"Why don't you have a job?"
This was asked to me today by Xavier, as I finished buckling Ashe and Soren into their carseats and popped into the drivers seat as we were leaving Target to pick up prescription meds and other various household items needed. It was a good thing the car was in park because I probably would have slammed on the brakes and caused a fender bender. Instead I gripped the steering wheel, closed my eyes and took a breath.
I know Xavier doesnt know why this question would bother me because he is still so young and blissfully ignorant on the world. To him, things are very black and white. You either go to work, which involves typing on the computer all day, having business meetings and bringing home a paycheck. Or you dont have a job. While I can brush off Xaviers innocent question to just that, innocence, hearing it is like nails on a chalkboard. A lot of adults believe the same way Xavier does. And they do not have that child like innocence to use as an excuse.
Another reason though, a more quiet one that often goes unspoken but races through my mind a lot as I go about my days, is that while I know I have a job that is one of the hardest ones in the world, there is a part of me that also feels like it's not enough. Not necessarily not enough for me, but that general concept that because I dont bring in a paycheck to help with expenses, that maybe I'm not pulling my weight, my equal share. You can show me spreadsheets of how much of what I do is worth as a paying job. In fact the 2009 survey from salary.com shows that Stay At Home Moms National average yearly salary is estimated at $122732 You can show me how much I am saving our family expense wise by not paying out for daycare to go to a job that would only pull in enough to cover maybe that expense, but wouldnt cover the expense of professional clothing, the cost of all my implements I would need, the lunches out, continual classes not paid for by employers but are a MUST in order to keep up my license. So in the long run I realize logistically that staying home to raise our 3 kids is actually saving us a lot of money plus I get to be there for my kids. But sometimes I look at J as I take a quick break and pop on the computer for a moment of respite and wonder if I do enough to be considered a true equal partner? And that bothers me because I always want to be equal in the eyes of my husband and children.
But then I quickly see the flipside and think of all the people who really believe that being a Mom at home really isnt a job. It doesnt count. It's not that hard. It doesnt bring in a paycheck. I mean what could you possibly fill your day with all day long? And that bothers me. Because it usually comes from people who have no idea what they are talking about, haven't tried it, haven't lived it. There is a misconception that Moms who do not work outside of the house have a lot of free time on their hands. Yes, I get some free time once in awhile. Some days more than others. I steal those time periods when I can to have a quick mental recharge so I can keep going with listening nonstop about Transformers with "interest" or Lego Batman, or read The Very Hungry Caterpillar with feeling for the 80th time in a week, or bounce my baby to make him smile instead of crying. If I didnt have some time in between I'd go bonkers. I might already have anyways, who knows? J seems to imply that I have on occasion ha!
But if you peeked into my house and maybe saw me sitting on the couch with the tv on and my kids sitting beside me and think "Where the hell are the bon bons har har?" you missed the fact the baby is either nursing or trying to learn to stand up by pulling my hair out in hanks and I am encouraging him. Or you might miss the fact that I am chatting with Ashe, who in the past had a speech delay and has only recently really overcome this through months of speech and developmental therapy that we did together every week. Or maybe I just got home from picking up medication for Xavier from target after having to run to the Drs office EVERY month to get his prescription because it can not be automatically refilled. Or we just got home from a day out at the Museum, me chasing an active 3 yr old who is running from exhibit to exhibit excited at learning about each one while I have a 16 1/2 pound baby strapped to my chest. Or we're relaxing from a trip to the park to get exercise and sunshine. Maybe I've got a load (or 8) of laundry being washed and dried, and the dishwasher is going from the gazillion dishes a family of 5 goes through. Maybe you notice bits of food on the floor. That would be from Soren learning to eat table food and we dont have a dog to pick up after. Normally I try and dust bust it when I find a free moment.
Maybe you notice my hair is in a ponytail and I'm still in sweats with snot stains on my shirt when I run out with the kids for an errand.. And you may think "Whoa that chick really let herself go!!! I'll never be like that!" without having any clue that I was up every 2 hours to nurse my baby, or dealing with a sobbing child suffering a nasty nightmare, or a wet bed from potty training and you know what? I'm fucking tired!!!! That snot stain is from my 7 month old who happens to have a cold and is teething 2 teeth at the same time. Trust me, I changed shirts before I left the house. This was just from walking from the minivan to the store entrance.
Or maybe you see my kid throwing himself down on the floor in a store and think "How sad, that kids can get away with behaving so awfully in public these days. When I was a kid..." I dont know what it was like when you were a kid, but I bet when you were you threw tantrums too. Parents deal with this stuff every day. Especially at the 2-4 stage. It's part of childhood development. And yes, kids love to pick the perfect spot in public to let it be known they are PISSED and you damn well better acknowledge it! But they do it just as often at home, if not more. And we're there to both teach them how to verbalize their emotions and learn better alternatives as they grow.
Then there is homework for older kids, making sure that they do it and do it correctly without you doing it for them. Then teaching responsibility to children by giving them and enforcing chores. And staying consistent and enforce those chores and rules when they get snippy. Or answer daunting questions like "Where do Babies come from" on the fly because they never give you time to prep for the big questions. Nope. They put you on the spot anytime, anywhere, and you damn well better have a good answer for them because if you fuck up or lie, trust me, they will find out one day. And when those more important conversations could crop up, if they don't trust you from before, they may not trust you in the future, when it really matters.
Dinner consists of whatever I can get my hands on and cook in 15 minutes because wouldnt you know, when it's time to make dinner, thats the witching hour in our house. Tantrums, whining, dawdling on homework, crying baby who wants to nurse while you're trying to cook pasta over the stove and you have to choose "Do I nurse baby and let the pasta over cook and have dinner be late for everyone else, or cook the pasta and let the baby cry? Gone are the days when J and I could sit down to a peaceful 3 course meal, sip wine, and really talk. Nowadays I shovel food into my mouth as fast as I can amidst getting things set for the kids, cajoling them to eat their dinner, and trying to both listen to J about his day at work and Xavier tell us about how ghosts are REAL MOM THEY REALLY ARE!
I am one of the lucky ones.I have a kick ass husband who pulls his weight and then some when I can not for one reason or another. J is the one who takes over after dinner, allowing me some quiet time at night. He puts the older two to bed each night while I take care of Soren. I take night shift and deal with anything that occurs between 11pm - 4am, he allows me to sleep in to catch a stretch of a few hours uninterrupted in the early morning. He is there for every parent teacher conference. And since we moved down here and he works from home, he has been my godsend when I need to rush to the DRs for one kid or another and dont want to bring the entire brood. He gets it when I need to get out of the house for a little bit, just to unwind. And he never complains in a serious tone. I acknowledge I have more help than the average Stay at home Mom. And I appreciate everything he does for us (and no Im not just adding this in because he reads my blogs. It's all true. Smooches, Babes)
But while I do not bring in a physical paycheck, I do have a job. It may not have a 401k plan, or an insurance package. I may not be able to physically bring in a paycheck to help pay the bills. I dont have a 9-5 job. I do have a 24/7 job with no vacation or sick days. I do have 3 tough bosses. I do get yelled at often. But I get paid with sticky kisses and hugs, "I wuv yous", and shrieks of delight when I walk into a room. I get adoring pats on the faces and cuddles. I get "Thanks Mom" when I help my son figure out a hard homework question by walking him though it.
How to explain all this to a 7 yr old? How to make him understand that while it might not look like I do much for the family in the stereotypical sense I'm still doing something I feel is worthwhile and worth giving up the chance at social security and stocks and bonds? In the end, I just tried to explain a few of the examples I used above in a more simple way: No I dont get paid in cash but I get paid in other ways. And while it might look like I have a weekend nonstop, I dont really get weekends in the way he means. My weekend days are almost identical to my weekdays except for the fact that J is able to help out more so I can relax a bit. But that doesnt mean it's a free ride. I dont know if I made it clear to him enough but I hope I at least gave him the foundation of understanding that being a parent and one that stays home is not something that is less respectable than a typical job. And it is a job.
I came home and walked into the office where J was working. I mentioned to him what Xavier said to me and he burst out laughing. His comment? "I remember making that mistake...once." I love that man.