I never set out to be a Stay At Home Mom and, in all honesty, most days I’m not even sure I’m a very good one. A lifetime ago, when I was young, unmarried, and effortlessly rising through the ranks at my dream job, the boss I then aspired to be once told me, “I stayed home for a while because I felt like I was supposed to and since I could. But you know what? I’m a better mom when I’m working.” All those years ago, when I didn’t have the newborn and two-year-old who are my present day smiles AND struggle, I remember being shocked. Not that she felt that way, but that she’d admitted to it–and even more, that she seemed okay with it.
I think of that offhand comment at a company Christmas party at least once a week.
When Josie is screaming, and I still don’t know why. When Mac is already in time out for the second time, and it’s not even 9 am. When I’ve yelled too much and am now yelling at myself for having done it–again… I think, maybe that’s me–maybe I’m the mom who’d be better if she weren’t HERE, in this HOUSE, with these babies, EVERY day.
Maybe it’s time to go back to work, to accept that always open offer, to try something new, even? But I don’t. I’m too selfish, and I don’t want my babies loving on and being cared for by anyone other than me, whether I’m the best for the job or not. I’ll only be their sun for so long, you know, and I’m lucky I even have the opportunity. So what do you do, when you’re the woman who needs to be more than just Mom in order to be a better one? Because, judge-away-can’t-wait-to-read-your-comments, I am surely her.
I sent my kid (there was just one then) to school at 15 months old. “Children must be walking” was the age requirement and, although he wasn’t when I paid his registration, I made damn sure he learned by that first week of September. For two mornings a week, I was completely alone from 9am until 12:30 pm. It was expensive, especially on one income–and a military income at that–but from that very first week I could feel the pieces starting to put themselves back together again.
A few of my MFFs signed their toddlers up at the same time–one was even in Mac’s class at the sweet little church preschool and kindergarten he attended a few miles away. Another would text me with “Happy preschool day!” on Tuesday mornings and we’d excitedly list the 27 things we were going to accomplish before lunchtime. I thought I was lucky to be a SAHM who still got a little breathing room and that was about as far as it went…
Until, one day, when an acquaintance I’d barely spoken to since high school made a comment on an Instagram picture I’d posted. An insanely good breakfast sandwich (I know, Instagramming food. I guess I’m that girl, too) that I was eating, alone, while Mac was at Mother’s Morning Out. I don’t remember exactly how I’d captioned it, but the gist of it was that I was eating this delicious thing because I could, because the little fists that would usually be making a play for it were busy painting or coloring or popping bubbles at school. The acquaintance, in the most passive-aggressive way possible, was quick to point out how LUCKY I was that I could be a SAHM who didn’t have a kid to clean up after all the time and how she’d just LOVE to send her 2-year-old to school but she’d feel too GUILTY because, well, wasn’t that why she wasn’t working? Shouldn’t the baby be home with her? How NICE it must be for me, to be the kind of mom who didn’t feel bad about that kind of thing, and whose husband didn’t mind.
What the what? Is that what I was doing? Copping out on raising my kid? It hadn’t felt that way when I was researching programs, budgeting in school tuition, and finally starting to feel like an iota of myself. And Mac loved school–always singing that annoying Dora The Explorer backpack song when he saw me packing it up on Monday night and excitedly yelling “I school! I school!” the second we turned onto Herschel. And he was making friends, learning new words–even eating more foods because he saw them in his classmate’s lunches. Could that really be bad?
Apparently, yes. After that first comment, several more rolled in. When I mentioned one to a friend, she looked doubtful and said she could “kind of see where they were coming from.” When I mentioned it to another, her answer was the same. It was none of their business if I wanted to send my child to school while I was at home–but it sparked some good old fashioned mom guilt all the same. And I kept on it, the guilt, every Tuesday and Thursday, until Mac got sick and had to be kept home for a month.
That month was more than just fevers and rashes and crying (from baby AND mom.) It also had heavy, heavy doses of my almost two-year-old asking, BEGGING to be at school. And it wasn’t because I was yelling too much, or because he loved his teachers (who were great, by the way) more than me. It was because he enjoyed being himself without me for 6 hours a week, just as I liked those two mornings of being who I was without him. And there’s no shame in that game, Mom.