I was always going to be a stay-at-home mom. There was just no other way to raise a family.
I knew that when I became a mother, I wanted to still be a "real" person, with interests and passions and activities that extended beyond the sphere of poopy diapers and Windex and casseroles. I would have a writing office in the attic of my adorable two-story house. I would spend afternoons there, authoring books at a wooden desk pushed under a window with a view of the back yard, in case the kiddos wanted to play back there. But I also knew I would always be home. Being a mom. Doing the mom thing. Like every mom I knew.
When Soren was born, I tried to quit my job to stay home with him full time. My boss begged me to stay and take care of the office finances for a few hours a week, and I didn't see any harm in taking a few sanity-saving hours away from home to earn some extra money, so I did. Then I was offered a twenty-hour-a-week position at an inpatient drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center, the same facility where Abe was working full time. Abe and I talked long and hard about the impact that my working more hours outside the home might have on Soren and the then-fetus Liam. We decided it would be worth the extra income. Just six month after I took that job, the entire facility shut down.
The Clinical Supervisor from the rehab immediately offered me a part-time job at his own business. I snatched it up. Pretty soon a full-time position opened up in the company and my bosses offered it to me. I was grateful to have a way to provide for my family while Abe focused on his Master's degree. I thought I would be there for a year, max.
That was three years ago.
Abe recently applied for a job at BYU-Idaho. I knew he was going to get it....I just knew he would. During the weeks between the position becoming available and the selection process beginning, I set up a daily stay-at-home mom routine in my head. I decided I would get dressed and put on shoes first thing in the morning, to keep myself productive. I got excited about how CLEAN! I would be able to keep my house. I imagined all the science projects the boys and I would do, all the crafts we would make, all the books we would have time to read. I decided I would start couponing, now that I had extra time to devote to such things. And I had little daydreams about all the healthy, well-rounded meals I would cook every day. I started fantasizing about finding a playgroup and making friends with the other stay-at-home moms. I thought how nice it would be to have a "girls' night out" without feeling guilty about leaving my children for the one millionth time that week.
On Monday, we got a call from BYU-I. They wanted to interview Abraham! Of course they did! He was the man for the job! And they knew it too! The interview went well.
And then, last week, we received an email from BYU-I. They didn't want to hire Abraham. He had been eliminated from the pool of possible candidates for the position. We were crushed.
Throughout my life, I've had dreams come and go. I've traded some outlandish dreams for more realistic ones. I've modified some, forgotten about others. A few have been put on hold. I have torn dreams up and thrown them in the trash. I'd always heard that dreams could shatter, but I'd never seen it happen--until that day. Sitting there, laptop in lap, an image of the stay-at-home mom dream life I had painted appeared in my mind, unbidden. And then, as though it had been hit by a crow-bar from behind, it shattered into a million tiny little shards that fell to the ground in an ugly heap.
I cried and we held each other and talked through it. It's not all bad, we know. Abe's current part-time job enables me to work four nine-hour days a week instead of five eight-hour days, giving me a delicious extra day to spend on the home and the children. Because of our family members' willingness to help out, the boys have been able to build strong relationships with their aunties (Collette and Briar) and my parents. Under Abe's less-than-watchful care, the kids have learned how to be more independent and how to play with each other, probably much better than they would have been able to under my somewhat helicopter-hover parenting style. Lots of healthy children have been raised by two working parents. And it's quite possible I would go completely out of my mind if I stayed home full time: I like my job and I love my coworkers. These things brought us some comfort, a measure of peace, and (left without a choice, really), we've moved on.
But Sunday in Sacrament Meeting a young mother stood up and bore her testimony. She said that she had recently read a book called Just a Mom. "I am so grateful to be 'just a mom,'" she said. "That I don't have other responsibilities outside of my work in my home with my children. I'm so grateful I can stay at home and focus on them." I'm happy for her too. I know this mom and love her and think she's doing a wonderful job with her little ones. But hearing those words spoken out loud just crushed my heart. I had three minutes until I had to get up in front of the whole congregation and play the organ for the closing hymn and I had just turned into a mascara-smeared bawling mess. It wasn't pretty. I pulled myself together as best as I could but as I was finishing up my prelude music, Abe came up from behind and whispered to me, "You are a wonderful mother. You're doing a wonderful job. You do a lot more with our children than many moms who have full-time access to their kids." That he knew exactly what had made me cry made me cry even more. Soren joined us on the stand and demanded to know the reason for my sob fest. I told him I was sad that I couldn't stay home with him every day. And he said, "But, Mommy! Today is your day off! It's okay." And he wrapped his little arms and legs around me just as tight as he could.
Being a working mom is hard. It's hard because there's so much to do and so little time to do it in. But stay-at-home moms are busy too, stretched thin and exhausted. I know this. I think the thing that makes working outside the home extra hard is the sadness that comes from knowing how much of your precious resources are not being pumped directly into the heart of your family. There's so much I want to give my boys. So many ways I would rather spend that thirty-six hours a week.
This past week I learned about a way to eliminate power struggles with Soren. I learned how to say "no" and have it stick, without having to cope afterwards with hours of whining and crying and badgering and screaming, etc. I've been using it, and it's been working, and it's been liberating. (Liberating!) I will blog more about this later, after I've used it for a while. I find, however, that even with my new found parenting power, I really struggle to say "no" when one of my boys asks for my time or my attention. Even when I'm completely exhausted, even when all I really want is five minutes to slip into a mini-coma, even when I really, really, really don't want to, I usually give them whatever time or attention they want. This is hard on me-- and it's probably not really good for them, either. But I can't put my child in time-out for begging me to come outside and push him in the swing. I just can't.
So I think that's my number-one challenge in trying to work full-time while nurturing my little family-- figuring out when it's okay to let go and do some things I want to do when I already feel so intensely guilty for being gone as much as I am. Or maybe finding ways to "be a real person" that don't bite into kid time or work time or sleep time.
So, yeah. Life has brought me challenges I didn't expect. I guess it does that to everyone. And solutions to our problems and concerns are often nebulous, ambiguous, and/or elusive. There are often no cut-and-dried answers to our biggest questions. This is something that often makes me want to take Life by the neck and strangle it; it's also one of the characteristics I adore the most in Life. I kind of like that Life keeps me hopping. One of the things I'm always telling Soren is that even when things are hard, he can do them, because he can do hard things. It's something I tell myself a lot. I love knowing that I can do difficult things (or, at least, things that seem difficult to me). It makes me feel strong and competent and capable and empowered. So, thank you, Life, for not allowing my life to go exactly as I planned it. Thank you for throwing a fastball instead of lobbing the ball over the plate for an easy shot. I may not be able to hit it yet, but I will practice my butt off and one of these days, I will. And some day, it will be a home run.