For the past seven years, I’ve been a full-time, full-tilt stay-at-home mother. (Where the “stay-at-home” part comes from is something I’ve never understood. I mean, it’s not like we moms are trapped in the house, chained to our ovens all day. It just feels that way.) I never planned on not working after I had kids, but unfortunately I was laid-off from my ad agency job when I was pregnant with my first son. This was due to either the bad economy, or the fact that I kept stealing everybody’s lunches out of the refrigerator and screaming, “I’m eating for two, so back the hell off, people!”
At first I didn’t accept my unemployed fate and immediately tried to find a job at another agency. Obviously, it was a bit of a shock to interviewers when I waddled into the room six-months pregnant with the opening line of “What? You were expecting a virgin?” and so, not surprisingly, everyone I met with said I “just wasn’t the right fit.” Well, of course I wasn’t the right fit; I was a hormonal beached whale with swollen ankles and an ass you could watch a 70mm movie on if I happened to be wearing white pants that day. I mean, I didn’t even fit in my king-size bed, much less a desk chair writing jingles for The Scooter Store.
It was then that my husband Chris and I decided that maybe I should temporarily make our baby my full-time job. Luckily, we could afford it and hey, maybe I’d actually enjoy myself. After all, I could always go back to work once the baby was a little older. Once I had finally mastered motherhood. And how long could that take? A few weeks? A month, tops?
Minutes after Sam was born, I gingerly held him in my arms and stared into his angry old-man face, and fell in love with all my might. Then I put my lips to his tiny, perfect ear and softly whispered to him that nothing in the world would make me happier than staying home with him all day. Absolutely nothing.
And then the meds wore off.
The next few months were a blur of laundry, diaper changes and watching Judge Judy while breastfeeding every two hours. (That show is on a lot.) But like every new mom, I was exhausted, I was overwhelmed, I was frighteningly close to telling Chris that I wanted a divorce just so I could go to the bathroom alone two weekends a month. I mean, I was fine with being a mother and all, but did it have to be all day? Not to mention all damn night?
It seems ridiculous now, but at the time I couldn’t figure out why no one had ever told me motherhood was going to be so hard. None of the women in the Pampers commercials looked like they’d just escaped from spending 10 years in a Thai prison like I did. None of them were standing in the bathroom trying desperately to lull their newborn to sleep with a blow dryer set on “Low.” None of them had breast milk leaking through their shirt, or their backs covered in layers of spit-up, or hair with roots so dark they looked like incompetent coalminers. So what was I doing wrong?
When Sam was almost a year old, salvation finally arrived. Surprisingly, not in the form of a little, brown bottle from Walgreen’s, either. The first big change was that Sam started sleeping through the night. And, after a few weeks of waking up every hour out of habit, so did I. The second change was that I enrolled him in a wonderful Mother’s Day Out program, so he and I could now spend eight hours apart each week. Time enough for me to relax, rejuvenate and realize that I wasn’t doing such a bad job, after all.
A year later, I had another baby, Jack, and this time everything was much easier. During the years that followed, I spent almost all of my time with the boys and actually became pretty good at my full-time motherhood gig. The play dates, the preschools, the playgrounds—I now have it all down cold and my career, such as it is, is going well.
Or, I guess I should say, it was. Because three weeks ago, Jack started kindergarten and Sam started Second Grade, and suddenly, my hours were cut back by seven hours a day. It was almost like getting laid-off all over again.
So what am I going to do with my time now that I have the freedom I dreamed of back in those newborn days? Will I work? Write? Volunteer? Sit on my couch and eat tubs of whipped cream in my underwear while watching Judge Judy until my husband calls the authorities? I don’t really know yet. But I do know that whatever it is, whatever I end up doing all day, I’m going to miss those little boys like crazy.
(This is a slightly different version of my essay “The Job of Motherhood” that appeared in the August ’09 issue of Austin Woman magazine.)