Mommy, Why Don’t You Have a Job?

Said my daughter’s sweet seven-year-old* voice from the back seat of the car. She spoke tentatively, choosing her words and tone carefully, so as not to offend me.

“It’s okay that you don’t, but, I was just wondering, cause, you know, some other mommies do.”

Tears formed immediately, so touching was her innocence and honesty. To her, it was just a simple question, requiring a short, straightforward answer. But to me, this poignant curiosity is my entire being.

I looked in the rear view mirror, making eye contact as I answered. “When Daddy and I first had kids, we decided it was important for one of us to stay at home, to have the main job of taking care of the babies, taking care of the house, making sure we had food, and all the stuff to raise a family.”

“And you and Daddy decided that would be you!” she exclaimed, clearly understanding our logic.

“Yes, sweetie, that’s what we decided.” Arriving home, I parked the car in the garage and she jumped out, busying herself with the important tasks of being seven, her question answered.

But this was still in my heart:

Raising this family is my life’s work. A masterpiece which I am continually molding and shaping, hoping to get just right with each passing day. I am a stay-home mom to said spunky daughter and two high school boys. My firstborn is now able to drive himself. (This has lightened my schedule considerably. But the trade-off could be sheer panic every time he leaves the house — I must train my mind otherwise). Sweet daughter was a deliberate choice when her brothers were nine and six years old. But because of this big age gap, I have been raising small children for 17 years.

Some days, the dishes/laundry/errands dance brings me to tears. It’s so frustratingly cyclical. And endless. There are times when I yearn to dress in something more sophisticated than jeans and flip flops, and drive to an office where I have an important role, or, at the very least, a desk with my own computer and phone. This past fall, I felt twinges of envy watching the teachers in my town preparing their classrooms and lessons for a new crop of students. I couldn’t help but wonder, is everything passing me by?

You see, I am a college graduate. I have a bachelor’s in journalism. And a teaching credential. Degrees that represented six years of hard work and dedication. Followed by a coveted job as a middle school teacher, which I had LOVED. Even when I was pregnant with my first, who was due in November so many years ago, continuing to teach was still my plan.

That year during open house night, I promised my sixth grade students and their parents that I would return to finish out the school year after maternity leave. One dad shot me a sideways grin from the back of the room. He knew then what I didn’t know at the time — that my heart would change instantly and forever when that fragile newborn was placed into my arms. My students, in the typical wisdom of kids, were confused by my plan to return to the classroom. Many had younger siblings, and knew the devotion and energy required. “But, who is going to take care of the baby?” one of them asked me, clearly baffled.

And it hit me like a ton of bricks. Who was going to take care of the baby? Suddenly, my plan made no sense. And so, without too much analysis or hesitation, and with full encouragement of my husband, it was decided. I finished that school year and in June of 1997, packed my files and emptied my classroom. On what would have been my first day of school that September, I took my chunky baby boy for a swim, soaking in the sunshine and relishing the essence of my precious nine-month-old. I celebrated new beginnings.

Fast forward several years. Our family grew with the birth of our second son. Chasing two energetic boys constantly was nothing at all how I had pictured. I had imagined playdough and coloring books all day. Maybe we’d bake cookies occasionally just to change it up. They, however, were more about pillow forts, bikes and balls outside (sometimes inside) and anything to do with fire. One time there were kitchen knives involved. They required my fullest attention at all times.

However, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, we came through the chaos and the boys were in elementary school. I came to a crossroads. Go back to work? Feasible. Have another baby? Ridiculous. I was 36 years old for crying out loud. Perhaps a new puppy was the more sensible choice. But it was undeniable. I wanted one more baby, really badly. Much more than I wanted to go back to work.

Because we already had a good thing going with our family of four, I gave myself a window of time to get pregnant. If it didn’t happen within six months, it wasn’t meant to be, end of story. And in this simple way, fate decided my path. I became pregnant during the last month of that self-imposed time limit. Something for which, every day, I am exceedingly grateful. I get the beauty of raising a baby all over again, but this time, with some wisdom tucked into my back pocket.

Sweet daughter is my reward. My bonus baby. And while I don’t technically have a job, beloved little girl, I do have a mission. A focus. A purpose. Your dad and I have been entrusted with the precious lives of you and your brothers. What a tremendous honor.

Returning to work one day may still be an option. Maybe there’s a classroom with my name on its Smart Board. Or who knows? Perhaps by then, I’ll get that promotion every mommy hopes for: Grandma.

*Originally posted March 2014 on Prayers and Piazzas, so all the kids are older (one is even in college!). A nice response/reminder after the recently posted Which Way Now?

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