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Stay-at-home momma

Washington DC December 2011
One of the things about being a stay-at-home mom is that you never get a break. There is no "lunch hour." I can't tell my kids, "Sorry, guys, Momma is on her half." No. It is a 24/7 job. And when things are rough is when I am needed most. My husband and I were talking the other day about what it is like when he comes home and asks "So, what did you guys do all day?" or "Have you packed my lunch yet?" He said that sometimes he thinks that I think (follow that?) he can do whatever he wants when he leaves the house, that his job isn't hard. I told him flat out no way. I think his job is exceptionally challenging. I know he works hard. I know he studies hard. I know he is under a lot of pressure. The key difference between his job now (college) and my job (stay-at-home mother) is that when he's stuck on a difficult problem he can take 5, go get a cup of coffee, and approach the problem with a cleared mind. He has other bonuses as well: he has adult interactions during the day, he gets affirmation that he's doing a good job (I would love someone telling me, "A+ work today!"), and his success is measured. Honestly, I think he works harder than I do. My job is like a stream running down a mountain. It is steady, daily work that few people notice, but that stream does have a purpose. I know that my job is important and I enjoy my job. But, man, there are days when you just can't catch a break. One child wakes up in a bad mood, the other wants to spend the entire day yanking down everything in sight while the first child screams whenever you put him down, and the preschooler asks over and over again, "When will he stop crying? Can we go ride bikes? Can we go on a walk? Can you play with me? Do you want to snuggle?" Those are the days that your husband calls and says, "Did you get my PT stuff washed?" Not only is the answer "no," but your dryer is full of now-wrinkly clothes and your washer is full and probably needs to get ran again on high heat so the clothes don't smell moldy. Plus you originally planned to make something for dinner that required 10 minutes of prep work and stirring-- not happening while children are screaming and clinging on you.

The hardest days for me are the ones where I am busy non-stop. Like when we have preschool drop off and pick up, doctor's appointments, grocery shopping (even when it is just an online pick up-- still gotta put the groceries away!), maybe a playdate thrown in there, and laundry. And dishes. Always those blasted dishes. The toddlers are fussy. The preschooler is grouchy. The dog is wild. I'm distracted. Or just getting a little cranky with kids hanging on me crying. And I do the best that I can all day. Giving the kids hugs and smiles. Trying to involve them in my chores and errands. Singing songs with them while we work or wait. I struggle through bedtime by myself. O doesn't want to do his medicine so we sing songs together for the entire nebulizer treatment. I keep telling C to stop pulling DVDs off the shelf. D doesn't want to go to bed when Daddy isn't home. The toddlers don't want to brush teeth; they want to yank everything out of the bathroom cupboards. No one wants to calm down for stories and prayers; they want to pull my hair and argue over my lap. I finally, finally, finally get them all down to bed to come out, pour a glass of wine, and start working my way through the dishes. Then I pick up all the toys around the house. Put all the loose socks I find in the hamper. Finally, finally, finally sit down on the couch to pet the dog and put my feet up when my husband walks in the door, "Hey, would you mind packing my lunch? I have a lot to get done tonight. I have a paper due at 11:30 pm." Whenever that happens I get an image in my mind of a cartoon balloon popping and flying through the air as it deflates.

It is hard to put into words what I do as a stay-at-home mom. I met up with a girlfriend of mine at the park today. We haven't seen each other in a couple weeks. She says, "How have things been going since I saw you last?" And you think... wow. Miscarriage, vacation, O's asthma, day to day life with three kids... How do you express it all? I say, "Pretty good. You?" And I know she's thinking medical stresses with one of her children, life with three kids (kindergartner plus twins), husband's work schedule, day to day life... And she says, "Pretty good." And then we fill each other in. We both know how crazy our day to day life is. We both know how we've been stressing about our kids. We both know how hectic it is managing our kids around our husband's work schedule. But it is hard to put it in words. When we left the park, she had to go get her oldest from the bus. Mine was in the back of the car yelling, "I have to pee!" One of my toddlers was pouring a juice box in between his legs onto his car seat. Unloading the van at home, both toddlers sprinted down the driveway to the road. I put them down to nap while they kicked and screamed (and strangely calmed down during prayers). When I walked into the kitchen after putting them down to nap, I found my oldest at the table with permanent markers and glue sticks. The dog found an orange stuffed inside a shoe. Our days weren't over-- or any easier-- after chasing toddlers around a park for a couple hours.

I think the best way to describe being a stay-at-home mom is "constant stimulation."

There is no compartmentalizing anything. You can't schedule the day and say, "Okay, kids. We are going to change diapers at 9:00 am, then breakfast from 9:15-9:30. After breakfast you can have 15 minutes of playtime while I clean up the dishes..." Even as I write this blog my oldest is saying, "Hey, Mom, look at all these stickers I have. Hey, Mom, when can I watch Dinosaur Train? Hey, Mom, does paint come out of hair? Hey, Mom, when is our dog's birthday?" And the diaper changing is constant. This morning O had a stinky diaper when he woke up. C had a stinky diaper after breakfast. O had another small stinky diaper while I was cleaning up breakfast, then another small stinky diaper before we did his breathing treatment. C went down for a short morning nap and then woke up with a stinky diaper! Including C's wet diaper this morning and his wet diaper before morning nap, I changed 7 diapers before noon.

Picture taken by TwinBug Photography
This morning didn't go as planned. Not only did our plans fall through for this morning, but C woke up in a right little mood. He didn't want to sit in his high chair for breakfast. He didn't want to eat his breakfast after I convinced him to sit in his high chair. He didn't want me to put him down. And he didn't want to stop crying or fussing even when I was holding him. Eventually I just put him down for a nap. His eyes were closed before I finished saying prayers with him. When one child is acting this way, I still have other things I need to get done. I still need to get myself ready. I still need to make the other boys breakfast. I still need to feed the dog. I still need to get D to preschool on time (or as close to on time as possible!). Life doesn't just pause because one of the children would rather spend the morning crying in my lap.

If you've read my tab, "How do you do it?", you will have already seen this:
As much as I love my job, sometimes I feel insecure about whether or not I am "doing the right thing." There is so much going on, from supporting my husband in his career to being a full-time "domestic engineer." Sometimes I wish someone would come by the house and say, "You know how your little guy has the same tantrum everyday for the same reason? Well, you are handling it the right way. You are doing such a great job being loving, yet firm. In about two months he will grow out of that and you will have instilled a great lesson in him. And, by the way, you should wait a month or two after you get your orders before you move. Your husband can help you move then and your oldest will easily transfer kindergartens. Keep up the good work." But there is no one knocking on my door letting me know whether or not we are making the right parenting decisions.

Sometimes the hardest thing about being a stay-at-home mom is that you get no credit. Your kids don't thank you for changing their diapers; they actually fight you tooth and nail the entire diaper change. Your husband probably won't notice that you finished the laundry (unless you are like me and really behind on the laundry). In fact, most of the time, the only feedback you get is negative. I don't think my husband realizes what he's saying when he asks, "When will you get the grocery shopping done? I'd really love some extra things for my lunch." I don't think he means anything when he says, "When will the laundry be done?" And I know my preschooler isn't making statements about my parenting when he begs to go outside on a beautiful day or asks me to read him a story while I'm cooking dinner (always breaks my heart when he asks to do things I would love to do with him but can't for one reason or another). And I know my toddlers aren't trying to make me look like a bad mom when they repeatedly yank everything off shelves or throw tantrums when I tell them no or flail in shopping carts. And all those wonderful strangers that like to give me parenting advice while we are out in public-- gotta love them. I know all of this isn't a report card on my ability to be a stay-at-home mom, but it sure is frustrating to see no progress and somehow makes me feel like I'm failing on some level.

Sometimes things just don't pan out like I would like them to. Sometimes the toddlers are sick and I can't take them outside. Sometimes the day is too busy for me to get the grocery shopping done. Sometimes I start laundry and totally forget about it because my day is out of control.

Most of the time, I have a valid reason why something doesn't get done. I am, after all, one person. My to-do list is never completed. At the moment, we are going through all those dark corners in our house that junk collects so that we are prepared for our move to South Carolina (when it eventually happens). But you know what? Sometimes my to-do list doesn't get done because I need a break. I don't think that just because you stay home with the kids means you have to work like an indentured servant. There are times when I take more breaks than other times. For instance, when the kids are sick-- one or all of them-- I do no work at nap time that doesn't have to get done. I don't get the house back up to "visitor standards;" I leave the toys all over the floor and I try to rest before they wake up again. If I feel myself just losing patience or feeling exhausted, especially during this last pregnancy, I follow the same rule. On a regular day, like today, I give myself an hour or two. I pick things up so I don't have a whole day's worth of mess to clean up later. I prep dinner so I'm not doing all the prep work after the toddlers wake up from nap. But then, I do something I want to do, even if there is more work to be done. Our preschooler has some quiet time (right now he's doing art) and I have some "me time." Most days I read. Some days I catch up on the Bachelor. Today I'm blogging.

But my time is up. The laundry needs to be moved. The dishes need to be done. Dinner needs to get in the oven. The toddlers will be up in T minus 60 minutes...

How do you deal with the challenges of being a stay at home parent?


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