Friday, June 17, 2011

Oh, take me from home, where my wild children roam...

A few days ago, a friend forwarded me a story about a man who came home from work to find his home a mess, his children acting like banshees, and his wife lying in bed eating ice cream.  When he asked her what was wrong, she replied "You always ask me what I do every day-- well, today I didn't do it."  It was a cute anecdote, and my friend explained that she'd thought of me when she read it.  My first thought was... so, does she think I lay around doing nothing all day?  Then my less-paranoid instincts set in, and I realized that she was implying that I actually DID do something all day.  Well, friend, let me set you straight here.  You see, some days I do... but some days I don't.  Some days I'm motivated, excited, and my house is top to bottom clean.  Other days, well, hey, the library is there for a reason, and my house is a disaster area.  (although these are the days that I claim to my husband:  "the kids were just ON me all day.  I couldn't get a THING done.")

The thing about being a stay-at-home mom (or SAHM, as we've taken to calling ourselves in order to pretend that we are still in the working world and, therefore, acronyms have meaning) is that it's boring.  Well, maybe I shouldn't speak for every SAHM out there, but for me- a person who has been training since the age of 4 (back when you could start kindergarten whenever your Mom felt like throwing you into class) to have a career and interact with other intelligent professionals- well, spending all day doing non-high-school degree necessary work is plain boring.  Before you think that I don't appreciate my position, I do.  I am immensely grateful each and every day that my husband is able to provide for us so that I can stay home with these children, but I sure do miss getting dressed in the morning.  And wearing a bra.  And brushing my teeth.  
I am even more grateful for my status as a SAHM since I worked full-time when my first two were younger.  I remember the anguish and guilt of leaving my son at daycare (not my daughter-- she loved daycare, but Mason?  every day for four years he clung/ clang/ clinged? to me and cried for me not to leave him.  And I honestly felt that I did no parenting, since we'd get home from work/ daycare, make and eat dinner, and then the kids would be in bed.  So I never saw them.  And despite how luxurious that (occasionally) sounds now, back then it killed me.  When my oldest was born and I was preparing to go back to work, I called my Mom, in tears, because I'd have to leave my daughter with a babysitter.  My Mom said to me "The less time you spend with them, the more you appreciate the time you have with them."   Boy, was she right.  I'd like to appreciate the time with them a little bit more these days...

But with the first two it just made more sense to have a two-income family and have them in daycare;  when kids 3 and 4 came- well, I don't make THAT much money- and luckily, by then, my husband made as much as we did combined back with kids 1 and 2.  So it worked.  Sure, we still have the same quality of life we had eight years ago (ie. budget), but it works.  And he works.  And I "work at home". Which is boring.  Do YOU get excited over laundry?  HEY! Look how clean these clothes are!  And now I get to FOLD them?  YEAH!  

But to get back to the original story--the primary difference between myself and the protagonist mother is that, well, when my husband gets home from work, I make sure he knows exactly what I did all day.  For example: yesterday I cleaned the bathroom, so after eating dinner and explaining to my husband, in detail, just how long it took me to get dinner on the table, I took him on a tour of the bathroom.  "See, I mopped behind the toilet.  I  took THIS scrub brush and cleaned off that nastiness.  Look here-- see how neatly the medicine cabinet is arranged-- Wait!  I haven't shown you the best part!  All the bathtub toys right here. And oh-oh- hold on!--  here's your extra deodorant-- and did you see your new toothbrush?"  He's a good husband.  He pretends to be impressed.

This is my rather pathetic attempt to have him think that I actually did something constructive all day other than play on facebook, send a few emails, and turn on the cartoons for Kolbie.  I'm not sure he's buying it, but I feel like it's essential.  As it is, we already tend to have "conversations" regarding which of us has the worse life.  And they normally go something like this:
"It's so BORING changing diapers all day.
Yeah, well, it's not like my office is any more fun.
But at least you get to have adult conversation.
That would imply I work with adults.
Come on- you know what I mean.
Uh huh.  And you know what I mean.
Geeze, do you think all I do is lay around and do nothing?
(at this point he usually says nothing and just takes a long slow look around the house)
Seriously?  YOU could not handle staying home with these kids all day.
And YOU couldn't handle working every day to provide for a family of six knowing that if you loose your job, you and your family are screwed!
at which point I grumble: I wish I could loose THIS job...
To which he replies:  Why don't you and get a real job?
I'm TRYING!  But it has to be the Perfect job (so I can still sleep in, spend a lot of time with the kids when I want to, go to all school activities, and still pay enough for us to afford daycare and a bigger house/ mortgage)."  He tends to zone out during this litany of excuses.  

Sometimes the conversation ends here.  Other times it turns into a fight over kids, money, why I don't have a job-- all depending on the mood.  Sometimes it ends with: Do you want to have sex?  uh, sure, when the kids move out.  

But he's right.  I'm desperate for a job that gets me out of the home, away from the kids-- and yet still allows me to be with the kids when they need me.  And it's a difficult tightrope to walk.  I'm sure a lot of mothers out there are in the same boat-- the desire to be using their education, experience, big words--- fighting with their desire to be with their children.  (Although I do have one close friend who has managed to convince her husband of the necessity of continuing to be a SAHM even though her children have been in school for the last two years.  Not sure how she does it- or what she's doing- to make that work...but she's definitely doing something right at home, I'm sure.)  

I remember my father saying to me once when I was a girl, complaining about having to help my mom in the kitchen while my brothers got to go chop wood:  "Just because a woman CAN do everything a man can doesn't mean she SHOULD".  (He may not remember or admit to saying this, but he did.)  And I understand what he was saying.  He encouraged me to get an excellent education (UVA!), has given me advice every step of the way, and has been a mentor throughout my career, and yet when I was pregnant he didn't hesitate to say "Your only job while pregnant is growing a healthy baby."  (Granted, this had nothing to do with career and was more a loving father's attempt to alleviate my guilt over my laziness with the house-cleaning.  And to clarify for my father's sake:  this is his outlook toward his wife/daughter/ members of family.  He absolutely does not oppose women in the workforce in any way, shape, manner, or form- pregnant, mothers, or not.)  He just felt that there is no shame in a woman staying at home with her children.  

But, you know, sometimes, for me, there is.  Maybe because I know I'm not the most interactive mother and could be doing more with them during the day.  Maybe because the more time I spend with my children, the less time I want to spend with them (oh, come on now-- it's normal to feel this way- right?)  Maybe because I can't help but compare myself to colleagues who have foregone having children (or four children) in order to get ahead in their careers, and I've seen "what could have been".  Or maybe it's those student loan payments looming over my head that I keep putting on unemployment forbearance-- student loans for an education I'm not using since none of my children seem all that interested in management theory.  But sometimes I just get tired of laundry, toilets, cooking dinner, and entertaining toddlers.  I didn't get a Masters degree in order to be Master of my own home.  Some days I feel like I should have just received a degree in Home Economics.  (It would have made my Great-Aunt proud-- she was one of the first PhD's in our family, back in the 60's- Professor of Home Economics at the University of Mansfield.)  

Speaking of Economics, another email forward went around a few weeks ago regarding what a SAHM would get paid if she translated her skills to the working world--based on salaries of accountants, CEO's, house cleaners, day care providers, etc.  They estimated at about $170k, I believe it was, annually.  It was over six figures.  I know they were trying to make moms feel better, but let's be honest here.  The majority of the day is spent doing tasks that even a high school diploma doesn't require-- so that's minimum wage.  A few hours a month we may do budgeting and bill paying... but really?  Enough to warrant an "Accountant" salary?  I think not.  And since we're only managing a bunch of uneducated, unskilled, non-employable children, well, I don't think we qualify for that CEO salary either.  The one thing I'll give them is the overtime, since our day does not end at 5:00.  But then again, neither does my husband's, since he helps with bedtime, discipline, entertainment, etc. when he gets home from work (sometimes... I'll give this to him sometimes).

So, I guess the only realistic way I can look at this is as an unpaid vacation.  A somewhat boring and redundant- no restaurants, beaches, or wait staff-- vacation; but a vacation none-the-less.  Because let's face it, my husband is right:  As annoying as it may be to deal with children all day, it's less annoying than dealing with adults who act like children.  
At least I can drink on the job.

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