Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Part I: My Life as a Stay At Home Mom

I was a working professional when I had Katherine.  I took maternity leave because I thought I'd go back to work when she was three months old, maybe, or maybe six months old.
I resigned from my job when she was six months old; I went back to work when she was nine years old.
First, there was this crazy mother love that possessed every fiber of my being so that I could not bear to be without her even when I thought I would lose my last shreds of sanity if I spent one more minute with her.  (I told you it was crazy.)  Then, there was breast feeding, and the fact that she was able to outsmart every single person who tried to give her a bottle, for months on end.  (She never did.  Eventually, she drank from sippy cups as she was weaned, but never a bottle.)  And then I was so incredibly tired, all the time, that I could not imagine working.

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.
When she was two, my marriage was falling apart.  I am a feminist, and I thought I was married to a feminist, too, but we had really distinct gender roles that no longer made sense.  It made sense for me to get up with a baby when I was the one who had to nurse her, sure, and I was okay with that.  And it made sense for me to make her breakfast while he was getting ready for work; he needed to go to work, and he didn't need food smeared on him, whereas I could stay home and get a shower if I needed one.  And it made sense for me to generally care for the house and make meals, because I was there, and that would allow us time together in the evenings.
Outdated version of motherhood.
But the rest of it didn't make sense to me.  How come I always got up with her on the weekends, while he slept in?  How come he got to go for bike rides (all day events, because he would have to work on the bike, then drive a couple hours somewhere, then bike a couple hours, then have a meal somewhere, then drive back home, then clean up his bike, then shower.....and then he was really tired from his "long day" so didn't want to do anything) while I was expected to be available for our daughter all the time, barely escaping for an hour here or there every few weeks?  How come on weekends, I was still cooking and cleaning, and he wasn't?  I felt like a second class citizen, and my gentle promptings to discuss it were met with a brush off.  He basically ignored me.  Then, I wrote him a letter explaining how hurt I was by this behavior, and he was SHOCKED.  "How could you be shocked?" I asked, "When I've been trying to tell you for two years that this bothers me and hurts me?"  He said, "I thought I was a good husband and dad, and you've totally destroyed me."  He was angry with me for saying that I needed something I wasn't getting.  We went to counseling.  He was angry that I wanted counseling, told me that it made him feel like a failure.  (sigh)  I said "Is this because you want me to go back to work?" and he said, "That has nothing to do with it!"  I had doubts, but he denied that my working had nothing to do with anything.

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).
I hate getting MRIs.  Ugh.
A couple of years ago, I said, "Look, I don't think you're being direct with me.  You say you don't mind me saying home, but you act angry around me, and I think this has something to do with it."  He denied it.  I said, "I'm willing to go back to work.  I liked working, and Katherine is older, and in many ways I'd enjoy it - colleagues, using my brain, making money, all of that.  But I'm not willing to do everything around the house that I do now if I'm also working; I'd need help.  Would you be willing to help with housework and do dinner two or three nights a week (out of seven!)?"

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.

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