I am a terrible
stay at homemother.
I just want to admit it publicly, because too many people think I have it all together and apparently it looks like I know what I’m doing. Sure, I take my wee boy to play groups, feed him nutritious vegetarian meals, encourage him to express himself at the frustrating age of one. We go for daily walks, read for the prescribed 25 minutes each day, identify colors, practice sign language, sing songs. But I get bored spending 12 hours with a toddler every day. I’ve minded him in his room while playing words with friends on my iphone hidden in my lap. I do not always test the temperature of his bath water before dipping his toes in. I’ve found dog hair in his mouth, in his snot, in his diaper. His favorite hang out is the dog’s crate, and I’ve caught him putting his face in the water bowl. I’ll turn his stroller forward facing so I can have time to myself on walks. I use babysitters for no reason other than to catch a yoga class, or go downtown to get drunk with my friends. I’ve eaten the last piece of burrata I know he’d love. My bathroom needs come first when we walk inside after a long day. He cried it out. He has not tasted bacon. I
secretly can’t wait until he wants to watch Sesame Street and doesn’t need my undivided attention.
Of course he is my joy, my beautiful son, and it is so rewarding spending my days with him, blah, blah, blah, but really, honestly……rare is the day I put him to bed and feel deeply fulfilled. I’m often overwhelmed and exhausted, even today, when I had 15 hours off in between shifts. It is this time, pecking away at my laptop, or the 30 minutes before this when I was on my yoga mat, that give me servings of self-hood. I genuinely enjoy being a mother, but most days are frenetic and full of haphazard attempts to entertain my capricious offspring. I was a great new mother, monitoring and observing every change to his tiny body. But he’s now five times his weight from his birth day, and we’re necessarily becoming more independent and less reliant on each other. He’ll always be a part of me, but not in the same sense he was when developing from a fetus to an infant, or an infant nourished by my breast milk. Most changes are gradual, but they’re visible to us mothers all at once since we see our children every day. I didn’t notice that his top 4 teeth were rupturing his gums until they were visible baby fangs. I used to rue being a “working mother” during his infancy because I was so afraid I’d miss a first. But the truth is, the first time something happens doesn’t have to be our official recognition of the event. The first time daddy saw him walk is a precious memory to my husband even though he’d been doing it all day. I feel like personal development is as important as time with my son now because we’ll get bored otherwise. He needs to see other faces than mine all day, lest I have a 29 year old living at home with me in as many years!
So when I write, or practice yoga, I regain my mother courage, to step away from my son and let him grow and learn about the world without me hovering above. Writing and yoga are chances for me to step back and look around, or look at myself inside. Everyone has their own definition of what makes them happy and there are many opinions on what constitutes a nurturing childhood. I think I am doing my very best to give my son what he needs. Sure he entertained himself on my ipad for 15 minutes after his bath tonight, but earlier today he looked at squid and jelly fish, touched a sea urchin, watched an underwater pumpkin carving contest. I’m not trying to justify my parenting deficiencies, just making sense of who I am and what I am capable of as a mother. I’m happy to bake some peanut butter banana muffins for our weekly play group (with coconut oil and South Carolina peanuts, of course), but I am not so sure I will be a rapt observer each soccer practice, and karate kick that I once assumed I had to be. There are all sorts of trendy labels people give their parenting style. Maybe my ever growing album of “baby-in-a” pictures (baby-in-a fountain, baby-in-a kitchen aid, baby-in-a purse, baby-in-a miniature Ferrari) could give rise to some witty name. Container parenting. Shifting boundary parenting. Senseless parenting?
I used to think my wedding day was forever going to be the most memorable 24 hours of my life. Yesterday was my son’s first birthday, and (forgive this hackneyed allusion to the archetypical woman’s life) I can confidently say his birth now ranks most memorable in my temporal lobe. Memories of a whole new person were initiated a year ago, and even though I sometimes can’t remember what I ate for lunch, October 23, 2011, feels like yesterday. I wonder if it always will.
So much has happened in the last year, but baby’s birthday is my most cherished memory. The smell of copal (which we only light on special occasions, like last night) ignites memories from our wedding, but I’m not able to remember the tiny details of that day anymore. I am glad there does not seem to be a fixed capacity in the brain to store sentimental memories. I would be tempted to choose reliving the days of being young, falling in love, and meeting my child over practical functions of the brain like walking, and remembering that 841 is one of my favorite non-fiction sections in the library. There is a lot of pressure in the beliefs I follow to stay in the moment and not to dwell in the past. But my dreams–a place where I spend 1/3 of my time after all–is made of beautiful and excruciating memories which have made me who I am today.
But on my son’s birthday, I feel justified to dwell on the past. He hardly appreciated our celebrations and special activities–a trip to the toy store, a walk around a special island, a visit from adopted aunties, and a waffle cone full of mint chocolate cookie, a special dinner. So I felt happy to accept the day on his behalf, reveling in the sun and the air, not trapped to a bed in a hospital. Life is so fair, because without a doubt, next year the labors from his birth will be a more distant memory, like how my wedding day is now. I will always remember the essentials: unyielding physical pressure, sharp seemingly unbearable abdominal cramps, the incomparable relief and overpowering happiness and love, a beating Mexican sun tempered by soft clouds and northern breezes. I’m glad I will always have my dear husband–and now my sweet child–to remind me of special days, physical proof that we existed in those pictures that simultaneously look like years ago–my baby is now five times the size he was a year ago, and yesterday–I have looked basically the same in pictures since I was 17.
Next year I’ll be happy to plan a real party for my son’s growing memories. I feel like your first child’s first birthday is for the parent’s nostalgia, and that is what we observed. Happy Birth day, mom and dad, and of course, our sweet son!
I’ve had a terrible habit lately of taking things for granted. I make weekly trips to the aquarium, the beach, the pool, and the farmers market with my son, and rarely do I pause to wonder if it is going to be the last time. Last week I interviewed for a job I know would suit me…I might be offered the position and suddenly be a working mother again, facing different adventures and routines.
I was thinking about this today on an afternoon walk. We live in such a beautiful neighborhood, we can walk out the front door and be engulfed in forest and nature moments later. Before we moved I always longed to get out of the house and look at the natural world, but living in the Boston area made it complicated. The parks we lived near were surrounded by highways, and even Boston Common couldn’t offer the serenity I get from forests. Today we easily got to see the real world: deer, squirrels, butterflies, snakes, spiders, flowers, frogs, a great spectrum of earth. I’ve been expecting a phone call all day though, so I had my phone with me. The baby had fallen asleep, and the dog was obediently trotting beside us. My hand seemed magnetized to my phone. Like just because I had it, and just because it was possible, my hand tried to check my email. I caught it, put my phone back in my pocket and took a deep breath of gratitude. I have few responsibilities, and few people rely on me right now. These days are surely numbered, whether I get a job next week, or two years from now, I know I will not get to spend all this time with my son, my dog, and the woods forever. I mustn’t wish for change, when one day I know I’ll be longing for these carefree–and yes, even boring–days of stay at home motherhood.
We ended up taking a very long walk. I fell into a trance, hypontized by the beautiful afternoon sun and clouds, the warm breeze. No mosquitos to chase away. I stared at the treetops for miles, wondering what I could do to have this view forever.
I left my job about five weeks ago. When I was out on maternity leave this winter, I wrote a blog post about my impressions of visiting other libraries within our consortium. In my new city, I am still ultra observant of the libraries we visit each week. It is part wistful longing to be helping instead of needing, part hyper awareness of the rhythm and flow in case I decide to apply for a job in the system, and part settling into my new role as a patron instead of a librarian.
In any case, I can’t help but use my insider librarian knowledge to compare The Charleston County Public Libraries (CCPL) to the systems I learned in New England. CCPL operates through the county governance rather than network buy-in, which is apparently a common pattern in the South. Now that my boy is sleeping regular naps and 13 hours at night, I am actually checking out books, not frantically stopping by to feed or change a diaper. But, even if I had been checking out books in February, I would have been able to return the items to any member library location then, and it would get checked in and shipped back to home in a three to five day transit turnaround (indeed it would have gotten shipped back to its home no matter where in Massachusetts I returned the book, but not checked in until it reached its home in that case).
Now I still return my books to the most convenient location, but it stays at that branch until it gets checked out by another patron, and again returned anywhere. This develops a sense of a serendipitous collection, no? Technically, in Library World, it is called a Floating Collection, and though I’m sure staff intervenes and sends boxes among the different libraries for purposes of balance, shelf space, displays, patron holds, repairs, processing, story times, and who knows what else, I can only marvel at how it seems to be one of the only things in the South that functions efficiently.
- The plumber came by last Tuesday (nine days ago). He said he needed to run to Lowes to get a part, and the low water pressure problem in the sink would be fixed. Haven’t seen or heard from him since. He lives 3 minutes away.
- When we first moved here, we didn’t receive mail for approximately three and a half weeks. Turns out, it was here the whole time, but were given the wrong box number by our landlord. He lived here before we moved in. Who knows how he was collecting mail.
- Despite the water pressure issue in the sink, we’ve had no problems. We even have a built in filter spout at the sink. But the company’s information we were given to set up our own water account does not serve our neighborhood. Who has been paying the bill for the last 8 weeks since my husband moved in?
- Getting some decent news on the go in the car is like pulling a baby’s teeth–that is to say, impossible because there is none! The public radio station is a devastating disappointment after being spoiled by RadioBoston. Here there is little participation in the national broadcasts that host the familiar voices, and very little (any?) original content. Opera is on 90% of the time I tune into that station. I miss those hyperlocal human interest stories. Even Maine had more content, and the population of South Carolina to Maine is more than 3:1.
CCPL offers Freegal, really interesting programs, loads of story times, rooms filled with toys, vacant computers, ample classes in technology, drive thru book drops, job vacancies that are quickly filled, a one book one county effort, innovative ideas, and centralized management outside of the branches. My 11 month old son was allowed a card, whereas the consortium we left in Massachusetts only allowed children to have them on their fifth birthday (or once they could write their name). I can’t describe how happy I am that there is such a vibrant library community in my new city. I aspire to be a part of it someday in the future, but I have to admit: it is really nice to give my resume a break for a while. I’m enjoying stay-at-home-motherhood a thousand times more than I imagined, and I credit a lot of that to the fact that if I ever just need to get out of the house and be around adults for a while, we are always close to a branch of the CCPL. There are things that interest me and my son, and it is exactly the kind of cultural education we both need at this point in our lives.
I discovered Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird this weekend. It is subtitled: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and though I’ve seen the title and heard friends laud its pages, I’ve never felt compelled to pick it up. Until last week. I grabbed it off the storage shelf at my library, and fell headfirst into the introduction. I put it back, thinking I’d continue it on my lunch breaks over the next few weeks. The next day though, I was hurrying through Barnes & Noble, and as I was waiting to pay (a birthday gift for our now ex-nanny’s son) I spotted it staring at me. Completely out of place, not part of a display…some other customer had just dropped it there (on purpose or design, I do not know) so I slipped it into my pile of Eye Spy books and brought it home.
It is a grand book. Reading Lamott’s words, I feel like she’s opened the door to my writer’s room and beckoning me to go sit down more seriously and write. Just what I need at this time in my life.
However, there is a great barrier to being able to put her sage advice into practice. My life is about to change–completely change. Even though I’m more committed to getting my words down in print than I’ve ever been before, enabling this magnificent modulation requires my full attention. I can’t be bowing off early every evening (boxes to pack), and I can hardly ask myself to rise even earlier each morning (I was up at 5 this morning with the baby). It is kind of like when my body is screaming for a break from training; goals: like to run the MidWinterClassic 10 miler, to perform 10 pullups, to rest in full pigeon pose, have all been achieved. But if my body is fatigued or overwrought in any direction, the goal cannot be pursued until a dedicated period of rest and recovery has been completed.
In addition, the baby is hitting a major milestone and needs some extra special attention. This parenting thing is no joke, this nine month human is exhausting his two adult parents with adventurousness and curiosity. We hope to regain the wonderfully long stretches of sleep he mastered a few months ago, but I have a feeling it won’t be until his gummy smile is spiked with white caps.
So, here begins my writing fast. I’m not going to chase down 500 words each morning and evening right now. I’ll let myself relax with reading instead of writing, and I might even watch some television or movies before the move. If this mental break is anything like a physical one, I’ll return even stronger and more able to negotiate the goals and objectives I have for myself.
But don’t worry, Anne. I’ll retain my paper journal, it is one I’ve had for over two years now. I’ll put my thoughts in there, so I won’t lose touch with the practice of forming thoughts into words. And if I happen to hear some lovely snippet of conversation, or form a perfect equation of words, I’ll try my best to scribble it down.
We’re moving in less than a month. Besides that temporary sojourn to the Netherlands, this is the biggest move I’ve ever made. I’m legitimately allowed to bring everything this time, (except my house plants–more on that to come), and I have three live beings to care for, unpack, and help acclimate when we become Southerners. I’ll keep busy tending to our new home, hanging pictures, potting lavender, finding reading spots, testing out bathtubs. I’ll visit all 16 branches of the Charleston County Public Library System. I’ll organize my bookshelves by some new aesthetic postmodern cataloging standard. Maybe I’ll bake bread.
But the truth is, I’m scared to death about staying home all day with the baby. And before I launch any further into descriptions of what I hope my new life as a Southern Belle will be like, I feel the need to explain myself. Partly out of socially induced guilt (I have lots of friends who tell me “this is the best time to be home with baby,” or “a mother is the most important teacher to a child,”), but mostly because I used to love life as a lady of leisure. I didn’t get my first meaningful, moneymaking job until I was 26 (two weeks shy of 27, actually). That is barely two years ago, but so much has changed in that time. I’m a wife and mother now, and I’ve embraced my responsibility to provide and act as a role model with focused and tenacious gusto.
You see, growing up, my mother never worked. And yet she was present for fewer of my field hockey games and swim meets than my friend’s parents who worked as lawyers, magazine editors, and pilots. I regularly had to hitch rides home with these families because my own mother was too busy with her own life. Its not that she was a bad mother–on the contrary, she was superbly nurturing and caring. But she didn’t represent the archetype that traditional “stay at home mothers” portrayed in my small New England town. She is an artist, and by definition emotional, flighty, and self-absorbed. That she was teaching me about feelings, life, and the great world was irrelevant to me when I was a child.
I wanted her to be exactly like my friend’s moms who didn’t have jobs. I wanted to come home to freshly washed sheets, elaborate dinners in the process of baking, to find her on the back porch catching up with a neighbor over a pitcher of lemonade. Instead, she’d be shut off in her wing of the house (we were forbidden from entering if the door was shut). Sometimes we wouldn’t see her until hours (and as we got older, days) after we’d gotten home. Sometimes we’d see her after making our own dinner, she’d glide into the living room with her friends–the gay jeweler, the rambunctious Greek book artist, the waitress-cum-writer from their favorite restaurant. My sisters and I were doted upon by my mother and her friends during these impromptu parties. We had our portraits painted dozens of times, I had a jewelry collection to rival the Duchess of Cambridge’s by the time I was 16, (not to mention I was introduced to my first real Librarian–a mentor who still serves me to this day).
This was not the traditional life I wanted, but I know it was also not the artistic life my mother wanted. Her parents refused to pay for her to go to art school, so she studied archaeology and met my med school bound father instead. When he died, she was left alone with three young daughters to raise. I cannot even imagine how terrifying that must’ve felt–suddenly being solely responsible for parenting three children. I know she did the best she could. The same friend that told me mothers are “the most important teachers” a child can have also told me that as mothers, we have to find our own balance and take care of ourselves.
My great fear: that I’ll lose myself in my own ambitions. OR: I’ll lose my great goals for life while I’m busy playing baby games.
I know balance is the key to not falling into either seesaw pit of these extremes. But balance has been a tricky thing for me to grasp throughout my life. It usually takes me some trial and error. Like just now, two weeks before putting my career on hold indefinitely, I am getting into a groove with my writing, reading, spending time with my husband, with my child, running, sleeping, & eating. I’m even able to sit and breathe for a few minutes every day.
So, lovely lookers of my lexicon: please do not judge me too harshly, or write me off too quickly as a selfish person when I say I’m not super psyched to be a stay at home mom for the next phase of my life. But great things never came without some adversity first, right?
- Full ownership of a queen size bed each night
- Having the TV always on the same channel when I turn it back on (HGTV or Contemporary Classical music station)
- Half the amount of laundry
- Eating pita chips in bed
- Going to bed at 8pm without any guilt
- Ordering things for Father’s day and not worrying about hiding places
- Eating whatever I want for dinner
- No slimy meat pans soaking in the sink
- Talking to my mom on the phone at 10pm in bed
- Totally free weekends to schedule play dates with friends
- A neat and orderly refrigerator
- Getting to be the one to check the mail everyday
- Two sons (one furry, one human) to myself 100% of the time
- Two bathrooms at my disposal
- Getting the top spot on all the coat hooks
- Keeping the stroller handle in my preferred position
- Sitting with my feet on the table
- Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy, straight from the carton, at 4pm
- Getting all the good stuff from the farm share (raspberries this week)
- Seeing the dirty clothes on the floor as artistic not messy (smelly boy socks = dirty; pretty floral dresses = strategic)