. I write letters.

All in all, I spend a lot of time with myself, an activity that does wonders for my self-understanding.
Some days it is very hard and very lonely. But the bored : content ratio is shifting.
I'm slowly figuring out how to live purposefully, simply, happily.
How to be productive in a way that, though abstract, somehow matters more to me than concrete productivity.

I live in the beautiful world of the abstract.
Yep, that's what I do all day.


  1. Claire! Thank you so much for writing and sharing this.

    To confess, I've gotten scared and anxious about this. "But what will I DO? especially when I'm accountable to myself! How DOES this all work?!"

    I needed your wisdom today.

    1. Jennie, I am flattered that you even came to my blog, let alone thought it was wise. Thank you! Being at home with your child really is the best thing ever. You are going to love it.


    1. I'll be honest: Me too! My brain was so flooded with ideas to share that I just had to sit down and write a darn post. Hopefully I can pick up some momentum again.

  3. Claire. You have expressed so eloquently the words that I have not been able to find. I am right in that moment of feeling the need to progress and have been impressed that I need to start planning more. Thanks for sharing, we should talk so I can learn more from you!

    1. Jackie, like I said, it took me a year to even realize I was feeling these words, let alone know how to say them out loud. I am thrilled that you read this! I would love to talk about this subject more with you. Send me an email?

  4. Love this post! Claire, you are amazing!

  5. Such an inspiration Claire. You have inspired me to keep my mind and spirit growing and progressing no matter what stage of life I am in. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and your honest feelings. You truly are gifted with wisdom and the ability to express that wisdom eloquently.

    1. My dear, your comment has been ringing in my ears ever since I read it--in the best possible way. Thank you for your sweet compliments. You know my life has been crazy lately. I'm glad what I wrote made sense!

  6. wow. i'm so glad i clicked over. reading your words has put my mind at ease a bit. i've been feeling some of those same thoughts, in a way, as i've transitioned from one to two darlings. however, instead of feeling bored, i feel completely overwhelmed. i remember reading every parenting book with benji and researching baby foods and development and learning how to make our family rich in progressive. i felt i had purpose now as a mom, but it took real effort to make the moments count! so many are just holding and playing and waiting for them to grow into a new phase. before you know it, things will change and perhaps, another one will come along and you'll wonder WHERE in the world did all my free time go?? how will i ever do the dishes, mop my floor, fold laundry ever again!? like you, i am in transition again and i'm trying to figure it out. it's hard. it's hard to DO all the managing and meal planning and grocery shopping and bathing and feeding and dressing. but it gets better and it's oh so rewarding. it is oh so worth it. and those who ask WHAT DO YOU DO ALL DAY obviously haven't been there. because those of us who have, know exactly all the blood, sweat and tears that go into a mama's day.

    like my sister always says MOTHERHOOD IS NOT FOR WIMPS.
    thinking of you, claire.

    p.s. nap with her as long as you can!!

    1. Marta, my friend, I am going to write that in big letters and tape it up on my wall: Motherhood is not for wimps! You are so right.
      Your words absolutely made my day (as usual). You have influenced my life more than you will ever know.
      Thinking of you, Marta.

  7. Thank you. Thank you Thank You THANK YOU!! Our little girl is a month old today and I think I'm somewhere near where you were eleven months ago. Thank you for sharing from yourself, Claire. Love you!

    1. Annie, she's a month old already? How wonderful! You're doing it! I'm thrilled that my words brought you a little comfort today. Keep on plugging along. I bet you are the best little mama.

  8. Thank you Claire! I love this blog post! I should copy it into my journal. These have been my feelings lately (even though I don't have kids yet). People ask me all the time what I do being a "Hausfrau." (I don't work. I don't go to school. I don't have kids). But I love the answer you came up with - I progress.

    Like you,
    I learn. I read. I write.
    I (try to) cook. I'm learning how to run a household efficiently, the way I want to.
    I research. I look up definitions. I read articles.
    I simplify my life.
    I serve. I reach out to others.
    I remember birthdays. I write letters.

    Then I also
    work on the 30 goals that I want to accomplish before I turn 30 (see my note on facebook)
    and I have other things I work on.

    I always have a long list of to-do's to check off. So I'm generally not bored. But I do worry that when a baby comes along that I will feel more isolated and confined to the house and bored. But this blog post gave me hope that I can still continue to progress - even with a baby. Thank you again! You inspire me :)

  9. Love this! It is hard to adjust from "I'm-so-busy-all-the-time-I-can't-even-think" to hours of absolutely nothing planned. Yet it amazes me how much I still do every day. I felt like I was still so busy, but not getting anything done! I finally had to make some schedules for Evie and I so that I could keep my life somewhat organized. And I can report that staying home with baby all day is the best my life has ever been. It can be busy, boring, hard, fun, crazy. But it is always joyful.

  10. Claire-
    I've said it before and I will say it again. You are amazing! I know you are not perfect (though from my perspective you seem to be nothing but) and struggle with these things, like we all do, but you progress so much, and honestly when I look at you I think, "I hope that I can be like her someday!" Thank you so much for sharing so much of your private feelings here, I am so glad to know that I am not alone in my thoughts and feelings.
    And I also wanted to say that you were right. Though I may not have been diagnosed with postpartum, it definitely was and sometimes still is not easy to adjust from being "productive" (cleaning, making dinner, even blogging) to nurturing a productive member of society. Don't get me wrong he is the best thing that ever happened to me, and I would not trade my time with him, or the fact that I'm his mommy for anything, but sometimes its just hard at the end of the day when I have a clean, content, happy little boy (sometimes not even that), but the house is a mess, the bed not made, the laundry is over-flowing, dinner was leftovers and I'm still in PJ's with no make up on. This is when a good sense of humor comes in handy, and a husband who loves you, no matter what you are wearing, or what the house looks like. Lol.
    Thank you for all that you say and do. I really appreciate it!

  11. Wow, thank you for this post! You are such an inspiration to me. You are so talented and insightful. Thank you for putting into words what I feel. I LOVED this!!


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