there is no Nobel Prize for motherhood

I sit in a blue canvas chair and watch my five-year-old son experiment in his field laboratory under our deck.  I used to read while Philip played outside like this, but I left my paperback inside this morning. I entertain myself by gazing into our neighbors’ yards, voyeurism made possible by our homeowners association’s decree that fences would ruin the aesthetic. At 8:00 am on Sunday, there’s not much to spy on.

Meanwhile, Philip studies surface tension and buoyancy. From his wading pool he scoops rain 0728141514water in a dish and then sprinkles dirt harvested from alongside the house on top. He drops a yellow plastic square in the cup and notes the water’s displacement. He empties the container and repeats the process. Then he does it again.

I can’t help but smile at Philip’s broad grin in response to the cause and effect. No physicist would permit himself such a display of emotion. There are no pristine white lab coats here, either. Instead, there is an endearing smudge of dirt on Philips’s cheek and two muddy prints on the seat of his pants where he wipes his hands.

Yet, there is a reason why America’s Next Top Scientist isn’t airing on cable TV:  watching this is boring. I’m tempted to run inside and grab a thriller off my bookshelf.

Just as I think this, Philip provides all the drama I need. He drops the dish and bolts toward a neighbor’s yard. I jump from the chair to chase him.

“No, Philip! This way,” I huff.

For once, he turns back toward our house. I run with him in case, as in the past, he changes his mind and his direction. There is no barrier to stop him from sprinting into the road or the lake except my heart-pounding effort to keep up.

One lap around the house sates his impulse to run. He returns to his experiments.

I should be grateful that I am back to sitting. Most days Philip is more athlete than scientist. If I’m lucky, he circles our house. If I’m not, he dashes into our neighbors’ yards, and I trespass to catch him before he gets lost or hurt.  While chasing Philip to ensure he remains safe, I’ve injured my heel. My foot is resting, but my mind is wandering.

Last week, to combat boredom and be an involved parent, I tried to assist Philip in his botany studies: pulling weeds from one spot and replanting them in another. I didn’t follow his undisclosed protocols, so my participation was rejected. Today, Philip follows similarly stringent procedures. If the ground isn’t level where he places the dish of water before adding the dirt, he dumps the container and starts over. If he hasn’t added the precise amount of dirt, he tosses the contents and begins his ritual anew. I don’t bother to help.

I resign myself to sitting in this blue canvas chair, feeling my butt grow wet as my trousers absorb the morning dew. I hear a cow moo and contemplate how quiet it is. I watch Philip cycle through his experiment. I stay on guard in case the need to run overwhelms him.

I have nothing else to do except pull weeds and tie them into bundles.

39 thoughts on “there is no Nobel Prize for motherhood

  1. Thank you for sharing such an honest post on parenting and it’s more boring bits. Of which there can be many! 😉 on the plus, it sounds like P is well on his way with his experimentation with science though! Warm wishes from Glasgow x

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  2. “I didn’t follow his undisclosed protocols, so my participation was rejected.” — I love this line. And a lot of the other ones. Such a pleasant scene, so much interstitial tension.

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  3. “I resign myself to sitting in this blue canvas chair, feeling my butt grow wet as my trousers absorb the morning dew. I hear a cow moo and contemplate how quiet it is. I watch Philip cycle through his experiment. I stay on guard in case the need to run overwhelms him.” Great closing.

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  4. Totally get that having to be on guard to sprint at a moments notice. One of the wonderful quirks I’m discovering about autism. Seems to happen mostly by busy roads whereby my son develops the escapism skills of an octopus. Cue major adrenaline rush followed by a shaky come down.

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    1. Some advice I picked up: ask why does he run? Most times for my son, he just needs the physical release. That’s why I try to give him the opportunity to do it safely. Other times, he is expressing displeasure. That’s when I try to find safer ways for him to communicate. Good luck. I know it can be scary.

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  5. Great scene. I always loved watching my boys playing and experimenting. I too loved the line about the undisclosed protocols. One of my sons was always like that when he got deeply into a project.

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  6. I love how, in writing about mothering, you balance honesty with bone dry wit. No matter how much a mother loves her child, much of motherhood is repetitious and tedious. I think that is part of why we find children heartbreakingly lovable when they (finally) fall asleep. We moms can gaze at them and adore them, but we are free to get up and do our own thing at any point, assuming our precious angels remain asleep. I think that is why, at least for me, the sleepy time adoration sessions have lasted 5 minutes or less.
    Your son continues to impress me with his curiosity and drive to explore everything. It is a wonderful quality in a child, although it demands more of the parent. And I am a fan of your writing, and, I suspect, of your mothering style as well.

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      1. In my observation, play, for children, usually isn’t frivolous or even uniformly happy and carefree. I think kids figure out by trial and error what affect their ideas and actions have on what and who is around them. I sense from your writing that you appreciate the value of “serious play”, and you generously provide the safety Philip needs as he “goes to work” imprinting himself on his surroundings.

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  7. Ah, summer. You really captured what my day-to-day feels like now that I’m on break and home with the kids most days. I’m torn between boredom and wishing that nothing eventful interferes with my boredom.

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    1. I know what you mean. My foot is killing me, so every time I have to pace Philip around the house (we went ten times when I first got home from work last night) just aggravates the injury. I was brave and took the newspaper out with me after supper. Otherwise, I nod off!

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  8. Well written Cyn:) when my boy has a project he doesn’t trust anyone to be his assistant 😉 I learned at MORE THAN WORDS to just sit near and observe but then take similar stuff that he’s playing with and do my own thing. Take a peak and see if he’s watching and just keep doing my thing. It took a few days but then every time I did my thing he’d interrupt me and attempt to change what I was doing which is okay. He brought me into his play but on his terms. Maybe next time he will trust me to copy what I’m doing or like what I’m doing and try:) it’s taken a while but now we partner more..

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      1. Thank you:) I like the idea that a lot of times that’s how children join in the play with each other. They copy what the other child is doing and then add their own personal twist to the play once they are allowed to join the play. Out of the mouths of babes right? 🙂

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  9. Cyn, you did something wonderful here. You captured “a day in the life of” and magically transported the reader directly into your head. We saw what you saw and we felt what you felt. I imagined myself there with you and Philip – peering up through a crack in the deck; hypervigilantly waiting for the need to sprint across the yard. And you told the story in such a breezy believable tone. Your written voice just keeps getting stronger and stronger. This is definitely one of my favorite posts on the grid this week.

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  10. I wonder how many nobel-prize winners had a mother like that. It’s such a critical thing but few get the credit they deserve. An excellent look into a job so underappreciated.

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