When she was six months old, I begged for more time. We were still nursing (until she was just over a year), and I begged Bryan shamelessly. I wanted to be there with her, and I couldn't imagine leaving her with strangers. I wanted to see first steps, I wanted to feed her home made baby food (yes, I was one of those mothers), I wanted to enjoy her after the first crazy year of crying nights had passed. We agreed on me staying home until she was two or three, and I was happy with that.
And then I got cancer. Uuuuuuuuugly cancer. Needless to say, I couldn't go back to work. I was a cancer patient as a full time job for an entire year, sometimes doing ten appointments a week. I saved any energy I had for Katherine, and when I was bald, sick, and facing further rounds of surgery, it was clear I wasn't returning to work any time soon. It took six years of cancer treatments and surgeries, with a series of setbacks, even when my hair grew back and I looked normal-ish (in clothes, anyway).
He said, "No." I had to say, "Are you kidding?" because my denial was deep, and it didn't occur to me then (or now) how that could be a sane answer. I said, "I will not work, then come home, make you dinner, serve it, clean it, do all of the homework projects with the girl, vacuum, walk the dog, etc.....while you watch TV." He got mad at me (huh? isn't that backwards?) and walked away.
It is one of the few times in our marriage I showed a backbone, refusing to go back to work under those circumstances. I knew that if I DID return to work, and he still expected me to do everything, it would be the final straw for our marriage. The only thing that made it "okay" (definitely quotes around that word) for me to do everything with our daughter and house was that he worked and I didn't.
So during all this time, I did the stay at home mom thing. I am a great cook, making food from around the world, from scratch, on a budget, using mostly organic, local ingredients. I grew vegetables in a garden that I tended by planting, weeding, watering, mulching, and we ate those veggies. I kept the house clean and tidy, to the point where girlfriends who came over would comment "How come your house is always clean?!" I did the grocery shopping, the clothes shopping, the household minor repairs. I entertained family at holidays. I managed our social calendar. I volunteered - at Katherine's school (class librarian, tutor, field trips, teacher's helper, etc.), at church, at a homeless shelter, at a GED program for teen moms, and I did fundraising for cancer charities (a LOT of fundraising). I did odd jobs, including working as a patient ambassador for a major drug company, speaking to cancer patients. I cut coupons (for some a joy, for me a miserable job) and remembered to use them. I ran a "green" household, using vinegar and baking soda as cleaning agents. I did birthday parties not only for Tessa and Bryan, but for friends and family members. The list is much longer, but you get the idea.
In short, I did what a lot of stay at home moms did, and I did it well. I worked hard, and yes, sometimes I went for a walk with a friend, and sometimes a mom or two would come over at 4pm for a playdate with their kids and the ladies would open a bottle of wine and relax together. But I also worked hard. Really hard.
Stay tuned for part II: Life as a Working Mom.