Monday, September 17, 2007

The Day My Kids Grew Up

This morning I awoke to the sound of Bunny yelling, “BUS”. I ran to the kitchen to see her and Doodle lunging across the lawn and climbing onto the school bus. At my spot at the dining room table was a note, which read:

Mom –

Doodle and I got our lunch money and he took his pill. I decided to let you sleep – please don’t be mad. Love you.

- Bunny

When I read it, tears formed in my eyes because for the first time in the 20 years I’ve been a parent, someone else:

a) knew what needed to be done
b) did it
c) without being asked
d) got it right

For the first time in 20 years, I didn’t HAVE to be the officer on deck. Someone else picked up the reins, responsibly, and carried through. Only another mother can understand what that means. It means freedom.

Because there is a secret in the world of stay-at-home moms; the vast majority of us do it because we don’t have a choice. The reasons are varied – maybe our jobs didn’t pay enough to cover childcare and transportation to and fro. Maybe our spouses never did learn to pick up a 50% share of parenting without resentment and/or ineptitude. Maybe their jobs didn’t allow them to do so reliably. Maybe our kids have special needs that make extra time devoted to parenting and supervision and follow through necessary. Whatever the reason, few moms leave the security of a second income, pension, and paid health care on a whim; most of us have to leave.

And, we go back to work when and how we can – working from home, squeezing whatever income we can out between being in full charge of the children and home, working weekends when possible, working swing shift if husband’s hours are regular enough to let us do so; we know the consequences of being away from the work world for too long – lack of income, lack of financial security, lack of respect, loss of identity, etc.

I’ve made those choices myself. I am long past grieving the goodies of a full-time job and well entrenched in understanding the intangible rewards of being a stay-at-home mom. I’ve worked weekends, tutoring, small projects, doing what amounts to petty cash pick-up over the years with no reward other than the cash in my hand, a change in my routine, and a filthy kitchen and cranky family members to come home to. Sometimes it’s just not worth it, so I stop for a while.

But today, someone else stepped in where there was a need – I didn’t get to sleep until very late last night and consequently overslept. In the past, this usually meant that the kids didn’t wake up on time, didn’t get the essentials done on time, and I had to drive them to school or come in later with whatever they forgot.

If, in the past, I were sick, I needed to ask in advance for help—to ask my husband to get them up, medicated, fed, etc. He would do so, but there was always the underlying silent message that he hoped I wouldn’t thus inconvenience him for too long. Sometimes he’d even say, “why can’t they do that for themselves?” not being able to step outside of himself enough to notice that they’re children, not miniature, uncooperative adults, and they need supervision and leadership. On the rare occasions when I might have overslept, he’d blithely leave for work without waking me or the kids, and then I’d wind up in full ultra-panic mode when I did wake up. Sometimes, when he was at his least involved in the family, if I thought I might oversleep, I’d just bring my alarm clock downstairs and sleep on the couch, or stay up all night until I got the kids off to school, and then collapse with great guilt and sadness and sleep during the day. Fortunately, the worst of those days seem to be in the past.

For the last three years or so, I’ve given increasingly more serious consideration to going back to work. We have the financial need; the sticking point has been the potential stress/mishap level if I am not available to be the responsible parent when the kids need to leave for school and come home, and if I’m not here when homework needs to be monitored. I threw the suggestion out, told the family what would need to happen on their parts, and watched, as I work on getting myself more prepared for another major life transition. There are trade-offs to be weighed in terms of what can and cannot get done, the stress level I’m willing to accept for myself and the family, and compromises to be analyzed for short and long-term impact.

The results have been mixed; kids oversleeping, homework not being done promptly or without prompting, no one taking responsibility for feeding the pets, cleaning up after themselves, with some changes occurring -- helping out, working more as a team, dual grocery shopping, hubs helping to make dinner once a week and taking more of an interest in interacting with the children, the kids doing better at getting up with their alarms… Mixed, like I said.

Until today. This note is the first real ray of substantial light shining from the end of the s-a-h tunnel. There’s a chance that I could actually go back to work on a regular basis without the whole family crashing around me as a result. It’s being a surprisingly emotional moment for me, in a good way.

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