Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Risk (and Gain) of My 1st Year as SAHM

It was this time last year I walked away from my job as a teacher. I grabbed the last few items from my classroom: my portfolio bag, a fake magenta flower arrangement, and a few thank you notes I scrawled last minute to people I hated to leave. I turned in my keys and cried like I was some super hormonal woman overstuffed with babies. Because I was.

If there is something I want to write more about, it’s about being a woman.  If there are things I’ve been avoiding writing about, it’s some things about being a woman. Being a mom. Working. Or “working”. Gender differences. Wanting more kids. Not wanting more kids. Dressing for stretch marks and love handles.. And despite so many of us aware it doesn’t have to be a versus situation with all those priorities most important (schooling, feeding, working, etc.), it still feels like it.

I’ve been at home a year and I’ve found a few great mommy friends that aren’t scared enough by my methods of motherhood (which recently did not exclude hosing down my 4 year old’s naked butt in the backyard with my guests an earshot away) to stop coming over. I love them. I’m so glad to have them for companionship. Sometimes, though, I think of how I don’t quite fit. It wasn’t long ago I was giving them the raised eyebrow. Not them exactly….just all women working (in bunny ears)( and maybe even literally in bunny ears since I've now come to find myself in a host of ridiculous get-ups to buy time) at home.

To my stay-at-home-mom friends, I’m happy to extol the virtue of extended breastfeeding (or what I’ve come to intimately appreciate as lazy parenting) and the tenets of classical education.

To my working friends, I’m happy to pretend that my absence from teaching is akin to stepping out to get some air. In this case, air defined as an unprecedented amount of yelling and crying. Me, not the kids.

A litmus test for my personality is in digesting this statement I will now make on leaving the workforce:

It was, and continues to be, the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

Oh, I know, I know. You’re thinking, wow, that’s pretty lame. And I totally agree, but hear me out.

After you look at my cuties for one teensy second...

1st, there was a loss of half of 100,000, give or take several thousand (but definitely take). And I would care about that being private information except that’s it’s not because I was a public school teacher and I know people would look it up anyway, so I thought I would save them the trouble. Just kidding. You would all just guess that I made crap.  But it wouldn’t matter how well you are off or how much you love the home or your kids, if you aren’t freaked out by losing that kind of money, I just can’t understand. Because I’m evil or something? Moving on.

2nd, there was parenting.  As a working mom, it was easy for me to divert my attention away from my faults as a mom.  I know multitudes of wonderful mothers who are clearly in the captain’s seat despite being away for their 40 (or 50 or 60) hours. I was not one of them.  I rode on the coattails of the daytime care givers. He learned to use a fork? Awesome. You taught him to say thank you? Great! On most days you would have found me in a quiet school (because other mothers had already flung their door shut to snatch up their littles and not miss one more minute) hunched over my desk grading essays like my life depended on one. more. comment. Every one of my teacher evaluations deemed me competent. Almost every one of my experiences disciplining my firstborn deemed me either a. incompetent or b. in a catatonic state.

After a few months at home and some time after the twins were born, I found there was even more to fear.  How a home is ten layers of quiet that is normally okay or great to think in but can cut deep on a bad day.  How my heart shouldn’t rise and fall on my husband’s praise, but it often does because the rest of my conversations bob between comical and illogical musings of a 4 year old.  How it feels to get no more than two consecutive hours of sleep for three months and yet work in close proximity to three beds, two couches, and a dining table that would do just fine. How doing what you believe in is sometimes no fun at all and instead of it being no fun at all with a laughing co-worker, it’s just no fun at all. How not showering in 72 hours feels like you haven’t died of stench and wow, showering after 3 days feels like I just visited a spa...maybe I’ll try this again but not admit that to anyone!. How I’m watering my irrelevancy every time I snuggle up to Thomas and giggle over a few chapters about Ralph S. Mouse or Annie and Jack or Danny and Josh or Christopher Robin or Charlie because my comrades have been reduced to:

a.) People small enough I’m in charge of wiping their butts
b.) Characters in children’s novels
c.) Stay at home moms who have yet to figure out that I’m an imposter

A couple months ago, I went out for a birthday party for a friend I worked with last year. There was some “work talk” at the table. A lot of it. There were also drinks at the table. This combination, in excess (and maybe just the drink part), later culminated to something of a horror scene where I shot up in bed at 3 am to a baby crying in the other room and me with eyes wide open and internally yelling, as if shocked awake from some nightmare, “OH MY GOSH. I’M JOBLESS!!!”

See, even if I was the best mom (hahahahaha, that’s ripe) and we were filthy rich (Richie Rich times three, to be exact), I would still be pretty much freaked out about being off the grid.

One of the cornerstones of my personality is that I’m terrified of risk.  Absolutely terrified. I have to quell panic attacks when people share photos of a tattoo they just got because I’m thinking, Are you sure about that? Oh my gosh, you are sure. Of course you’re sure; you just got it. This is real and already there so I should say something and stop staring. Am I smiling?  Did I say something? Oh wait, I'm staring at Facebook... I’m so terrified of risk that when other people take risks I put on the burden of being terrified for them which is probably good because a lot of you look just fine, if not downright joyful, about the risks you take.  

Leaving the workforce was completely uncharacterisic of me. The only thing as uncharacteristic would be me being a mom...which I am...to three.  So, leaving the workforce to be nothing but mom served up what should have been epic disaster. Oh, and it did. But not like what I mean. There’s been so much nursing and so little showering---that kind of stinky disaster--yes!. But not the identity struggle I anticipated.

Me before the black hole of jumping to SAHMing it:

Outgoing? Nope.
Visionary? Woah. NO. No. No.
Extrovert? Nope.
Leader? Hahahahahahaha.
Nurturing? Hell no. Never been.
Selfless? <silence>
Risk-taker? You’re drunk. Go home.

Here I am, at home, being very much different than what I thought I was.  I’m assertive, decisive, and quick to act. I’m drawing boundaries (aka saying no) with others and teaching my son to respect me and his dad. I’m actively searching for and nurturing friendships. I’m laughing more as I loosen my grip and need for control.  I’m feeling good about being a mom (and I didn’t for a very long time which makes me very sad for time lost feeling crappy). And I’m falling in love all over again with Paul because that’s vulnerability which is risky and I know risky because I quit my job to just be a mom.

I’m so grateful for this past year. Just like any other job, I’ve learned a lot the hard way--that’s H as in hell, heckling, hurl, and hurt. I don’t know how long I get to stay at home or what’s ahead to discover this year. For now, my take away, other than a home and family pretty happy and healthy, is that I loved diving into something scary and finding I’m so much more than the labels I saw as absolutes.  There is no price to put on the freedom of breaking those illusions. 

But if there was a price, I would say it would be half of 100,000 give or take several thousand (but definitely take).

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Day in the Life

When I was working full-time, I carried around a curiosity for what those stay-at-home moms were doing.  Really, I didn't hold an altogether respectful attitude about those on the other side of the fence.  Call it jealousy or ignorance, I wondered why it was the mommy bloggers all too often seemed ungrateful or bored or lazy. Can't they just pull it together and get more done? I mean, c'mon, I'm working AND doing all the things.

And there was a smidgen of nice curiosity too. That kind of daydreaming wistfulness that takes you away from the day job. I wondered what it felt like to be full mommy full on all the time.  A naked wonderment at the women brave enough to stay put. I still wonder the exact same thing even though I'm doing it.  It has taken months of tweaking our rhythm and uncovering tricks, but those are mine--what about everyone else? Even my close mommy friends, the ones I visit with and discipline alongside and send my dramatic texts to, I wonder what their days look like. Not a cleaned up, perfected version.  Just the mundane & beautiful & ordinary all mingled together.

So, without further ado, a real honest-to-goodness boring and uncut look at my life at home (on a pretty typical day). 

Oh, and this version is a wee different than others I've seen. This is ordered by one photo and some related notes per hour. If I included all the things I do in a day around here (or the things I hear or see or think, my goodness), well, we just wouldn't ever escape this post. It would have all of us dribbling boredom out of the side of our mouths.

My day starts at 6:00 with nursing, diaper changes & feeding all the people in general, but I didn't think to do this until...


Breakfast dishes. Laundry started. Tidying things up. To do list written for the day. Twins happily playing on their own. And Thomas and I attempt to put new handles in the master bedroom (that I'm slowly, slowly and with a lot of help from my friend, Natahle, redoing). Despite a great deal of morning person enthusiasm on our parts and a competent Youtube video, the ordeal ends in Paul's handle halfway done and mine about a quarter of the way.  So both not done is what I'm saying.


Alistair & Emerick are so attached to each other, this is what it looks like when I'm feeding them their breakfast. The other watches and waits (and smiles!).  We've been up for two hours with me primarily working around the house and feeding people, so this is when I give the kids some attention. Supervising Thomas play with his brothers. Tickle the babies. Read some books. Daydream about the days of getting a shower without fear of child destruction and/or destruction of child.


The babies are down for their morning nap so Thomas and I step outside.  After a short mommy & son sword fight, because I'm the best influence, I grab all my gear and start thinning through the plants on the east side of the house.  Thomas waters plants, hides behind our Asian maple pretending to be a ninja, and talks to the neighbor so much the neighbor has to excuse himself from conversation (of which I was absolutely zero part of because I'm pulling out more dead excess mass from our plants than there are plants). He also pulls a dead flower behind his back and tells me he will kiss me and I will fall in love with him. Then he will use his magic flower to turn me invisible.


I'm sweaty and exhausted from yard work. This, plus a generous amount of humidity rolling into out area, has my hair looking like I lost a fight with a cat whose sole attack strategy revolved around perching on my head. I'm also exhausted by the prospect of managing clothing and bodily function removal for three boys before going to the store and myself looking just like this. This entire hour is spent nursing, changing diapers and clothes & gathering people into and out of the car for the grocery store. 


Because I would rather poke my eyes out than go grocery shopping in my "free time" (haha, like I have any of that), I sport around the kids in this fashion.  The twins are super easy. I talk to Thomas a lot about all the food, the meals we are going to make, etc while I point to my grocery list and have him cross words off and sometimes help bag or place foods in the cart. The kid is like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors. He needs your blood (attention & educational fodder) at all times. He did tell me when I pulled into the parking lot spot that he would just stay in the car while I shopped. I definitely considered. 


We eat a quick lunch. And here's one of my favorite anchors to our day. Thomas and I cuddle in my bed and read his chapter book. Today, it's Winnie the Pooh. I laugh at the nuance and Thomas laughs because his mom is laughing and because he is vaguely aware Pooh is adorably daft. No matter how our morning has gone, we always read about twenty minutes after his lunch and I let the babies play with each other in their sunroom cage as pictured below. Then, I nurse each baby and read a book to each separately and tuck them into bed as well.  Every day I think I'm going to do some sort of freedom dance by this point (all kids curled into balls and smushed up faces on sheets) but all I can manage is to turn on my warrior woman internal voice who says to not sit down or you will slip into hibernation and surface in three weeks.


Put away groceries, clean kitchen, and tidy up the house, and picking up my sanity one minute of podcast at a time. And since doing all those things are just about as boring and un-photogenic as you can surely imagine, I present here a random photo of this watercolor beauty I managed earlier this week complemented with, of course, a unicorn Thomas made two days ago. 


I think one of the things you learn once you've breached the more-than-one-kid zone of parenthood is this: you make food well before you need food. Hunger makes for an oil spill of all kinds of nasty emotions, and that's just when I don't get fed. If we're all hungry at the same time (6:00 am on a lot of days), it's a nuthouse of quakery and crazed lunatics out for some protein, dangit. So, I make roasted corn salsa and clean up the kitchen againagainagainagainagainagain. I mean, what?


It's so quiet in the house and it's raining outside. This time of day, during the twins' 2nd nap and during Thomas's nap, is when I make calls, go through mail, send emails, write, etc. I will sometimes take a 20 minute power nap but this is becoming more rare now that I'm getting ample sleep at night. Here I am typing this post about what I was doing yesterday at this time. Get it? I'm typing right now just like I would be typing yesterday. Hey, I never said this was going to be interesting.


Hey, look! The kids are up and adoring each other.  Routine at this time looks the same way every day: 1. Thomas wakes  2. Snack  3. Thomas plays until he asks for screen time  4. Thomas is given his list of chores for the day and he does them at his own will and supervision (It's ingenius, I tell you--do this if you need space at 4:00 because you are completely spent. Kids have an innate way of navigating a wayward course toward chores which means they become sparse real quick.). I tidy up. Vacuum. Finish a project I started earlier.


This is a photo of beer. Because discipline. And four year olds. And a traveling husband who is on his way home but will be on a call when he arrives and maybe leave again next week. Judge me, but I won't feel bad at all. Walk a mile. Stay a week. ;) *and the wee black item is a Lego helmet


The kids adore their dad. I adore their dad. Paul is almost home from a week in D.C. after a week previous in D.C. and this kid, who can be found at any moment of any day moving his mouth or moving his feet but probably both, perched himself on the couch and wouldn't move for ten minutes because he didn't want to miss the moment Paul pulled up. Heart = puddle. 

Welp, friends, that's a day in the life here at the Anderson ranch.  I couldn't quite figure out how to get photos of how stunning I looked doing it all, but I'm sure you can use your imagination.