Friday, August 30, 2013

On Being a Stay at Home Momma

I spent the better half of a decade teaching public high school.  It was a challenging, often difficult career, but it was also fulfilling and rewarding since it wasn't just a career.  It was a calling.  I loved "my kids" even on the days I wanted to wring their moody, hormonal little necks.  I was protective of them and often felt like a substitute parent to many of them.

Pregnant Woman by Nooshin Zarnani
When I left my classroom in May of 2010, it was bittersweet.  It had been a long year since on top of the regular "teacher stuff,"  I'd also struggled with morning sickness (that often lasted all day), swollen ankles and feet, agonizing sciatica, untreated anxiety, and the regular exhaustion that comes with pregnancy.  I was ready to stay home, put up my feet and wait for my daughter to arrive in eight weeks.  But her arrival would also mean I wouldn't return to the classroom since I'd made the decision to stay at home with my little girl in lieu of returning to work. I was excited and thankful that I had the opportunity to be home with my daughter, but I also feared I might be unhappy and lonely and bored.  I knew women who admitted that they returned to work not out of necessity but because they didn't enjoy being home full time.  As the days crepppppppt by and I awaited my baby's arrival, my future as a SAHM became a source of additional anxiety.

Fast forward three years.

I'm sitting in the recliner with Peanut in my lap.  We're watching The Rescuers for the first time since it's one of her favorite bedtime books. Both of us are still in pajamas with unbrushed teeth and hair, even though it's almost one in the afternoon.  Our breakfast--well, brunch--plates are stacked on the end table, sticky with the remnants of homemade strawberry preserves I made this summer.  There is a tiara on my head and at least a dozen bracelets on my wrist.  Peanut is sporting a Rapunzel wig and every remaining piece of jewelry from her dress up box.  It has been a deliciously lazy day with my favorite small person.  Bored isn't on my radar, nor is unhappy, lonely or unfulfilled.

Every day isn't like this, though.  I never realized how busy I would stay as a SAHM.  I never imagined how stressed or frustrated or CRAZY I would feel.  It's not that I thought it would be easy, but I always visualized being this super hands-on mom and "on top of things" woman with a happy, well-rounded child, a clean house, home-cooked meals on the table each evening, and a free minutes left at the end of the day to write.

Surely I can handle one child and a home if I don't have to work outside the home, I thought.

Well, I can do those things.  Just not on the same day.

Love and Despair by Sandra Butler
There is nothing that can truly prepare you for the mind-numbing exhaustion of a newborn or infant.  There were days that my biggest accomplishment was not falling asleep and dropping my baby during feeding time.  Some weeks the only laundry I finished was cleaning poop out of her onesies.

There is nothing that can truly prepare you for the anxiety that accompanies a child in motion.  Even ten years of keeping an eye on 30 teenagers at once wasn't training enough for keeping track of one crawling 10 month old.  One time, I left the room for twelve seconds.  I know it was twelve because I later timed the same task.  During that minuscule frame of time, my child managed to seemingly disappear  from the gated living room.  Where did I find her?  Behind the entertainment center.   Cleaning the house?  Not likely unless I strapped her to me (not the safest option if I'm bleaching toilets) or stuck her in the Pack-N-Play (commence meltdown).  My clean house was limited to whatever rooms weren't closest to her during naptime and whatever tasks wouldn't wake her up (what's a vacuum?)  Making dinner was hectic and stressful with tiny, moving stumbling block maneuvering around the kitchen.  And by the time I got everything on the table, got Amelia fed, picked up her spoon 8,000 times, and made my plate, the food was cold and I wasn't even that hungry anymore.

And there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the roller coaster ride of spending 24 hours a day with a toddler.  They're like miniature tornadoes.  With vocabularies.  And attitudes.  It's a constant balancing act of learning, playing, teaching, disciplining, eating, napping, potty-training, reading, pretending, driving, scheduling, arguing, nurturing, and loving.  That's on top of the laundry and the grocery shopping and the cooking and cleaning and the sweeping and the wiping and... oh my Lord, did you really just dump out the entire contents of your toy box while Mommy was peeing???  Did you paint the couch with iced tea? Why did you kick the dog?  Why did you separate and throw all of the socks in your drawer?  Did you just stick your head in the toilet?  Why are your teeth blue and where is the rest of that crayon?  Don't climb up there, you'll get hurt!  Don't put that in your mouth, you'll choke!  Don't pull that on top of you!  Don't run with your toothbrush in your mouth!   Is this poop?  Where else is the poop?  

I know, I know, First World Problems.  

Look, I'm not saying I have it harder than working moms.  If I had to get up early every morning, go to work, teach all day, spend the afternoon grading and planning and STILL have to be a mom and homemaker, I would probably dig a hole, climb into it and beg passers-by to shovel in some dirt on top of me.  And even though it sounds like I'm complaining about staying at home with my daughter, I'm not.  That's kind of the point I'm trying to make.  Even though this has been a total challenge and I've lost more hair that I care to discuss, I wouldn't trade this life for anyone else's.  It's taken three years to get to a point where I don't feel like a constant failure because I always have more on my "to do list" than on my "done list."  I've had to give up on that "super mom" life I had planned and just focus on being the best mom I can be.  

I treasure being at home with my Peanut.  I love being her mother, her teacher, her best friend (at least she thinks I am for now... oh, how soon that will change).  I love getting to witness her milestones, to watch her accomplishments.  I love being the one she runs to when she's proud of herself, the one she reaches for when she falls down.  I start my days with her little gap-toothed grin and end my days with her arms around my neck.   For every tantrum or sassy comeback, there are ten "I lub you, Momma."  With every mess, there is a new adventure or memory to be made.  My house is dirty but my child is happy.  

I'll admit there are times I get lonely, that I miss being with adults.   There are days I wonder what it would be like to drop her off at day care and return to the land of working outside the home.   There are moments I feel like I'll drown in the lake of Legos and plastic food and princess crowns and puzzle pieces.  I've cried while I've picked Playdough out of the carpet.  I've cursed when I've heard her door to her room open for the 17th time after I put her to bed.  I've counted down the minutes until nap time.  I've called my mother to just come and TAKE THIS CHILD so that I can have a few minutes of rest (that I usually instead spend doing dishes or paying bills).  

But those moments are only a fraction of the rest of the life I have as a SAHM.  And I don't let myself get dragged down for too long when we do have a bad day.  

My baby turned three this year.  We are officially on the downward slope toward kindergarten and to my return to the workforce.  It hurts my heart to think about dropping her off at school each morning and not knowing what she's doing all day.  I will miss our lazy mornings, our late night cuddles and all the days spent in between just getting to be mommy and daughter.  I know how fortunate and blessed I am that I have this opportunity to spend her formative years with her, and I am in no hurry to return to the busy "adult" world that awaits me.  

Wrap 2 by Katie Berggren
I've managed to type this entire post on my Droid because I didn't want to give up snuggle time, but I had all of this on my heart and didn't want to lose that "momentum" that I seem to lack these days when it comes to writing.  I could have left her in front of the television and gone to the computer.  She would have finished the movie herself.  Blogging from a phone is most definitely not the easiest task.  But I didn't want to give up this time with her, even though we're doing absolutely nothing.  My life isn't boring; it's the biggest adventure I've ever had.  

The end of the movie is near, and I can feel her weight shift in my lap.  She's growing heavier and nap time approaches.  Who knows when I'll have the time or energy to write again.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe next week.  It's hard to say these days.  

But these days are so few and so precious.  

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