Note: This is a long post.
A few weeks ago, I completed one year as a stay-at-home-mom. Most first year anniversaries are marked by some kind of a special event, however small and insignificant it may be. My one year anniversary came and just like that, without so much as a whimper, left. In fact, I am not even sure of the exact date. I just know it was around a few weeks ago. Would it be the first day my husband started his new job and for which we had moved across the country? Yes, I think that would make sense…
I remember the first Friday of the week he started working. I was already at my wit’s end. Having no car, pregnant, and still not used to having a husband who worked away from home, being spoiled in the past by professional lives that allowed him to exclusively and me, almost exclusively, work from home; and having a particularly trying day with a then 19-month old, it was just bad timing that my husband was late coming home. I was in tears, angry and frustrated for the life I had signed up and for which there did not seem to be an end in sight. It was one of the worst days of my recent life and something needed to be done or else this whole staying at home with the kid thing was going to drive me to the looney bin.
The next week onwards, Aaron started taking the train to work three times a week which meant I had the freedom to drive around our new city. I have to admit, just having a car made a world of difference to my sense of self. Slowly at first and more assuredly as days went by, I started driving around town, exploring new roads, and discovering new places where I could take TJ. One of the first things I did was find where my local crafts store was and drive there. I bought a whole lot of stuff that day, construction paper, blunt design scissors, pompom balls, googly eyes, crayons, washable markers,…just about anything I could think of to keep TJ busy. It worked. At least now, I had something to do besides read to him.
Before we moved here, our lives back in Chicago were very different. Back then, as I wrote, Aaron worked from home exclusively. Being a professor, I had a flexible schedule that allowed me to work from home on days I was working on research projects. I would be on campus on my teaching days and days I had to attend meetings or needed to get things done but otherwise, I was quite productive working from home too. We had a nanny who came in from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and spent all her time with TJ attending to his every need. I was free to work at my pace while a loving hand looked after my child right there in my living room. I could pop in to see how he was doing and then return to my desk in the bedroom to continue working.
I did not know what it felt like to be with my child, one-on-one, for the major part of the day and he didn’t know what it felt like to be with his mother for this long either. I often feel guilty now, looking back at those early SAHM days that I did not quite appreciate that time with TJ when I wasn’t quite hugely pregnant and could have done more. I was nursing my own ego and wallowing in my incompetency as a SAHM having been forced into becoming one albeit by choice. The decision to resign from my work and move across the country was mine. I chose to resign but I had still not come to terms with the consequences of that decision.
Don’t get me wrong. Even amidst some frustrations, we had some really great times together at the Zoo that we visited too may times, at an indoor playground, at library story times, doing artwork together, holding and rocking TJ to sleep for his nap times, having adventures at newly discovered parks around the city, reading him many, many books, getting him his first professional haircut, touring preschools, arranging play dates with newly made friends, and so on. Just as I was very slowly learning to accept my new life, I was also getting more pregnant and therefore, not in the best state of mind, temperament wise. There were so many things I could have done with him that I wish now I had but I didn’t because either I didn’t know about them or I couldn’t, being pregnant. Now, I can no longer do them because I always have a baby on me.
For example, during our sessions at Music Together, there are a lot of times we get up and walk, run, hop around the room, or have the kids sit on our laps as we do the different movements together. I couldn’t do these much then because of a protruding belly even though I tried to do them whenever I could and to the extent I could. But, I definitely can’t do them now because I am holding a baby as I walk, run, or hop around. I try to work around this by having them both sit on each seat on my lap but I will never have that one-on-one with TJ any more, and it will never be the same as before and that’s fine, of course. We have both accepted our new normal. Still, I feel like I may have deprived TJ of some of that quality time together.
[Update: After writing this, I asked Aaron if he would please work from home the first half of the day on the 28th and he agreed!! Thankfully, there were no meetings planned the same time as Music Together which means I will be able to leave Baby E here at home and have a special last day of class with TJ. Yay! Read about how it went here and here.]
Anyway, so life went on. Toward the end of the year, we visited India to attend a family wedding and did not return until the new year. I was only getting bigger.
I had a major meltdown in February on one of the days that Aaron was out of the country and I had taken TJ to a library’s story time which was part of our usual weekly routine. As was the thing with him in that phase of his life (some of which exists even today), he would hold on to a toy and refuse to let go of it or return it. This would happen in Music Together where he would want to hold on to an instrument and not return it and this would happen at play time that followed story time at the libraries where we went.
This particular day, he refused to let go of some toy that I can’t even remember now. He was having a major meltdown and I was getting flustered by the minute. He was also being a really obnoxious kid all week trying me at every single thing, from meal times to nap times to diaper changes to just about anything and everything. Aaron being away, I was taking on all the work of raising this toddler while also being already around 9 months pregnant then and nearing the end of my patience with the limitations of a pregnant body.
Whatever toy he wouldn’t let go off that day, I eventually yanked it out of his hands, returned it to the toys bin, grabbed his hand, and marched a dragging, crying, screaming toddler out of the library. A friend and an acquaintance were witness to my crazies that day and to whom I apologized for my outburst and for having to see the drama of that day. Being moms, they hopefully understood what I was going through that day.
Once Baby E arrived, many new chapters got added to the pages of my SAHM life, many of which have been written about on this blog. On the positive side though, the identity struggles had become less frequent. I still had and have occasional frustrations over not contributing financially to our household, not making any professional strides, moments crying over the drudgery of routine life where I feel unappreciated or underappreciated, or feeling like a complete failure as a parent or a mom.
But all in all, I will always be thankful for the memories I am making with my children, for all the joyous times of sheer joy and careless abandon where we get silly and giggle uncontrollably with or without reason, for jumping in muddy puddles, for all those random dances in the living room and kitchen, for the soft kisses and warm cuddles at nap times, for all the boo boo kissing, for all the times my children look at me with trivial-to-adults but huge-to-them sadness or fear that only I can take away to their worlds alright, for all the times my kid has asked to hold my hand, for all the kisses and hugs when I drop him off at school, for all the open-mouthed wet smooshy kisses on my mouth or cheeks by a baby who adores me, for all the times she gets upset when I leave her sight and jumps with joy or turns to look at me as soon as she hears or sees me…
…for all the photoshoots I do with my kiddos and make crazy faces just to have them smile, for all the times I have told TJ to be nice to his sister and told Baby E to stop pulling her brother’s hair, for all the times I have heard TJ talk to his sister and that I have quietly eavesdropped on and that sound like music to my ears, for all the times he has shown what an amazing older brother he is by putting a pillow behind his sister to support her sitting up, or picked her up after she fell over, or snatched a toy from her because she wasn’t supposed to put it in her mouth, or consoled her by saying “No cry, Baby” or “Mommy come right back, Baby”…aahh…my heart aches just thinking of all these moments…moments that may have been otherwise witnessed by daycare personnel or a nanny if I wasn’t a SAHM.
I don’t know about tomorrow, but for today, I am really going to appreciate being a SAHM.
This is not to say I won’t get upset or angry or scream in frustration. Hell, no! I have done all that and more and I just know those days will happen again. I may become calmer with age and as the kids get older or I may not. One thing I do know for sure though is that I will never pretend to be a perfect mother because I am far from it. I’d like my kids to grow up with realistic expectations of being normal human beings and knowing that mom may not have been perfect or anywhere close to it, but she tried, every single day, to be the best mother she possibly could for them, even on her worst days. And on those days that she was at her worst with them, she tried even harder (and still failed, sometimes.).