How many blog posts start out with, “I keep sitting down to write this post but…” ?
So, it’s been a month since I’ve written, and back then in the olden days I didn’t have a job and I did have a lot of metaphoric weight perched on my shoulders. I was sick, I was hurting, anxious, not sleeping, not feeling a real connection to myself or anything in my world. Just mostly numb or uncomfortable or, paradoxically, both. And the doctor prescribed Prozac, and after much navel gazing (and a not-small amount of encouragement), I was ready to take the leap. I would do it, I would go on anti-depressants for the first time and resign myself to the idea of having a slightly hapless psyche that needed a little chemical boost, no biggie.
And then. You guys, and then! I got a job, a real job, one at an office that I drive to and that has a printer and a network and other people and pays actual money and oh my stars it has been a revelation. First, I really enjoy it. I love the people, I love our mission and what we do and how hard we do it. I love that finally I am doing something to better the world rather than to sell things and create financial gain (I mean, I still do that with my freelance work, but now I do this other, meeeeeeeaningful thing too). I love that I am stretching my brain in areas where it has lain dormant and unused. I love that I am thinking and problem solving and being smart. Yes I’m ringing my own bell here, but let me tell you how rare it has been in the last several years that I have had any opportunity to do so.
And, like these things always do, it has come at a cost. I don’t see my kids as much. I don’t hobnob with their friends’ parents at school pickup, or watch soccer practices, or help with homework. I feel disconnected from their daily life in a way I never imagined. When I come home in the evenings, whether to a pre-dinner tantrum in progress or happy squeals from the bath, their faces look new to me. Different, even. It kind of catches my breath, this oh! it’s you! feeling.
And don’t get me wrong, having this space has meant I’ve been spared most of the messes, the crying fits, the endless food prep / clean up tedium, the arguments, the icky laundry and potty detail, the sibling rivalry, the lunches to pack and shoes to find, the eternal drudgery of caring for small people. It’s meant that when I am with them I’m (mostly) graced with more patience, more focus, more appreciation for what nutty little wonders they are.
It’s also meant, as you can imagine, that my husband has picked up all the slack, while still trying to find gainful employment. He has been great at it, totally shepharding the kids around and staying on top of their details. He is the one behind this magical thing that is me coming home to a meal I didn’t cook or even think about. And it has taken it’s toll as well. He’s tired, he’s abrupt, he’s sharp-toned with the children a little too often, he feels like there are never enough hours in the day to take care of them and take care of his job search. He’s the me that I was for the last eight years. And that is hard to watch.
It’s a subterranean world, this little enclave of domesticity. It’s a world of tremendous work and energy and output, and yet our culture’s valuation of it is exactly: zero. We don’t get paid for “women’s work” whether we’re a man or a woman. I know there have been studies and even organizations devoted to the idea of paying people actual wages for the actual work of raising children and all the domestic labor associated with it. I’m not going to start clamoring for that here, but I do think it worth noting, and examining, the emotional devaluation that occurs with cultural devaluation.
Why should we need a job outside the home or at least a non-child-related job to feel good about ourselves? Why is “oh, I’m a stay at home mom” the worst answer you could give to the standard “so what do you do?” cocktail party query if you want to actually keep chatting? (And as you know we stay-at-homers have so very many opportunities to attend cocktail parties.) Why do we need our sense of identity to be something more or other than caregiver?*
All questions that have been asked before, for many years, by many people. But it’s just a little jarring to live it. To realize, I don’t need anti-depressants. I just need to feel valued. Valuable. Why wasn’t being a full-time mom fulfilling that need? Why didn’t I feel validated until I re-entered the working world? I am very disturbed by all the implications, yes. But mostly? I’m happy. Insanely, crazy, busily happy. I am feeling valued now. I am happy. Now. And that is pretty much the bizzarrest thing ever..
*This is where I offer my disclaimer that of course many perfectly wonderful people are perfectly content to be stay-at-home parents and some don’t even notice or aren’t bothered by cultural condescension or even believe it exists. Of course being a SAH parent is a totally fine and wonderful thing (I did it myself for eight years!) and I am specifically not being judgy about who does what or why. Enjoy your life, however you’re living it!