I think … I might actually … like … staying at home.
No one is more shocked about this than me (followed closely by my husband).
I’ll just say it: I was afraid I was going to hate staying home with my son.*
I feared I would miss the adult interaction, the professional stimulation, that moment in the morning where I decided which heels best matched my dress and rushed out of the house because I had so many important things to do at work.
I feared I would be bored by the daily routine of tooth-brushing and hot-dog-making and laundry-folding. I worried I would resent Mike as he walked out the door every morning to prepare for meetings with “new clients.”**
Mostly, I panicked that I would lose myself.
“I am giving up my career … Who will I be?” That’s the question I asked a good friend a couple of months before I left Phoenix to move back East to Pennsylvania. It felt like I was giving up a huge piece of myself that I had worked so hard to develop.
You’re not giving up your career, she told me. Remember that you have lots of priorities in life: work, family, travel, writing. These things are all important to you, but they take turns being the “most” important. During college and the years after college, building your career was the most important thing, so that floated to the top of the priority list. That didn’t mean family wasn’t important. Family is always important. It just meant that for those years, you needed to focus on establishing your career. Now things have changed and family is moving up to that top priority spot. It doesn’t mean you won’t ever have a career again; it just means that Ryan is going to take most of your focus for right now.
It was a moment of clarity I will never forget. I even remember the booth of the local brewery we were sitting in, that I was facing the door and could see how the light shone through the windows as the sun set, how it brightened before it softened.
Of course, I thought. How simple; she’s right.
I still worried. (Because that’s what I do.) I worried that ideally, my plan sounded good. Staying home with my son, working part time as projects came my way, making my own hours. But I worried that realistically, it would be frustrating and exhausting. That I would lose my patience and snap at my son and not teach him anything and feed him hot dogs every single day*** while I daydreamed about the days when I click-clacked into work and felt like I mattered.
But the truth is that my relationship with my son has not gotten worse or more strained. It’s gotten better. So, so much better. When he speaks, I understand him. I’m finally around him enough to decipher the nuances of his language that were a mystery to me before.
We’ve become sweeter to each other. He has become much more attached to me. He is protective of me. He pleads “come sit by me” a dozen times a day. He yells at bees that get too close to me.**** He bear-hugs me and says “I yove my mommyyyy!” several times a day in the sweetest, most innocent voice. He tells me I’m beautiful.
I thought he was the light of my life before; but I am more in love with this kid than I have ever been. He makes me so happy. Even when he is making me completely crazy – and boy does he – he is making me so happy.
I worried I would be cranky when Mike got home from work. That he would walk through the door, all stimulated and successful, and I would resent him.
I don’t. He walks through the door and Ryan’s face lights up the same way mine does.
We are happy to see him. And while I might imagine what his day was like or daydream myself into his position for a moment here and there, I also know I am doing the right thing for me, for our son, for our family, right now.
Here’s the thing: Being a mom doesn’t need to define me the same way being a communications professional didn’t define me three months ago. I’m just me. I am reserved but sarcastic, impatient but kind. Whether my job is in an office or at home, I’m just me. And that’s ok.
Maybe one day, I’ll look back and decide this was the most important work I ever did.
*But I’ve only been at this for a few weeks, so I reserve the right to change my mind and blog about how awful it all is in a couple of months.
**Again, reserving the right to totally resent him later.
***Ok, the hot-dog-every-day fear came true, but I’m working on it. Or at least, I intend to work on it, which is essentially the same thing.
****That’s NO NICE, buggies! You NO scare Mommy!
A couple of days ago, Ryan woke up from a nap and really wanted to watch Mickey. I explained that I really needed to go to Target. I put on my best pathetic, pleading look and said “Ryan, please … Go with me to Target. I can’t go without you! I loooove Target. Pleeeeease. Go with me?”
I braced for a tantrum but instead, he flashed me a sweet smile and said, “Ok, Mommy. We go bye-byes now. I watch Mickey later, ok? We go bye-byes now.”
Then he kissed my right hand, then my left hand and added, “I give you kisses.”
And I thought, this moment … this is what motherhood is all about.
Happy Mother’s Day.
The gym I’ve been going to recently has a children’s play area. For $3, I can drop Ryan off for up to an hour and a half while I work out. The room is full of cars, trucks, art supplies, a small climbing area, even a TV complete with a library of Disney movies.
The employees who work in this “Kids’ Club,” as it’s called, clearly enjoy working with kids. They sit at the little tables with them to color or try to teach them how to catch a ball.
I like taking Ryan there a couple times a week because 1. it allows me to work out in guilt-free peace and 2. Ryan used to be around other kids for upwards of 50 hours a week. He needs some kind of social interaction with other kids in a consistent and familiar environment.
Ryan loves it there. Every time I pick him up from the room, he’s grinning from ear to ear and tells me “I yike Kids’ Club! I yike it!”
The problem is that he forgets he likes it by the next morning. I’ll tell him we’re going to have breakfast and then get ready for the Kids’ Club and he glares at me as though I told him he would be eating nothing but broccoli for the next week.
He fights me all morning on it. He yells, he growls, he begs to stay home. I am finally able to convince him to go willingly by telling him he can play on my iPad when we get home.
This morning, after two hours of negotiation, I walked into the gym, holding Ryan’s hand. We arrived at the door at the same time as another mom who was holding the hand of a little boy about Ryan’s age.
As I reiterated the rules to Ryan (you be good, you get the iPad), she was explaining to her son the proper way to walk down the steps.
Her tone was familiar. The words sounded like “Come this way, sweetie” but felt like “Oh dear god, let’s GO. Right. Now.”
I smiled at her and she sighed.
Other mom: Have you ever had one of those days? Where you’re just sort of over negotiating with your son?
Me: Ha! Yeah, like every day.
Other mom: It’s not just me?
Me: Definitely not. Right there with you.
Other mom: It’s like … just PUT YOUR JACKET ON! You know?
Me: And GET IN THE CAR SEAT!
Other mom: Exactly! GET IN THE CAR RIGHT NOW!
Me: NO MORE DISCUSSION. DOOOO IT.
Other mom: Thank god. I feel so much better.
Me: Me too.
I’ve been thinking about this conversation all day. I come across other moms out in public all the time. Sometimes their patience is shining out of them; other times, their frustration. We’re human, so we all have good days and bad days. Our kids do, too.
Sometimes I smile at the other mom to let her know I’ve been there. Sometimes I chat with her kid. But I’ve never outright asked what that mom asked me: Are you ever just over it?
But I should. We should all ask each other that from time to time. It was a reminder that my son isn’t purposefully annoying or contrary or temperamental. He’s a toddler. The vast majority of toddlers are that way at least some of the time, and the vast majority of moms sigh in exasperation when they are. Somehow, acknowledging that fact with a total stranger made my morning seem more amusing and less frustrating.
That’s what I told my husband today: Parenting is hard.
It’s sort of obvious, right? Abstractly, one knows that raising a human from infancy to adulthood must be somewhat complicated. You want to enforce discipline while also showering love. Instill morals, self-reliancy, generosity. You aim to comfort but not spoil.
But sometimes, despite your best efforts, your kid slaps you across the face, laughs, and says “I got you face!”
And all those “parenting methods” you and your husband discussed years ago, months ago, days ago; they go out the door because Jesus Christ, that hurt, you little sonofablank.
I wanted to hit him. When Ryan slapped me, my natural instinct was to slap him right back. If anyone else in the world had hit me across the face the way he did? I probably would have thrown a punch in return. But I didn’t.
Rather than hit him, I sent him to Time Out, where he sat for a couple of minutes before I released him with our usual “No hitting mommy” and “I’m sorry, Mommy” and “hug me” routine. (It’s “routine” cuz we’ve done this approximately one thousand times.)
Luckily, I have had comic relief by way of social media recently … I posted this picture on Instagram last week with a “Big Day! Heading out to celebrate!” caption:
A few people thought the caption meant I was pregnant, which made me go HAHAHAHA (and then I drank five beers).
We were actually celebrating the fact that Mike got a job. He is officially employed in Pennsylvania! (I’m not typically a proponent of excessive capitalization and exclamation points in blog posts, but YAY!! This is what we’ve been working toward for almost a year!)
So yes, parenting is hard. Life is hard. It’s all been a little harder than usual for us lately. But that’s what love is for, right? Love restrains you from slapping when you want to slap; love helps you figure things out. We’re figuring things out.
There are many reasons I have been wary about the switch to the whole stay-at-home mom thing. Lack of adult interaction, lack of money, boredom, impatience, an increased expectation that I should cook more than once every six weeks.
But mostly? I hate playgrounds.
I have tried to like them, I want to like them. I picture myself on a pretty wooden bench under a canopy of green trees, laptop perched just so and latte cooling off in my hand, as I alternately write and glance up to smile at my boy, who is running and giggling and playing with all the other kids who are running and giggling and playing.
I picture it this way, but as is the case with many aspects of motherhood, the reality is rarely the idealized movie you script in your head.
Here’s what actually happens when I take Ryan to the playground: First, he stands 7-10 feet away from the playground equipment, sizing up the situation. This analysis can last anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour, depending on the size of the playground and the amount of kids currently partaking in play. During this time, I say things like “Wow, this looks like so much fun! Do you want to play?! Playgrounds are SO fun! Wow, look at that slide! What a cool slide! Do you want to slide??” while Ryan repeatedly shakes his head at me.*
After much internal debate, he decides to go for it! Half of the time, he sticks to his resolve and truly starts climbing and playing. The other half of the time, he comes running back to cling to my leg for a few more minutes because something, such as a light breeze or the sun peeking out from behind a cloud, startles him.
He cautiously creeps back toward the steps to the slide and enjoys a few moments of carefree joy.
Until another kid gets too close. This kid could be an intimidating 7-year-old, who really shouldn’t be climbing all over the toddler play area (“Kid scare me!”) or it might be a sweet little 14-month-old, who stands in one spot and smiles and waves (“Baby scare me!”) Either way, I have to stand no more than two feet away from Ryan, calmly explaining that the kid isn’t scary – he’s just playing and having fun. I can tell Ryan isn’t really listening to me; he is too busy planning the safest escape route.
Inevitably, the other mom leads her child away from us and over to the swings because no parent wants to hear that their kid is scaring another kid simply by being in the same general vicinity.
Now, finally, Ryan is having a blast! He climbs! He slides! He climbs and slides again!
But by this point, I have been standing in the cold and wind for over an hour. I am tired. I am over it. I suggest we stop by the swings before we leave, the mere suggestion of which is met with a glare and a “NOOO!”
Ok, no swings. The little baby would probably shove you off anyway. Time to go home.
Of course, no amount of persuading (read: bribery) can convince him to leave willingly now that he is finally having fun, so I need to carrying him across the playground, kicking and screaming while the other parents pretend not to notice. I wrestle him into the car and lounge in the backseat until his tantrum tires him out and I’m able to wrangle him into his car seat.
As we drive home, I tell him I know he was having fun and that we’ll come back to the playground soon, if he’s a good boy, but I secretly hope he’ll never be a good boy again so that I have a legitimate excuse to withhold all future playground trips.
*Maybe he knows I don’t really mean it.
I tug the computer toward me, gently swipe off a layer of dust and pry open the top.
My life is not any more defined than it was a week ago. Or three weeks ago. Or ten months ago. If anything, things have gotten even more complicated on the job front in the past day or two.
Even so, we’re settling in. We’re hitting a bit of a stride, developing some semblance of a routine, even if it’s not a longterm routine. I know where my mother-in-law keeps the measuring cups, and I feel this information will serve me well over the next 20 years.
Also? Things are blooming.
I feel more like myself today and I attribute a bit of that to this guy:
Before today, I hadn’t seen my brother in almost a year. He’s the first of my immediate family that I’ve seen since we landed on the East Coast. He was passing through the area on his way to a cigar festival.** That’s the thing about living one state away from your family … occasionally, someone will pass through. Do you know how often that happens in Phoenix? (Duh, never.)
There is something about having lunch with someone who has known you your entire life … it calms you down in a way other things can’t. It was a breath of fresh air; a surprising feat for a late lunch in a cigar bar.
Today was a reminder that while the stress of life ebbs and flows, some things – like the genetically dry, sarcastic humor that matches your own and confuses the waitress – remain steady.
We are who we are. And partially, we are where we come from. Location and money don’t change the core of us – they just affect our immediate circumstance, which is subject to change at any moment.
*Any Trekkies out there?
**Also known as, an escape from three kids for a weekend. I mean, he didn’t say that, but it must be, right?
You know how when you go on vacation, you tend to unplug? Your instagram feed may see more action than it has in months, but all other online communication slows a bit. You fall behind on the blogs you normally read religiously. You peek in on Facebook but don’t comment a whole lot. You intend to come back to respond to emails but never do.
Then you get back home and the switch flips back to the “on” position and you get to work catching up on all things technologically social.
My switch hasn’t flipped back to “on” yet.
I’m not on vacation and yet … this month has been so vastly different from every other month of my adult life that I find myself not quite knowing what it feels like.
We’re on vacation but we’re never going home. We’re in our new state but we don’t know which town will be ours. We’ve started a whole new chapter of our lives, but we still can’t decipher how the second sentence reads.
We’re in limbo.
We hope the limbo will end in the next couple of weeks. Really, really hope.
In the meantime, I’m going to allow myself a little partial-unplugging time. I’m not a force-it-when-you-don’t-feel-it sort of person. I’m more of a when-all-else-fails-pick-up-a-good-book sort of person. So that’s what I’m doing. Reading books, attempting to locate the nearest Target in the rain, learning to pronounce things like “Schoenersville” and, in general, getting my physical and emotional bearings.
But I’ll probably be back soon to tell you about how Mike and I have had to go all Super Nanny on Ryan the past few weeks. Because if there is one constant in a parent’s life, it is the unrelenting force of the Toddler Tantrum, which knows no geographic boundaries.
1. Attempt to feed the toddler every form of pasta known to man over a two-year period. Fail miserably.
2. Proclaim that everyone in your family absolutely, unequivocally hates pasta. Yuck, yuck, yuck! (Wanna try it? No? Ok, dammit.)
3. Offer some buttered mashed potatoes for the first time. Cuz if you don’t like mashed potatoes, get out of our house.
4. Oh, you like the mashed potatoes?! Yay, success! How about some buttered noodles now? Still no, huh?
5. Fine. Mommy will eat your buttered noodles, you weirdo. Cuz we do not let buttered noodles go to waste in this family … What, you don’t want Mommy to eat them? Would you like a bite? Oh, you want them all?
There is this phrase we used to say in Phoenix. When we were basking in the sun at a spring training game at the end of February, a little concerned about sun burns, while much of the rest of the country was still bitterly cold. Or in mid-November when we sat outside, margaritas in hand, marveling at the fact that it was finally cooling off at night – to just the right temperature.
We smiled and we said, This is why we live here.
Those sunny, temperate winter months were therefore known as this-is-why-we-live-here weather.
When we arrived in Pennsylvania, it was still unseasonably cold. It got down to 22 degrees one night. I wore a scarf in the house every day for the entire first week.
Mike’s sister and brother-in-law drove three hours from their home in Maryland to visit during our first weekend in town. We’d take Ryan outside to play and then we’d bring him back in seven minutes later. When we went out to eat, we’d rush to the car and then rush to the restaurant. I remember this rushing – I rushed through the cold in Cleveland for two decades.
But there have been these moments … Ryan and his uncle stomping around and roaring like dinosaurs … Mike and his Dad watching and analyzing baseball together … my mom-in-law cracking open a bottle of wine for us to share and winking as she says, “I swore I wasn’t going to have any today … but what the hell, right?”
I smile and I think, This is why we live here.
These simple moments, which you might take for granted if they hadn’t been lacking for nine years, are therefore my new this-is-why-we-live-here weather.
Life in Pennsylvania is … well, it’s sort of like vaca. At least for right now.
We live with my in laws. We eat a lot of good food. We don’t work. Etc.
Hopefully that will all change very soon and Mike will land a good job and we’ll move into a nice house and then the life we’ve been picturing for the past year will be a reality. Right? Yes?
In the meantime, we’ll have to deal with watching Real Housewives all day – I mean! – exposing Ryan to new fun, educational things and such.
Speaking of Ryan? He decided that moving 2,500 miles this week wasn’t enough. He’d also like to sleep in a big boy bed.
But you know what’s even bigger than a big boy bed? Philly cheesesteaks and French fries.
It’s safe to say we’re enjoying ourselves.
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