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Work It: Thoughts on Stay at Home Motherhood and Why I’m Not Sure I Can Do It Anymore

2 Nov
fashionable-mom

If only I were this stylish as a mom!

When I turned 16, my parents basically said, “You’re old enough to get a job, so now, if you want to buy something, you’ll need to pay for it.” I half-heartedly searched for jobs until I landed a gig at the movie theater where a few of my friends worked. I wore a collared white shirt and a black bow tie and took people’s tickets or made batches of popcorn with extra oil while downing Coke-flavored icees in water cups. I’ve worked ever since, at an ice skating rink, at Starbucks, at a counseling center, a charter high school, a seminary, and a magazine. I enjoyed many of these jobs, whether for the work, the colleagues, or just the paycheck. But even in my favorite jobs, I think I would have stopped working in an instant if I suddenly had all the money I needed.

So when I became pregnant and started thinking about whether I would work or stay at home or figure out some combination of the two, I thought maybe staying at home was the right decision for me. I didn’t have a job I absolutely loved, and taking care of a baby was going to be enough work as it is. I never really found my identity in my work; I always found it in my relationships. Even when I did a workshop where I reflected on the high points and low points of my life, work almost never entered the picture—even big moments like the first time my writing was published.

I assumed the thing I liked most about work was the intellectual stimulation, and the camaraderie. It seemed possible I could find intellectual stimulation and camaraderie outside of the workplace, if I could just find the right book club and moms group.

And yet, here I am, almost 10 months into this stay at home mom gig (and in a book club and a moms group!), and I’m longing to work.

Part of it is a longing for escape. Taking care of a baby sometimes feels like backbreaking work (how do people have more than one?!). I’m pretty soft, so maybe it’s just me. But really, what’s backbreaking is the constancy of the physical work required in caring for an infant. I mean, said infant pretty much must be carried everywhere; that alone is a huge amount of work that was not in my pre-baby life. (Especially now that Zadie is over 20 pounds and we live on the third floor!!) The baby’s feeding needs and bodily functions all must be managed and cared for by me. It’s kind of insane. And after 9-plus months, I am bone tired. Every night I get into bed and feel like I’m 80 years old. Everything aches. And the idea of going to work, and going to the bathroom without having to do it in less time than it takes my baby to crawl down the hallway to me/the bathroom trash can, sounds like a vacation.

Work would also give me some much-needed space from my baby. You know that feeling when you meet a new friend you really click with (for most of us, this was probably in high school or college), and you hang out more and more until you’re hanging out all the time? And it’s the best, until it isn’t. And you need space so you can remember why you liked this person in the first place, why they became your best friend. It’s like getting so close to something you can’t see it anymore. That’s what I’m afraid is happening to Zadie and me. My sister Rachel said it so well, that for moms, the question of to work or to stay at home is answered with a simple “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.” She said if you work you feel guilty when you’re away from your kids (or even if you don’t feel guilty, you just miss them terribly) and if you stay at home you’re with your kids so much you stop appreciating them. I need a break from Zadie. I need a chance to miss her and to feel like I can’t wait to see her. Sure, sometimes I have those moments when I can’t wait till she wakes up from a nap so I can see her cute face, or where I spend an hour after she goes to bed looking at pictures of her. But mostly, lately, I think, “I can’t spend another minute with you.” It’s like we’ve been stuck in a car together on a 10-month-long road trip (and I’m not even counting the 9 months she took up residence inside my body). I need to be me again for a while, not me-and-Zadie. Work is starting to look like the way to that.

Something else I’ve realized is that even though I’m not a worker bee, everyone likes being acknowledged for hard work and a job well done. It’s been said a million times: mothers do an insane amount of work for an even more insane lack of appreciation. We don’t get paid, and we hardly get a “good job.” It would feel good to go to work, do the work, and take home a paycheck. Also, the paycheck itself would be nice, because we live in Los Angeles now and one income in Los Angeles is a fool’s game.

Here’s what it comes down to. Last week, my attention was turned toward a Facebook post by writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a “feminist manifesto” written as a letter to her friend who recently became a mother. The manifesto is a response to the friend’s question, outlining 15 suggestions on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. The first suggestion stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that. The pioneering American journalist Marlene Sanders once said to a younger journalist, ‘Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.’

You don’t even have to love your job; you can merely love what your job does for you – the confidence and self-fulfillment that come with doing and earning. Reject the idea of motherhood and work as mutually exclusive.”

That paragraph makes me want to shout, “YES!” from the rooftops. It makes me want to run up a mountain, or skydive out of a plane. It feels like freedom. I’m guessing the extreme reaction stems from 1) I have not felt like a full person since I had Zadie almost a year ago, and 2) I have somehow, for some reason, bought into the idea that motherhood and work are mutually exclusive, and I have felt both bound to my duty as a mother and also restricted by my lack of a job I love and can’t bear to quit, like my sister the physician’s assistant or my sister the teacher. I’ve felt that, if I were to be away from my baby, it would need to be for a noble reason, for a job that was changing the world. But perhaps there is no more noble a reason than a job might make me feel like a full person again, and only a mother who is a full person can fully offer her love to her child.

So I guess what I’m saying is, do you know anyone who’s hiring? 😉

30 and Nostalgic: Is the Fun Over?

3 Dec
23 years old and having fun in a thunderstorm after feeding kangaroos in Australia.

23 years old and having fun in a thunderstorm after feeding kangaroos in Australia.

I’ve always kind of hated nostalgia; it irks me when people love to dwell in memories of the “good ol’ days.” In my twenties, that meant peers who couldn’t get over the fun and free times of college, or even, astoundingly, high school. I enjoyed my high school experience (cheerleader for a year–yeah!) and am still close with my 3 best girlfriends from my high school. And college was a total blast; most of my memories involve just laughing really hard with friends, or gallivanting around Disneyland on Friday nights.

As great as those experiences were, I always had my sights set on the future too much to dwell on past chapters. I wanted to travel, to see the world, to fall in love and get married, to become a successful writer–these goals and dreams gave me momentum and little desire to “go back.”

But what is it about turning 30? (Oh geez, thinks the reader, here she goes talking about turning 30 again!) It’s such a huge milestone for women in our culture today (or so said my ever-wise spiritual director as I approached my birthday). Turning 30 makes a woman look back on where she’s been, look around at where she’s at, peer ahead at where she’s going. And she takes stock. Did she use her time wisely? Where is she going now? Does she have what she needs to get where she wants to go? What is weighing her down? Fears? Relationships? Bad habits? Stagnation? What drives her forward?

I think my future looks the least clear it’s ever looked. Everyone my age is going through this in a way, I suppose–especially those who are still childless. It’s no longer a matter of, “Well, when I finish high school I will go to college, after which I will travel, get a job, get my masters, find a spouse…” Okay–did all those things. Now what? *Cough* a baby *Cough*. Wait, what? The next checkbox on my “life list” (not to be confused with “bucket list”) is childbearing, and I don’t feel ready for that. And even if/when I do have a baby, that doesn’t fill up the rest of my 50+ years (God willing) in this life.

Without the forward momentum of leaping over cultural rites of passage, I no longer feel like I’m moving, and life feels a lot less meaningful, to be honest. I think that’s why I’ve found myself caught up in the occasional or not-so-occasional reverie, calling up beautiful memories of my college years, my travels, even those confusing mid-twenties when I was poor and in grad school but at least I went to dance parties on the weekends.

I guess this is the question that haunts me: Is the fun over? Will I ever know fun like I did on those Friday nights at Disneyland, when I would laugh so hard with my friends I’d wake up with sore abs the next morning? Will I ever again know the silly, free-spirited dance parties of my YWAM and camp counselor days? What about the thrill of rootless, open-ended travel? I have a feeling people with kids will tell me it’s just so fun having kids, and what about all those dance parties in the kitchen? (Ugh, the worst “parenting-is-awesome!” cliche of our time.) I just don’t see it. I think this is mostly about me not wanting to grow up, which is funny because before this, I was eager to grow up, even if I was a little scared of it.

I don’t really have a way of wrapping this post up in a bow, because I’m living it, and interested to know if you’re living it too? Most of my readers are in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties–do you think your best years are behind you? Have your fun-levels decreased as you’ve gotten older? Or are we seeing those carefree days with rose-colored glasses? Do we just need to be more fun to attract more fun? Do I just need a few more cocktails? 😉 And, friends with kids, are you finding forward momentum by living milestones and rites of passage with/through your children?

Life Lesson No. 118

22 Aug

Front load the bad stuff, and save the best for last.

Usually I’m pretty good at this. I get all the crappy, least fun stuff done first, and save my favorite assignments or chores or whatever till the end.

I like to go out on a high note.

This summer I got it all backward. This is the way it should have gone: research papers, book reviews, tons of reading, cruise with Mom and sisters, sitting in class for hours, working a bit, then taking off to Europe to have a drink with friends in London, live the sweet life in the Italian Riviera, study in Orvieto, and ending it all by immersing myself in the beauty of Norway and the beautiful friendships I have there.

But that’s not how it went, so now I’m in the book review and research paper part of my summer, with all the good stuff behind me. It’s probably not helping things to have this photo I took on a hike in Cinque Terre as my desktop wallpaper:

Vernazza

Ha Det Bra, Norway!

20 Apr

norwegian

This is my last night in Norway.  I will miss so many things about this place.  Here’s my top ten:

1. Brown cheese.  On a brown Wasa with raspberry jam.  Preferably at 10:30am on a weekday.  With a cup of English Breakfast tea.

2. The Living Rooms at Grimerud.  I love having our morning meetings in there, and also having times with God in the middle living room overlooking the fields and the lake, Mjøsa.

3. The spectacular views of Mjøsa and the countryside and the sunset around Grimerud.  Pretty much, the all-around beauty of this place.

4. Going to Ola and Gro Elisabeth’s log cabin and having dinner and sitting for hours talking about a million things.

5. The DTS.  Staff and students.  Oh, man.  Good times.  Ebby singing, Kim whining, Andreas beat boxing, and everyone in between.

6. Singing and hearing people sing in Norwegian.  Also, singing prayers before meals.  Okay, I never actually learned any of the Norwegian ones, but I still liked hearing it!

7. Running around in my socks all the time.  Honestly, I don’t know if I can wear shoes in my house ever again.

8. The simple relaxation of “country life.”  Sitting out in the sunshine in front of the main building, or having brunch with Magni at Bisben…I just can’t relax the same way in the city.

9. The word vær så god.  Seriously, how did I ever live without it?  Also, being able to respond with just “Mmm” in many situations.  Norwegians don’t waste words!

10. And of course: the people, the people, the people.  Vicky bossing me around with her “Joy Dear.”  Being goofy with Matilda and Rickard.  Long talks with Magni and Dina in Bisben or the dining hall.  Heather and Andreas, beautiful girls Synnøve and Anne Randi; Heidi and Maggi; the Franzens; little baby Marianna; sweet Svein Ola; crazy-intense Chris; adventurous, childlike, creative Miuky; hilarious Christina and Ebby…there are just too many to name.  

It’s been a wonderful time here in Norway and I will cherish these memories for life.  Tusen takk, my Grimerud and Norwegian friends, for an amazing season.  Ha Det Bra.

Highs and Lows of Christmas 2008

27 Dec

dscn3317cake

Low Points:

Trying to sleep with 12 pounds of butter in my stomach after Christmas Eve dinner, realizing that I am almost incapable of actually relaxing (must! do! something!), only reading 1.5 books, and feeling generally miserable on Christmas Eve morning when it really set in that I was spending my 2nd consecutive Christmas away from home.

High Points:

Hanging out with some girls on my floor that I don’t usually have time to hang out with, having free reign of the main building, making dinner on Tuesday night with Heather and Andreas (pesto! feta! bruschetta! glory!), baking 4 times and having a 100% success rate, spending time with two wonderful families on Christmas Eve (pictured above) and Christmas Day, enjoying 12 pounds of butter, sugar, and flour baked into various forms on Christmas Eve (some pictured right), talking to my family on iChat for an hour on Christmas, and…opening my gift from my mom – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2! (cough – nerd alert)

Okay, so being away from home on Christmas is never ideal, unless, I suppose, you are with your entire family on holiday in some amazing location like Vail or Santorini or whatever.  But I survived…I didn’t just survive, I had a good week.  I’m pretty much exactly halfway through my time here, which is amazing and crazy and sad and wonderful and overwhelming all at once.  Sometimes I wish I could stop this train, but here it comes anyway, rushing at me with increasing speed.  The students are back, the New Year’s Festival starts tomorrow, and I leave for outreach in 2 1/2 weeks.  Ready or not, here comes Round 2.

My Own Koselig Attempt

12 Dec

dscn3211

Oh yeah.  I’m SO Norwegian.  Look how koselig!  It definitely adds to the Christmas spirit in my room…oh, and my mom just sent me a freaking sweet advent calendar from Starbucks.  Yay!  Not that 25 Swiss chocolate truffles will make up for being away from home for the SECOND Christmas in a row, but they sure won’t hurt.

Be Ye Thankful

27 Nov

22_rockwell_lg_l

Hmm.  So it’s Thanksgiving.  Just another day around here at Grimerud.  The sun rises around 8 am, sets around 3:30pm and everyone goes about their lives.  I’m trying REALLY hard not to be depressed about the fact that I am missing Thanksgiving for the second year in a row.  Blah, it’s such a bummer!  Everyone here has been saying, “Hey, can’t you just make some turkey or something?”  But it’s not about the food…it’s about the people, and about the feel in the air, and about seeing my dog waddle around at the end of the day trying to keep herself from falling into a food coma.  Good times.  BUT.  I’m totally thankful for a lot of things.  You know, the usual…friends and family and my health and the fact that I have always had everything I needed.  I’m also thankful that I’m here in Norway (okay, maybe not this exact day, but for the most part) and I’m thankful that God is so generous and decided to make my dreams of seeing the world come true.

Last night I was complaining to my mentor that I didn’t know what to do once this DTS is over in the spring time.  I have a big basket of options and I’m not sure if I should just close my eyes, stick my hand in, and pick one or if I should lay them all out on the table and make some pro/con lists.  Or ask God to dissolve all but one.  That would be cool.  But when I was whining to Heather, I remembered something I heard Erwin McManus say in a podcast a couple weeks ago.  He was speaking to people in this exact situation, people who feel like they have a lot of options for their future and just can’t decide.  Erwin said to be thankful.   How many people, women especially, are born into a world without any options?  It’s a sobering and humbling thought.

So I am thankful.  I’m thankful that my life is a colorful assortment of adventures and experiences and gifts, that God’s beauty and love chase me down wherever I go on this green earth.  I’m so thankful I’m coming to know a God who does these things, and doesn’t give up on me when I act like a spoiled brat every other day.

Psalm 23 (The Message)

 

Psalm 23

A David Psalm

 1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. 
   You have bedded me down in lush meadows, 
      you find me quiet pools to drink from. 
   True to your word, 
      you let me catch my breath 
      and send me in the right direction. 

 4 Even when the way goes through 
      Death Valley, 
   I’m not afraid 
      when you walk at my side. 
   Your trusty shepherd’s crook 
      makes me feel secure. 

 5 You serve me a six-course dinner 
      right in front of my enemies. 
   You revive my drooping head; 
      my cup brims with blessing. 

 6 Your beauty and love chase after me 
      every day of my life. 
   I’m back home in the house of 
God 
      for the rest of my life.

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