In elementary school, I watched the kids who lined up to go home for lunch, or the one whose mom was room mother, or the kids whose parents picked them up in front of the school every day. I promised myself that when I had kids, I would stay home, too.
I was 32-years-old when I had my first child. Staying at home was not economically feasible.
The day before I had to return to work, I sat in a rocker and held my 3-month-old all day. I didn’t think I’d live through the separation—but of course I did.
We quickly fell into a routine: baby into the exer-saucer to watch Boobahs while I took a quick shower and applied the minimum of makeup. A quick drive downtown to my job as a docket clerk while singing children’s songs at full volume (I did not have the kind of baby who enjoyed car rides).
Baby dropped across the street to a SAHM and into the office I went. I ran back and forth across the street to nurse on every break, then back to the office to input cases into the computer, attend meetings, and perform all that other work-type stuff required of my job.
I learned that I could still function more than adequately in spite of never getting a full night’s sleep. Some days I couldn’t manage to look cute and professional, but I at least managed clean and professional.
I bought attractive nursing tops and wore cute shoes. I was good at my job.I loved the busy days when I’d look up from a project and find that several hours had passed without my noticing. I lived for my bosses’ praise.
But I still yearned to stay at home. As soon as my husband got a raise I went to part-time. But my baby took his first step while I was at work, and I quit the next day. I didn’t want to miss another moment with my child.
I had been warned about the endless hours of nothingness. I had been cautioned about the loneliness. And woman after woman warned me that my self-esteem might take a hit—I was giving up not only my financial contribution to the family, but also any source of positive affirmation.
I was sure none of that would bother me. After all, not only did I get to hang out with my tiny human all day, but I got to wear yoga pants while doing it.
Napping when the baby napped. Going to the library, the playground, my best friend’s house. Play dates with other stay at home moms. Dishes. Laundry. Wiping jelly off the floor. And the wall. And the baby. Running to the bathroom only to hear the baby wake up the minute I loosened my pants.
I loved seeing that tiny person learn and grow. I did not particularly love cleaning the high chair three times a day or scrubbing bathtub marker residue off the wall, but I did the things I needed to do to keep the household functioning—more or less. Let’s be honest, no one was going to award me a medal for my housecleaning abilities, but it helped that the dog matched the carpeting.
No one awarded me a medal for much of anything.The baby didn’t say, “good job on the floors, Mama.” My piles of folded laundry were not Pintrest-worthy. If I colored in my own coloring book while my son colored in his, no one applauded how well I stayed in the lines.
I made breakfast “all by myself!” and did it again the next day, and the next. Although I loved hanging with my kiddo, it never felt as if I accomplished much of anything. My husband occasionally asked me to clean a bit more often—even though I did chores every single day, it never looked as if our home was about to be featured on a home show, unless there was a “Barely More Than Slightly Adequate Housework” channel.
At the office, I had been constantly reinforced for doing a good job. I was forced to comb my hair and wear shoes on both my feet at the same time. I felt capable and smart. I talked to people on the phone and solved problems.
Every time I finished a case, I got to put it in my “done” pile and watch it rise higher and higher. At home, I did the same tasks over and over and never felt as if I accomplished much of anything.
I recently committed to an exercise program, with different workouts on different days. I printed out the calendar, and being the good mother that I am, stolescavenged a page of stickers from my kids’ overflowing craft drawer. Every day that I worked out, I chose a sticker and put it on the calendar.
It’s dumb- I’m 45 years old. But I think about that sticker when I want to slack off. When I place it on that chart, my heart gets a little lift. I look back at my filled-in chart with pride.
I did that. I hit my goal every day. I understand now why people make lists—so they can feel a sense of accomplishment crossing things off every day.
We reward children for doing the same drudgery over and over, but we rarely give ourselves equal credit. I remember cleaning my room every Saturday. My mother inspected my room, then shelled out a few dollar bills.
Every week I raced to the corner store and bought a candy bar. Now I can buy a candy bar without doing any cleaning if I want to. No one tells me what a great job I did making my bed.
Mothering matters more than anything else I’ve done in my life,but sometimes it is up to us to get what we need to keep ourselves whole and happy.
Like so many things, it satisfaction is often found in the little moments.So go out and reward yourself, Mama, whether with a long bath, a special dessert, a run outside sans children, or, in my case, a googley-eyed sticker.
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