I got confused before Christmas when working-mom friends talked about how they were looking forward to “the break”.
You know, from work. For CHRISTMAS.
I would just cock my head and blink at them. The “break”? You mean, when school and daycare don’t accept children, and we are meanwhile charged with directing (and largely performing) the thousand and twenty-nine minute-to-large tasks necessary to convey the enchantment of Christmas to our kids?
Now a few things were probably happening here. And they might be obvious to a parent who goes to work or a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) who remembers what life was like before babies shrank your pregnant brain, scrambled it through chronic sleep dep., and then were always there needing something about every five minutes or so ever since.
But I’m still piecing this one together.
I mean, I do, vaguely, remember full-time jobs, at least the office-y kind. I remember the micro-breaks, as well as the whole meal off. Even the office door that could close and stay closed. I could squirrel away ten minutes here or there to, say, browse Amazon.com without a tiny person trying to climb my shoulders while asking what I’m looking at and begging to watch Pingu. I could pick up wrapping paper or mistletoe on my way back from lunch. Personal tasks did get accomplished and errands run within the cracks.
So that’s one explanation.
Also the fact that we stayed in Belgium this year, sans extended family to help pull off the holiday season, whereas Belgian families are mostly close-knit and close by. Ooh! Or maybe they have cars and therefore don’t awkwardly strap their Christmas shopping into a child’s bike seat or trailer and then pedal home hoping nothing falls out (usually in the rain).
But then there’s this: these are people who work a job, even the best of which grows tiresome. And yes, they come home to the selfsame demands of childcare, housekeeping, and overall domestic administration that are a stay-at-home-parent’s perpetuity. But when they do so, they are leaving work and coming home.
They also probably miss their children. And I do, too, mostly now that they go to school/daycare. But when they come home… see, I’m “at work.” In fact, my shift just picked up.
Since the beginning, my husband urges me to just get out of the house when I’m feeling overstrung and worn down. But by then I am in no state to go out. I just want to be off work. It took me awhile to realize that sometimes I desperately miss the feeling of just going home from work.
That is a difficult psychological barrier to overcome. And it’s doubtless a central cause of
my narrowly suppressed (sporadically released) bedtime rage. (Go the F*k to Sleep, indeed.) Because damn it all, it is time for me to clock out. So just. Stop having needs. Rightnow.
I’m not saying I want to take off and set up a covert studio apartment somewhere to “go home” to (fleeting fantasy notwithstanding). But I do envy the felt sense that being home with the whole family on hand for two weeks straight is a bona fide break from something. Even if its during the busiest domestic season of the year. And even though my working parent friends all confess relief once school and work pick back up.
But I am saying that since getting our younger child into part-time day care, I feel like I finally have a full-time job, instead of two. And, more importantly, I feel like more like their mom, and less like their employee. I find it easier to notice how preposterously cute they are, how soft and budding. And how sharp. I can better appreciate their feelings, limitations, and struggles. A little bit more. Plus, I actually want to chase them around the house.
Being a stay-at-home-parent is a singular and contradictory experience. Some will assert that it’s “the hardest and most important job there is,” while others second-guess the difficulty or value of your choice. And you will likewise oscillate between those two poles, frequently and furiously. Every single day.
Even when your baby has mad colic, even when she starts crawling, walking, feeding herself (i.e. throwing food and spoons around the room), hammering the walls with toys, climbing furniture, fighting with siblings over EVERYTHING, and abruptly boycotting naps at the tender age of two…
Even before the transition to daycare or school, when most people agree that these are crazy hours under a very confusing job description (combining nanny, short-order cook, waiter, busser, house- and grounds-keeper, and administrator — both the executive and office-assistant-y kind)…
Even during all of this, you will sometimes doubt the value of what you’re doing. There are so many reasons for that, each of which warrant their own saucy little rant — ahem, I mean blog post.
But now, I get a few pretty reliable hours in our apartment that are quiet and undemanding. And sure, a lot of the time, I still use them as would any good administrator/cook/house- and grounds-keeper would. But now I can also try to draw, or read, or write. Or sit on the couch and eat bon-bons, I guess. And maybe that’s ok, too.
Because now… during these still, solitary moments when the kids are away, I finally get to feel our home as a break again. And it is delicious.