We have a Summer Home in a Village Called Wits End

Yasha and I name things, our cars, our dwellings. But the names come when they come. Forced names don’t stick. We hadn’t named our current house in the past three years. A few weeks ago we named it Wits End, a name prompted by a confluence of events this summer.

I got busier in late April, which was long enough to see my summer time conflicts coming but not long enough to accomplish proper prep to avoid them. Besides, it wouldn’t have worked. Surprises arose. My dad got sick, twice. In addition to the worry, this cut short our standard summer plans. Other than some logistical hitches, however, coming home early was really only a problem because it meant we were all together, in the house at Wits End, for six poaching-heat weeks. (In Houston, the heat is wet. August doesn’t bake or fry us, it poaches us.)

I just didn’t have any plans for August because in the past August has involved about three weeks of heat avoidance relaxing, late bedtimes, and school prep. That works pretty well. Six weeks of late bedtimes, however, just makes everyone cranky. Cranky children bicker more than well rested ones. We already call the eldest two The Bickersons—at 4:30 in the afternoon they bicker about whether they are bickering and at 10:30 at night they are giggling besties—but when the girls start bickering more than occasionally, I know something is wrong. My tried and true tactic of separating bickering children by sending assortments to my mother’s for sleepovers wasn’t available because my mother moved in with us back in January. (Why I bought a Not So Big House for six people, I don’t know. We have hardly lived alone since we became a sixsome.)

If bickering children wasn’t enough noise, continuing our summer animal adventures an escaped cockatiel flew into our yard in late July. We estimate he’d been

Meet Andi, the loudest 11 ounces in the Animal Kingdom.

Meet Andi, the loudest 11 ounces in the Animal Kingdom.

loose for a few days and had learned about hawks and cats. I have an old birdcage in the garden as art; he wanted in. I got lovebirds as a kid by catching a pet shop escapee in our yard. The kids thought this was a way cool parallel event. HGClaudia has already planned to catch parakeets when she has kids. But my mother remembered a different parallel: lovebirds are noisy, very noisy. Cockatiels are too. And the dogs are jealous when we talk to the bird. They bark in protest. All of this is the long way of saying that our house is rarely quiet.

Don’t get me wrong, clan Loftis had a great summer (and my father recovered), but my nerves are frayed and the children are suffering from an excess of togetherness. Penelope Trunk thinks public school, or any outside the home school, is just a glorified form of babysitting. She’s not wrong. That is one of it’s functions. I quibble with the “just”. Among school’s many uses is away time for siblings. By next Friday, I expect bickering levels to return to normal.

That should help my frayed nerves, but the kids only aggravated my frayed nerves this summer. My dad and my writing did the initial work. It was summer, I’d planned a series of happy, funny posts, such as The Diary of A Transplanted Suburban Mom. But events kept bumping the happy stuff. Instead I did fatherhood research complete with heartbreaking interviewsunintended consequences of the contraception mandate, breastfeeding mommy wars, Christian persecution in the Middle East and what we might do about it, Ann Coulter on international charity, the US’s border crisis, and suicide. The suburban mom piece is coming soon if only because I need to write something happier for a round. Girl in a Country Song was about as chipper as my summer writing got.

If you have gotten the impression that I’m looking forward to school starting on Monday, yes, yes I am.


Herd Dogs vs. Possum (Not really vs. so much as watching)

Fourth of July is a late night for us. And we fly the next day, as usual.* So I was trying to sleep in, but a no sleepover article that a friend posted on FB was churning my gut. (That’ll be an article in the next few weeks.) I went to make coffee to write a reply. And this is what I found in the den. Herd dogs and possums.Herd Dogs vs Possum

Note, they aren’t chasing the varmint. They are just watching it, making sure it doesn’t go any further into the house. Or so I thought. When Jim finally got the critter out—he had to use a big shovel as the dogs wouldn’t chase it but their guardian pose had it playing, well, possum. It wasn’t going to walk out that door up those two steps.

When we got it outside, Sydney (the black dog) went out the dog door, picked it up like a puppy, AND TRIED TO CARRY IT BACK IN THE DOG DOOR! (I don’t often use shouty capitals. This seemed like a good time to make an exception.) That’s how the varmint got in! It’s Sydney’s pet! The dog who allows my daughters to dress her in tutus (scroll down) she adopted a possum. When my mom got in from staying with my dad last night, she completely freaked out, because if that “pet” gets brought back in the house while we are gone—well, she just has my brother and my contractor who will be painting while we are away, set to speed dial. Sydney is my brother’s dog anyway. To my poor dear contractor, to whom I will break this news at a BBQ later this afternoon, sorry, my friend. Looks like you pulled varmint duty at the Loftis house. (For the record, he’s one of those great, manly guys that seem so elusive in the modern era but aren’t. He’ll tease us, but happily help my mom out in a pinch. And, yeah, I’m using a little flattery psychology. Not strictly necessary, but deserved.)

By the way, possums are really ugly.

*This year I checked the passports months ago… and again last week. Maybe next year, we’ll have a normal 4th of July.

Resorting to the Just Do It Approach

I knew summer was going to be difficult for writing, but I wasn’t ready for this. It’s like those times, after the kids sleep through the night, when someone is sick and not sleeping and you wonder how in the world you dealt with broken sleep every night. How did I ever write anything? I’m right back in the early days of motherhood when it seemed my time went though a wood chipper.

I rose early to write and cook breakfast before the children awoke. I started on a how the Clintons are like the Hepburns piece for @TheConWom, but when The Transom arrived and I made coffee, I found that Domenench beat me to it. Brainstorming another angle while frying the bacon, I saw that Meriam, her children, and this time her husband have been “re-arrested”–kidnapped maybe–by some Sudanese security forces called the Agents of Fear. According to Amnesty International their MO involves taking people to “ghost houses” for torture sessions. Last night news broke that 60 more girls and 31 boys were kidnapped by Boko Haram. Compared to #bringbackourgirls frenzy in the spring, few seem to notice. And I’ve only seen one tweet about the boys.

I tried to write all of it–that’s mistake #1. Attempts at concentration met with:Sydney in a tutu or two

  • Burnt pancakes by the children. Bacon, fruit, and yogurt wasn’t enough food for them, so they cooked. I’m all for that even though it usually involves my intervention at some point. Adding butter to a rocket hot pan makes smoke and then cooks pancakes more quickly than when Daddy does it.
  • A dog in a ballet (see picture)
  • A classic example of how boys play games with rules and girls try to change the rules. My eldest daughter HGClaudia (formerly known as Cupcake) thought that the 5 second grace period should have been 8 seconds, or at least that is what I gather from the yelling. That sent me to try to edit a working draft related to none of the topics of the day.
  • A battle over bathing suits. All three girls want the purple one. (Pink has been over for a while.)
  • A mini-drama involving rocks in the pool and leaking goggles.

It’s been a long time since I wrote a post almost stream of consciousness in one sitting, but I just had to get something writing related accomplished. The Just Do It approach used to work. Here’s hoping.

UPDATE: Four days later…Just Do It still works. I’ve finished 2 and have 3 more almost ready. But most of my old writing tricks don’t work. If I leave the house for a remote office (Berryhills or cafe with wifi) now the kids are older and can call me with their questions. Interruptions and broken time are just summer. So I’ve resorted to my When in Rome adaption, if you only have small blocs of time, do things that only require small blocs of time, tweeting, short reading, commenting. That will work and I’ve not done it in a while. I can also just go with summer and get back to full on housewifery for a few weeks. My errand basket is pretty full, come to think of it.

How to Get Kids to Read Over the Summer

3f39124128a0b45abeb59010.LIf Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pitts? My mom had Erma Bombeck’s book on her nightstand for months. I loved the graphics on the cover. I asked her what it was about, but I don’t remember her telling me. I just remember getting interested in books. Maybe Bombeck’s book planted the seed of my parenting by bowl of apples theory. I explained it a little here in the context of news and ideas, but I use it for everything. Now thinking about it, I wish I had used a cherry analogy, because of mom’s book, and because I like cherries, and so does my husband who made me this cherry bowl that sits out instead of a bowl of apples whenever stone fruits are in season.


Attractive graphics to catch their attention and classic texts to keep it

But specific fruit aside, I have a few book series to recommend to scatter all about the house in attractive nooks or forts. Make the nooks. Provide the books. Back away. Let them surprise you. (Oh, and do a long tablet holiday. It’s summer. Go old school and cut off electronics except when you are making dinner. Yeah, I know that’s easier said that done, but it’s only really bad for the first three days the first time.)

Usborne illustrated books

I found these while in the UK. I now have multiple copies of a few because the children have read them so much, have packed them in so many suitcases (which is a pain as they aren’t light) that some of them fell apart. I recommend the lift the flap books, the story collections, the art books—all of them. Just check the Amazon reviews for the stray, ‘not up to Usborne standards’ review thread.

UPDATE: A few weeks later, I can report another Usborne success story added to family lore. Terremoto, 6, had the Dickens collection. Calvin, 10, and HGClaudia, 8, started complaining because she can’t read well yet. She was just following the pictures, they protested. They wanted the book to continue reading Oliver Twist from Yasha’s reading the night before. They convinced Terremoto to do something else, looked up what they wanted about Oliver Twist and then started reading David Copperfield together. Calvin reads faster than HGClaudia, so after about 20 minutes, they started bickering over who got the book. By this point, I’d had enough of all the bickering over a book and so told them that there were plenty of books around the house, to which HGClaudia whined, “Yes, but only one of them is Dickens!”

Usborne, I highly recommend Usborne.

Great illustrated classics

These are out of print but easy to find used. These are cheap newsprint copies, not heirloom quality, but for laying about the house and drawing a curious eye, they are hard to beat.

[Poet] For Young People

I stumbled upon these about 2 years ago. Lovely and appropriate for the poet artwork illustrations, biography and poem background, and of course poetry. I have a stack of them next to the remote control. Don’t laugh, sometimes they flip on the TV and then flip though one of these.

Poetry for Young People

For apps I use Free Books. My daughter actually discovered Jane Austen this way. It is worth our time to put the good stuff where ever they might stumble upon it. I also recommend the Encyclopedia Britannica Kids apps. There are only a half-dozen or so and they aren’t free, but they are very cool. I play them sometimes.



On Teaching Liberal Arts to Teenagers

On The Trouble with Tablets

A modern day take on the Bowl of Cherries? The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club

The Once and Future Housewife

I’ve always known that full on housewifery would be temporary, but I hadn’t thought about it in a while. I’ve been busy with kids, household management, and a slowly growing freelance writing career.

Events conspire. Life happens while you aren’t paying attention. Happily, they are good events. My writing career stopped growing slowly. In a matter of days, I got offered a position as senior contributor at The Federalist, added to PJTatler (PJMedia‘s political blog), and got a short weekly column at ConservativeWomen.co.uk among other requests.  The week prior I had booked a trip to London for business. The startup I’ve been working for is expanding into the US. I am organizing the Hub Dot Texas launch for September. (That link will go live in mid-July. Central is putting the finishing touches on the new website.)

When I took a short writing break to organize my many fragments and drafts for my new workload, I received two articles on housewives and moms. One from Melissa Braunstein on not calling her a homemaker and another by Penelope Trunk on what it means to work full time. Since this is a blog called An American Housewife and my first blog was An American Housewife in London, I obviously have no objection to anyone calling me a homemaker. Where Melissa sees an “unnecessary invitation to condescension” I see a dare. (Melissa thinks I have atypical energy. I told her I have atypical hard headedness.) But she did get me thinking about the changes in my day to day life.

Gone are the days that I blogged at the kitchen table while the children napped or that I composed posts in the grocery aisle. Gone too are the fractured days, random bits of time split by naps, nappy changes, cooking, temper tantrums, random bathroom cleanups, and midday school runs. I still work largely on the children’s schedule, but the “largely” is new. Six months ago, I always worked on the children’s schedule.

As I mulled these things while watching a half-dozen or so kids in my pool, my sister-in-law came to pick up Charlie Brown and told me she didn’t need our shared nanny and housekeeper anymore. Charlie Brown will be in school next year and often at my house, so I could offer the wonderful Lucy a full-time position if I wanted. Since my workload had shot well past manageable part-time freelance,  I offered Lucy a full-time household admin job. She accepted.

And then it clicked.

I’m not a housewife anymore. I oversee the day to day life administration, yes, but I don’t do most of it anymore and have been phasing it out for a while. For a second, I panicked. That Penelope Trunk post suddenly took on new meaning. Thinking of her comment about full-time motherhood from the kids’ perspective, at dinner I casually asked my children what they thought mommy did. The answers were mom things with the eldest two mentioning my writing. They are older and gaining independence, and so they hadn’t noticed a change and don’t feel like they are competing for my time. The progression seems normal to them.

I was relieved, because that’s how I planned for this to go back when I plotted my life-after-mothering-infants-and-toddlers. My husband picked up on my worry and reassured me. He’s not worried, I guess because he thinks I know how to balance these things. He sees me merely adjusting to the changes.

One of the changes, I will stop blogging. I could post here, but every time I start a post it becomes an article change the type of blogging I do. I intended to streamline and stop blogging, but then—just as I put the finishing touches on this post—the ever wise and insightful Belinda Pollard at Small Blue Dog Publishing sent out a post about ripple effects and how authors should blog. She’s right. When it comes to social media, I think she’s often right. So after mulling her advice and hitting upon the idea to combine the Hub Dot philosophy of connecting women through storytelling, I’m sticking around and aiming for once a week posts on a how-to, a story, or a round-up of interesting long reads on my faves: law, pop culture, women, or storytelling…

All of this happened a few weeks ago. I’m almost on top of my new workload. In another day or two I should be in front of my to do list…just in time for the last day of school. So, for a few days at least, I’m the once and future housewife. I’ll probably move in and out of that state for a few more years to come.

The Confidence Gap

My response to the Atlantic‘s “The Confidence Gap” and the book the article is adapted from The Confidence Code published this morning. In it I refer to an old Harper’s article “Requiem for the Women’s Movement”. Here is a photo of the text I referred to. And many thanks to commenter Heather who sent her collection of Redstockings and old periodicals down to me and commenter ari last year.

Harper's requiem

Can Grandmothers Have It All?

Until the flurry of stories about Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy, like this one at Yahoo!, I’ve never seen a ‘Can grandmothers Have It All?’ debate. I’ve seen women of a certain age discussing regrets or memories of motherhood and perhaps wanting to do grand-motherhood differently—both ways, either shunning it or participating in it—but never the Have It All problem that plagues current mothers.

A ‘Can grandmothers Have It All?’ debate is a new, and completely manufactured, debate to feed into the Hillary Clinton as poor burdened, discriminated-against woman narrative. (The original Have It All debate was also manufactured, but that’s a post for another day.) It will expand the Mommy Wars to grandmothers so she can reuse “what was I supposed to do, bake cookies?” messaging. I’m with Sean Davis that the baby won’t have an effect on the election, at least not in any straightforward way. Hilary Clinton’s grand-motherhood, however, will inflame the Mommy Wars, which moms are desperately trying, in vain*, to stop.

An intergenerational rift

Of course grandmothers can ‘Have It All’. Without the physical limitations of childbearing and more so the time demands on primary caregivers for young children, balance is easy. Grandmothers only have a problem if their daughters need or want them to participate in regular childcare so that they can try their own hand at Having It All. In this case, if her mother runs for President then Chelsea Clinton has fewer options for balancing her own life after the baby arrives, as her mother won’t be available for regular childcare. This is a recurring problem for younger women, the lack of a family village, but Chelsea at least is wealthy enough to be able to afford even a highly credentialed nanny for in home care. Needing family care is more critical for poorer women.

Regardless, Chelsea might balk. The more Hillary plays up her grandmother status—which is likely the humanizing Hillary plan—the more mother coverage Chelsea will endure. Her childcare choices will be vetted in the news just like the Duchess of Cambridge’s even while there is no danger of Hillary Clinton as granny-nanny. Additionally, as mothers know, what we think we know about how protective we will feel towards our children often changes once the baby is in our arms. Theoretically, attending events with the little one in tow doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when the logistics get difficult and the little one’s needs for sleep and routine get low priority, Chelsea might resist having her child used as a campaign prop.

Between the increased coverage and defense of her child, Chelsea very well may begin to identify with mothers of her generation who are defensive about the intensity of motherhood and let down by their own mothers’ lack of involvement.

I don’t think putting this conflict between mothers and their grown daughters in the news is a wise campaign strategy for Hillary Clinton. She needs lockstep solidarity among women. It would be hubris for her to assume she has it, especially among younger women who seem to be growing tired of being used as props in their mothers’ plans.


*Why are the attempts to stop the Mommy Wars “in vain”, or why will Chelsea face more scrutiny if her mother invokes her grandmother status for political purposes?  Mothers fight the Mommy Wars out of insecurity born of inexperience. The often seen proposal about expressing support for each others’ choices will not solve the problem that we feel judged by other’s choices and need the endorsement of copycats. Until mothers feel secure in their choices, they will continue to seek the supposedly scientifically verifiable, credentialed expert opinion over experience and the follow-the-rules comfort of unified theories of parenting, as well as continue to obsess over imagined avocado aiming. In this environment, anything that high profile mothers do differently is seen not only as judgment but also social pressure to lure away mothers who do it your way.