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Apr 19 2012

The Accidental Stay-at-Home Mom

By at 11:47 am
curriculum vitae typewriter

My CV could use a good dusting off.

First birthdays are bound to bring out the reflective in a person, and I’m no exception. Avi and Maya turn one tomorrow, and for the last few weeks I’ve been reflecting like crazy. I’ve learned a few things this year. Here they are, in no particular order:

It’s not helpful to compare myself to others. Yes, its super crazy hard not to, and I’ve always been one prone to torturing myself by making illogical comparisons, but I understand now that when it comes to my girls and how they’re faring, it’s not helpful to measure them against French babies or Chinese babies or my friends’ babies or the babies that people write about in parenting books. That practice generally does nothing more than wreck havoc with my already havoc-ridden brain. We could all parent better, and most of us are doing the best we can.

Every week or so there is going to be a night of rocky sleep. And I can either freak out, or accept this and try not to say things at 3 a.m. that I’ll regret at a saner hour. (Sorry, babe!)

There is no one “reason” for why they’re fussing. It could be nothing or a million things. Asking why why why is just a way for me to try and calm my (see above) frantic brain. But there is no answer. Babies are mysterious, especially when teething/sick/constipated/tired/bored/hungry.

I care less about the small details (like why they love broccoli on some days and hate it on others) when I’m regularly engaged in something outside the home.

Here’s the thing. I never really planned to be a stay-at-home mom. And I definitely didn’t plan to have a title that defines the kind of mother I am. When I fantasized about my professional life post-babies, I thought I’d stick around the house a few days a week while I took on a slightly lighter course load at the small college where I’ve been teaching for the last few years. I thought I’d write more but be away from home less. I thought I might start a doctoral program and look for a permanent teaching position that would allow me benefits and a livable schedule–and in my fantasy I’d begin this full-time gig when the girls were about a year old.

But now they are a year old and except for writing more, none of this has happened. And despite my realization above about the perils of comparing myself, I’m feeling inadequate. Except not compared to my peers, but rather, compared to myself, compared to the Adina I was before babies. Before babies, I was engaged professionally. I was excited about new literature and writing courses I was teaching. I was a reader, I had occasionally interesting items to contribute to a dinner conversation with adults, and I had a five-year professional plan.

Now, when I open the file on my computer titled “Adina CV,” I swear dust bunnies blow off the computer screen. There’s nothing new there. No conferences attended, no new degrees earned. No new skills. What have I been doing all this time? What do I have to show for the past year?

I hear you out there, all of my loyal friends and family, telling me that what I’ve been doing is important work. Raising children is no small feat and I’ll gratefully admit that I have two very happy babies. They’re good-natured, they laugh and smile a lot, and we get out every day, sometimes several times. I shower frequently. When music comes on, they “dance.” My husband and I are still married, we still make each other laugh. Maya and Avi are healthy and growing.

Being home with my girls, I am treated to an incomparable and overwhelming feeling of love many, many times each day. But still. If I’m being honest, it’s not quite enough for me. And what I’m realizing is that it’s not enough for Avi and Maya, either.

Always, and perhaps naively, I just assumed that babies or not, I’d be happily engaged in some intellectual pursuit. For this, I can decidedly blame my parents. They have both been lucky to love what they’ve done outside the home for as long as I’ve been alive. Like me, my mom also stayed home when her kids were young. She worked part-time, swapping parenting shifts with my dad, who knew how to put our hair up in pigtails and make meatloaf with secret ingredients. They were equal opportunity parents, though she didn’t go back to work full-time until I was in kindergarten.

But even during the years when my mother was working part-time, she was wholly engaged. To this day, when my mother talks about what she does, her eyes brighten, her cheeks flush, her voice sounds different. I have never met a colleague of my mother’s who didn’t gush about her. She has rooms named after her in synagogues, curricula she’s created, boards she sits on…the list goes on.

And most importantly, she has a genuine enthusiasm for her work. My mother knows where she stands professionally (and, if I may boast, her colleagues do as well. Upon retirement this spring, the seminary where she works will confer upon her an honorary doctorate. She’s pretty amazing.)

Jon and I talk regularly about the kind of examples we’d like to set for our girls. But I’m realizing that it doesn’t really matter what we do, or if we work at all (except that it does, because we need to feed the little buggers and provide them with health insurance). What really matters is how we feel about ourselves and whether or not we can garner that kind of enthusiasm that my mom has, in our own professional arenas. I believe that Maya and Avi will be affected by how I see myself. If I’m not feeling engaged, curious, stimulated, and enthusiastic, that’s going to resonate with them. I also realize that these wishes won’t necessarily be satisfied by going back to work–stay at home moms manage to find stimulation just as working moms find themselves bored at their desks. I guess what I’m saying is, as the fog of the first year clears, I’m aware that I haven’t found the right balance yet, and I’m looking for it.

And if it turns out that the perfect balance doesn’t exist, than I’d at least like to find some arrangement where my brain doesn’t make creaky noises when I turn it on. I think that would be good for the girls. And for me.


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