Motherhood: A Real Job


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.

 

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Wilson


wilsonWhen I was a kid, I used to talk to myself. As an only child with few playmates and friends, this act grew as much out of necessity as it did out of imagination. And when I relate this detail, that I talked to myself, I don’t just mean here and there, bits and pieces, occasionally and only during certain types of play. I mean I would carry on long, full-blown conversations with myself – or, creatures I would call my “imaginary friends” – all day, every day. In truth, I knew there was nothing there. I didn’t even pretend to myself that there was anyone fictitious on the other side of my words. I just kept up the pretense so that it wouldn’t seem *as* crazy to others that I simply liked the sound of my own voice. The bonus was that some family members even thought it was cute. For a while, anyway.

Ultimately, as I grew older, it became less amusing to have a fictitious world of imaginary souls floating around me. This was a truth I knew quite clearly. So, despite the fact that this talking to myself continued, I kept it very much hidden from the world. And on some days, it was a mighty task indeed keeping my running dialogue silent and hidden in the gray matter of my mind.

Flashing forward several decades, I feel as though nothing much has changed in my persona. I still talk to myself. I still hold true to my more formative ways of being. Only now, instead of thin air, the exchange of words resonates and booms within the earshot of my infant son. Of course I include him in the discussion. He is, in fact, my imaginary friend come to life. Only capable of crying or smiling, his responses are nil and remain, therefore, akin to my childhood “friends” – in other words, malleable and open to the interpretation of my thoughts.

I often am asked by my contemporaries, other stay-at-home moms, if I feel what they feel – a deep loneliness that can come from being in the company of a baby all day. Since babies don’t speak, their houses often remain quiet – barring, of course, the random speckles of shrieks and screams that splotch the day. They confide that they are bored to tears, utterly anxious for naptimes to end so that they can pack up the kid and stroll around the mall just to feel like they are part of humanity. I, on the other hand, never feel this way. I just don’t. Don’t get me wrong – I do need people. I need them to fix my transmission, unclog my drains, ring up my groceries and mass-produce my jeans; but, I have never, ever needed them to fulfill that one human necessity – conversation.

Since dialogues and discussions can be reproduced to simulate the real things, I have never felt deprived of this sort of interaction. Call my crazy, but I guess you could say I’ve lived by the mantra “fake it until you make it.” The only thing is, I’ve never tried very hard to “make it.” One-sided conversations have become my new norm. So much so that I almost feel like I’m having an awkward out-of-body experience when I am forced to chat with a real person.

Having thought a lot about this way of being, I decided that it has become a survival technique of sorts. It got me through grade school when tormentors called me names and classmates excluded my very presence. It got me through long summer days that would have otherwise been spent watching a barrage of overblown soap operas with my mom. It even got me through a trying time in adolescence when I couldn’t quite cope with my changing body, the loss of a loved one and a horrific car accident. In essence, talking to myself got me through times when I felt displacement and detachment from the rest of the world.

If this were a deserted island situation, you could chalk it up to the fact that there are two kinds of people: those who would hurl themselves off of a cliff because they were driven insane by the desolation and the ones like me. My kind are the ones who live, regardless, even if they do so differently. To call it the same as being a survivor sounds like a pride-laden word that doesn’t quite describe it fully. No. People like me are merely vessels reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Castaway.  He got through tough times because he spent half of the movie gabbing away at Wilson. Wilson was, for all practical purposes, his saving grace; but, to the rest of the world he was just an anthropomorphic volleyball. A prop turned human. Because of this, his lack of flesh and blood, there were a lot of people who didn’t shed a tear when he was carried away by the waves. But, I did. I cried a lot. In fact, it was one of the most poignant moments in a movie. Ever. It really evoked great emotion in me – and, now I think it’s obvious why. My baby is my Wilson!

In my current state as a stay-at-home mother of a baby, I can draw more parallels between my life and Castaway than ever before. There are many times when I do feel as though I am on a distant island, far removed from my fellow humans. And most days I do feel as though my baby and Wilson are one in the same. He goes with me wherever I go. Of course, I have to carry him in order to get him to those places. I talk to him all day long. Occasionally I even wish that he would talk back to me. But, unlike Wilson, someday he will. My only fear is that, after years of breaking the silence only for survival’s sake, when I reenter the “real” world of conversations, when I am rescued from my metaphoric island of mothering an infant, that I will still remember how to converse with my child instead of just talking at the air around him.

In a way, I am glad that my childhood was so fraught with social awkwardness otherwise I may not have been so prepared to be alone with my baby each day. It’s kind of nice to hold “adult” conversations and use regular words with my infant son. I feel that it will allow his brain to develop and his words to build nicely in the running dialogue of his brain. Perhaps he will be an orator. Perhaps a lawyer. Perhaps just another of the countless souls in the world who love to hear themselves speak. But, whatever the case will be, I just hope he will know that he was my saving grace on days when I otherwise would have sunk into a pit of loneliness. That he was my salvation. That he was my smiling ball of hope, dangling gently from the raft of my life. And when he someday slips into far and fleeting waters away from my grasp, that I will cry, I will miss his constant presence, but I will be ever grateful that I had such a wonderful package along for the ride during this amazing voyage.

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Seriously, folks, if someone…anyone…is reading this, please leave me a comment. No matter how small. No matter how meaningless…it would just be nice to know if my words are finally being heard (or read) by an outsider. After all of these years of being in my own head, it would be nice to hear the words of others…

Thanks!
-Maya