I started my first job (outside of babysitting) when I was about 16. My first paycheck was courtesy of McDonald’s grease and I think I only received one before I quit in disgust. I hated the smell that lingered in my hair, on my hands, on my clothes, in my car…not to mention the (8-10) hours each week that seriously cut into my social calendar. A girl’s gotta have priorities yanno. But it wasn’t long before I was handing food out the drive through window of a small locally owned, much less disgusting fast food facility. Soon the independence gained from my own paycheck greatly outweighed unlimited social time. The clothes I bought! And the shoes! I quit dreading the job (a cute coworker didn’t hurt any) and reveled in my newfound freedom. I took a brief vacation from the work force my freshman year in college but returned shortly thereafter with enthusiasm. I had my eyes set on a fulfilling career and self sufficient lifestyle.
And then I got tangeled up in a huge mess that we really don’t need to go into right now. Or perhaps ever. Suffice it to say that some people are manipulative and will prey on nativete and fears. So in the fall of 1996 I found myself pregnant. TheKid’s father promised me any life I wanted and in a desperate attempt at some form of sanity and vindication, I choose to ignore past trends and believe him. I chose to (attempt to) follow in mother’s footsteps. And so nine months later I left the workforce yet again to be a SAHM.
I envisioned maintaining a clean, cute home where my baby played while I cooked and baked. I imagined welcoming my husband home in the evening with a warm meal, a sparkling home and clean laundry. Instead I found myself stranded in an empty apartment three hours from everyone I knew. It was furnished with an air mattress and a “boom box” that only played tapes about half the time and was missing the radio attenna. The kitchen cabinets held plastic bowls, plastic utensils and cereal. The refrigerator was usually empty. I was left with no car and no phone and a baby daddy who used my car but rarely spent an evening at “home”. I cried all the time. So did TheKid. I was miserable and I hated it. After three months I finally stood my ground and survived the first massive arguement that left me sobbing in the floor…but I had my car keys back in hand.
I went back to work. TheKid thrived in daycare. He loved the attention and activity. I enjoyed the human contact and the freedom of a paycheck but I felt like a failure as a mother. I hated it. I was miserable. I was also a temp so I walked in one day and told them it was my last week. But nothing had changed back in that little apartment. On top of that, the baby daddy didn’t like to work and my lack of an income did not deter him from walking away from his (well paying) job. He wasn’t home anymore than he was before – I just quit seeing a paycheck too.
That was eleven years ago and of those 572 weeks, I’ve been without a job 2 of them. I even worked two for a short stint. My child’s reality has always included Mom working. I’ve only chaperoned one field trip and have never helped with a classroom party but I have a solid career. It’s not what I dreamed nor is it fulfillng but it has always provided for us. Thankfully TheKid recognizes that fact. He’s never rarely been resentful that I couldn’t be more involved. And he’s in middle school now. But somedays I still long for a more traditional role. I still want to be the mother who greets the kids after school with a snack and supervises homework. I still wish I could have dinner ready to go at dinnertime instead of rushing home to start assembling it after everyone is home and hungry. Somedays the dirty floors appall me and the wet laundry sitting in the washer from the night before drips guilt over my head all day. Those are the days that I read SAHM/WAHM blogs with envy. In their stories of messy kitchens I see the time spent with their kids. In their outtakes from less than ideal photo shoots I see pictures that sisters will sit and laugh over as adults, sharing stories of “remember when…”. They speak of meltdowns and tantrums and exhaustion but those entries are tempered with hugs and laughter and story times. I KNOW these women work hard. They are the true definition of a “full time job”. I know they are often exhausted and frustrated. But still…on these days when tired piles on top of tired, when the schedule consists of rushing from the office to a sporting event knowing that dinner still has to be cooked for the hungry boys at home and the meat probably isn’t fully defrosted…on these days I struggle. I struggle to appreciate the little bit of time in the evenings I have with the boys. I struggle to maximize the time I have to be a partner & mother rather than wallowing in the “woe is me”s.
The important thing is the quality of what I pour into our family, not the quantity. I KNOW that and I AM appreciative of the life we have. Besides…I kinda like having a paycheck. So I’ll whine a little and pout a bit. But in the end I know there’s some mother out there, standing in the middle of the 253rd mess her toddler has made that day wishing she could put on a pair of high heels and escape to an office. Hopefully we’ll both remember that peeking through the fence at someone else’s lawn doesn’t help maintain our own.