The myth of the stay-at-home mom

Mothers in the 21st century are incredibly resourceful and inventive people. They also engage in the most endearing wishful thinking.

Mothers in 2011: We can do it!

Mothers in 2011: We can do it!

About half of my friends are stay-at-home moms, the other half, working moms. At least I think so. To be honest, never a fan of labels, I am a little confused on how that “stay-at-home” sticker really works anymore.

In casual conversation with a mom acquaintance the other day, she mentioned she had been staying up late at night to work. We were at Secondo’s preschool class volunteering at 9 a.m. She was groggy but cheerful. I asked her what she did. She said she was a dj for weddings and events. She went on to describe how she met with couples in the evening, prepped playlists and materials after her two children had gone to bed and then did gigs on weekends and evenings.

“But it’s nice,” she said, yawning as she took a sip of her coffee, “because I get to be a stay-at-home mom.”

Hmmmm….

Another friend of mine who was laid off during the worst of the recession considers herself a stay-at-home mom. She also runs her own artisan business, working until all hours of the night hand-making goods she then goes out in the wee hours to deliver to clients throughout the greater Bedford Falls area. A day or two a week, she works at a couple of local boutiques for several hours at a time.

Another is a “full-time mom,” who teaches yoga, Pilates and spin at two different gyms, has written a book she is now promoting and markets herself in the local press as much as possible.

Yet another is a broker of sorts, working with kids at home two days a week, three others she is out in the field, stopping back at home for lunch, dinner prep, homework time and more. On the weekends and in the evenings, she runs her own specialty school for kids. And she feels incredibly lucky she’s available for her two kids.

Then there are the moms who are teachers, educating and nurturing other children in gorgeously decorated classrooms nine and a half months out of the year and then on-top-of-it, outing-planning, swimming lesson scheduling stay-at-home moms two and a half months of the year.

“I love my job because it matches my kids’ schedule so I can be at home with them,” I have heard more than one gratefully muse.

I admire all of these women. I relate to them. Now that I am a stay-at-home mom, I am scrambling for freelance work, helping Mr. Bailey coordinate publicity, social media and events for the Bailey Building & Loan; I am finishing my master’s degree, shuttling Prima to school, lessons, tutoring, sports, play rehearsal and art classes and volunteering at least twice a month in Secondo’s preschool classroom. I am helping with costume make-up for the school musical, providing marketing advice to friends with businesses and desperately fighting the war of dog hair, unmade beds and rapidly breeding laundry piles.

We are definitely moms, so that label works, but we rarely stay at home. In fact, we rarely “stay” anywhere.

So here’s to finding a more accurate moniker for us all – how about home-based working moms? Unconventional income earners and children managers? Sporadically paid, usually working and constantly mothering? Hmm…that’s a mouthful.

I’ll think about it more today while I stay at home.

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My long, hot + cold affair with Signore Salario

The following routines have changed around the Bailey house since I left my 9 to 5 job.

1. Our bed is made (neatly!) every day.
2. Prima + Secondo have cleaner rooms.
3. The house is generally more in order.
4. I don’t get a regular paycheck.

It’s a strange feeling. The last item, I mean. [Truth be told, they all evoke new feelings, but No. 4 is the most foreign.]

Signore Salario

What we had was beautiful, but its over...for now

For over a decade, I received a paycheck every two to three weeks. In that time, it was often a pleasure, a disappointment (when I thought I deserved more than I had earned), a point of pride, and a frustration. But I was always, always grateful to have a job and to earn for myself and my family.

Truth be told, not getting a paycheck has created a sort of void. It’s not been a particularly negative nor positive void, it’s just been an absence. I haven’t lost my sense of pride – because every time I see my daughters behaving politely or taking care of a friend or grabbing my waist and squeezing as hard as they can, I feel proud.

The pleasure of a paycheck still comes – albeit more sporadically – but inspires me and makes me feel proud of the project work I’ve done. The negative feelings I felt with paychecks of days gone by are mostly gone. For the time being, I’m taking some time away from experiencing first-hand the wage gap between men and women. I’m not going to have to ask anyone for a raise anytime soon, which is nice. And I’m not going to have to look at the Uncle Sam portion of the check and sigh just a little bit.

Sometimes I worry about the future, with fret akin to a long-lost love. Will Paycheck and I reunite? Will Paycheck be all that I remember it being? Will we live happily ever after, enjoying eternal, childlike wonder at one another?

Who knows.

For the time being I get paid differently.

I get paid in:
1. Secondo laughing hysterically at 12:45 p.m. on a Tuesday when I grab her legs on the swing and tickle her toes; then later telling me as I get her tube-like body dressed for bed, “Mommy, I love you. That’s for sure.”
2. Being there to pick-up Prima from school each day and help her finish her homework before the clock hits 4; then taking the kids to a friend’s basketball game and pizza afterwards. (When Prima complains, “Ooooh, we’re always the first to leave,” when it is time to go home, I am oh-so-clever-and-instructive-mother and say to her, “Prima, who is keeping track?” And with total seriousness and subtle resignation for her lot in life she sighs, “I am,” and gets in the car. Of course she is!)
3. The opportunity to arrive in a moment’s notice after a panicked call from a parent, a dear friend or a school nurse. And be there for as long as it takes.
4. Mr. Bailey complimenting me on a delicious meal, served just after we’ve had a glass of wine while the kids play in the backyard under an awesome Arizona sunset.

Those four things, as examples, are supremely satisfying at this point in my life. And you can’t recreate them (like a paycheck). And you can’t pick them up again sometime in the future (like a paycheck.)

So, arrivederci, Signore Paycheck.

Prima: Chief Family Administrator

Prima is a total first child, guardian of her family, administrator of family events and ambassador of all family celebrations.

I should have remembered this when a spur-of-the-moment lunch to celebrate Nonna’s birthday came up the other day. The only missing local immediate family member? Prima, who was at school.

Of course as soon as she got into the car later, Secondo blabbed all about it. Tears immediately ensued, after some incredulous questioning by Prima, aimed at me, to confirm Secondo’s account. (The account went something like, “Prima, it’s Nonna’s birthday and we went brought her a card and went to lunch and I had grilled cheese and Daddy was there, etc., etc.…”)

“You should have gotten me out of school! You were all there, except for me! I wanted to celebrate Nonna’s birthday!”

After making a firm case that school was the most important thing on her “to do” list today, and failing to get much buy-in, I apologized profusely. I told her she had every right to be mad. What followed was a cute attempt by Blabbermouth McGee to console her upset sister.

Prima: Well, I am mad. [Pause] And I’m going to keep being mad for a long time. [Sob.]

Me: OK, I understand.

Secondo: Prima, sometimes when I am mad, do you know what I do, Prima? I just…I just…stop crying. Would that work, Prima?

Prima: No.

About five minutes later, all seemed to be somewhat better. I can’t say it was Secondo’s sage advice that did the trick, but rather Prima’s complete lack of ability (at the moment) to stay mad at me. As she sniffled and got out of the car, she threw her arms around me. “Mommy, don’t do that again!” she said as she squeezed me tight. I smiled and promised.

I am consistently so grateful for the forgiveness of children. I am so imperfect, but their love and forgiveness seems to be quite without fail.

PS Tinkerbell now resides on Secondo’s bed, but Secondo, while delighted by seeing Tinkerbell on her bed, is still sleeping in Prima’s bottom bunk. And Prima likes it that way.

The Battle of Tinkerbell sheets & other adventures

Almost two months ago, I came to the end of a journey that spanned over a decade. For a variety of reasons, I decided it was time to quit my full-time job. I had been building a career in journalism, public relations and marketing during that time, as well as a family of four. Although not particularly competitive with others, I prided myself on steady growth and constant learning along the way. In some ways, I felt on the verge of “making it.” I had worked my way up from entry level to manager to senior exec. I was confident, skilled and good at what I did.

But then one day, I had just had enough.

Prima and Secondo are only going to be young once. And they are getting old — fast. They needed me more and more, and in more ways than I ever knew they could. As it turned out, it was more than the ever-juggling-amazing-mom-and-professional could handle.

It was a good ride, but I decided it was time to get off.

So, now, two months later, I am master of the Battle of Tinkerbell sheets. (As well as fledgling-house-organizer-of-a-home-in-neglected-disarray-for-the-last-ten-years, chief chef + meal planner, chauffeur, patch ironer, laundress, nearly-completed-master’s-candidate and part-time freelancer for all of your social media, marketing and story and copywriting needs.) The Tinkerbell sheets showed up during a leisurely morning stroll through Target with Nonna. Nonna spotted the sheets in a clearance end cap and brandished them in front of a smiling Secondo. They went into the basket.

Then they came home with us as Nonna smiled and waved us away, giggling.

It was time for bed hours later and Secondo wanted the sheets placed on Prima’s bunk bed. Prima was not pleased. (She’s too old for Tinkerbell sheets.) Prima protested. Secondo screamed, Daddy retrieved the sheets helpfully (ahem) from the car where I had purposely left them.

Prima flagged, Secondo rallied and on the sheets went.

But it was the first thing they were arguing about in the darkness of the morning hour. Before coffee. Prima insisted: the Tinkerbell sheets MUST come off the bed. It was her bed and she wouldn’t have Tinkerbell as a guest. It was bad enough she had her sister sleeping in the bottom bunk. (She’s not truly upset about that.) Secondo is not necessarily a morning person, so she just stared. We agreed, Secondo squinted, shrugged and began plotting for this evening’s rally.

We’ll see. But before I went to pick up the bambini from school, I neglected the laundry and various other pending items, and put those stinking Tinkerbell sheets on Secondo’s own bed.

She squealed in delight when she saw them on her own bed later  — was this just fancy maneuvering? I didn’t quite trust her enthusiasm and have braced for bedtime. First question Prima asked as she boarded my bus: Did you move the Tinkerbell sheets?

Affirmative.

To be continued on that saga…

On another note: I will now be updating this blog regularly, as a sort of scribble board, chronicling this new adventure. I’m also busy writing a manuscript for my master’s final project, so you might hear about that, too. I hope it interests you. Oh and mi amore risposte (responses)!