Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

I've always loved being home with my daughters full-time, I really have.

I truly have always loved being a full-time at-home mom, even when the culture shock of starting the gig knocked me on my ass. Even during the colic. Even during the isolation and loneliness and fear of that first round of parenthood, with no other mothers nearby, no other babies, just one long alone day after another with a newborn who never napped, often fussed, and confused me greatly. I loved being a SAHM even during the long isolated winters of two children, of baby- plus toddler-hood, the snowbound, housebound, nine-hour days to fill with rattles and blocks and pull-toys and Play-Doh. I don't mean that I loved the day-to-day existence of those trying times, but I never doubted that mothering full-time was what I should and wanted to be doing. It probably wasn't even remotely apparent, but I even loved my mothering life in its larger, macro sense last summer when Genevieve spent most of her waking hours screaming at me, and most of her sleeping hours not sleeping.

I don't love all the individual moments of full-time motherhood--who ever could? The constant indignity of managing everyone's pee and poo and other bodily fluids, the eternal drudgery of housework, the temper tantrums, the exhaustion, the strange fact of never, ever having one's body to one's self? No one loves all that. But I must be turning a corner--is it real, that near-mythical light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel as a family stumbles forth from the foggy baby-years?--or maybe because it's Thanksgiving week, but at one point yesterday as I roamed the house living my usual daily at-home-mom life, I thought to myself, I should really appreciate this more, because I really have it good right now.

And sure, some of that was because the girls spent a chunk of the morning playing house together, like a movie version of toddler girls at home: kneeling on the playroom floor, huddled over baby dolls, murmuring to each other as they fed and swaddled and occupied themselves in cooperative play. But it was more than that. It was the realization that, while there are many, MANY things about my current job that are distasteful--just like there are at other jobs, the kind you leave your house for and by which you earn a paycheck--I've got a lot of perks in this cozy domestic life I've formed--that has evolved--over the past 4-1/2 years since I entered it as a total novice.

I can (mostly) wear what I want. I can (mostly) structure my own days--now more than ever, as my girls get a bit older and our days are no longer defined by multiple naps and regular nursings. If I want to cook soup all afternoon on a cold November day, I am free to do that. If my girls need a solid morning of home playtime with Mama, I can (mostly) give them that. I'm not at the beck and call of a boss, colleagues, or clients in crisis. I don't wake up to an alarm clock. Next summer I'll be taking my girls to an organic farm every week to pick up a farm-share box of produce, which we'll explore and sort and wash and cook, and we'll have time to do that. If I feel like a walk in the middle of the morning, I can take one (with the girls, of course). If we have errands to run, we can do them during the day, leaving dinnertime and evenings and weekends free for relaxation or family activities. I can get up and make myself an espresso right now, in my slippers. I don't stress about whether or not I look professional enough, if my suit is stylish or dowdy, if my shoes are comfortable and yet dressy. Business lunches are no longer part of my world.

I understand that to some people reading this, all that might sound absolutely awful, their worst nightmare. But you have to understand that embracing stay-at-home motherhood is a process, a journey with many stages. You don't enter it loving all those things. You miss the business lunches, because they allow you to converse with adults. You hate sitting around in slippers, because it makes you feel like an unimportant loser who used to have serious tasks to accomplish other than changing a diaper. You feel odd and unsettled doing things like going for walks in the middle of the day when no one else is around; you feel like you're playing hooky from your regular job.

But things change, and I can only speak for myself as someone who's always had a yearning in my heart to spend my available time with the babies I created, to take that on as my largest, most important work--MY babies, MY family--and trust that I'd make it through the breathtaking shock of adjustment, through the strings of months when I'd have given my left foot for a break from this hardest of all jobs, all the way to the moments like yesterday's, when I come up for air for a moment, here in my warm and cozy mama-housewife life with my daughters napping and their blankies pressed to their lips, and think, This is what I'm thankful for now; and I hope I never look back and think I didn't appreciate it enough.

Given some of my past experiences, I can just imagine certain working moms out there reading this post and working up a sputtering cloud of offended indignation, taking my own peaceful thankfulness this week for smug judgment against their own work lives. To them I say: Don't bother. Not everything is about YOU.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'm thankful for all my dear readers, too.


donna said...

To each his own. Every family has their priorities and needs as each person has their priorities and needs.

Embracing work-out-of-home motherhood is a process, a journey with many stages. You don't enter it loving all those things. You enjoy and dread the business lunches, but miss the kids. You don't enjoy using your breastpump at work but you do it because it's important to your personal values. You hate having to get dressed in the mornings because it's not as comfortable as your comfy at-home clothes. But you do it because you know you have serious tasks to accomplish other than changing a diaper. You feel odd and unsettled doing things like making phone calls and sending e-mails and going to meetings because you miss your kids.

But things change, and I can only speak for myself as someone who's always had a need for my own identity and thus need non-mothering work to keep my own sanity for MY babies, MY family and ME.

This is what I'm thankful for now; and I hope I never look back and think I didn't appreciate it enough.

Happy Thanksgiving, S, C, J & G. I'm thankful for good friends, too.

Anonymous said...

I love this post. I'm glad to hear, as both a contributor to and the beneficiary of your SAHM-hood, that it's so much to your liking. That makes ME very thankful in lots of ways, not least of which are thanks that it's you at home with the girls and the girls at home with you.

Tiffany said...

This post almost made me cry. I so miss being an at-home mom. Circumstances beyond my control changed all of that. I so wish I could be home. I'm glad that you are enjoying it.

Shan said...

Aw, sweet Tiffany! Thank you for your poignant comment. I wish you peace with your circumstances and a happy holiday season, wherever you are and however you spend your days.

Anonymous said...

Shan, thank you for this post, and all of your honest and heartwarming posts about the glories and stress and wonderful life of motherhood. I am a SAHM, and really welcome your blog and the honesty with which you talk about your experiences. You are not alone in your feelings, all of them, and I am so grateful to hear that another SAHM with a prior, professional career GETS how it feels to have made this choice to stay at home with our young ones. THANK YOU!! I am thankful for your blog.

Shan said...

Dear Anonymous fellow SAHM: nicest comment ever! Thank YOU.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I see your comments at MNMom's. I just want you to know that being able to be home with your children is something to be thankful for. I've been a SAHM, a work outside the home mom, a work from home mom. Each incarnation of my motherhood has had its positives and negatives, but the constant has always been motherhood. No matter what I do, I can't make that portion of myself go away. (And I did try running away from home last spring. It didn't take.)

Your post makes a great case for the benefits to both mother and child when mom can stay home. And when she can't? Well, she does what she can to fit it all in.

You're wise to understand the gift of your choice and to understand that it's an ever-evolving thing.

I wish you much happiness. I think it's great that you share your story as it unfolds.