Tuesday, September 2, 2014

“The Worst Beginning-of-School Mom Ever,” My Answer to What Do I Do Now?

“The Worst Beginning-of-School Mom Ever,” My Answer to What Do I Do Now?

“What kind of fun are we having today?”

“When are we going?”

“Can I have a snack?”

“What is molecular kinesis?”

“How long is it gonna take?”

“Can I have a snack?”

“Why do fish go belly-up when they die?”

“I need a tissue.”

“Can I have a snack?”

And then suddenly…poof!  They are gone.  At school and away from me.  There are all of these pictures of back-to-school and they all have moms (primarily) yelling, cheering or literally jumping for joy. 
Back to  School
And I get it, I do.  Because after literally 10,000 times of these statements, you may wish that your dearest and darlingest children would be somewhere else, even for five solitary, delicious minutes. 

But that’s not me.

My boys, with the exception of a few mornings, were with me all 71 days of the summer break.  I have the pictures to prove it!  And we went all over the place.  To museums and parks to pools and movies.  And usually, after an outing they resorted back to being relentlessly bored.  So we played board games, and we read.  Probably not as much as we should have but we did.  We just were and I cast a melancholic look toward Fall.

Their school supplies, which I ordered through a company, lay in its substantial box in a corner, untouched and unopened.  I didn’t want to know.  I didn’t want to sort.  I didn’t want to have anything at all to do with it.  Because once that launch sequence of sorting and separating and backpacks began, then it signaled school…like it or not.

You know what?  I miss them terribly.  I used to send the kids to camp.  And when they were so small and so ferociously needing of attention to minor things, it was a wonderful option, a heaven sent opportunity to have them safely guided by a capable adult and entertained for some hours so I could battle an infant.  But now, now that they can feed themselves (sort of), wipe themselves (hopefully) and do not need the minutiae of care they required when they were so very small, they’re more than a little all right.

So when we would go out the last few days of break
Back to School shopping
and they’d act like their squirrely whirly selves, I’d get more than one sympathetic glance and a conspirator-like, “Boy, three boys huh?  You’re brave.  You must be so glad school is starting.”  I would smile most of the time because Jake would most likely be in a headlock and I was actually worried that we’d need to take a third trip for stitches that form his very very short life on this earth.  But the last few times, I looked the conspirator in the eye and said, “Nope.  I’m not happy in the least.  I’ll miss them terribly.  They are the highlight of my summer.”  And another, “They are the best handful of anything I’ve ever had in my life.”  And another, “I’ve had more cool and weird conversations than any I’ve been a part of.”

I never, ever signed up for this.  Staying at home, filling out endless forms when occupation is listed not being able to put down “teacher/lecturer/assistant professor” something I trained a long, long time for and went through countless graduate seminars, and wrote a really long book to achieve.  I have watched my colleagues all go on and get tenured positions throughout the country and a lot of them have found ways to balance having a family with the work they find valuable and rewarding.  But circumstances placed me here and life shifted as it often does.  I had to rework who I was.  I had to find new friends.  My world became necessarily smaller. 

“You can finally write now,” my earnest husband
told me, but between the infant that wouldn’t sleep and my sadness about my mother, I couldn’t come
up with much of anything.  Then, he grew and we had another and more life spilled out and around and we had a third and the things that I thought I would do or be about seemed to take a necessary step back from changing and feeding and caring and showing and aching and talking and running and looking always downward at wee feet and faces and soothing hurts real and perceived.  Who I thought I’d grow up to be seemed to be staring conversely at me through a telescope of unknown.

My writing, my hope for writing, took a long and dusty back seat to the life that was happening rightthisinstant.  Because that’s what my children needed.  Not the “wait just a second while I finish this,” because if I did, paint was all over the carpet in defiant rebellion or something else.  Engagement requires presence.  And back then, television provided no (happy) substitute for my time.  When they started school, I was hard pressed to find filler.  

I had gone 100mph for so long, reading into the small hours, grading papers, talking with students, and you have no idea what a joy-killer is a faculty meeting.  So I volunteered, with the encouragement of my friends who thought I needed to keep busy.  And I brought all my skills with me.  I volunteered at the boys’ preschool and I made wonderful friends, some of the best people I’ve known, and I worked long and hard and difficult hours for no pay because I was trained in my work-brain to do that.  I dealt with an unreasonable and angry and ungrateful Director of the school, again who had no sense that I was a volunteer while she was being paid.  I did this for 3 years. 

Yep, not me.
© Warner Brothers
And then we moved, and I still had my youngest child, an ill father and now a new predicament: an abject allergy to all things “volunteer.”  I needed a torrential amount of recovery from that experience, despite the good I’d done and the friends I’d made.  And it truly wasn’t the volunteering in and of itself, because I enjoyed learning more about the boys’ school and I think teachers require all the support they don’t often have (and that’s a whole other story.  You know it all already; I know you do.  That they do back/bank breaking work for our kids and contrary to what common impressions might be, there are no summers off, they are always working for our children). 

The point of the blotchy hives my mind made when suggestions of the “V” word came up were self-inflicted.  I worked hard, but only the way in which I knew how to work.  And that brings up the other piece of this back to school business: the echoing negative space that surrounded me once my youngest started Kindergarten this Fall. 

© writerunboxed.com
I have now 6 hours during a normal school day, give or take, in which to “do something else.”  I began to wonder if, in fact, my identity had been so absorbed in anticipating the needs of my children that that’s “all” that I was, or if that is what I’ve chosen to believe.

Here’s what I think: yes, your perspective necessarily shifts when you decide to stay at home and it has to, there is a very immediate and necessary being that needs to be kept alive and whose sole existence is dependent upon you.  But here is something else, as much as it seems that we uphold motherhood as a “very tough job” we simultaneously belittle it.  (i.e. So you “just stay at home?”)  I don’t have to convince you about how difficult it is, chances are you have lived it or are living it now.  But this worrisome, nagging fear that you need to be doing more, or that you aren’t doing enough.  It isn’t coming from you—it’s coming from the schizophrenic world that cannot decide a woman’s worth

The women who I’ve met since I’ve been at home with my kids are among the most fascinating people I’ve ever met.  They’ve come from all fields and areas of the world.  Their lived experiences are vastly different from my own and chances are I wouldn’t have met them any other way—my working life almost made sure of it.  (It was difficult to engage with anyone else, for me, who wasn’t also an academic.)  These women worked in fields that boggled the brain and they had extraordinary, prodigious output and ethic.  These are women who can, and probably should, run the world.  Instead they’ve turned the entirety of their immeasurable focus inward towards their homes and, specifically, their children taking that time and talent, thirst for knowledge, ceaseless energy and hunger for good and put it toward small people who would benefit from it…and still are.

Because there is no negative space.  That’s all just playing with us, that “who am I now?” stuff?  That’s not you; it’s the wide world that cannot understand the importance of supporting women.  Despite the hugely successful work of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn casting urgent light on the needs of improving and empowering women across the world, in the West there still seems to still be this division in how we value women and their role in the marketplace and the home. 

Consider, this mother who has stayed home for 5 to 6 years full time until her child was at a point that they could go to school.  She still wants and needs to be there for her children when they get home, and studies have shown that the hours of 3-6pm are typically when unsupervised children get into trouble.  She needs to find a job that will allow her to see those children off safely and be there when they get home, because the economy is still in free fall and she could use the money or maybe she just wants to flex some muscles that haven’t had that particular exercise in awhile.

Imagine, if you will, if this crazy world decided to tap into this amazing mind market and hire these women from 10-1, these former passionate and brilliant go-getters in their chosen fields, imagine how their cost overhead would be lowered and how productive they would be.

Imagine if they tapped into the 
world’s best investment: mothers.

They could begin again to bring that extraordinary strength that they’ve devoted to making their children into competent and kind citizens back out to your company.  And let me tell you, they’ve perfected it.  And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take 100 great citizens over a 1000 anybody elses any day.

But until that happens, until they get it, I understand that it is a struggle.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Please know that, I’m the girlfriend telling you this, please, please, please, give yourself a break.  You have not wasted your training or your time, your degree or your life.  It all prepared you for this ride, for this moment when you put your child on that bus or in that classroom and they looked at you with confidence and joy letting you know that they had this.

You are being promoted.  That’s what this is.  It’s not a matter of “what am I” but “what can’t I do?”  you’ve just prepared a person who came into the world utterly vulnerable into a confident child who is
prepared to absorb and be a vital part of community.  It’s a promotion to look at what’s next, because you still have that job too, and from what I hear, that job of keeping the joy and confidence in check grows in challenge.  But because you are so capable of doing that job that God has equipped you for mama, you!; you can now turn your eye inward towards something that is not sacrificial, but something you want to do.  And I’m going to cheer you on. 

I could look back and wonder at what could have been, but in doing so I will never really able to keep my gaze clearly forward.  I can get an administrative job and have my check go toward gas, parking, fees and childcare for those critical hours (because that is what it would happen in my family).  But what I’ve
©Jamie Lee Hergott
chosen to do is double down on my ability to write and my dream of finishing a book.  A story I’ve nurtured and researched for years that I can finally begin to write now. (And also why I haven’t been as consistent in posting as I’ve been in the past.  Know that you’ve helped me start this heart’s desire.  It’s so exciting.)

I know you’ll have my back, because that’s what women do.  The world needs to catch on.

While this promotion to full-time writer is a great one, I am still necessarily invested in my primary all-day job of mom.  Because these children that I didn’t think would survive me and my own whackadoodleness?  They are the most inspiring, supportive people I know.  Their dreaming gives my writing a voice.  It’s interchangeable.  There was a time I breathed for them, now they do it for me.  However you begin the step of reclamation in addition to who you are now, however you wish to begin a new narrative of self, do so with great excitement and courage because you’ve done every single thing you have tackled well, and you deserve this.  And so do the small people watching you.

They are going to school.  Under the talented and thorough eyes of adults that are not me, they will learn not only subjects but life skills of communication and interaction and citizenship that I could not undertake alone.  But…I will not be jumping for joy.  I will not be coolly relieved.  I will go back into my all too quiet house, make a cup of tea and sit down at the computer all the while looking at the time in the corner.  And I will wait for my house to be filled with life and yelling and laughter and joy, because that’s exactly what I signed up for, and lucky for me—the ride is turning out to be better than I ever thought it would.

Congratulations Mommy, here’s to the next unbelievable chapter in your continuing story.  I can’t wait to watch it unfold.

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