I have been in the same job now for nearly 19 years. Through recessions, upticks in the economy, rainy days and long summers – my job has endured.
Like any interesting job no 2 days are exactly the same. It is a job that I love and am ready to quit at the same time. I have wanted to ask my boss for a bonus, a mental health day, some time off – but, unfortunately I am employed by 4 little (and not-so-little) selves. Don’t dare ask me what I do all day, for you won’t want the diatribe of answers.
My job is a SAHM. (Stay-at-home-Mom for those not in the ‘know’).
I am sure by now, some other SAHM have read and shared the dad’s blog to end all blogs where he puts a price on a his wife’s value. I read it and applauded in my head, but this blog was no news to me. My husband and I have argued for some time over whether what I do is actually a job versus a ‘life choice’. He, afraid to insult me, always thought it was nicer to say ‘life choice’ to stay home with my kids. I, however, insist that this is a real job – one that is constantly changing and one that I am both proud of and ready to scream over, depending on the day.
Why is it so important for me that this gig is a ‘real job’? Well, I do have another gig. I am a writer. I write blogs, content for websites and pieces for a local magazine. That gig pays. Not tremendously, but it does. This work is more of a hobby, a passion, a brain challenge that I enjoy. But, my life’s work – my proudest work – is in helping my family grow and sustain itself.
No, groceries and laundry are not glorious. No, chauffeuring my kids from school to art class isn’t exciting or even life-changing. However, this SAHM job also affords me the opportunity to both impact and be impacted by 4 of the most fabulous people I’ve ever met. This job allows me the opportunity to speak to my partner about rich topics that affect lives, the economy, the future, the real estate market, and our community. No other job on the planet gives you all of that and more.
Being a SAHM is a blessing. It’s not something that every mother gets the opportunity to do or even to enjoy. I have friends who insist they couldn’t find value in doing it all day. I have other friends who insist that staying on their career path is their goal in addition to mothering. I do not judge. I do not begrudge anyone from following their life’s work or their passions. I just know that for me – just me – this is what I was put on Earth to do and do well.
I see that my job description is once again changing. Next fall, my youngest will be in school until nearly 4 pm. “What will you do all day!” I hear from others in my boat. A common freak attack we SAHMs have right about every August. (who’s with me?!)
Well, what will I do? I will grow my writing business focusing on the parts of it I love best and continue to make money while doing something I enjoy. I will nurture my passions and follow up on some lost threads I left dangling when I was too busy climbing up the ladder of SAHM with babies. And, in my new role my hours will change, not disappear. I will continue to do projects that motivate me. I will get together with friends and reconnect after all the time we’ve spent hibernating in our houses with children. I will experience what days are like filled with empty possibilities and be ready to take a 1 am phone call from a teen abroad or answer a 3 am moan and groan from an ill middle schooler. My new hours will begin at 4 pm. I will continue to be available for school trips, sick days, phone calls from school and vacations. I will be present with my children when they talk (or text), instead of preoccupied with lists or wound up toddlers running amuck in my house. I will have time to provide nice, nutritious meals – those ones that I always look at and say I’ll make later in life. Now, is later in life.
Yes, my job is changing. I will be delivering my oldest to a dorm room this fall, instead of the steps of the first day of school. I will kiss his cheek and remind him about healthy food choices, watch him roll his eyes at me and beam with excitement. I will set my soon-t0-be-junior in high school on a path for college choices and dreaming big as she learns to drive a car, instead of waving to her on the school bus. I will watch my middle schooler braid her own hair, devise her own style and make her own sandwiches instead of me doing those things for her. And I will watch my baby sit at her first desk, get her first prayer book and continue to watch her learn and grow all over again.
These parts of my job – developing free-thinkers, do-it-yourselfers, chefs, drivers, motivators and contributors are the absolute best parts of my life. These are moments no other job can provide. These are my bonuses. My mental health days. My time-off. I have earned these hours to reflect, to write, to think and to be. As CEO/SAHM of this family – It’s time to reap the rewards of all the hard work.
Last night I had a dream about an old friend.
Leah and I became close friends on my first day transferring in to a new school in the fifth grade. The only person who chose to sit next to me at lunch, I was forever grateful for her. Leah had a hard life for a 10-year-old, with her father recently dying of cancer and her mom remarrying a Sugar Papa. But, you’d never know it.
Leah was raised in a super-strict household with lots of rules and little flexibility. But, she didn’t care. She was full of life and spunk always “effing off” her step-monster when he left the room, flushing her okra down the toilet when her mom went to work ou’ or sitting in the formal living room (a huge no-no) when her parents were out for the evening.
Her house is where I first learned about, tasted and subsequently vomited, macrobiotic diet. Leah’s older sister taught me the phrase “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”. Hers was the first house I realized what eating disorders could really look like. I didn’t realize it at the time, but her Mom was grooming Leah to become a wife. “Whaaat boy will want you if you fatten up on that junk?” she’d often be heard saying in her heavy New York accent.
Leah’s house is where I would go to escape the chaos at my house, as her siblings had all grown up and left the nest. She was a lone survivor. Often spending hours in her room, we’d dream up our fancy filled adult lives, try on her clothes and pretend we lived anywhere but Far Rockaway, NY.
At 19, her strict family insisted Leah go get a husband. In an arranged marriage, after 4 dates, (he’s not that bad, she’d tell me after date 2. I think I can learn to love him, she said on date 3) Leah married a man a few years older than her. I attended their wedding, just like she would mine, a few years later. It was my first friend’s wedding- small, intimate and missing any aspect of the romantic love we had dreamed up all our lives. It was actually one of the saddest things I have ever attended – watching a lamb to the slaughter with a heavy, draped cloth over her face.
Leah and I stayed in touch for a time after her wedding. She was actually happy, she would tell me. Living in a very right-wing Orthodox Jewish community in Boro Park, NY, Leah was surrounded by families of 6, 7 or even 8+ children. Trying to stay thin so her husband would stay interested, she would have me visit only when he wasn’t home. He doesn’t like me to be distracted when he’s home, she would tell me rushing me back on the train.
After 4 years of no children arriving for her and her husband, Leah called me one morning after months of silence, hysterical crying. Her husband had informed her that with no children they would have to get a divorce.
She was devastated. I was relieved to get my Leah back.
I had only recently become a married woman and was completely confused about Leah’s situation. I did not know how or what to do to help her. She went back home to her mother’s home, her step-monster now dead.
I called a few times, but her Mom would tell me she was ‘unavailable’ so I figured she needed her privacy. But, weeks, than months went by with no returned calls. As quickly as she came back, she left my life again.
A number of years later, with the invention of Facebook, I looked her up. Up popped Leah’s profile, with a smiling, beautiful face I recognized. Excited to hear from her, I messaged her and waited. About a week later, Leah responded with one sentence. “Call me.” And, put her phone number.
My heart beating out of my chest, I quickly ran to the phone and dialed. I couldn’t wait to hear her voice and relive our old memories. More importantly, I wanted to see how she was doing. Leah’s so resilient, I am sure she’s amazing!, I would tell myself periodically when I thought of her.
A woman’s voice answered the phone after a number of rings. It wasn’t Leah. I asked for her and she put my on hold. I heard a lot of voices in the background. I assumed after all these years, maybe she had remarried and these were her children or something.
“Hello?” It was her!
I quickly bombarded her with a million questions. She began to laugh and told me her story.
After Leah’s forced divorce she had a mental breakdown. Needing to be medicated and calmed she was required to move into a mental institution in New York. She lived there for one year and then moved into a halfway house for women back in Brooklyn. The phone number she provided me with was her halfway home. She had been living there for over three years now, she explained. She had high hopes of soon getting a roommate and a place of her own. She told me some horrific stories of abuse in the mental institution and a sexual relationship she carried on with a much older man prompting her to get moved to this all women’s home.
As I wiped the tears from my cheeks, I could not believe what I was hearing. My beautiful friend, so full of light and spunk, now living in a halfway house in Brooklyn. I was furious with her family, furious with the world and wanted to scoop up Leah and run away.
We chatted a few more minutes about my life and she said her phone time was up and she had to go. I never heard from her again.
I dialed that number a dozen times and no one ever answered. Her Facebook account still active, but never used. Her old home number disconnected. And, now she’s lost to me.
I still think about her from time to time and I have this recurring dream, like I did last night. We are at a lake house, which looks just like her old childhood bedroom. We are in fancy outfits, pulled from her closet, and we are chatting with glasses of wine about our lives. The couch is soft and comfortable and she looks so happy. But, then it all changes and we’re suddenly in her kitchen and Leah has a glazed, scary look in her eyes. I wake up.
I pray for Leah, that she has found peace and happiness. I think about her often and send her good wishes and good health. Leah made my first day in a new school a happier one. Leah made my empty middle school angst full of fun, adventure and a whole lot of F-Bombs when things got rough. Leah made my breakups in high school and my unrequited crushes seem like glamorous stories from another world she could never be apart of. From midnight sneaks into the junk drawer she had hidden in her dresser, to prank phone calling the neighbors, I will never, ever forget you – wherever you are 🙂
In sending off my son to his year abroad and with his 18th birthday coming this week, my mind has been swirling with many thoughts and memories. In all this nostalgia I have come to a realization – our children teach us nearly as much, if not more than we teach them.
I have had many conversations over the years with one of my best friends about our two oldest. As I’m 2 years ahead of her in parenting, I have discovered that much of parenting children is figuring out their ‘story’. They don’t come with a chapter list or a prologue or any much direction at all. It is often up to us to wait and see how they act, how they interact, how they grow. You have an image in your mind how you’d love them to turn out and then, surprise! They make different choices, don’t like what you expect them to and of course, they reserve the right to even change those things you thought you’d figured out.
My confident oldest has taught me tremendous patience and understanding. Living life with a non-conforming attitude he has always been his own person. So wickedly smart, he often has proven my wrong on more than one occasion. A practical, minimalist personality – my oldest has tenacity and dedication to living life to its fullest without hesitation or anxiety.
My next in line, beautiful and sweet has taught me that you should never underestimate your child. She had always been a shyer, quieter little girl. She barely said a word until 3. She did not speak much at school to the point where I had her teachers log when she did actually speak. I have a notebook filled with one-word answers and short questions to prove to myself there was nothing wrong. I had expected that when it came time to speak at her Bat Mitzvah she would shy away from the opportunity. Surprisingly, she stepped up to the plate. She prepared a beautiful speech delivered with such poise and confidence both my husband and I were blown away.
Our middle daughter, the one with the dimples that could make any heart melt, has taught me empathy. In the third grade her teacher called me with a lump in her throat as she read a beautiful letter my daughter had written in class. The assignment was to share what one would do with a million dollars. My daughter wrote that she would give it to a little boy in the first grade that she barely knew. She wanted to give it to him because he has autism and she wanted him to buy new toys and things that would make him happy. She notices when others are sad and feels deeply.
Our baby. Our precious icing on the cake, has taught me that no matter what the ‘norms’ are you can and should buck them. A raven haired and green eyed beauty that has a passion for Tonka trucks, race cars and Ken dolls seems to be the life of the party with the boys in Kindergarten. While I spent much of preschool a nervous wreck that she wasn’t wearing sparkles and pink like the other little girls, I have come to love her will to do what she loves – regardless of what a ‘pink toy aisle’ represents for the girls.
These are just the very tip of the iceberg, of course. Parenting is a constant teaching tool that doesn’t end when they leave the nest. I am now learning how to let go, give space, step in as needed and love from afar. I am excited to see how parenting will continue to grow and change and affect our lives. In the meantime, I’m just sitting back and enjoying the textbook lesson by lesson.
Dear Husbands Out There,
This one’s for you.
I have been lucky enough to be blessed with a pretty great guy, but he’s human – just like the rest of you. With holidays around the corner, I thought it would be a good reminder to appreciate your woman. Not just a “Yay, for you!” or “Thanks, honey.”
But, I thought I’d delve a little further into what we mean when we say (loudly) You just don’t get it!!
Cross ‘It’ Off The List
Maybe she’s asked you to fix that door lock, change those dining room lightbulbs or throw out that box in the basement. Whatever was on that to-do list, right now, take a moment and do even just one, without her asking you again. Show her despite all these years, you still pay attention to her and her needs. She’ll be both shocked and in awe of you…
Make Time To Really Look & Listen
If you can’t figure out exactly why she’s freaking out right now, ask. Make time to really watch and listen to figure out ‘How can I be helpful?’. Often guys wait to be assigned a task, figuring if she needs something she’ll let me know. But, guys, we still appreciate when you take the time to notice we need help with something and do it.
Example: I abhor bringing in those darn groceries. When I come home from a $400 grocery shopping and am faced with bringing it all in, it’s nice when he comes out the door and grabs the bags without me asking. It’s even nicer, when he starts to put it away without even being asked! Bonus!
Get Those Kids Out, Now!
Nothing says “I love you” louder than removal of the kids for a few hours. Either taking the kids out for some fun, while she does her thing at home, or sending her off to get some peace and quiet (think mani/pedi break) before the holiday. My first year making Passover for the entire family and then some, my husband bought me a massage and then kicked me out to go use it. I was angry at first, that I had ‘so much to do’ but, once I had those knots out of my shoulders, I came home a much nicer person than I left.
Write Her a Note
In this era of virtual everything, the one thing you should never do virtually is Appreciation. This is the time to run out and buy a nice card that is blank inside. Why blank? Because you are about to fill that sucker up with your own words and nobody else’s. It doesn’t have to be mushy or even poetic – it just has to be you. Write why you still love that woman who slaved away to clean, prepare your meals and care for those little rugrats. Remind her why you still find her hot, even though she’s covered in cooked food and sweat. Relay those reasons you married her and how happy you are go be celebrating this holiday with her. Putting it on paper shows effort and allows her to open that card and reread at a later date ( and when she may not be so enamored with you)
Eye on the Prize
The point of all of this holiday madness is not the food, the new clothing or the clean house. The point is the celebration of your tradition and family. It is meant to be a time to enjoy each other and not create resentment.
If you find your wife is hating you, seems stressed at the mere mention of the P-word – stop, drop and help. Ask what you can do, ask your wife to make you a list of tasks if you’re totally clueless or just grab the kids and go to leave her time to breathe.
Holidays can become very stressful for everyone, and it’s a beautiful thing when 2 people who actually love each other focus on the prize.
So dear husbands, I hope I’ve clarified a bit of what we mean when we say ‘Show some appreciation!’ Now, go forth and act on it! Your reward will be forever undying love & appreciation in return – guaranteed – no money back!
Happy Passover. (or Happy Whatever-You-Are-Celebrating)
Wives All Over The World.
Here lays the remains of what used to be a short, robust little snow-midget my husband and kids built months ago:
With our frigid Midwest crazy winter, it was the midget to outlast all snow midgets. The excitement of that very first snow, now a long forgotten memory – his little scarf, arms, hat and carrot nose perfectly preserved by ice and snow, is all that remains of our little friend.
The beauty of winter here in Chicago, is that when the thaw happens, when it’s just 35 degrees outside, we’re all jacket free in the sunshine. The joy is literally palpable everywhere.
Standing outside preschool pickup yesterday we were all smiles, chattering Moms, instead of doing the typical ‘dash and run’ when it’s so darn cold out.
The grocery store checkout who usually just mumbles “Have a nice day” was telling me about the beautiful weather we’re expecting tomorrow, with a smile.
And then, when I pulled up to my house, finally a brown, muddied mess of lawn shining through I beamed with delight. While we’re not ‘quite there yet’ we are getting close. The buds in my small tulip patch were just poking through to say hello.
My kids will come home in great moods at the end of the day. My husband, traveling in and out all week, still has energy to keep going. Its like a recharge of Vitamin D batteries, enough to bring the groceries right in from the car, instead of taking in the luxury of freezer temps in the trunk waiting for hubby to shlep them in later.
So, Mr. Puxatawney Phil, I don’t care if you saw your shadow or not. Here in Chi-town we’re welcoming in that vernal equinox and are literally doing a happy dance to see the Sun again, anxiously awaiting those 50s we’re promised.
And, as for you little snow-midget… Nope. I don’t wanna build a snowman, right now. But, I am sure come round in December, we’ll all be ready again. Until then, I’ll wash your little scarf, dry it and put it away for you…
Happy Spring All!!!