Is It Just Me – The Job I Chose

The question is the portent to a series of symptoms. First, my throat constricts as if I’ve tried to swallow a pill without water. Then, my heart belly flops into my stomach, causing acidic waves. Finally, I perspire from sweat glands I didn’t even know existed – the ones under my fingernails and between my eyelashes. I am a physiological disaster all because a stranger at a cocktail party asked me a question: what do you do?

What do I do? I often try to answer that query when my family is sitting around the dinner table and one of them feels inspired to ask me. Usually, this happens at the end of three parallel soliloquies. My husband and two sons are eager to share the events of their weekdays and often talk on top of each other without even realizing what they are doing and that I only have two ears and more importantly – just one brain. When they finally peter out and ask me what I did that day I realize how insignificant my movements sound. I drove my children to school and picked them up. I exercised; food shopped, and exchanged my oldest son’s rented saxophone because it developed a leak. These motherly tasks are not cool or particularly mind-bending, but my family is arguably more content when I perform them.

Why, then, do I want to bolt like a racehorse at the gate whenever somebody asks me what I do?

During these occasions, I eventually sputter that I am a stay-at-home-mom. It feels necessary to add that a mere sixteen years ago I held a respected position in a book publishing company and that I write in my spare time. “Good for you” I am told before my new acquaintance pivots away, seeking more intellectual pastures in which to chew his or her crud. Only fine breeding and a second glass of wine keep me from closing my fingers around the deserter’s neck and wringing every snobby, judgemental, repugnant breath out of his or her body.

I am more than what I do, I think, stretching taller in shoes that cut into my feet like pieces of wayward Lego.

But, the protestation falls on my own deaf ears. Secretly, ashamedly, I know why I was found dull and I traitorously agree. After all, who really wants to hear about the wittiest remark ever made by an eight year-old boy? The truth is that even though the mother has been revered as the cornerstone of her family throughout centuries and yearly greeting cards, nobody really wants to discuss the sleepy details. It is enough relief for others to know that I am doing “the most important job in the world” instead of them.

When I was growing up, my mom was home to greet my brother and me with smiles and snacks at the end of each school day; she drove us to school in the mornings when the weather turned bad , and nursed us at home if we weren’t feeling well. She was an on-going presence who gave us the security to know that once we were in her domain we could drop our social graces and be whoever we needed to be.

My mother never seemed diminished by her job. In fact, she appeared to enjoy it. In my late teens, Mom took on handling the financials at our family’s book and music store, but she still made it her personal business to be home before my brother and me – just in case we needed her.

I always knew that I wanted to provide my kids with the same consistency that my mom gave me. I just never realized that the work would be so exacting and mentally draining. When I report the actions of my days, I leave out the thinking part. I constantly consider my kids – how I can improve our communication, reign in my frustration, and help them learn how to deal with a challenging situation at school without appearing to help at all. I think about what one might like for lunch tomorrow and how the other needs extra mittens because he has two recesses and one pair never has enough time to dry in between. The potential for more work never ends.

My sons are aged fourteen and eight. They are “projects” with minds of their own, self- assured and exhausting. When I began my labours, literally and figuratively, I planned to raise two gentlemen who would mature to be creative, successful and happy all in the same lifetime. I didn’t consider their free will, possibly the greatest gift a person can acquire for himself. I had to learn that if the inside of a boy’s nose is, as I have been told, “the most comfortable place in the world to rest your finger because it’s nice and warm”, I may only “suggest” that this activity be reserved for a private place and time.

The other day, my eight year-old son, Harrison, and I shared a moment of hilarity on our drive home from school. We laughed so hard that tears came and I realized that I did not choose to be a stay-at-home mom because of the spa retreats and soap opera marathons. I did not make my selection to earn accolades or experience a grand sense of accomplishment when my boys metamorphose into the aforementioned gentlemen. And, I certainly didn’t opt to be a stay-at-home mom so I could impress strangers at cocktail parties. I chose my place because of the myriad of moments I get to experience with my kids, sometimes funny, sometimes infuriating, but always personal to my family and therefore more precious than anything I could do on my own. Even though I have and will continue to make parenting mistakes, my steady presence gives my kids the opportunity to grow with confidence and resilience. I have this insight from experience. It is exactly what my mother did for me.

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