Read Domestic Affairs Online

Authors: Joyce Maynard

Domestic Affairs

Domestic Affairs
Enduring the Pleasures of Motherhood and Family Life
Joyce Maynard

For my mother, Fredelle Maynard, who inspired me with a longing to raise children, because it was so clear she loved doing it

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH

A Visit with My Grandmother

Pie Crust

Thinking about My Father

The Yellow Door House

OTHER CALLINGS

Babysitter Problems

Tuning in to Ozzie and Harriet

Getting Off the Plane

Death of the Full-Time Mother

Mother of Nine

BABY LOVE

The Ninth Month

Baby Longing

The Six
A.M
. Report

The End of Diapers

DAY IN, DAY OUT

Mess

The La-Z-Boy Lounger

Counting Heads

Swamped

FAMILY EXPANSION

Audrey Gets a Brother

The Third Child

Willy Walks

Night at the Ramada Inn

UPWARD MOBILITY

My Kids and Money

The Going-Out-of-Business Sale

The Ice Show Comes to Town

Chance of a Lifetime

Buying the Tent

TALK OF THE TOWN

Softball Season

Ursula Leaves Town

Marlon Brando’s Phone Number

The Norton Fund

School Play

Travelers Pass Through

More Babysitter Problems

CELEBRATIONS

Cutting Down the Tree

Shopping at Three in the Morning

Barbie’s Shoe

Charlie’s Birthday

YEARNINGS

Oklahoma Friend

Visitor at the Mental Hospital

The Lure of the Roller Rink

Greg and Kate’s Wedding

The Love Boat

On the Sidelines

Stranger in the Night

END OF ENDURANCE

Dressed for Snow

Tomato Sauce

Mom’s Problems

Flipping Out

Five-Mile Road Race

TERRORS

Car Pool

Reported for Child Neglect

Perilous Journey

Christa

CUTTING THE CORD

Audrey Turns One

I Want You

Lost Purse

My Daughter Gets Dressed

The Dollhouse

My Children Move On

Sailing Boats

GROWING OLDER

Sixteen

Joan Baez Concert

The Baby Stroller

Selling Our Land

Greg and Kate Have a Baby

MARRIAGE—MINE AND OTHERS

How I Married Steve

AJ’s Divorce

Argument at the Muffler Shop

Christian Marriage

House Hunting

The Knives

POSTSCRIPT

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A BIOGRAPHY OF JOYCE MAYNARD

INTRODUCTION

S
OMETIMES THE SUN RISES
first. More often, it’s my two-year-old, Willy, who does. And that’s when my day begins.

I roll out of bed and put on water for coffee, and Willy opens the cupboard to choose his cereal. (Maybe a combination of Kix, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Rice Krispies. Maybe oat flakes, Shredded Wheat, and Raisin Bran, with sliced banana, because that’s what they show on the front of the cereal box. Or he wants the toy pictured on the back, that you have to send away for. Or he may put in a bid for his Halloween candy, in which case, when I tell him no, he’ll cry and swear that if he can have just one, he’ll be good forever.)

He wants to pour the milk, and I always let him, and he always spills it. We turn on
Sesame Street.
He wants to carry his bowl into the living room himself. He spills cereal on his pajamas and demands a fresh pair. I say, reasonably, that once we’re changing him anyway, we might as well put on his shirt and overalls. But my son is two years old: This kind of logic does not apply. He wants different pajamas—for the ten minutes that remain before daybreak. He wants his Superman pair that are in the wash. And he wants to put them on himself. Which (after I retrieve them from the dirty clothes) he does, with two feet in one leg hole, and inside out.

Now my son is angry, indignant. And because just about everything in his life right now is involved with me, his current problem is all my fault. He cries. He says he doesn’t like me anymore. He hates this cereal. He wants to put the peel back on the banana. He wants cartoons, and the fact that this isn’t Saturday is immaterial, because (once again) I should be able to conjure up a few Smurfs if I really try. “No cartoons today,” I say, in a calm, level voice—though I am in fact nearing the breaking point. And now Willy’s wailing has roused my son Charlie, who thumps down the stairs, with his bear in his hand and his thumb in his mouth, requesting oatmeal with maple syrup and raisins to look like a face, while from her bed my daughter Audrey is weeping that I let her sleep in too late and now she’s missed everything.

It’s five minutes to seven. The coffee water has just come to a boil.

I make the peanut butter sandwiches for Audrey’s lunch and get to work braiding Audrey’s hair while my husband Steve attempts to round up the right number of shoes, socks, hair clips, mittens, and little boxes of juice. Steve warms up the car, Audrey searches frantically for her piano book. Willy insists on putting his own boots on. Charlie wants help with his. Mr. Rogers is just placing his suit coat on a hanger and lacing up his sneakers as I zip up the last pair of snow pants. My coffee sits on the counter, cold.

At times, in the middle of the chaotic morning rites of getting everybody up and dressed (some out the door, some not) my mind flashes to an image of the old
Donna Reed Show
that I used to watch when I was my daughter’s age: Donna Reed, in her immaculate starched apron and her perfect hairdo, standing at the door of her tidy home, handing out the lunch bags and kissing her husband and children goodbye as they head out to face the day. Her husband forgets to kiss her, and Donna looks vaguely distressed, but in the end he always comes back and gives her a peck on the cheek. Then she smiles contentedly and gets on with her day. Which is what I try to do also, although sometimes, by eight
A.M.
I feel more like taking a two-hour nap. I might have been climbing a mountain or competing in a triathlon, but in fact all I’ve been doing is arbitrating disputes over mittens, pouring out cereal, and sponging off counters. Some adventure.

I was a newspaper reporter in New York City once, and I wrote about fires and elevator operators’ strikes and dog shows and murders. It was a pretty exciting line of work for a young single woman who’d grown up in a small New Hampshire town. I loved having a job that allowed me to earn my living doing what I like best anyway, which is observing life and asking questions. But I knew from the first that it was no life for a married woman with young children, and so when I met the man I wanted to marry and with whom I wanted to raise children, I quit my job and left the city. We moved back to my home state of New Hampshire, to this two-hundred-year-old farmhouse at the end of a dirt road with no neighbors in sight, five miles outside of a small town with no stop light or movie theater, no elevator operators’ strikes or, for that matter, elevators. Steve, my husband, is a painter, who sometimes paints canvases and sometimes houses. He built himself a studio; I got pregnant. At first it was enough simply to be together in our new home, and having a baby.

But when, after the first idyllic months up here, the reality began to hit us that we’d both have to do something about earning a living, I fell into despair. Truthfully, I guess I also missed the excitement and adventure of my former career in this new life of mine, in which the big news of the day might be the ripening of our first tomato or a trip to the town dump. I was a reporter without a story—and where once I could always hop on the subway and find one, now I was seven months pregnant, with the snow piled so high I couldn’t see out my kitchen windows and our only car buried deep in the drifts.

I made bold plans that as soon as our baby was born I’d get right back to business as usual, and from a tip I’d picked up I even got myself an assignment to do a story about houses of prostitution in midtown Manhattan. Six weeks after her birth, I strapped Audrey into the infant seat beside me and drove to New York to conduct my research. I made phone calls to an underworld character who could be reached only between three and four
A.M.
I even made it to one East Side town house, whose shades were all drawn—where, I was told, there was a woman who would talk to me round about the same hour of night, if I’d meet her at a certain corner.

Only Audrey didn’t cooperate: She needed to be nursed when I was supposed to be taking notes. She cried in the background while I attempted to carry on my interview with the underworld character. The problem wasn’t confined to Audrey, either. I realized, once I left my hearth and home, that by my hearth, in my home, was really where I wanted to be with this new child of mine. By day two of work on my assignment I knew the whole thing was impossible. Not simply this particular project, but also the notion that having a baby would change nothing in my life but the number of exemptions on our income tax return. Walking down a particularly fashionable section of downtown the day before returning home, with my empty notebook and Audrey strapped on my chest in her corduroy front pack, I saw a chic-looking woman stare at us, stop, and then do a double take. “Oh,” she said, seeing that I’d observed her. “I was just surprised to see you had a real baby in there. At first I thought it was just an accessory.”

I had a real baby all right. And I had learned something from my ridiculous, impossible attempt at combining investigative reporting with mothering a newborn. Having a child changes everything. If I was still going to write, I’d do better to acknowledge and adapt to my child’s existence than to pretend she wasn’t there.

So I made my child and my home my new beat. I set up my typewriter on my kitchen table and I began reporting on my own life and the little dramas that happened in the sandbox and the supermarket, and discovered that there was in fact plenty of action to be found without having to venture past the end of our driveway. Over the years there have been more characters added to the scene (Audrey’s two brothers, plenty of friends, and strangers passing through). A few summers back, Steve built a little house for me to work in, out behind our own bigger one and his studio, so I no longer work surrounded, as I used to, by the smells of dinner cooking and the sight of laundry in need of sorting. But my situation remains in many ways the same: My mind is always on the home front. I could get on a plane to New York City, by myself, and write about the goings-on of the big world beyond our little town a little more easily these days than I could have nine years ago. But the fact is, the adventure that occupies me now is making a home, making a marriage work, trying to have a career. And central among them all: the difficult, exhausting, humbling, and endlessly gratifying business of raising children, of ensuring the health of both body and soul.

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