One December afternoon when my daughter was ten months old, I went to get her up from her nap and found her wrapped in colored lights, a human Christmas tree. Apparently, attracted to the multi-colored display on the windowsill, she had reeled them into her crib.
What keeps me home day after day, tending the needs of my children, is not some ideology of motherhood or the lack of desire to pursue a career outside the home. I am a stay-at-home mother for two reasons. One reason has brown hair and large eyes, stands 40 inches high, calls everyone “honey”, and announces to strangers that she has a “poop chart”. The other reason has blonde hair, throws his food off his highchair, and cries when he cannot follow his daddy out the door each morning.
I could expound on my philosophy of parenting or state statistics to support the consistent presence of a mother inside the home. But would you be convinced? And is there even a right position? Beyond the arguments for stay-at-home mother versus career mother is my delight in the presence of my two children, Faith, four, and Silas, 17 months.
I definitely do not stay at home for the luxury of sleeping in and reading books all day. I put the pans back into my cupboards at least five times a day. I usually fold my laundry a second time after a pair of little hands undid the first try. Vacuuming my small house takes twice as long as it should because my boy is attracted to the light on the front and plops himself down for a closer look. Why do I even bother to sweep and mop our dining room? Watering the flowers usually does more harm than good because someone is “weeding” while I’m not looking. This is all how it should be, isn’t it? Little people exploring their world. Having a few minutes to get something done is worth a small mess.
Some days being a stay-at-home mother is akin to refereeing a rugby match. My son attaches his pudgy hands to my daughter’s dress and drags behind her as she quickly tries to shove him off. He falls down only to jump up, laugh, and pursue his irritated sister again. He steals her favorite “lamby” and runs in the opposite direction. She screams and pursues him. I pursue them both, trying to keep my voice calm.
Amidst motherly frustrations of fighting children or naughty words, it’s easy to dream of the days when diapers will be bygones and manners will be firmly established. Sometimes when I’m out with my children an older person will remark, “Enjoy them now, they’ll be gone before you know it.” I think, Do you have any idea of what daily life with young tots is like? The work of insuring my kids are learning to love, growing in character, not harming each other, and not destroying something? Sure, in hindsight everything appears rose-colored. In the present moment, motherhood is work, and progress is elusive. In the minutes and hours of a day mothering can seem like running a marathon, but over months, seasons, and years, the emotional, spiritual, and physical growth of my children are unmistakable. I need every moment of every day, however challenging. I’m not able to do the quality of mothering that I desire in a couple of evening hours when children are often grumpy and vying for attention.
Sometimes in life less is better – less fat calories in my diet, less stuff cluttering my house. However, sometimes more is better – more wipes for a messy poop, more “I love yous”, more time with my children. If my daughter had been napping at a day care center, would I have had the pleasure (and horror) of seeing her all lit up with the glory of Rockefeller Plaza? The precious experiences that might get missed or crowded out by my working outside the home seem innumerable: watching my son take his first steps, teaching my child to write her name, watching my son play with a sweet potato as if it’s a ball, laughing at my daughter’s marker-tattooed arms, feeding carrots to my son (ducking when they come spewing out), or making sugar cookies with my daughter (cringing when the sprinkles cascade like Niagara Falls all over the dough). Make-believe tea with a four year old is more rewarding to me than coffee with a boss. Showing my children how to plant seeds in our garden out-values growing in my career. Hearing the humble words, “Honey, sometimes I make mistakes,” from my daughter is more joyful than a promotion. I only have so many hours in a day, and days in a week, before suddenly, I’m the woman remarking, “Enjoy them…” to the young mother at the store.
I won’t deny that I battle internally over my worth and question if I am using my abilities and gifts to the fullest. After all, I spent three years getting a master’s degree only to promptly have two children. Even so, when frustration outweighs joy and I’m tempted to trade places with my husband (wouldn’t that be a good joke on his employer if I walked in and announced we were switching places for a day?), I remind myself that staying at home with my children is a season. Time isn’t static. It can’t be captured like a photo and kept in a solitary position. It changes, and it’s irreversible. Making the sacrifice now, in this moment, to be with my children daily, won’t mean that future moments won’t be spent working outside the home. It does mean that the memories I have of my mother staying home with me will be replicated with my children.
As for seasons, many of the dreams that burrowed into my heart during my early twenties are still hidden and dormant. Not dead, just awaiting the proper time to emerge. Coming up too soon, like an eager daffodil, could result in frost-bitten failure. The beautiful blooms in my garden now are the delightful moments of motherhood: singing to my son before nap time, reading to my daughter, wiping tears, bandaging cuts, and cuddling – lots of laughing and cuddling.