You know how certain months hold special meanings for people? Maybe April signifies joy for some beautiful, heartfelt reason, or August represents a weighty month of despair. As we compartmentalize our emotions within the timeline of personal wins and losses, before we know it, we’ve crafted an annual calendar synonymous with emotion.
That’s what November is for me – a month of heightened emotion. The next 30 days will offer intense reflection, tremendous gratitude, and unwelcome guilt — not necessarily in that order. As I prepare to celebrate my 3rd anniversary as a stay-at-home mom and my 16th wedding anniversary to the man who made it all possible, I can’t help but take inventory of how far my marriage has come.
It seems like only yesterday we said our marriage vows under less than favorable circumstances. Before Boy Wonder and BooBoo. Before this house. Before either of our careers. We’ve lived a lifetime in these 16 years: one apartment, two houses, eight cars, four pregnancies, two babies, five jobs, one cat, and a least a dozen coffee makers.
We’ve gained and lost these things through laughter and tears. We screamed and dreamed and fought and made up. We kissed and shopped for appliances and took vacations. But of all the incredible life adventures my marriage has given me, nothing could have prepared me for the role of stay-at-home mom.
So, refection – check. Gratitude – check. Where’s the guilt?
Well, I’ll tell you. The guilt comes from the reality that life as a stay-at-home mom makes me feel (gulp) … small.
Small in a way that feels inconsequential, lonely, and overwhelmingly guilty for feeling small. Leaving my career of 14 years to stay home with my kids was a decision that took a literal decade to make. We strategized. We sacrificed. And when we were finally able to make it happen, we rejoiced. Mom was home! The house was calmer. My husband was better cared for. The kids were happier. And while all these things offered me tremendous pride, I felt the need to prove myself worthy while I was here. I had to keep a cleaner house than I ever could while I was working. I needed to be more organized, meal plan, budget, volunteer, and contribute financially as a freelancer. And I did it. I did it all. I wanted to; it was the least that I could do, but it meant working all the time. Here I’d left my high-stress job to make things easier — and I had — for everyone else but me.
In my career, my efforts were measured and recognized, but it was different now. There were no metrics to be had in motherhood. There was no score for a square meal on the table or freshly scrubbed toilet. There was no accolade for an honest reading log or an empty hamper. There was just the knowing that I cared for my family and I did it well. And while the knowing surely felt good, was it enough?
If you told me before I made the stay-at-home mom transition that this job would be done in exchange for smiles, I would have told you smiles were all I needed — and I would have believed it, too. My family’s happiness means everything to me, but validation by faith isn’t easy.
And that’s what I’m struggling with; the reality of our well-orchestrated normal where things look all too easy.
The house is clean. The kids are happy. The homework’s done. The dinner’s made. But no one fully realizes what it took to get there.
How tonight’s dinner casserole was miraculously prepared in spite of an urgent care detour involving a tearful 7-year-old who jammed his finger beyond recognition (again) playing tetherball. How our tween now feels a whole lot better for having unleashed his bad day fury on me earlier. How a lengthy Google session and a call to my teacher friend saved tonight’s prokaryotic cell homework. How I managed to fold all four loads of laundry while on hold with our health insurance company to inform them, yet again, that my son is not my husband. No one really saw that. No one was privy to the oil change squeezed in between school pick-ups #1 and #2, or the trip to the library to return the missing book found under the stove, or the peanut-free sugar cookies I had to go to four different stores to find for tomorrow’s school party. No one really saw that either. These things were just done. And they looked easy. But they weren’t.
There were tears, yells, spills, and waits. There were mix-ups, and conversations, bargains and promises made. There were missed deadlines, checklists, phone calls and 26 starts of my Honda’s engine. There were snacks, and more snacks, and even more snacks. There were missing socks and forgotten school books and a canceled practice no one told me about. There were fights over the last fruit roll and skinned knees and not a single glue stick to be found in this entire house. But no one noticed. The kids couldn’t; they’re kids. My husband couldn’t; he wasn’t here. He was working; working hard for us.
Sure, part of me pats myself on the back for handling all the devilish details like a boss, but a bigger part of me is calling, “Uncle!” Perhaps it’s time to step out from behind the enchanted curtain. Legend has it there’s a whole world where smiles feel like more than enough and being Mom doesn’t feel like too much.