What I Thought I Knew About Staying at Home

I’m sitting on my back deck at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, drinking a pumpkin coffee and reveling in the coming of autumn. I’ve dragged Baby Alex’s activity bouncer out here with me, and she’s listlessly pressing buttons that play kid versions of classical  music while two caterpillars of snot work their way toward her upper lip. Life isn’t perfect, of course, but with the older girls at pre-school and “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John drifting through the open kitchen window, I can say that it’s solidly good.
A year ago at this time I would have been just starting my third period social studies class, a collection of twenty of the dearest and most adorable seventh-graders that has ever existed. Unlike my nightmare second period, which seemed hell-bent on driving me out of the teaching profession (Congrats, second period: you did it!), these kids left me feeling lucky every day. They were what I loved about teaching. When I asked them to change the lyrics of a popular song to make it about the French Revolution, they agonized over whether to use Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” or something by Lorde. They made music videos and album art. They willingly performed their songs in front of the class. I mean, they made those fifty minutes each day delightful.
But I was pregnant with my third child, and we all know that the teaching profession isn’t just fifty euphoric minutes and a feeling of accomplishment that you’ve taught them the basic difference between mercantilism and capitalism. Even my third period couldn’t convince me to stay.
It was a process, the decision to quit teaching, at least for the time being, and to stay at home. It involved a series of conversations with myself – that is, between “Working Me” and the woman I thought I would become, let’s call her “Fake Future Stay-at-Home Me”. These conversations went something like this:

Working Me: I’m thinking of becoming a stay at home mom-

Fake Future Stay-at-Home Me: If you’re going to join the club, you need to start learning the proper lingo. The commonly used abbreviation is SAHM. So, you’re thinking of becoming an SAHM?

Working Me: Do people really say that? It doesn’t seem any shorter. 

Fake Future Stay-at-Home Me: It is. I would know.

Working Me: Okay, so I’m thinking of becoming an SAHM. 

Fake Future Stay-at-Home Me nods appreciatively. She is very good at listening. Also, her hair looks pretty.

Working Me: But I worry that staying at home is going to send my daughters the wrong message. I want them to know that women can have fulfilling careers outside of the home.

Fake Future Stay-at-Home Me: I think the real question is, do you want your children to know you love them? Isn’t that the most important message? 

I thought I would be a stay-at-home superwoman.
Turns out I already was one.

Working Me: Good point. So anyway, when I see stay-at-home moms dropping their kids off at school, they are almost always wearing yoga pants or some other variation of workout gear. That’s because they are super into fitness, right? And they have more time for it?

Fake Future Stay-at-Home Me: That’s exactly right. Now that I don’t have papers to grade and lessons to plan, I have more time for everything. Whenever I go out in public, I’m either on my way to or from the gym. I feel great. Have you seen my abs? 

Working Me: I have. They’re impressive. Do you eat healthier now that you’re staying at home? Lots of salad and light, home-cooked meals?

Fake Future Stay-at-Home Me: When I worked, my kids hated vegetables. Now they love them. It’s probably because I’m finally able to execute those ideas I see in magazines and on Pinterest. Just last night I made a plate of broccoli look like Oscar the Grouch. 

Working Me: How many Pinterest projects have you done since becoming an SAHM?

Fake Future Stay-at-Home Me: Oh, gosh. 400? 500? I lose count.

Working Me: And your sex life must be great.

Fake Future Stay-at-Home Me: Obviously. 

She convinced me, this confident, put-together version of myself. And I don’t hold it against her, even though everything she said was a lie. Maybe I knew it even then, that it was too good to be true. That a woman with three small children is a woman with three small children, regardless of whether she works 9-5. The exhaustion, the frustration, the feeling of being totally overwhelmed – none of those things would change. I’m still not on Pinterest.  My abs are non-existent. My vegetables are boring. But I get to watch my baby sleep on the back deck on a Wednesday morning while leaves spin to the earth and little green lizards soak up what they can of the sun.

In a few minutes we will have to go pick up her sisters. They’ll climb into the car and tell me about their morning, and the afternoon will stretch out in front of us, daunting as ever. So much time to fill. It’s a good problem to have.

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