Monday, May 11, 2009

On Mothering

Most days, when I was growing up, my mom was waiting for us in the kitchen when we got home from school. Occasionally, she wasn't.

"Mom?" I would call from the front hall.

"Yes?" She would answer back from somewhere deep in the bowels of the house.

"Okay."

This conversation happened over and over, with every kid in my family. We just needed to know she was there. And I have already participated in the same conversation, this time from the other side, in my own home.

I've been thinking of the meanings implicit in little, tiny statements and conversations like that one. My mom was more than just a presence somewhere in the house when I was growing up. Her "being there" meant so much more than just physical presence. It meant if we needed her, she was just a room away. It meant we had a full-time guardian who would patch up skinned knees and bake cookies and just talk if we needed it and pay close enough attention to keep us from even entertaining thoughts of getting into too much trouble. I cannot place a value on her constant presence in our lives.

I know she sacrificed a lot to be our mom. And I can scarcely express my gratitude.

Another common statement in our house: "I expect you home in time for dinner."

I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's mostly about food, but it's a bit about family, too. She says that most of her effective parenting has been done at the dinner table or in the time immediately before and after a family meal. The "family dinner" has just about been excused from the table of society: it's just too complicated to coordinate the busy lives and schedules of all the people in a family.

We had complicated schedules when I was growing up, too. I was the worst one -- even in high school, I played in three symphonies and a string quartet, took piano and viola lessons, had a viola student, and still went to early morning seminary and rarely missed Wednesday night YW activities. But evey night I could be home for dinner, I was expected to be home for dinner. No exceptions. No cellphones. Just expectations.

A few weeks ago, we went out for FHE dinner to our little hotdog joint downtown. Come visit me, and I will take you there. The all-beef chili slaw dog it outta sight. We sat outside at a picnic table to eat our yummy dawgs and fries and milkshakes. While we ate, I observed a little family a few tables away.

The family was composed of a mom and a dad and an 8 or 9 month old little boy. They all arrived in different cars. It was obvious that both parents had just left work. They met the babysitter at the restaurant, and she brought them their baby. The babysitter's husband eventually came, and they all sat down to a wonderful meal of hotdogs together.

And here is what I noticed. The babysitter played with the baby, and said things like, "Clap for Mama! Can you show Mama what you learned today?"

And, "Can you say, DA-DA-DA-DA-DA? Good boy!"

I looked at the mom . . . and I can hardly describe what I saw in her face. I wouldn't have been surprised to see tears in her eyes. It was as if she wanted to say, "But he's mine! I'm his mama!" And in that moment, she realized all she has already missed, and all the things he'll do for the first time when she's not around. My heart broke for her.

I make no assumptions about her situation. I pass no judgment about her decision to work instead of staying at home with her little one. But I have come to realize what a great luxury, a priceless privilege it is to just BE HERE.

I used to think that moms who "get" to work really have it pretty good. They get to have adult conversations, and use their brains for things that actually seem challenging, plus they get paid for it. I'm not so sure now. They also have to entrust their children to someone else for most of their waking hours. They have to miss so much of their little ones' lives. And they're still responsible for all of the things that aren't so fun, like laundry (the bane of my existence).

Here's what I know: My mom was spectacular then, and she still is now. She has never stopped BEING HERE, even when she's not physically in the same place as me.

Here's what else I know: No matter how hard it is, this job that I have now -- this mothering gig that seems to be so incredibly demanding and never-ending and usually thankless -- is the greatest, most rewarding job in the entire world. I tell myself that I should feel lucky, blessed, fortunate to be able to stay at home with my children. And I am all of those things. But I chose it. My husband and I carefully arranged our lives so that my choice to stay at home would be possible. And I feel for those mothers who don't even have that choice to make.

18 comments:

  1. Beautiful post! I've always thought that I would want to work outside the home, at least part-time, for the exact reasons you describe, but I have no idea what will actually happen once I have children. I probably won't actually have a choice.

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  2. EXACTLY!!!!

    You put into a nutshell what I love about being a mom. I have some very deep feelings about this subject (what mother doesn't). As write this, I realize that I'm gonna have to post about this one too.

    As usual, you inspire me!

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  3. You are very blessed to have such wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing, and as always, I enjoy reading your posts, and find myself engaged in thoughts on how I can be a better mother to my children. hugs..

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  4. I happened upon your blog from a friends and I just had to leave a comment on your last post. Your description of it being "a priceless privilege" to be a stay at home mom hit me hard! I have always been grateful for this opportunity but that is just a beautiful, perfect description. Thanks!

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  5. I cannot wait to be a mom. I am so excited to stay home with my child(ren as they all come). My husband and I both remeber calling for mom when we got home, such a universal feeling and need.

    I also remember clearly a time when she was not there, and "Elvis" was under the couch waiting to get me. I ran to the end of our half mile driveway and waited til she got home. What a relief when she did fianlly pull in.

    Also, I am excited to hear about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle- it is on my to read list, ever since I heard the author interview on Speaking of Faith (I think that is the radio show). I would love a book review when you are done.

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  6. Sadly I am a working mom, but hope to stay home one day. Luckily the little dawg gets to accompany me. I remember calling for mom when I got home from school and she was always there. I hope to do that one day. Lovely post - and very expressive. I hope you had a great mother's day.

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  7. I have been watching a little one since he was 3 months old (he is now 9 months). His mom doesn't have the choice to stay at home because of choices they made along the way - now they are financially obligated to "things" that keep her working. It breaks her heart.

    Thanks for the reminder that I am beyond blessed to have this "job" - no matter how thankless it seems most days. Regardless of the messes being made while I am cleaning other messes. I am HERE and I hope that one day my kids will go on to realize what a blessing it was to have me there.

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  8. My mom worked off and on while I was a child, and went to work full time when I was 13. One of the strange side effects, for her at least, was that our time together was almost always disappointing to her. It was like she had such a need to make up for the time away that when we were just our regular, bickering, short-sighted selves, it really let her down. Over and over again, for decades.

    So one of the blessings I have appreciated about being a SAHM has been the fact that my being around for my kids has been the norm. I occasionally lament the lack of privacy, but I realize what a stabilizing factor it has been in my kids' lives.

    Well written, dear friend. As usual.

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  9. Beautiful post and AMEN!!! It was so good to see you this weekend. Love ya!!

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  10. I am a working mom - 8 to 5 Monday through Friday which is much better than if I lived in my own country where I'd probably be working late hours and Saturdays too ... that's how much people has to work down there to be able to "make it". This is the way I make it sound OK in my head ... can you tell?! But if I want to be able to see my family in Chile once every 18 months - unfortunately - I have to work.

    My favorite time of the day is when I pick him up from his preschool and he runs to me yelling "MOOOOMMY". My house doesn't look great because I try to spend some time with him when I get home. There are 2 solemn moments at our house that the 3 of us do together everyday ... have supper at the table and pray together before he goes night night! We try to do something together on the weekends too ... I try to squeeze as much love and talks as I can every evening. After we pray my son and I talk about our day, what we did during the day, the exciting things, the bad and those that we learned ... my best part is my last kiss goodnight as he holds my head with his two little hands and tells me I LOVE YOU MOMMY!!!!

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  11. Me too.

    I realized after having my first, that I could never be the one who left---not because I think I'm superior---I actually saw it as my weakness. I could never leave. And I learned to have a greater appreciation for the moms who didn't have a choice.

    This is a beautiful post.

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  12. It's rare that I hear working moms rejoyce in the fact that they can't be home all day. Some need that stimulation more than others, but usually I hear more tales like the one you shared - how much they hate the milestones they miss!

    I feel very blessed that both my hubby and I agree that me staying home is more important than things. His job is only ok - we would finacially be way better off if I had chosen to work. But I feel my best choice is at home, taking care of my precious charges.

    It's a VERY hard thing to be a stay at home mom too. The lack of regognition, the lack of stimulation, the drudgery compeats with the smiles, the love, the cuddles, the joy you see in the faces of your children.

    Somedays the drudgery wins out and I wish I could quit this job. But most days, at least some of the time, the joy outways any bad.

    Very true. Thanks

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  13. This is such a great post. Thanks for reminding me that it's a privilege. I think I always remember how important my job is, but I forget it's a privilege sometimes.

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  14. Well put! We, too, grew up in a home where we'd shout out "Mom?" and hear her answer from somewhere in our tri-level home. Just knowing she was around made all the difference.

    I go back & forth w/being a little crazy about not working "outside" the home anymore. But mostly I feel incredibly spoiled and blessed to be a SAHM. I think, similar to the # of children a family has, it's an intensely personal choice for women (esp LDS) to work outside the home or not. But apart from that, it still holds huge ramifications no matter which way you slice it.

    I'm happy being a SAHM & feeling spoiled & blessed @ the moment!

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  15. Ooh! I LOVED This! Wonderful! And so perfectly said! I have been so blessed to have a hubby that has supported me staying home and never resented the fact that I wanted to. Jenni

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  16. Awesome post I love how you can put into words just what i am thinking. I love your writing, it was so perfectly said and i diddo it all!! Your kids are so lucky to have you just there, you are AMAZING!!!!!

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  17. Hip hip hurray! WELL said my friend. Arter managing through every family and financial up and down to stay at home with my children alllll their growing up years, I can tell you: IT WORKS! IT'S WONDERFUL! IT'S WORTH IT!

    Love,
    Mona

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  18. AMEN! I went back to work 2 days a week for two years after my first--long enough to know that it's just not worth the money. The blessings of being home infinitely outweigh the sacrifices. I am grateful to still be able to work just a few hours a week from home while my little ones sleep. I feel very blessed. Oh, and grateful that I ditched that whole librarian gig too . . .

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Sock it to me!