Getting Back Out There: On Moms as Monks and Letting Go

For the past (this number actually pains me to type) five (gulp) years, I have not had a fulltime job. It’s been an unexpected path, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to walk it. Nothing has made me grow up like being at home with these kids. I’ve found it an almost monastic experience. A parallel I draw with no actual monastery experience, of course. But what I’m referring to is an existence of near constant simple tasks, repeated day in and day out, with few if any external markers of success, and fewer if any displays of gratitude for your toils. The laundry, the dishes, the meals, the baths, the bed times. All undone as soon as you do them. It’s as beautiful and meaningful as it is totally maddening. So, I’ve been pretty much a monk except with what I am assuming is a great deal more screaming and bodily fluids. From the children. Mostly.

And so here I am today. Half a decade later. I was never supposed to be a stay at home mom, yet I am a loud-and-proud minivan driving, band-aid carrying, snack cup filler-upper. It took a lot of bravery to do this. I had a lot of hang-ups about not contributing financially. My domestic skills were not finely tuned by any measure. And I was frankly pretty sure that my firstborn didn’t even care for me as anything other than a milk machine for the first eight or nine months. I wondered, aloud oftentimes, why should it be me who takes this on? I’m not very good at it. I’m basically a leech on my family’s bank account, pretending to be a mom but feeling like a pissed off baby sitter more often than I’d care to admit. Who am I to squander this gift? That got better. And it got better through becoming a far more honest and earnest person. I still have my moods, to be sure. But I am forever changed (or, perhaps more apt, evolved?) by this experience, and for the better.

But for all the toil, it’s also been five years of ease. When I can give into the ceaselessness of it all, aside from stomach bugs and night terrors and other maladies of that sort, life is often simple as a stay at home mom. Busy, harried, exhausting, sure. But living in the day-to-day is a lot calmer for the mind. This isn’t to say I haven’t had a calendar full of doctor’s appointments, play dates, and visitors. But compared to life in grad school or at a law firm, for the most part, if I choose to do so, and I often do not so chose because masochism is a hard thing to unlearn, I have found being at home freeing in certain ways. If your life demands nearly all of your available energy to get by on a day-to-day basis, then there can be these great moments where you let go of the long term planning and fretting over other people, and you just get by in the here and now. And fall into bed each night like you’ve run a marathon. Totally spent but not mentally anguished.

Which is all of course to say: I QUIT! No, no. Not really. But kind of. I’ve spent five years growing into a mom, among other pursuits, and I am feeling the urge to tackle yet another gaping hole of insecurity, which is that I am not actually employable, because I am not actually smart or a grown up or capable of committing to a job. (Everyone’s got that secret fear, right?!) So it is with the stalest of resumes and the freshest of business clothes, as my butt seems to have grown alongside my ageless wisdom and maturity, that I dip my toe back into the job market.

The logistics are just impossible. The kids get out of school way before a job ends. So who picks them up? And we have no family in Nashville. So what happens if they get sick? Or have a half-day? Will already works enough for 1.5 people. To this problem, all I can do is shrug. Not out of indifference but out of the sheer hypothetical rabbit hole of it all. I don’t know what we will do. Are “secular sister wives” a thing? I’ll google it later. I suppose we will figure it out, as countless other working parents do.

I actually had an interview today. Not for anything fulltime. In fact, only for a company who farms out legal contract jobs for other firms. So, not too intense and not likely to bring me my dream job. But symbolic nonetheless. I listened to NPR the whole way there, driving in my sensible heels, using a baby bib to protect my white shirt from the inevitable coffee sip gone awry. A legit grown up. And it felt pretty

Well, hello, Loft Outlet.  It’s been awhile.

And then I came home, took off my sensible heels, and went to pick up a hideously angry toddler from preschool. He shrieked “I DON’T WANT IT, THAT SONG!!” the whole way home, but I kept listening to it, that song, because the sounds he was making were far too offensive to listen on their own. Soon, an exuberant and over-tired four year old (the most frightening of combinations) will join me at home. And more challenges there in. I dread it as much as I look forward to it.

“The Village” is this great thing we love to talk about. We’re supposed to have a village to raise these kids! A network of people who help each other. Well, an aspect of the village that I surely don’t see emphasized much is that being part of a village implies that we – parents, but more often than not, moms – need to let go. To trust others, and value ourselves and our needs outside of those kids enough to step back. There’s a lot of hype around this village, but I feel as if there is a greater value these days placed on being an island when it comes to your kids. And the more confident I get as a mother, the less I see the value in me being their everything. I’m not talking tiny babies. That’s another thing. But mine are now two and four and a half. Social creatures who are taking in the world around them. And as much as they love me, they love lots of people. Those connections are beautiful, and they exist outside of my relationship with them. As anguishing as loosening my grasp on kids is, watching them become real people is … everything.

I can’t know exactly what to expect of working outside the home. I know I will miss them, and I will lose some opportunities to have fun or meaningful moments with them. That’s a given. But I also have a sense that … maybe I won’t miss them as much as I think? Like, I don’t know if I will ache for them each moment we’re apart. It took a long time to learn to trust myself as their caretaker. And I have put in nothing if not raw hours into the endeavor. I am terrified … and ready … to back off a bit.
So, Edie, it’s not because you pelt me with unanswerable questions all day, that you tell far too many poop jokes, have no “inside” voice, and have shed tears, on average, half a dozen times per day since your birth four and a half years ago. And, Eli, I’m not polishing up my resume solely because every pair of shoes on the planet make you weep, that you sit on my head when I get too low to the ground, or because you do that limp noodle thing when I try to pick you up during a tantrum. But that list does give me a hankering to open up in the ol’ browser. It’s just that as much as I love your warm hands and your soft faces, I’m ready to give some of that up in order to explore other facets of myself.

Maybe I will end up beating back a hasty retreat to the home. Or maybe I will end up working fulltime. I can’t know and I’ve still got plenty of day-to-day to keep me from having the energy to wonder too much. I am a little excited, though. But not as excited as I am to shut down this computer and go to the playground as soon as that angry two year old wakes up a cuddly little goofball from his long nap.