It’s been eight years since I’ve gotten a paycheck. Like, a real steady one. Not just a here-and-there check for some written article or published piece. Though I would like more of those, they are fleeting and rare, like the money I used to get as a kid for sweeping the porch of an elderly aunt.
When I say this out loud, that I haven’t been paid in years, I wonder if it makes me sound bad. But I already know the answer. The real truth. Outwardly, the world likes to tell me to be proud of my station in life. As a stay-at-home mom, the platitudes say, I am doing the most important job that a person could ever do. But, the thing is, I do it every day without pay. So, to a large portion of the populous, it makes what I do seem less real than the sorts of jobs that my working friends hold.
This leads me to a sort of existential meltdown sometimes and the questions come pouring out of my brain like a leaky faucet. In these terrible moments, I wonder, should I be ashamed of what I’m doing with my life? Should I feel bad about my useless degree? Is there a purpose to this seemingly pointless routine? Are my passions wasted on tiny people who may never appreciate my efforts? These are all my angry ponderings as I clean up Lego blocks from under the couch or sweep sandbox grit off of my newly mopped floor.
Yes, I lead a life of minutia. Truly. All full-time moms do. We don’t debug computers or build amphitheaters. Our days will never be thought of with the same level of respect as a Supreme Court Justice. And the problems we solve will rarely amount to life or death in the same way that it will to a neurosurgeon. But the struggles we face, as women who have chosen parenthood as our career, is very real. And, for that matter, so is our job.
In the beginning, when my daughter was a newborn, she had a battery of issues which made her a challenge – colic and reflux and a cry so loud even her screams could be heard from space! As a result, I was a mess. And so was my house. I didn’t get more than a fifteen minute interval of sleep for the first six months after her birth. And, though the washing machine was always on, it seemed like we never had any clean clothes. Everything was a disorienting blur. Without any help or time away from my home, I waded through the trenches of her early life like a beaten down doughboy in the Great War.
I had contemplated going back to work, especially in my weakest moments when I ached for adult conversation. However, financially and logistically, the idea of putting her in daycare, just so I could make a few extra dimes, didn’t make any sense. And, since my daughter was breastfeeding almost constantly, it seemed like the best path for me was to stay home. So I did. From that time forward.
During those early years, the struggles of my job as full-time mom weren’t evident to the world. All they saw was a young family, now complete, with a sweet baby in arms. Because I was cloistered away in the convent of motherhood, and no one saw my pains, they weren’t deemed real. Nor was my new vocation. People who visited us would always remark on how lucky I was to be home with the baby. How wonderful it was that I got to relax and luxuriate at home. How amazing it must be to live in pajamas and be able to dash off to the park or store whenever I got the urge. But really, this was simply never the case.
I remember thinking how lucky, indeed, I was to be able to hear the day-long cries of my wailing child whom I was thoroughly unable to console. How luxurious, in fact, it was to get the opportunity to milk scream feed repeat. All. Day. Long. And how amazing it was to wear pajamas – never mind the caked on spit-up of a rancid milk burp that even lingered after washing. Yes. Good times!
Now, flashing forward to our current life, with my daughter close to the double digits and my son somewhere in the quagmire of yucky boy youth, my days are equally busy. And my job is just as real. My fatigue level is about the same. The children’s screams aren’t as constant, though the fighting can sometimes make it seem otherwise. Relaxation amounts to being able to finish scrubbing all two bathtubs in the house before someone needs my help – with homework or missing action figures. And I still live in pajamas that, thankfully, smell better than their predecessors, though they do manage to get stained just as often.
I could go through the trite scenario of charting out my duties, with the intent to form a resume, so I can say to the world “Hey, look what I can do!” But I won’t. I may never change the minds of those who think my life has amounted to nothing more than diapering babies and baking cookies. Lord knows I certainly won’t impress many would-be employers with my “wearing many hats” routine. To my knowledge, melting crayons for art projects and getting silly putty out of bed sheets has never ranked highly as a skill set for those who are hiring.
But, to those who know me, or any other stay-at-home mom, I urge you to understand one very important thing: Motherhood IS a full-time job. A very REAL one, in fact. Just as real as the next fireman or accountant or plumber or attorney. It’s an occupation to be respected along with the rest! Sure, our paychecks aren’t traditional – they often come in the form of stick figure drawings or freshly plucked wildflowers. And, after years of service, there won’t be a large 401K fund for one’s efforts – but, with any luck, there will be some well-adjusted human beings who were actually grateful for their mom’s time and troubles.
So, to everyone at a party who has asked me when I’m going to “go back to work” (like I don’t already have a job at hand) or to every working friend who has mentioned their “real” job in passing (as though mine is any less trying or laborious), I want to shout it loud and proud: Motherhood IS my job! My day job. My night job. My full-time job. My real job. And if anyone thinks differently, I would love to hire them for a day and see how well they fare.