April 4 was Harper’s last day of preschool. No, school didn’t let out early; I pulled her out. I suppose I should say we pulled her out, since it was indeed a family decision, and by “family,” I mean that in the most global terms possible. We sought the opinions and advice of everyone who loves Harper, including her grandparents, our neighbors, our friends and her pediatrician. The consensus was the same: Harper is smart, she is well socialized, she learns quickly, but emotionally, she was just not yet ready to be separated from her family every day.
I’m not sure I fully understood that I was making a decision for myself as well as Harper, and I am positive I didn’t understand the implications of that decision. Because it meant, if not the end of my career, then an enormous shift in how I conducted it. As of April 5, I became what I refer to as an MSAHM: A Mostly Stay-at-Home Mom.
I didn’t think the change would be all that big for me – after all, I would still work, just a lot (a LOT) less than I used to. And being at home with Harper wouldn’t be much of a change, either. I mean, I’ve worked from home since before I got married. I can hardly remember what it was like to get up, get dressed and commute farther than a few feet. In essence, I’ve been a stay-at-home mom since Harper was born.
WRONG. WROOOOONG. WRONGWRONGWRONGWRONGWRONG.
FTSAHMs (Full-Time Stay-at-Home Moms), I hereby offer you my deepest apologies. I thought I knew your life, as the kids say nowadays. But I did not. I had no earthly idea how difficult it is, how weighty the responsibility is when you have only one job, and that job just stripped off its diaper and peed on the sofa.
Those of you FTSAHMs with more than one kid, well, you’re just a bunch of mutant superheroes as far as I’m concerned. It is sometimes literally everything I can do – oh, who am I kidding? It’s often MORE than I can do – to get my AND Harper’s teeth brushed every day. I can’t imagine multiplying the job by two, three or four.
Prior to this summer, if you had asked me, I would have said that my job as a WAHM (Work-at-Home Mom) wasn’t really harder or easier than a SAHM’s, it was just different. But if you could have seen into the deepest recesses of my brain, you would’ve seen that I secretly thought my job was harder. Because I had TWO jobs, you see, not just one. I had to be a SAHM and a writer/photographer.
But what I didn’t realize is that I wasn’t really a SAHM and a writer/photographer; I was a writer/photographer with childcare. (As it should be, of course, because even my SAHM friends of four and five kids agree that trying to work AND be a full-time SAHM is nothing but a one-way ticket to an involuntary field trip to your local psychiatric facility.) As I would soon see, being a legit, full-time SAHM is a whole different ballgame than straddling the fence, which is what I’ve done all Harper’s life.
Now don’t get me wrong – I am exceedingly grateful that I am able to straddle the fence; most working moms can’t do that, either because their jobs can’t be done from home or because they can’t afford to work less than full time. Even if they can afford it, they have to choose whether or not to give up careers that they love and that, oftentimes, they went to school for several years to learn to do, or they have to make lifestyle changes that, while totally worth it, nevertheless make life harder in certain ways for their families and themselves. So I am not in any way complaining.
But I am here to tell you, I had no idea – no concept, even – of what it would take to give up most of my career to stay home and take care of Harper all day every day. As a mom, I thought I already knew what it meant to die to myself and live for someone else.
Here is a partial list of things I have had to deal with in the last four months:
–Harper feeding vitamins to Steve.
–Lola Mowis being picked up by her head. Practically every day.
–Steve eating like 800 crayons and a Lego. Every receptionist at our vet’s office knows my voice on the phone now.
–Going through the grocery store checkout line with every single box of snacks already opened and so exhausted that I literally put my head down on the counter next to the credit card machine.
–Taking a vomiting dog (surprise, surprise) to the vet with Harper in tow, seriously contemplating asking the vet to write me a prescription for those tranquilizers they give to dogs during thunderstorms and honestly wanting to punch an old lady in the face when she looked over at me in the waiting room, sweating and panting and trying to keep my kid and my dog from killing themselves, and told me how “cute” they are.
–Spending five and a half hours in a hotel room bathroom by myself because we couldn’t get a suite and Harper was sick and won’t go to sleep unless it’s pitch-dark and silent and Blake was at a business party with our friends and so I had to sit on the floor and watch Hulu on my laptop and DID I MENTION I SPENT FIVE AND A HALF HOURS IN THE CAN?
This is the hardest thing I have ever done. It has tried me and tested me and laid bare all my weaknesses and sins.
I have learned that patience is like a roll of paper towels; I have a smaller roll than most people in the first place, and my spirited two-year-old often uses up the entire thing by 10 a.m. I have learned that I need a lot of sleep. I have not only learned what all my “buttons” are, I have also learned that Harper knows precisely what all of them are too and that she can push every single one of them. I have learned how much of a homebody I am. I have learned how easily I get bored. I have learned that I both shop and eat too much when I am stressed and bored.
On the other hand, I have learned just how smart Harper is. I have learned that she loves to make up songs and that she enjoys nothing more than when songs have a big, long, loud ending note (think “Company” or “Defying Gravity”). I have learned that, as outgoing as she is, she always wants to know that Mama is within arm’s reach. I’ve learned that while she sometimes has trouble being gentle with people, she’s always empathetic and compassionate toward animals. I have learned that, thank God, she’s not afraid of water like I was. She’s not afraid of much of anything, really, and I have learned how much I admire that about her.
Summer is (all too) quickly coming to a close, and I’m equal parts sad and relieved. Blake and I decided that, for the time being, it’s best that I work part-time. We still have bills to pay from my knee surgery in January, Steve needs horrifyingly expensive eye surgery in a couple of years and – the best part by far – we’re starting to get serious about the process of adoption. All of which means that Harper will start preschool soon. Part of me is glad – I won’t have stress dreams about grocery shopping anymore, and Harper will get to spend time learning with her friends. But I’m also wistful that I won’t get big hugs from chubby little arms and sloppy kisses from a pretty, crumb-covered face any time I want them.
Motherhood really is a series of trade-offs, isn’t it?
Moms of every stripe have my utmost respect, whether they work full-time or part-time or stay at home or send their kids to school or homeschool or have a nanny or whatever. On Sundays at church, I want to high-five every parent I see: “You made it! You’re fully clothed! You got everybody up and dressed to a greater or lesser degree and you left the house and made it to a public place with all of you in one piece! You did it! Rock on!”
But you stay-at-home moms, I understand you a lot better now, and I am grateful for the privilege of having walked in your shoes for a few months. You are charged with one of society’s most important and most difficult jobs, and none of us – including those who are kid-free – should ever take you for granted. You are raising a goodly portion of the next generation of humans, and who knows? You just might end up saving the world one day.