I will never, for as long as I live, understand the Mommy Wars. Never.
If you are a mom and you are building and raising a family in the best way you can, you are absolutely golden in my book. It is all SO hard. And sweet. And perilous. And worth it. Regardless of what you choose – or what you can’t choose.
I began as a mostly stay-at-home mom. When I was pregnant with Bunny, I had three jobs. I pieced together what I could make in my chosen profession (which was theater – cha-ching) and made up the rest with a day job. All told, it was still not much – but that is the life of an actor. I didn’t need much. And I loved all three of my jobs for different reasons.
Once the Bunny was born, I quit my day job. I was making $12 an hour before taxes. A nanny would’ve cost $10 an hour after taxes. And I would’ve had to pay for the time it took me to get to and from work and for my lunch hour. Now, I’m no mathematician but…..
I kept my theater booking job that I was able to work mostly from home and I kept the performance job. My husband had the same theater job and we were able to rotate so that one of us could perform while the other stayed home. We even took Bunny on a couple tours with us. It was fun.
When Pip was diagnosed with liver disease after only 9 weeks of life, I quit all the jobs. I could have kept them and simply missed meetings and half-assed it. Everyone would’ve understood. But it would have affected the pay of a bunch of people who meant the world to me. It was my job to drum up gigs for them. If I didn’t do it, they would lose money. And there was no way I could keep performing. With no idea when he’d need to be rushed to the hospital, I couldn’t have people counting on me that way. The show must go on, ya’ll.
Financially, it wasn’t actually a huge hit. Experimental theater (try not to be shocked by this) doesn’t pay a great deal.
So I became a stay-at-home mom in September of 2008 – though it had never been my plan. It was what was right for my family. And Pip’s care, both before and after transplant, was extensive. Lots of trips to Children’s Memorial and the pediatrician. Lots. When you walk into the outpatient lab for blood work and all the phlebotomists happily exclaim “PIP!” (much the way everyone would yell “Norm!” on Cheers) you know you have become a regular.
I never imagined I’d be a SAHM. For better or for worse, right or wrong, a lot of my self-worth was built on my success in theater. A lot of it. When that was gone, I was pretty lost. And having a chronically ill child can make you feel pretty lost as well. The combo can result in a frequent inability to comb one’s hair or fully change out of one’s pj’s prior to driving the children to school. Because, really, who the fuck cares? I’m invisible now. Who could possibly even be noticing?
You hear a lot of working moms say with disdain that they can’t choose to stay home. Not all of us choose to stay home. Sometimes there aren’t other logical choices.
But, then, life is full of changes. It always is. I always knew I’d go back to work eventually – once Pip was in school. I thought I’d have a partner who could provide some of the support as far as child care goes. I thought I’d have some time to find something that worked well with our schedule...if possible. You aren’t going to believe this, but it is really difficult to find a job that allows you to come in after school drop-off and leave before school pick-up. And with a child like Pip, I feel really strongly that at least one parent needs to be close by. I can’t get a call from the school nurse (as I did on the second day of my new job) that indicates that Pip should be rushed to the hospital and explain to her that neither of his parents will be able to get him for more than an hour. That is simply unacceptable.
So I got a job that is within 15 minutes from Pip's school (thanks to a fellow CN blogger who posted it) and there are a lot of things that are great about it and a lot of things that are really really hard. Same with the stay-at-home mom gig – but opposite.
It feels great to dress in nice(ish) clothes and do something useful that has a beginning and an end and get paid for it. It’s nice to be complimented on a job well done. It’s nice to get a paycheck. If you ignore the math that tells you that the majority of your paycheck is going to childcare, it feels like you are really making improvements on your situation. (Ignorance is bliss ya’ll – do NOT do the math)
But then there are the kids and the changes this makes to their lives that they cannot possibly understand. They used to get up at 7:15 and 8am (Pip loves to sleep in the mornings.) Now they both must rise at 6:45 while it’s still dark outside. Pip calls it “night morning.” On the first morning, he said that he loved it because this is when spies are out working. It lost its appeal within two days, however, and now he’s just pissed. They get up and I sling clothes on them and rush them out the door so I can drop them at the school’s before-school care program. It’s basically a holding-pen where they will be fed an institutionalized breakfast of sugary cereal and canned fruit and kept from injuring themselves until school starts. It’s the best I can do right now but it is not the way I ever wanted them to start their days.
Bunny has noticed the missed hours with me. They have lost morning time with me and they have a sitter two afternoons a week now and she feels the missed time acutely. I think I feel it even more. She was reduced to tears on Friday. For awhile, she wouldn’t look at me and then she demanded to know why I was just “giving her away.” And my heart broke. And there has been a dull ache in my chest ever since.
Not all of us choose to work. Sometimes it’s the only logical choice.
Some moms do get choices and they choose to do what they feel is best for their families – but that doesn’t mean they don’t also ache for the things that choice takes away.
Some moms have no choice at all – working or not working is the only sensible option – and they undoubtedly ache for the things they are missing.
I can’t help but imagine that it would be a little easier for everyone if we could just accept that different situations and different personalities require different lifestyle choices and try to be there to soothe the aches for each other when they come.
Because, in every situation, they come.
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