MILFing isn’t for everyone

I have been a stay at home mom for eight years.

When I stopped to calculate that number, I surprised even myself.

Nearly a decade of childrearing.  Holy milf, indeed.

When I made the decision to stay at home, I was not in love with my job, but was in love with my babies.  Simple, right?

Add a third baby, physical trauma, and postpartum depression into the mix and ‘stay at home’ was not as blissful as Leave It to Beaver would have you believe.

The other day I watched Mindy Kaling’s take on ‘Stay at Home Milf’dom in her sitcom episode of the same name.  Facing the end of maternity leave with her newborn and the start of a work relationship with an obnoxious new colleague, Mindy quits her job, telling Danny she’ll be the best MILF there ever was.  As always in the show, the irony is rich as Mindy follows the directives of a website called ‘Modern Mominista’, cooking and cleaning while looking perfectly fashionable.  Not completely sold on her decision in the first place and enduring a rough week at home, Mindy trades places with Danny for a day.  She feels alive with triumph after successfully completing a surgery.  Her victory is short lived, however, when she arrives home to Danny’s gourmet meal.  It looks as if he’s excelled at stay-at-home daddydom.  As she confesses her true feelings to the baby – how she loves him so much, but feels as if practicing as a doctor is the only thing she’s really good at – she discovers the secret to Danny’s success: his mom’s help.  Mom and Dad come to an understanding of how hard staying at home all day with baby really is.

from The Mindy Project, Season 4, Episode 5

from The Mindy Project, Season 4, Episode 5

The idea of this episode was not to vilify fathers as clueless with unreasonable expectations – though I was upset when it looked as if Danny was going to show her up (The plot redeemed itself with equal frustration 😉 ).  It was an honest – if humorous – look at all facets to the decisions of parenthood and childcare.  Mindy’s reticence at telling Danny how she really feels gets to the heart of all dilemmas surrounding motherhood – where the circles of self and mother intersect.

I didn’t want anyone else caring for my children as infants.  While that decision was fueled by love – it was followed with the close seconds of my need for control and my ambivalence toward my career.  Do women who view their careers as vocation love their children any less?  And what of women, like me, who stand by their decision to stay home, but struggle with the day-to-day carrying out of it?  Who are driven to anxiety and depression by the stimuli and stressful responsibility of it?

There is no clear-cut answer – as evidenced by Mindy’s confession to an empty room that she’s actually happy to go back to work.

First Day of School

These last few weeks of summer, my own personal atmosphere is experiencing an unsettled weather pattern.

I still don’t feel like I’ve reclaimed my house after my dear friend’s family vacated it. The hole they left is yet unplugged. As are some of the items misplaced by little hands (from both families) and those shoved into disused corners by my and my husband’s as we prepped for their arrival.

The grains of beach sand are quickly slipping through my fingers as time marches on toward the first day of school.

Anxious as a student, who then stupidly served as a teacher for several years, this time of year always winds me up. There are the residual effects of that: feeling as if I need to fit.every.last.experience.in. before the all-consuming task of education took over. (I used to punish myself on one-week school vacations as well; attacking a back-log of to-do lists from the previous semester/s/years) This year, however, there is the added ennui of two big first days of school in the life of my children and in mine as a parent.

My youngest starts kindergarten; my oldest starts middle school.

In perhaps my subconscious’ grandest scheme of self-preservation (um, denial), I hadn’t thought it was a big deal until my mother pointed out that my babies are growing up. Seriously, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I should be freaked out until she mentioned that. Now, as I think about the combination lock I haven’t bought my oldest, the seemingly huge backpack on the little frame of my youngest, my insides are positively vibrating. When I think of the two new student orientations I need to attend next week, I want to vomit.

If I was anxious as a student, now I’ll be hit three-fold. Three little pieces of my heart will be tromping onto the school bus this time two weeks from now.

And what was once met with jubilation – the thought of a six-hour unencumbered stretch – now is also part of this quivering mass of anxiety.

What now?

There will be no one on whom to blame countless hours of Caillou-watching. There will be no warm body that needs snuggling on the couch. There will no one keeping me from doing the things I’ve always dreamed of doing.

Into this void, will rush all my hopes and dreams. All the plans paused in various states of being. Mixed with the lonely ache of missing my now three school-aged children, will be the uncomfortable mania of not knowing where to start, what to do, how to function.

I told my husband I wanted to take some time when they started school to get back to center; that it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the land of the living. He said, you never really left, Jen.

It feels like it’s been a long, twisted, disconnected dream – that I can’t even say started with my first days of motherhood. The more I traverse what seem to be ‘normal’ days, the more I realize that the upside down, inside out period I keep waiting to come out of – is actually life.

So the fact that I’ll now be the boss of six unassigned, unencumbered hours of each of my days is a little frightening. Overwhelming, at least.

It’s time to choose what really matters; accountable to no one and for every one of my actions; to work for what I want even when it scares the hell out of me.

It’s an auspicious day for momma, too.

from An Overdue Adventure

from An Overdue Adventure

Introverted Enlightenment

I never should have read this article.

Surviving-as-an-Introverted-Mother_SOURCE_stocksy

Surviving as an Introverted Mother by Kristen Howerton

Sure, it convinced me that I wasn’t a terrible mother.  That it was okay not to desire constant physical contact.  To crave down-time, alone time.  To require it.  For my mental and emotional well-being.

Wow.

What a refreshing and liberating concept.  And validating.

It told me what my soul already knew.  But that my conscience(?) told me was a fault, a failing.  A roadblock to caring for my children in the best way possible or giving them full affection.

All bull$h!t – except that the needs of modern motherhood don’t care about the stirrings of the soul.

Shortly after reading that resonant article, my children started summer vacation.

It’s all-kid, all-the-time.  My three little darlings with me and each other 24/7.

It’s an adjustment for all of us.  A change in schedule, company, routine. And no opportunity for down-time.

Ironically, the article that liberated me only a few weeks ago has imprisoned me in a summer cell now.

Maybe I wouldn’t be feeling such ennui at the equinox if I hadn’t received that introverted enlightenment.

If I thought that running roughshod with constant company, arts and crafts extravaganzas, beach days and late nights was status quo, maybe I wouldn’t be feeling so full – and not in a fulfilled way, but in an I-ate-a-little-of-everything-on-the-buffet-table-at-the-cookout-and-then-went-back-for-seconds sort of way.

But that enlightened author, in touch with her inner introvert, showed me a glimpse of eternal bliss and I can’t unsee it.  If only I could see some quiet time in the future.

Epiphany

In high school, somewhere around the time I began to expand my vocabulary, realize the power of words – and prep for the SATs? – I came to love the word epiphany.

This phenomenon also coincided with my own spiritual awakening, but ironically, it had little or nothing to do with the three wise men heralding Jesus’ birth.

I would excitedly proclaim I’d had an epiphany when some amazing truth would whack me between the eyes. An amazing idea or affirmation. When the whoosh of a flock of shorebirds made my heart swell with the certainty of who I was as I stood sentinel on a sandbar.

As life rushed in to fill the free spaces, however, the epiphanies got fewer and fewer – until at some low point, they stopped. A noisy, dissonant place where even the chorus of bird calls could not be heard.

And yet, I still maintain our Christmas tree until January 6th. I still display Jesus and His cast of adorers in the creche. I try, I try to push back the doing, the speaking, the thinking – to open space for His coming.

And in short bursts, He has. I’ve opened windows just small enough for a spark to shoot through. A movement in a certain direction. A push toward a way of being.

I want the lightning bolt, but it can’t strike as readily under all this stuff. The circuit is closed. A spark will have to do. But great flames can burst forth from a tiny spark. And purify everything in their path.

from tcc-online.org

from tcc-online.org

One Big Blob

The past few weeks have been a little trying. Our family seems to be on the cusp of something big. I can only say that now after these last few weeks. In the midst of running, running, running, it was all I could do to put one foot in the front of the other – or shuffle them along. I knew things were crazy, and was reacting accordingly, but I didn’t know why.

Now I wonder if my elevated stress levels and difficulty in calming them were not a direct result: my subconscious reaction to what my conscious self wasn’t ready to admit was a huge deal.

My five year-old, in her last year of preschool, more and more frequently laments the fact that she cannot ride the bus to big-kid school like the others. She wants to stay at preschool and eat lunch with her friends. She’s ‘reading’ books to me and asking how to spell different words.

My seven year-old is coming into her own, blossoming with independent applications of math reasoning she’s learned at school. She reads books aloud with an expression well beyond her years and worthy of an audio recording. She’s requesting and engaging in social interactions and activities – on her own.

My nine year-old has joined two after school activities, doubling her previous involvement. She is in her last year of elementary school; her last year of recess; her last year of riding the bus with her sisters. She is looking longer and leaner every day.

And me? I am nearing the destination of days full of adult time. All three of them will be in school full-day next year. I will be free to . . . earn the money we’ve sorely been missing since I’ve been at home? Write my way into posterity? Query until they can no longer say no?

I haven’t been gazing longingly at this point in time as the end all and be all. But it hovered like some kind of talisman – a time when, my life would go back to normal? When adult life (ie working, I guess) would resume? When I’d be able to exhale that breath I’ve been holding since the first labor pain of the first child?

And though my mind has set up the first day of the next academic year as the first day of this new life, I’ve finally realized that we’re all in the transition to it now. My five year-old is prepping to be the big girl – already a little too cool for preschool. My seven year-old is branching out in social groups – excited and a little less apprehensive to do so on her own. My nine year-old is claiming activities and beliefs as her own – independent from her parents and sisters.

Friends, acquaintances, and other parents always asked what activities my kids were in. I always thought I saw some semblance of shock when I answered, “None.” We didn’t do adorable dance classes at three years-old. We didn’t do t-ball, and soccer, and gymnastics, oh my. They never expressed an dire interest in any of these things and my husband and I never pushed it. There was plenty of time for that – and they would determine the time.

The time is now.

We may have avoided the cost and inconvenient schedules of such activities up to this point, but now it’s on. I’ve started the taxi-driver lifestyle I’ve avoided thus far.

It hit me like a ton of bricks last week when I rushed to finish an on-line Girl Scout leader training, compile fund raising monies, feed the kids dinner before we rushed to a Girl Scout meeting, dress them in Halloween costumes for a Girl Scout Halloween party, babysit one of their classmates, see my husband, help (nag) the kids to finish their homework, steal Halloween candy they’d acquired before even Trick-or-Treating, talk to my husband, smear their faces and hair with foul chemicals to turn them into unrecognizable ghouls for Halloween and rush late to another party after peeling countless tangelos to make festive pumpkin snacks – all while suffering from a compound case of sleep deprivation and PMS.

Unbelievably, it took me awhile to realize why last week was so hard for me to handle. Any week has the potential to be miserable. But when the everyday congeals into one big blob of ‘life is about to get a whole lot more complicated’, sometimes the blob is so frickin’ big it takes awhile to digest.

My girls are growing up! As wistful as I was watching them walk away from me for the first time, leaving them in the classroom alone for the first time, hearing ‘Mom’ instead of ‘Mama’ for the first time, those were mere speed bumps compared to this swift elevation. I have entered the ‘Mom, could you drop me off at so-and-so’s’ part of motherhood; the ‘Mom, pick me up after school’ part; the ‘We’ll be done at 4:15, Ma’ part; the ‘But I want to eat lunch with my friends, Mom’ part.

In addition to my ambivalent mom underbelly, I also have my own personal fears to fight. I’ve been home exclusively since 2008. The thought of returning to my previous job, even if I could even secure it, makes me want to vomit. Launching the totally exciting, yet daunting new idea I have for employment makes me want to seize. Not only am I being forced out of my old ‘job’ with all these developments, but forced into a totally new one.

All of our times, they are a-changin’. No wonder the woman, mom, worker in me is revolting.

from Blue-Cat00

from Blue-Cat00

Quirking

Marking the distance yet to cover when your arrival time has elapsed. How close can I get?
Noting how many more steps yet to complete a recipe before your spouse returns. How far can I get?
Washing clothes and putting them back in drawers before it’s been a week since you first took them out. How anal retentive can I get?

Perhaps we all have such markers, paces we put ourselves through – though we might never know because not many would admit them. For fear of – sounding crazy? Mental? OCD?

I actually asked my therapist once if I was OCD. She said there are such things as OCD tendencies or even an OCD personality without an actual OCD diagnosis. One way to tell, she said, if whether such routines disrupt our way of life. If they stop us from all the other bits of living we could be getting to because they take up too much time – or if we cannot even begin living if we don’t first complete them.

So I may not have full blown OCD, but I have my quirks.

Not being fully free of a dinner party until the platters, teacups, tablecloths are all clean and back in their original homes.
Reading library books in the order they were taken out of the library.
Impelled to leave pieces of projects out, where they will taunt me, until I’ve completed them.

My mind works in weird ways. Segmented. Compartmentalized. Whatever part of it that is responsible for my control freak tendencies has trained me to believe that physical limits lead to overarching control. What a quirky rule of thumb. And I fall for it mind, heart, and fingers.

Good Imagination for a Mother

Dinner at our house can be a little trying.  That is, if you’d like to eat without acquiring indigestion, without running to the kitchen after two bites to refill the glasses of milk the wee ones finished in 2.5 seconds, leaving no room in their tender bellies for the food they wouldn’t eat anyway because it has green stuff on it – but I digress.  (See Dinner with Kids for further clarification)

In an attempt to keep them at the table for longer than the 0.5 seconds they usually last after finishing their milk, I bought packs of cocktail napkins (at the discount store) with conversation starters on them.  We started with the jokes and riddles.  Even funnier than the corny jokes was my middle daughter’s uncanny knack at figuring out the punch lines.  Hmmm . . . perhaps that’s why she wanted to pass out the napkins.  After a few nights of that, we graduated to life’s important questions.  If you could invite any one – living or dead – to dinner, who would it be?  Again, the middle stole the show – and my heart – when she replied, without missing a beat, Grandma Julie, my beloved grandmother and her namesake whom she never met.

from seasonedkitchen.com

from seasonedkitchen.com

Another night, we had to reveal which superpower we would want as a superhero.  I piped up with my response first.  “That’s easy, definitely flying.”  Like with a cape?  Flapping your wings like a bird?  “No, just with my arms out as I floated above the trees.”  My answer came easily because I automatically remembered my most favorite dreams – those where I soar above the tops of the trees and roofs of neighbor’s houses behind my childhood home.  The psychological conclusions one can glean from this dream are fodder for perhaps a whole series of posts, but the upshot today is what my oldest daughter said with a look of impressed surprise on her face.

“You have a good imagination for a mother.”

I think that says perhaps more about my existence right now than my thwarted desires of dreams.  All sorts of high-falutin’, politically feminist, empowering responses came to mind, but I simply said thank you and took it as the compliment I’m sure she meant it as.

What a strange psychological experiment parenting is – for all parties involved.  I suppose mind-expanding conversation – even if they need be started with paper squares we smear across our faces – is one way to navigate the maze and see the different paths available.  If not, there are always our dreams and unbridled imagination – even for moms.

City Bird, Country Bird

 

I flit above the treetops

you hear me chirp as I await the rise of the moon

The hush of evening falls over me

I revel in it before nestling my head under my wing

 

Yet another part of me

thrills to see the moon float above the streetlamps

another bulb – burning brightest

The cool of dark causing their glow to vibrate all the more

The energy of a people awaking to their culture

 

To be in two places at once

To fly from one pole to the other

To appreciate the beauty in each

 

To have a wing in each world

Alone

It took me a moment upon waking to realize I would not be pounced upon by little people; that there was a depth of silence, solitude that would stay; the kind I hadn’t felt in over a decade; the kind that resonates deep within the soul and allows me to remember who I am – or better yet, allows me to just be.

 

 

Would you change a thing?

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Just as I bowed my head today at mass, to honor and reflect upon the bread becoming Jesus’ body, my three year-old, who was gathered up in my arms and perched on my knee, looked up and kissed me.  My first reaction was that she was distracted at a solemn time.  Then I realized, remembered that she’s all about love.  Jesus became the bread, a sacrifice, gave His life, out of love for us.  Or at the very least, for His father, God.

Did I receive that kiss upon my nose at that very moment to teach me that I, as a mother, must lose myself to them out of love or in love?  That is my sacrifice since Jesus gave his life for us, I must give mine for them?

But, though I am a stay-at-home mom and mothering is a vocation, is not my husband called to the vocation of fathering?  He is not asked to give up his life.  Or is not having the struggles I am.

Or is the kiss a reminder to surrender myself to a life of love?

To serve others and fulfill God’s will by helping them – and through helping God, receiving all I need through Him?

Happiness?  Fulfillment?  Peace?  Well-being?

Am I being selfish balking at the idea of giving my life over to my children?  Or does God want me to preserve some parts of it for me?  Why would he have made me how I am if not for me to find some pleasure in it?  Parts of me must have been made with successful mothering in mind, but there are other parts I get to develop for me, right?  But then, it’s still for others, right?  Which then, isn’t it all for God?

I do need to stop thinking of my children as burdens, though.  I can be of service to them just as I can to others.  I need to see the needs right under my  nose and not take them for granted.


 

The above reflection is taken from a piece I wrote in February 2013.  Maybe it’s because I was/am an only child that I find it hard to relinquish my individual needs for the collective.  For me, the jury is still out as to whether self-care is a right or a privilege.  Where does self-care end and selfishness begin?  Are modern societal mores at odds with Christian teachings?  And I was worried about breastfeeding!  I always feel a certain sense of guilt when I see memes like the one at the top of this post.  But should mothering negate personal desire?

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