Image: © 2014, S.L.B-C
I used to work.
Nope, scratch that, I still work (it’s just not in an office anymore, but more on that later).
What I mean is, I used to have a typical 7:30am-4pm J-O-B, the kind that included an actual paycheck and benefits. I was your typical “working mother”. Waking up at 5am while the baby still slept so I could sneak in a shower. Waking her up from dreamland, nursing her before getting her dressed for daycare, gulping down my morning cup of coffee whilst semi-watching the news on CNN. No matter how early I woke up, I inevitably always felt rushed leaving the house with my to-do list dancing around in my brain: Did I grab my purse? Did I make enough bottles? Did I leave the garage door open? Shit, I left my coffee on the counter.
Every day would start like the last, waking up with the intentions to leave the house earlier, just a few minutes, so I could drop my daughter off at daycare, say my goodbyes, and if I was lucky, have time to stop off at McDonald’s for a replacement cup of coffee before walking into the office by 7:30. But no matter how early I left, if that miracle did in fact happen, most days I would end up spending those precious few minutes doting on my little one in her daycare room before rushing off with only a few minutes to spare to get to work.
I was never the same after I had my daughter.
Though I loved my job and was good at it, I started to feel like I was just passing time till I could see her again. After her birth and my eventual return to work, no longer did I have lunch with the ladies, or run errands on my lunch break. Instead, my lunches were spent visiting and nursing my newborn. Looking back, It was those breaks in the middle of the work day, getting to be with her, that made the rest of the day bearable. I would feel such a relief when the end of the day would near and it would be time to go pick her up. I couldn’t wait to walk through the doors of her classroom to see her light up with joy when she saw me.
I could not have contemplated the depth of love and emotional attachment I would have for her before she was born. Before I was pregnant, heck even while I was pregnant, I swore I could NEVER be a stay-at-home mother (SAHM). The thought repulsed me. I would think about my ambitions, my career, my life! Why did I even get my degree if I was just going to stay home with the baby? I would think about what it would be like staying at home with a baby by myself (God forbid), and it terrified me. Changing diapers all day, watching cartoons I despised, cleaning up mess after mess, how do you even entertain a baby for a WHOLE DAY anyways?!
My thoughts on being a SAHM were, in fact, quite judgmental. How could those women do it? How could they give up on their careers? How could they sacrifice so much of themselves to JUST stay at home with their babies. Volunteering to be maids, cooks, house cleaners, a laundry service; all of that for FREE, no pay check! Where had their pre-baby ambitions gone? What about their dreams? Why would they willingly trade in their pant suits and high heels for a daily uniform of well-worn (albeit comfortable) pajamas and yoga pants. Weren’t we a more modern woman now? Couldn’t we “have it all”? Marriage, kids, and a successful career sans any maternal guilt?
Yes, I was that woman with those thoughts, and I had no clue what I was in for.
The first couple weeks of my maternity leave, I couldn’t wait to get back to work. I missed my friends and co-workers, and I missed being more than just a food source. But, a funny thing happened. About a month into my leave, I started to get the hang of things (motherhood that is), and suddenly, I felt a bond stronger than I had ever felt before. As the end of my six weeks of leave approached I started to feel a pang in my heart, a tug. I told myself that I was so ready to go back to work, to the real world, but I know now that I was in denial. I did not want to leave my baby.
Many hours of every day were spent cuddling with her, skin to skin, nursing her to sleep. I would stare at her tiny little body, holding her hand in my hand, amazed at how small she was but how my love for her was so large. (If I close my eyes now, I can still smell her newborn baby scent). I had never felt a peace like that before. She woke up a part of my heart that had not yet existed before her, or maybe it had, it was just waiting for her to fill it. As my return to work date finally arrived, I felt a sadness that I hadn’t been prepared to feel. But, I was also still so wrapped up in my modern thoughts of what a mother in the 21st century was. Though I had always been a lover of all things vintage, being a stay-at-home-mother was not a 1950’s image I wanted to replicate. I was not ready to say goodbye to that part of my life yet, baby or no baby, and so I went back to work.
But, wait, there’s more…
The back story to this was that at the time, my husband was stationed overseas in Manama, Bahrain on an unaccompanied tour. Working through his absence in our life was what I needed to do to get through it, taking care of our daughter on my own. Everyday was ground-hog day. Work, take care of baby, sleep, and repeat. Part of what made me love my job so much, and maybe the biggest reason why I couldn’t yet let go of my desire to have a “real” job, was that I just so happened to work with my best friends. These women kept me on solid ground when at times I felt like parenthood and military life were too much for me to handle. I had the best support system I could have possibly had in that situation, and as sad as I was to not be able to spend all day with my baby, I was still happy to see my friends and coworkers every time I came to work. I also, was and still am, ambitious by nature. I was “up and coming” in my line of work. I was the acting supervisor for my department; I loved my profession, and I wanted to see how far I could rise in it.
But then one day, word came to us that my husband had been selected for duty overseas, in Italy this time, and we would all go as a family. I had been in the grocery store when I got the message, pushing the cart, the kiddo strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn. I stood in the middle of the cereal aisle in shock. So many thoughts raced through my head. Yes! we will finally be together as a family! I can’t believe we are going to Italy again! This is going to be so awesome. Then, another set of thoughts occurred in the salad dressing aisle: Wait, what about my job? Will they even have my job overseas? I’m a veteran with a degree, I should be good, right? What if I can’t get a job…what if I have to be a stay-at-home mom for a while? Eek! I had all those thoughts and more in that grocery store.
Like a flash of lightning, the time flew by so fast that my hubby was finally home and the day had come for me to leave my job. It was one of the harder things I have had to do. I wasn’t just saying goodbye to my career there, I was saying goodbye to my friends, friends who had become my family. Friends who had watched my daughter for me when I was sick, invited me over on the weekends for dinner so that I wouldn’t be home, depressed, missing my husband; friends who knew what I was feeling without me even having to say it.
I had no idea what lay ahead in my future, but one thing I did know was that there was NO WAY I was going to be a stay-at-home mom (not permanently at least).
When we got to Italy, I was so hopeful that I would get a job right away. I quickly learned that there would be no position available for me that was similar to the one I had held in the states, but that didn’t deter me. While I job searched, I took care of my little one and domesticated myself. I didn’t want to admit it at first, but I really did love hanging out with her all day. I also found that it wasn’t as hard as I had thought it would be to “entertain” her all day. In the meantime, I submitted resume, after resume, after resume, all in hopes of getting called for an interview, I applied for things that I had never even done before because I had no other option. The first time I was told that my application didn’t meet the minimum requirements, I shrugged it off. The second time, I got over it just as quickly as I had the first. Then, something occurred to me, I was secretly happy, yes, happy, that I wasn’t even getting picked for an interview! Every time I got turned down, I thought, Great! More time with the kiddo.
It had been three months since we had packed up and left our last duty station, and three whole months that I had been spending every day and all day with my little girl, and suddenly, the thought of leaving her to go back to an office, starting a job at ground zero again, didn’t sound so appealing. I had come to love our daily routines. Waking up, making us an amazing breakfast, playing with her, putting her down for naps which were my favorite because that meant we got to cuddle, and just getting to be with her in general for all of her milestones instead of learning about them after the fact from a daycare provider.
Finally, I had to admit to myself and to my husband, the dirty little secret I had been keeping. I did not want to go back to work. An idea that sounded and felt so foreign to me just months earlier, now made sense in my heart. I can’t tell you the relief I felt once I said it out loud. Suddenly, I felt this invisible burden lift from me. I had been holding on, clinging to a set of ideas that no longer fit with who I was or what I wanted in life. The time spent with her had taught me that life is so precious and so fast, and what we think matters is far from the reality of what actually does matter. What I wanted now, more than anything, more than a paycheck, benefits, and a 401k, was to be there for my daughter, every day. When I let go of who I thought I was, who I thought I should be, I finally became who I actually wanted to be: A happy, loving, stay-at-home mother.
Is being a SAHM really work?
Don’t let me fool you, not everyday is perfectly peachy and full of roses. In fact, you should see me on days when someone rings the doorbell just as she has fallen asleep for her nap. You can say “arrivederci” to my sanity for the rest of the day. Hell hath no fury like a toddler whose either missed their nap or had it interrupted. But thankfully, those days are few and far between.
Some may wonder if SAHM’s have any legitimate claim to calling what they do “work”, and up until I held this prestigious position I had my doubts. When someone would tell me they were a SAHM I would secretly and silently say to myself, Must be nice! As if to insinuate that somehow there work was less stressful, less taxing, and just less than in general. Well SAHM’s of the world that I previously judged, you showed me. I now know the pleasure of picking up and putting back the same toy 20 times a day (along with 20 other toys). Trying to cook dinner and having every drawer within her reach opened and scavenged through with all of its previously clean contents on the floor. Bending over to pick up the food she has thrown on the floor from her high chair, only to stand back up and realize she threw more and it’s now in my hair. Oh, and lets not forget the endless episodes of Bananas in Pyjamas, Imagination Movers, and any other bright and mind numbing cartoon you can think of.
So yes, being a stay-at-home parent is HARD work, but, it is rewarding. No, I don’t get cash bonuses or fancy awards (heck I don’t even get sick days or vacation!), but, I get a peace of mind every night that I am right where I want to be and where I am needed most, and you don’t get job satisfaction much better than that!