For mothers, quality time outweighs cost-effectiveness

A shopper walks through the floral displays at a Kroger supermarket, Monday, May 5, 2008, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

BY BARBARA J. ELLISON

Let’s face it. As I watch the “cost effective” mentality attach itself to the American work-ethic, it is inescapable that whether I look back or ahead, my existence as Mom (the mother of five children) has never been and will not be cost effective. Even after the sticky fingerprints of children have been washed off, I can see the handwriting on the wall. I can hear the bells tolling — signaling the end of the traditional American saying — “as American as Mom and apple pie.” Sentiment may have saved me until now, but the final knell is sounding. My usefulness has become obsolescent. “Apple pie” will soon stand alone, unfettered and unencumbered by any association with Mom.

Diapering babies had some value, but the computer byte cannot be stretched to show any benefit or value on the balance sheet to rocking and singing to babies or to countless repetitions of “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” or “Row, row your boat ... .” Stopping to play peek-a-boo with the toddlers, or helping with building blocks actually served to delay such productive tasks as finishing the laundry sooner.

Trips with children down grocery store aisles may have added to supermarket profits, but both my budget and my temperament often became unbalanced when chewy or sticky items were not removed from the cart before the checkout counter. (None of the above had been on the original shopping list.) Making pancakes in the shape of animals may have delighted the youngsters, but it required extra batter and so was not cost-effective.

An efficiency engineer would have thrown up his hands in dismay as I made trips to school to deliver a forgotten book report or term paper. No accountant would have approved of the time and effort to remove popped bubble gum bit by bit to spare my daughter’s long tresses from a severe shearing.

All of these years the evidence has been mounting against me. Even though I realized getting a dog would make a dent in the family revenue, I relented. I should be chagrined that, knowing better, I acquiesced to the children’s entreaties and insistence that they would take care of the pet (even though I knew in advance how hollow their claims were). My logic was shredded along with the slippers, pillows and socks the teething retriever sank her teeth into. Where was my budgetary sense when I accompanied the children to the pet store to select goldfish, including landscaping, food and the bowl that would house the fish during their short life span?

As the children left one by one for kindergarten or first grade, and I gradually disengaged the small clinging fingers entwined around my hand, it was not cost-effective that I lingered in the school yard to watch them, throw an extra kiss or let them see an encouraging smile if they looked back. Sewing buttons on is obviously more cost-effective than coaxing curls or tying and retying bows. But interrupting chores to allow the children a closer look at a rainbow after a storm is not cost-effective. Nor is a rosebush, or poetry. Errands could have been completed sooner or supper served earlier, if I had not stopped to encourage the children to find four-leaf clovers. Oh, the time that was a wastin’ as I told them about what things were like in the days when I grew up or about their grandparents.

No excuse can be offered in the realm of budgeting for the many times Mom prepared extra food for supper so the children could invite friends to stay for supper or so my husband could bring someone home for dinner. It was not frugal to offer the family an array of dressings to accommodate their varying tastes. Cost-effective manuals would have promptly blacklisted me. I knew that fixing my oldest son’s favorite dessert, Boston cream pie, was not cost-effective. Neither was preparing one batch of tuna fish salad with celery and another portion with mayonnaise alone. Having grandparents for Thanksgiving dinners or holiday occasions is obviously not cost-effective.

I am aware that I have contributed to my own demise as Mom. The children were given piano and violin lessons, even though I knew there was only a 10 percent (make that 0 percent) chance that they would ever perform in concert. I never pointed out that Mozart is not cost-effective — too many notes and embellishments. There is no way to give a respectable cost basis for my attendance at their piano or flute recitals or for sewing a tree costume for a 12 year old to appear as a tree in “Sleeping Beauty.” It was undoubtedly cost-defective to arrange baseball and soccer practices and car pools and to watch all of those games and matches without the likelihood of a minor/major league or professional contract in the offing.

Even when they became teenagers, I persisted in offering advice though I knew that there was only a 22 percent chance of their listening and a 12 percent chance of their following any of that advice.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to being cost-effective. I would have welcomed and cooperated with any plan that would have shown me how to train the children to pick up their clothes on Monday, how to instill positive attitudes on Tuesday, how to teach them integrity on Wednesday, responsibility on Thursday, and on Fridays trained them to brush their teeth regularly.

I will accept the verdict and the elimination of “Mom” from the time-honored “apple pie” phrase. I have decided to be gracious as the family puts me, cost-ineffective Mom, out to pasture.

I just hope I won’t break a leg.

Barbara J. Ellison is a Charleston resident and a mother.