Four years ago, when my friend went on maternity leave, I finally got the nerve to ask her, “What do you do all day?”
She shook her head. “I don’t really know. It’s kind of a blur.” Despite being raised by a mom who stayed at home, I was baffled by the breakdown of a day without work. My own mother home schooled us, so that was her occupation. Teaching us. Making food and making sure I wore a slip to church and that my brother didn’t pee into bottles. But before school, when your child is little. What would that be like? Would you be bored? If you take a nap do you have guilt? Do you have to make muffins?
Then, I experienced my own maternity leave and realized that it is nothing like normal life. The haze of exhaustion. The crazy-making stupor of hormones, love and EVERYONE STOP TOUCHING MY BOOBS, was a world of its own. And then, once you begin to emerge, time to go back to work.
But on Dec 7, I experienced my last day of regularly paid work. I am still writing for several outlets and doing some consulting, but as far as being a normal member of the working world, that was done. And I’ve begun to learn what it means to be a stay-at-home mom, and frankly, I’m not sure if I am cut out for it. I love spending time with my daughter, but I miss being relevant. I miss being able to make coffee without someone screaming, “ELLIS DINK DA COFFEE!!” And some days, I love it. I make muffins and we build cardboard houses and I think, I am fulfilled. And other days, I read The Napping House ten times in a row and want to claw my eyes out. I’m not exaggerating. I made tally marks today. I felt like I was a prisoner, marking time in solitary. But in prison, you get free cable and someone makes you food.
When people talk about this time being precious, they forget getting juice thrown at them. They forget being hit in the face or trying to change the diaper of an angry 30-lb toddler who just wants to PAY WIF DA TOYS! and who, by the way, also has poop on her foot.
My husband says I’m still adjusting. My neighbor says I need to find more SAHM friends and use my free time to make her more cookies. I also have to remember that I am 13-weeks pregnant and I think everything smells like mold and I’ve been waking up at 5 am, because Dave got two inches away from touching me in bed and shanking him means I don’t get insurance money.
Also, work has the same frustrations, less actual poop and more metaphorical shit. But it’s not like I was picking Ellis up from the sitters thinking that work was all sunshine and unicorns and I got paid in Lucky Charms. (Actually, I think I have some clients who would rather pay in cold cereal, but that’s neither here nor there.)
I am so grateful for this time. Dave and I have worked hard to dig our way out of debt, so that I have the chance to stay home. But now that I am here, I realize that working gave me that space to be a person outside of being a mom. When I am all mom, I have to carve out space for my personhood. But that’s really the problem, isn’t it. I am a person. I am a mom. I am these things all the time. I don’t stop being one to be the other. But I set up this false dichotomy that they are at war somehow–Jacob and Esau tumbling inside. I was complaining to my friend Anna once about how the only interesting thing about me was my uterus, because Anna is lovely and she listens when you go on a selfish, whine fest, while you tack Martha Stewart bats to your mantle and drink wine.
“Maybe that’s not it,” she said. “Maybe it’s just that motherhood is a new part of you and like any new experience, it is making you more of who you are.”
I want to say something wise about that balance. But far smarter women than I have failed to untie the Gordian knot of modern womanhood. So, all I can do is clean up the poop and remember that I will never be able to separate the experience of being a mother from who I am, but also, somewhere in the sea of that I remain.