This time two years ago, heavily pregnant with our last child, I felt a silent pull. I didn’t want to return to work soon after baby was born. Or any time in the foreseeable future. With a two year-old and soon-to-be newborn, I knew the upcoming time would be precious, hard, and above all fleeting. And I didn’t want to miss it. I knew, having been there, that most working parents don’t “miss” time with their small children in the sense that oftentimes the time spent together is more high quality than time spent when a shower is the only break you get from your children. As much as some working parents might not care to admit this – particularly if they’ve never been on the other side of things – work actually is a break. At least from the stresses of your kids. And I say that as a teacher who works with other people’s kids. Going to work refocuses me on other things, makes it feel like a long absence has occurred, and refreshes me to all my children’s charms. Having a job with long summer and holiday breaks offers an interesting taste of both the experiences of a working and stay at home parent, at least as I perceived them. While the charms of my children are less likely to stay quite so charming when I have to take them alongside incessant doses of the not-so-charming stuff (tantrums, whining, poo explosions), we do find a really solid footing with each other. With the luxury of time, we really jell. I better understand my 2 year-old’s strange words. I can better predict outcomes or troubleshoot big emotions. We get a better flow with each other. With a second one coming, I wanted to be together in that groove all the time. The problem was we weren’t sure we could swing it financially.
Side rant: this is why I can’t stand judgment about parent’s choices about whether to or who should stay home with children or work, and for how long. Personally I’ve found overt judgment almost always comes from the older generation, and in fairness maybe comes from a sense of nostalgia of the time when their own children were young. I look forward to the days I’ve forgotten all about the tantrums and the bills and all the other hard stuff too. Point is, the decision about how to support a family is personal and each family is unique, and the only opinions that matter are those who are affected by the decision.
In our case, two incomes does not afford a lifestyle of abundance, but a simple life that we love in the place where our friends, family, and community live, and that also happens to have the highest cost of living in the country. Deciding to stay home to care for my children is just not that simple. But, like I said, there was a silent pull and the more I thought about it, the more the silent pull got less silent. Crunching the numbers, with one income down, we’d need to live like monks PLUS figure out a few side hustles. But my husband said he had my back if it was important to me. So I took a deep breath, trusted the universe and myself and my husband, (the silent pull never leads you astray!), shut my eyes, gulped, and quit my job. A job that I really loved, by the way.
Long story short, the universe provided. I was offered a teach-from-home-online position from my employer, and after one rewarding school year juggling online students and enjoying the time with a baby and toddler, it was renewed for another year.
The past two years have been truly incredible. Much of it has surpassed my expectations:
1. The love and bond between the boys has been nothing short of extraordinary. I credit Micah’s nature to how great a big brother he has been from Day One. But it certainly helps to be a regular 24/7 team of three. Nico is his little sidekick in all things. Micah proudly introduces him at the playground, and reaches for his hand when he’s feeling shy. Nico follows Micah and copies everything he does. They are rarely apart and their closeness is clear.
2. I’ve been able to juggle the job from home better than I feared. A big part of that is my low standards in childcare in terms of screen time, not hovering, etc. In order to keep my head above water at work, I gotta do what I gotta do, and that doesn’t include being Mary Poppins when work needs to get done. This is another reason I’m thankful for my boy’s strong bond, because for the most part, they keep themselves entertained when I’m working.
3. Making time for workouts. Feeling sluggish and gross, I decided to get real about fitness. In the back of my mind, like most other habits I adopt, I assumed it would be short-lived. One year and eight months later, I’m still working out daily. Having a flexible schedule has been the key to this success.
4. New friendships. I figured that switching to the life of a SAHM would bring new friends, but I didn’t expect to feel such an abundance of community. I made new friendships, and preserved and strengthened the important friendships that have been so core to me. I joined a book club, finally started the film club David and I have been talking about for years, and made some new rad mama friends through Nico.
There have also been things that did not live up to my expectations.
1. Myself as a SAHM. At least not on a daily basis. So…. I’m proud of the fact that nearly every day I got my kids out exploring the island, meeting new and old friends, reading books, and getting dirt under their fingernails. But I’m not proud of the fact that after awhile it felt really old. I had good intentions, especially as Micah got older, of doing a lot of arts and crafts and learn-y type things. But I just don’t have it in me to be a preschool teacher. I love it in small doses (like when we have our concentrated times together during our seasonal breaks). But I just don’t have it in me to sustain it daily. Now, two years in, much of that innocent, wondrous joy has worn off. I want someone else to teach my kids how to hold a pencil. I want someone else to help them glue coffee grounds onto construction paper. It’s not fun anymore, not every day. And it’s my own children! How amazing are preschool teachers who nurture the wonder and joy of childhood with other people’s children! I’m just not cut out for it. The inescapable whining of a three year-old really took its toll. I got snappy and shouty. And when he messed with me (or a sleeping baby) during the sacred nap time? Oh man.
2. Myself as a SAHWife. The evening shitshow doesn’t look much different whether I’m a working mom or a SAHM. I’m definitely not wearing aprons and making meatloaf, that’s for sure. Whether working or not, I’m sipping wine and counting the minutes until bed time.
A few months ago Micah turned four. A year and a half away from kindergarten. These past two years have seen him make great strides, especially verbally. But I definitely feel like it’s time he had more than me. Since leaving daycare, he’s gotten clingier to me, and more demanding. He sometimes gets worked up if I just make a quick trip to the store, that’s how used to always having me he is. Nico’s a month away from two and hasn’t known any other reality than having me around nearly always. In my heart, I know I’m not best serving them on my own anymore. We need a bigger village. Micah needs friends he’ll see in elementary school. (He has a healthy gaggle of friends, but few acquaintances that do or will attend his elementary school.) He needs instruction from someone else and most importantly, sustained time away from me. It wouldn’t hurt Nico at this point either.
So once again, a few months ago, I started to feel the pull. This chapter has run its natural course.
I am sad to see it come to a close. What a wonderful time I’ve had with my babies. How fortunate I was to have had it. How supported, loved, and trusted to make the scary (and potentially reckless) decision. How amazing to watch them play and learn. To guide them through the days. Beach trips, nature walks, spotting lizards and sea turtles, gathering flowers, library story time, feeding ducks, playgroups (mimosas on good days!), every day a new adventure. I know I will forever look back on this era with wistfulness. The months are whittled down and preserved in five-minute videos that will just DESTROY me when I’m old.
In August I’m returning to the classroom. 11th and 12th graders which will be a fun and rewarding change. Solitary commutes listening to NPR sound sublime. I think I can squeeze my workouts in before preschool pick-up. And helping young adults chart their courses is more my bag than finger painting – so many times these past years I wished it weren’t so.
I know I wasn’t always my best these past two years. But, man, is my heart bursting just thinking about how fortunate I was to have been able to try. It truly was a precious, hard, and above all fleeting time. I am glad I trusted the silent pull. I have not a single regret.