“I think I really would like to try staying home with the baby when it’s born.” I told my husband a couple of weeks after we found out we were expecting. “I mean, I can always change my mind, right?” And, true to his generally agreeable nature, my husband concurred.
I had my daughter at precisely the right time so that, as I finished up each of my students’ cumulative folders to hand off to the sub who would complete the remainder of the school year, I was experiencing contractions. Two months later, I officially resigned from the district for which I had been teaching since graduating from college, packed up my little car with my two dogs and tiny daughter, and moved across state lines in order for my husband to begin a new stage in his career. We came here full of ideas about how it was all going to go.
Then, we woke up for the first time in our new home, my husband left for work, and my parents — who had helped us move– packed up and headed home.
And there we were. My two-month-old daughter and I. Alone.
No tv. No internet. A mountain of boxes in a rented house outside of town.
Oh, and did I mention a whole universe of exhaustion, hormones, and internal chaos? Those were definitely there with us in those first
weeks— who am I kidding? months.
About five months from now, my little family will once again be packing up and moving across many state lines to transplant ourselves, our pets, and all our stuff into another town. It’s an exciting (and daunting!) prospect for which we have been planning since, it seems, the beginning of time.
A lot will change when we make the move. My husband will be taking on a position that offers considerably more family-friendly hours (which, as I told a family member in a recent email, would probably be enough in and of itself for me to get excited about relocating to Antarctica), and a raise in pay. As it happens, however, the town in which we will find ourselves appears to offer a lot of opportunities for me to reestablish a career outside the home, as well as to explore personal interests that do not necessarily involve my daughter.
I. Am. So. Ridiculously. Excited.
Please know that I absolutely understand that the last two years of my life– staying home with my amazing daughter, meeting other fabulous mamas, and learning how to enjoy a much smaller existence has been an incredible privilege. I really, really do. And, although I have really struggled (fought epic battles??) with the transitions it required of me, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
There have been real benefits to staying home (besides living in PJs). Breastfeeding was certainly easier because I didn’t have to try to negotiate a working pump schedule. My daughter got to reach developmental milestones at her own rate, instead of having things like nap and meal times dictated by her childcare provider. My husband’s sometimes ridiculously unpredictable hours were much easier for me to absorb than they would be for any child-care center of which I am aware. We never had to deal with the anxiety of whether or not to send our kind-of-sick child to daycare or to take the day off to keep her home. On mornings she needed extra time or cuddling, we could choose to stay home instead of dealing with the stress that can be packing up the under–two set. In short, it made life easier in a lot of ways.
On the other hand, there have been a lot of sacrifices related to staying home. A LOT of sacrifices.
Going from two moderate incomes supporting two people to one moderate income supporting three people (and two large dogs and a geriatric cat) has not been without strain. Because of our financial situation and my husband’s work obligations, there have been times when I have been in the continuous presence of my daughter for, quite literally, months at a time without the respite of so much as a solo trip to the grocery store. My amazing doctor actually performed my last (complete) physical one-handed whilst holding my infant daughter on one hip. No. Lie. When my sister, who was in the throws of her last semesters of graduate school, complained to me of her stressful course load, instead of being a sympathetic listener, I was waxing reminiscent about my own experience in my masters program– and missing the challenge and camaraderie that comes from a shared experience with other adults.
And honestly, in those first months, when people would tell me how lucky I was, or how much they wished that THEY could be in the situation where they could stay home with their child, I wanted to disappear (or scream or throw things, depending on the day)– because obviously, there was something wrong with me if I wasn’t appreciating this opportunity. Obviously, I missed the mama gene somewhere. But, by that point, I realized that my husband’s work schedule simply was not conducive to 1. job interviews, or 2. sharing child-care responsibilities were I to actually land a job, so the escape route we had discussed before Naya came along wasn’t really the option we thought it was. And, because of this, it really was a better thing that there be a stay at home parent in her life.
It’s gotten easier and infinitely more fun as we’ve gone along, to be sure. I have connected to a lot of great people and resources in my community. My husband and I have become (so much) better at sharing parenting duties and taking advantage of the time he isn’t working. Naya just keeps getting more amazing, interesting, and fun to be with every minute. I just don’t know a cooler human being than her.
But, as our full-time work together comes to an end, I know this is the right move for both Naya and I. She is hungry for more stimulation than my limited creativity can muster, and is at an age where social interaction is both wanted and needed. And, knowing this makes the transition easier for me, assuaging the crazy guilt that comes with wanting more. And I know this isn’t the same for every parent.
There are some parents who know they could never be stay at home parents and some parents who wish desperately that they had the opportunity. I believe that every one of them has personally told me their take on the situation too.
“I would love to stay home with the kids, but if I did we wouldn’t be able to eat.”
“I am a better mom because I work.”
“I can’t imagine leaving my babies with someone else.”
And you know what? None of them are wrong. I swear they’re not. But, at the same time, it’s so easy to idealize the other side of the coin.
What I can say about the whole situation, from my own limited perspective, is this: Staying at home is hard freaking work. And you know what? I know how to work. I once taught classes of 38 middle school kids at a time in an urban public school system– and did more than crowd control, mind you– and this is harder. I once worked third shift at a factory in which coming home with random oozing chemical burns was not uncommon— and this is harder. I . . .well, you get the idea. I’m not a stranger to work, and this is it. Is it also wonderful, amazing, insanely rewarding? You bet. Do I love the heck out of it? Every day. . .well, almost every day.
I hope I’m not idealizing the working mom’s plight either. I know that balancing child-care; my relationship with my husband, friends, family, and self; household needs; and life in general is not going to get easier because I add more to my plate. I do realize that being a working mama is fraught with equally great dilemmas. I get it (or, at least I think I do).
Last month, my wonderful husband used one of his rare weekends off to stay home with Naya while I took a trip out of state to visit friends with a new baby (my godson!). ( Yes, I used my first child-free weekend ever to visit another child.) During the first night of my stay, the new parents were shooed out of the house to enjoy a baby-free and much needed date. And, as my beautiful godson settled easily into my arms to be rocked to sleep, I came to the conclusion that I am MADE for this mama business, and always have been. And my desire or need for an occupation outside of that has nothing to do with not possessing the mama gene. It has to do with all the other parts of my person that also need to be honored.
Perhaps it would be different if we had stayed in the community in which I lived and worked for several years before getting married, buying a house, and deciding to have our daughter. Perhaps, if I had long-time friends and family nearby to remind me of who I was before I had my daughter, and a support system upon which to rely when I needed to nourish those sides of myself, I wouldn’t need this so much, but that’s not the case here, and most likely won’t be the case there. And that’s ok.
I have already started researching pre-school situations for Naya for this fall–ones that offer lots of undirected play time, nourishing vegetarian meals, and time outdoors. Naya has a backpack that she has started carrying around with her when we pretend to go to school, and I’m sure she’s going to like taking it with her to pre-school.
I anticipate that the first days I drop her off will probably be ridiculously painful for me, and might be a difficult transition for Naya, but I also watched her this weekend with a toddler whose family was spending the weekend as our house guests, and the absolute bliss she was in chasing the other little one around the house, so I know it will be short-lived (at least for her).
And, when I pick her up, according to the wisdom of Mr. Rogers, she’ll have things she wants to talk about, and I will too.