Saturday, September 17, 2011

Six-month review

As of September 16th, I have been employed in my new position (“stay at home mother,” “full-time mom,” “domestic goddess,” or “housewife extraordinaire” – however you choose to say it) for six months, so I thought it was only fair that my new employers (or are they my employees?  Maybe I need to clarify that point before too long…) give me a standard six-month review of my progress:

When I asked Frances whether she likes having me at home rather than heading to the office every day, she not surprisingly answered with an enthusiastic “yes!”  Her only complaint—that she has to go to school for two half-mornings a week while George and I get to stay home together.  “You’re so lucky to get to stay at home all of the time, Mommy” and I suppose she’s right in many ways.  But without her wonderful preschool and her saintly teachers, I am not sure the three of us would have made it.

In looking back over the past six months, I’ve realized that a lot of what I had assumed would happen when I stopped working was just dead wrong and only showed my vast naiveté of diving in headfirst into this new job.  First, I think the term “stay-at-home mother” is a complete misnomer for my position, not because it is an unworthy title but because I am so very rarely physically at home.  The three of us are always going somewhere—and not just because we have to (boring errands or the dreaded extracurricular activities that I imagine are around the corner) but because I love, love, love doing things with my children.  They are a joy to take places, to share new things with, and to help me explore our great city. 

I am also pleasantly surprised by how mentally stimulating this job really is.  As laughable as this is to me today, I presumed that taking care of children fulltime would be (*deep breath*) boring at times.  Hilarious, no?  I can safely say that practicing law was much less mentally stimulating than parenting a toddler and a preschooler and there were many (many) more days that I was bored at the office than I have ever been bored at home (which to date is exactly none.  I would pay money to be bored for just an hour these days.  Cash.  Major moolah.  And lots of it – sorry Will).  And I didn’t just work in some stuffy, dead end legal job—I worked for the biggest law firm in Virginia for a year and then moved on to family law, the area of law that 99% of attorneys do not want to touch with a 10 foot pole.  I assure you I was as mentally stimulated as they come; negotiated with some stick-in-the-mud attorneys and talked down some clients from the ledge.  And none of that was as difficult as taming a temper tantrum at the children’s museum, heading off a major meltdown at the playground, or bargaining with two head-strong Homillers about how to share one coveted toy.  I assure you, I am not kidding.  Learning how to deal with children (creatively, instinctively, honestly) is as difficult as or even harder than surviving in the corporate world.  The one difference?  You absolutely adore your clients.  And you have to change their diapers.

I also worry a lot (I am a worrier in case you haven’t noticed) about whether I am benefiting the children by staying at home.  So, just in case I hadn’t loaded my plate enough in dealing with their physical needs (and believe me, that alone is a fulltime job), I am always trying to teach them things they would be learning in preschool or beyond.  I want to ensure my disciplining is strict without being harmful.  I want them to have free playtime but also have a structured schedule during the day.  All of this surprises me—how much I worry about my children and how much mental energy this takes.  Vast amounts; more than I thought I had in my brain.

I have also been surprised that at heart I am much more of a tiger mom than a soccer mom, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing.  Because I am with my children much more than ever before and they are very good, very smart, and very well-behaved most of the time, I am hard on them when they are not all of these things all of the time.  I often find myself wishing I had said things less harshly or had been a bit more patient with them.  I worry either one (or both) will look back on his or her childhood and think, “I wish my mother hadn’t been so hard on me about everything.”  That thought alone kills me.  I never thought that taking care of children fulltime would require such an insane and impossible balance between patience, a firm hand, kindness, a quick “if you don’t stop that right now you are in big trouble” look, and ingenuity.

And on top of all of that, I should be cleaning, cooking, folding the laundry and picking up throw pillows.  Right.

On a simpler note, I have been surprised by my exhaustion.  Of course I have no idea why that should surprise me.  When I was working, I was always much more tired on Monday mornings (after taking care of the children for two days) than Friday evenings (after taking care of my clients for five days).  But I had hoped that in stopping my practice, I would somehow find more hours in the daylight hours for “me” time—reading, running, talking with friends, volunteering at preschool.  It made sense at the time anyway.  I could just time-shift my day so that I could sleep a little later, use the Kid Zone at the gym, read or make phone calls during naptime, and have much more energy for volunteering and socializing.  And actually as I type this I realize that maybe that is the way to go, but I have yet to achieve even a semblance of this daily schedule.  Currently I arise at the same time I did when I was working.  Pre-dawn.  Early, early, early.  And I am talking infomercial early.  All of this is so that I can run or head to the gym before my family stirs and be back in time to help Will with the morning routine—dressing, breakfast, dishes, etc.  By 8:00 am, Will has left for work and the three of us start our loosely scheduled day.  And as it stands, I can barely fit in what needs to be done during the day without trying to cram in some self-indulgence.  I know, I know – it is not self-indulgent to take care of yourself (believe me, I have said this to a fellow parent many times.  Practice what you preach, sister).  But knowing that I don’t have to take time away from the children, the house, the dogs, the full-time motherly/wifely duties I have if I just wake up early makes it very difficult for me to justify altering my schedule.

All of this self-evaluation leads to one important question—is my new job working out for me?  For Will?  For the children?  And from what I can gather even my “C+ needs improvement” work effort has been an overriding success.  In my heart of hearts I must admit that Frances and George are doing better with me at home.  And yes, I know that just by typing that last sentence (or even just thinking it), I have just sent my generation’s gender back 60 years (I went to an all-woman’s college for crying out loud.  This is not what I was supposed to believe!).  But I can only speak for my family and I can only speak for our unique situation of a two-attorney household – it was not working.  And today, this is really working.  Really.  And I love it more than I ever thought possible.  Not because it is easy but because it is hard.  And that my friends, is what my incredible all-woman’s college and a top-ten law school taught me—a good work ethic.

And now on to the next six months!

1 comment:

  1. How has it already been six months?!? That's gone by really quickly, hasn't it?

    I was just thinking the other day about the whole staying at home thing and told Jamison (a bold move for me, as it was the first time I've vocalized an idea that has surprised even me) that I thought that in most cases, everyone benefits from having a parent at home. Actually, I'll be more specific--from having their mother at home. (I'm so sorry Gloria Steneim et al.)

    I know it's not for everyone and it's not something that a lot of people can do even if they want to, but I can't keep from feeling this way.

    More than anything, maybe I feel like this because I have a choice in the matter (and so do you). We stay home because we choose to, we want to, and we can. We don't have husbands who expect it or who treat us as second-class citizens or the silly and one-dimensional women who run their households and are good for little else. So I think while it may seem old-fashioned to see stay-at-home mothers as an unequivocally good thing, I'd qualify that as being mainly stay-at-home mothers who are making a conscious choice to do so and who have other options and don't feel trapped. Just my own little opinion, of course.

    So...congratulations on your first six months! I think your C+ is being a little too hard on yourself, though. The mere fact that you're reflecting on your new role and what it means to your family says a lot. (Plus I've seen you with your kids, so I have personal knowledge that you're far above average!)

    OK, my manifesto ends. Have a good rest of the weekend!