Citizen Green: Working parents are an invisible class

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One Saturday morning in early December, I dropped my 3-year-old daughter off at her grandmother’s house in east Greensboro and drove north for about 30 minutes on Highway 29 to a small, unincorporated village called Pelham near the Virginia state line.

I was looking for a Ku Klux Klan “victory” parade to celebrate election of Donald Trump. The Klan’s whereabouts were a mystery, and as the hours wore on they remained conspicuously absent.

Meanwhile, in the late morning a growing number of militant, left-wing counter-demonstrators had gathered at a rest area, along with an international media corps that included a reporter from Vice, a producer based in Chapel Hill working for HBO and a correspondent from Japan. Even without the Klan, it turned into a pretty spectacular story when masked anti-fascist protesters wielding baseball bats took to a country road with a banner denouncing the Klan, and a Caswell County deputy failed to prevent the obstruction of a public roadway. I followed the anti-fascist contingent up the highway to the city of Danville, across the state line, where they thought they might encounter the Klan. They briefly rallied in front of the courthouse and then broke for lunch.

The event fell on a weekend when my wife was scheduled to work, and I was responsible for taking care of our daughter. My mother in law, who works third shift at a nursing home, agreed to spot me on childcare so I could cover the Klan parade. So after the counter-demonstrators went to lunch, I surmised there wasn’t much else to report and headed back to Greensboro.

That afternoon, while my daughter was taking a nap, I posted a story with photos and video about the anti-fascist march in Caswell County. A commenter on Facebook asked me why I hadn’t written about the anti-Klan march through Danville. I apologized for the omission and explained that I was juggling reporting with childcare duties. My apology, in turn, elicited an enthusiastic note of congratulations from Karen, an old friend in Asheville, who commended me for successfully balancing family and work.

It felt good to be recognized for doing a good job as a parent. I’m not sure if I had ever received that kind of positive reinforcement for parenting from anyone other than my wife. In contrast, kudos for my paid professional work as a journalist are almost embarrassingly ample, and sometimes, I suspect, undeserved.

Anyone who works a professional gig and actively parents will tell you that the latter is the more challenging job. At my house on Thursday and Friday mornings when I have responsibility for childcare, mornings are a scramble to toilet, dress and feed my child, interspersed with showering and getting dressed myself, making coffee and feeding the cat, and then cleaning up after breakfast. I’m increasingly conscious of the need to make these tasks into teaching opportunities: With encouragement and monitoring, she can go to the bathroom on her own and dress herself. Likewise, when our daughter makes a mess her mom and I goad her to clean it up even though doing it ourselves would often be quicker.   

Washing dishes means that first I need to find a way to occupy my daughter with her toys or books. Cleaning the living room often presents an opportunity to get her involved in putting toys away. As another facet of domestic work, it’s amazing how much time can be consumed with chasing after a child with tissue to wipe a runny nose and then walking to another room to throw the tissue away. When all the mini-crises and have-tos of family life are met and surpassed, there might be time to read together, practice writing letters and undertake other learning activities like discussing shapes and colors.

I know I’m not alone in feeling somewhat invisible as a working parent. I am beginning to relate to the people who are so busy they haven’t even heard of participatory budgeting, much less make the time to attend a meeting or show up for balloting. I constantly vow to go to punk-rock shows and then bail at the last minute, usually with the justification that I’m too broke.

This past Saturday, I thought I would take my daughter to the March for Science in downtown Greensboro as an act of politically engaged parenting, but we ended up going to the park instead so she could ride her scooter.

First, we stopped to visit our next-door neighbors, who were holding a yard sale.

As I mentioned the March for Science to my neighbor, Mike, we both looked at my daughter, who was squealing with delight while waving her arms like an animate scarecrow.

“She’s gonna be just like that,” Mike predicted with a mischievous smile.

The March for Science was a noble idea, but it was never really all that realistic.