Look around you. What do you see? I see a fairly clean living room, a cluttered shelf, a bare dining room table with the cloth off (it’s in the wash), and two toddlers rolling around on the ground, pretending they are at the park, which is where we were this morning. I see an empty steam-cleaner that I haven’t yet put away. A Leap Frog table with a toy guitar balanced precariously on top of it and two book shelves, filled with literary fiction I’ll probably never get the chance to read.
Listen, now. What do you hear? I hear the dishwasher, the washing machine and the dryer, all going. I hear a door shutting on one of the twins as the other laughs rather maniacally. (Oops, I had to take a momentary break there, as I heard the one shut in ask for my help. I let her out.) Now one of them is asking me over and over if I’m happy or if I’m sad. (I swear to you, I didn’t just make that up for this post!)
But it is exactly what this post is about. Am I happy, or am I sad? The truth is, I have no idea.
Being a stay at home mom is simultaneously the most gratifying and the least gratifying job I’ve ever had. There’s something very fulfilling about watching your children grow underneath your nose, being there for their every development—egotistically thinking you had something to do with the good, and naively thinking you had nothing to do with the bad. My kids love me fervently, and while every child loves his or her parents just as much as mine do me, I’m confronted with it almost 24 hours a day. I’m very lucky.
Still, I look around me, and in the minute-by-minute of my life, I am more often than not frustrated, disheveled and helpless. It would appear as if I’m sad. Or at least ridiculously stressed out.
I mean, the work is never done. By the time you finish the laundry, another load is ready. If you empty the dishwasher, there are more dishes to put in. You clean off the counter top? Within seconds the bottles, and jars, and cereal, and paper towels accumulate. You wash your carpets only to have a child spill bubbles all over it less than five minutes later (true story, happened yesterday). In fact, right now, as I’m allowing my kids to explore the house and play imaginative games while I write this piece, one of my twins is generously salting the table I just washed. I’m sure once she pops that baby in the oven, it will be perfectly seasoned. The other has somehow tangled her blanket inextricably around her toy lawn mower.
With this never-ending cycle of work, how can I be happy? The answer is: easily. I need to remember to change my perspective. Sure, right now I’m in the midst of tidying the very same house I just tidied yesterday, clearly to no effect, but earlier today we went to the park and played for two hours. After that we went to the Waffle House and had a late breakfast/early lunch. Then it was naptime, and I got some writing done.
That’s not a half-bad day, is it? Actually, when I was working outside the home, it would have been paramount to paradise. If someone had told me, “hey, in a year, all you’ll have to do is try to keep your house clean and play with your kids,” I would have said, “sign me up!”
Now, half the time I look around me wishing I were in an office somewhere. Why? I work from home, pulling in outside income on my own time schedule. I answer to no one…except my babies. I can get up and eat a cookie—a cookie that I had the free time to make—whenever I want without a boss breathing down my neck about productivity. I really am living (a modified) dream right now, and I can’t bring myself to remember to appreciate it. I feel like I’m wasting precious time. I’m lost in this house, in these kids, in this life. But I’m wrong.
You see, being a stay at home mom is like deadline work without the deadline. Yes, I have to do the laundry, but if it doesn’t get finished today, I can do it tomorrow. Yes, the sink always fills back up, but I can empty it when I feel like it. These things are important to me, but not as important as going to the playground or taking my kids swimming or playing with them as they slowly learn to count and read. I have to remember that. This life, as permanent as it seems to me now—as endless and monotonous and frustrating as it can be at times—is fleeting. It will be over in a flash, and I will be working again, going around in the same circles I am now, only for a stranger’s bottom line, not for my children’s future.
If stay at home moms can take a few moments each day and recenter themselves, redefine their lives as they live them moment by moment, they may find they are better equipped to enjoy the very precious gift that has either been given them or foisted upon them. For whether or not we asked for this, it is still a gift. Not everyone gets to see this special slice of life. If we could focus on that, instead of on the mopping, perhaps when our children ask us if we’re happy or sad, we won’t have to think about it as hard.
Darlena Cunha is a former television news producer who now stays at home with her toddler twin girls. She writes about their daily adventures and just about everything else at Tales of an Unlikely Mother.
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