Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Keep your bon bons, I've got something better.

I've worked three years, two months and 10 days at my current job and have yet to see a raise or day off. I've recently earned a promotion by adding another client, but I fear that also means the privileges of unsupervised bathroom breaks and solo showers are on the way out.

I once thought my current position - full time stay at home mom, part time employee for our business- would mean enjoying the best of both worlds. I'd still get a paycheck and have something for myself, while being able to contribute to our family life financially, emotionally and be the one to care for our children. I wouldn't have to leave my child with anyone else and drive myself nuts with worry or guilt. I imagined caring for the children, taking better care of myself than I had been and greeting my husband with a hot dinner, clean house and the smile of a woman fulfilled. I just knew I'd find the time to finally work on that novel in my head.

Innocence is a beautiful and scary thing.

In reality, I haven't had a full night's sleep without responsibility for (and usually the waking, feeding, settling, or thoughts about) another human being since the end of 2004 when I hit the third trimester of my pregnancy. When I have time to write, it is sporadic and scattered, much like my hormone-riddled, sleep deprived brain. Maybe children think their mothers are dumb because we are - thanks to sleep deprivation, stress and hormones. I'm told this brain fog is temporary. I see moms with older children who give me hope, so I'm hanging in there...waiting for my brain to return.

No particular thing I do is that difficult, that's probably why outsiders seem to think I have the cushiest job ever. Feeding, changing, comforting, playing and teaching my children are things I enjoy immensely. Time with my children is rewarding and even changing diapers isn't a big deal. Well, there was the time the baby had a blowout when I didn't have a spare outfit or enough wipes and I had to change him on the seat of the car on a cold, windy day. That sucked, but we survived and he rode home with a new diaper and an origami type receiving blanket arrangment.

The thing is, the job isn't the sum of its parts. If it were, this would be a cake walk. Some people have said a stay at home mom sits around eating bon bons all day. I'm not sure what those are, but I haven't seen one in the last three years and some days I'm lucky to eat at all. Fact is, if I'm sitting down I'm either changing a diaper, nursing or doing something frivolous such as balancing the checkbook. Sometimes I don't even sit to do those things. With a three year old and a five month old, the majority of my day is centered around their food and poop. If you give them one, they're going to give you the other. And lots of it.

The three year old is potty trained at least, but any parent can tell you there's nothing like a potty trained three year old and a list of errands to run that will make you fondly reminisce about the days of diapers. Unless, of course, you want to see the toilets of every establishment you visit. I learned quickly which stores and offices have the cleanest and most accessible toilets. You know you're a parent when bathroom proximity and availability are a factor in choosing with whom you'll do business.

Sometimes I feel a bit nostalgic for the world I left behind, where my accomplishments were measurable. There was a time I could see the results of my work on a piece of paper, in numbers instead of abstract ideas. At times, I'm frustrated knowing many consider what I'm doing unimportant, insignificant, easy and "just" staying at home. I know women who consider staying home a sell-out, a step backward instead of progress. I don't doubt what I'm doing is important -there is value for our family specifically, even if the world does not see it. Even when I worry that I won't know whether I've done a good job until it's too late, until they have children of their own and fully realize how many mistakes I've made.

Then my daughter says, "Mommy I love you. You're my best friend," and it changes everything. My son giggles and squeals at my silly faces. I am reminded that I get to see their firsts, teach them to talk and be the one to witness the everyday miracles that happen in between the meals, diaper changes, meltdowns and crayola mustaches. These days will not last. My children will be grown before I know it, and while I sometimes get frustrated I've always known I will never regret spending time with them. I am incredibly blessed to know I won't have to look back and think "I wish I could have done that." Their mere presence is a miracle in our lives, I'm lucky to have them and lucky to have this opportunity. Not a day goes by, not even the hardest ones, without me knowing that.

Staying at home is a choice I've made, a choice I remake every day I spend with my children. It isn't always easy - often it isn't...it's just the right thing for our family. Some days my husband comes home to a hot meal, a somewhat clean house and fairly happy family. Sometimes he's greeted with a trashed house, a three year old who didn't nap, a teething infant and the news dinner will be delivered some time in the next 45 minutes. On those days I wonder who is more worried - him worrying I might quit or me thinking I might be fired. Each day, I juggle home, work and child care responsibilities and no day sees everything getting done. When I fall into bed at night, I know I'll be awake within a couple of hours at most and my to-do list will be longer than it was when I woke the morning before.

It's not unusual for my day to start with a feeding somewhere between 2 and 4 am, when the previous day ended with the 3 year old's midnight nightmare. Most days are a blur - similar enough to recognize I'm doing the same tasks over and over again, but unpredictable enough that I can't always know how long (or if) either of them will nap, whether I'll get much accomplished or if I should order pizza now or wait until after I've managed to burn dinner.

There was a time when women stayed at home, their sole career consisting of the caretaking of home, husband and children. It was the only option considered acceptable and while it was a lot of work it was at least considered acceptable, valued work. Now women have more options. We can have a career, or family, or even both....but no matter what we choose it will be judged and sometimes by those closest to us.

I'm lucky to have a husband who acknowledges the work of my day and values it, who recognizes that this is the decision we made together and I need his help to make it work. He does more in terms of help with the house and the kids than many fathers I know, and his support lightens my load in more ways than one.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether people think my job is easy or if they think I have nothing to do but sit around all day. They have clearly never stayed up all night to watch a sick child breathe, tried to keep one child occupied with playdough while the other nurses or tried to balance the baby on their hip while they stir spaghetti sauce and explain to a preschooler why it rains. Even though their boss will never (hopefully!) try to join them in the bathroom, demand 24/7 shifts, throw some of their best work down on the floor (or throw it up on their shirt), or smear vaseline/lotion/baby powder all over their work area, they can continue to think their job sucks compared to mine.

Because it does.


Jessica (squawky) said...


VivC said...


MommaLlama said...

How are things going?