I stayed at home with my kids, mostly, for over ten years. I finished the school year after Sarah was born in December of 1990, but after that I never returned to full-time work until 2003.
I worked, part-time. I filled in one semester for a music teacher who had to take a sick leave. I sold Pampered Chef. I taught piano lessons. I babysat other people’s kids. I did a part-time worship leader gig.
But mostly, I took care of my kids.
Lest you think of me more highly than you ought, let me say this up front: I was a colossal failure as a stay-at-home mom, at least in regards to the expectations I had going in. My house was always an upside down, frightening mess. The kids’ rooms were rarely clean. Laundry stayed in baskets. Sheets didn’t get a weekly washing. The kids stayed alive, and most days that was a major accomplishment.
I’m a big-picture person, and I don’t see details, and that made for a ridiculously awful experience when it came to the domestic duties that a SAHM did. At least, what I assumed most of them did. One of my friends in Hico, Texas, stayed at home with her three at the same time I was home with my two. Mary had a schedule for herself; one day, as we pushed strollers up the hill towards the high school in that little town, she told me her daily plan.
Up at 6:30
Husband out the door
Kids ready for school
Daily chores for three hours
Then other stuff; Bible study, playdates, grocery shopping, etc.
Ha, ha, ha.
That was funny to me. I slept until the kids woke up, and then I had to get up. I fed them and cooked grown up food and changed diapers and cleaned up after them and just lived moment to moment until 8:30PM when they were asleep and I could think coherently.
Not in my world.
Mary had floors clean enough to eat off of. You could eat off my floors, too; but not because they were clean. Because you could find enough remnants from last night’s dinner and Cheetos thrown from high chairs that you’d never go hungry.
I’ve been working now for a decade, and not much has change in terms of my housekeeping abilities. At least I have an excuse now…
But the truth is, I had other priorities. I was far from perfectly attentive to my kids; the internet had just appeared in our living rooms, and I was intrigued and distracted by email and instant messaging at times. However, overall, I stayed at home to simply be at home.
I tucked my kids into bed most nights. We read books. I watched them fight. I forced them to make up.
There were plenty of times that I screwed up, and those are probably the ones my kids remember. I dropped the ball a lot. I wasn’t perfect.
But I was there. Their father was there as well, mostly; we had decided together that our priority would be family; more than salary, more than personal time. We did without a lot of things, living for a long time on a part-time salary and counting pennies carefully. We agonized over the cost of diapers. We stretched meat into as many dinners as possible.
It went by in a flash.
I became a parent in 1990. Since that time, it has defined me. Twenty-three years of life, directed by the requirements of maternal love and responsibility; they have, truly, flown by.
In three weeks, my eldest son will move out. Tonight, we drove by his dorm in Richmond; got a feel for what his new life will look like. His newly married sister and brother-in-law live just two blocks away, and how can I express the maternal comfort that washed over me when I measured that distance on Google Maps?
It was a good thing.
Shannon is married and in the beginning days of a wonderful life with her husband. Daniel moves out in 22 days. Sarah and Syd will soon head back to their respective college towns.
David will be still at home – the only one – and things will be different.
Tonight, I got home from work with donuts on my mind. An article in the local paper had referenced a new business venture with local ties; we’d talked about it in the office. Sydni had gone to that same donut shop earlier this week.
Donut brain. I had it.
After a quick dinner, I suggested a donut run. We ran out in the rain, hopped in the car and headed to Richmond. Forty-five minutes later, we were in the Sugar Shack parking lot. Six donuts later, we realized we needed more and got a refill (same box; MORE DONUTS). We brought them home for Tony and for tomorrow.
We meandered home, driving through Sydni’s voice teacher’s neighborhood and up Semmes Avenue and through Chesterfield County all the way up Route 60. Just past Chippenham, Daniel cried, “Look! It’s on! It’s on!”
I drove home, thinking of the ridiculous nature of the evening. Irresponsible in terms of gas expenditures and $21 worth of fattening, glutenous, sugar-soaked junk.*(SEE BELOW…) Irresponsible considering the state of the house, with laundry and dishes and even wedding stuff left out and scattered all over the place.
But that’s just me. That’s how it’s been, all these years. The house can be a mess; the laundry can be undone, and we can stay up too late and maybe even do a lousy job on homework. That’s the life we created and the essence of the moments we tried to live. There have been many times I’ve walked wearily through the door and sat on the couch for two hours before crawling into bed. Other times, we’ve jumped up and gone to Batman movie marathons. Either way, I’ve tried to remember that what matters is being here.
I wouldn’t trade the years I had staying at home with my kids, or the 10 years afterwards that I’ve juggled work and kid responsibilities, and taken on the care of a husband and his family. It’s been a worthwhile investment.
But this season is ending. My son is soon moving out, and although he’ll come home, it’ll never quite be the same. I’ve got four years left with the youngest, and I have learned through experience that he’ll be a senior in what seems like the blink of an eye.
So tonight, we did the carpe diem thing and ran through the rain to jump in the car for a minor adventure. Tonight, I had three of my five kids crammed together (and met a forth at Sugar Shack to satisfy HER craving); the magic of the synergy and energy accumulated in their proximity is the very stuff in which my soul is grounded.
We left Krispy Kreme, tossing about memories; the long drive from Cleveland to Ohio often included a stop in Cranberry, PA, at the Krispy Kreme store. Nosed pressed to the glass, they’d stretch their legs and watch the donuts slide into the glaze and back out again – “baptized”, as our pastor says. They’d wear the silly paper hats and eat donuts in the back of the Suburban and the sugar would rush through their veins for the remainder of the ride.
They remember these things.
We walked out tonight and realized that Daniel was still inside. I looked back through the door, and there he stood: Nose pressed to the glass, watching the donuts slide into the glaze…
My heart choked, and then resumed beating, as it does. Time passes. Life goes on. Little boys grow up.
Years fly by, people. Hold your kids tight and dream about the day they’ll be older. But don’t dream too long, or you’ll find yourself there too soon. Bankroll your memories.
And drive 45 minutes in the rain for donuts whenever you feel like it.
It’s worth it.