Monday, October 19, 2009

What We're Worth

Eight years ago today, I kissed my darling 16-month-old toddler goodbye, brushed the stray crumbs off my dry-cleaned suit, and headed out the door for a long (10 hour) workday.

That was on a Monday.

On Wednesday, my trusted babysitter abruptly quit, and by Friday, I was officially a stay-at-home mom.

And still, all this time later, during moments of epiphany (or minor stroke) I think, how the hell did I get here?

I don’t mean motherhood. I know how I got there. I mean actually here, playing Chutes and Ladders, baking bread, packing lunches, crushing a sneaker onto an unwilling foot while the dog bounces around, lapping at my face.

And I’m not suggesting that working mothers don’t do all the above. I’m saying that it startles me whenever I remember that it’s all I do, relatively speaking.

I could have had a career. I’m just saying. I could have moved to some large city, where I drop my kids off at a posh preschool each morning with time to duck into a Starbucks for a skinny soy gingerbread latte before arriving at a quiet office to stimulate my mind all day. Or I could have entered the MFA program I was accepted into, once upon a time.

I could have been a lot of things, but instead, I somehow became…nothing. Or…everything to three little people I‘d trade my life for.

Which is basically what I did.

And since I’m no martyr, this still has the ability to blow my mind.

When you end up someplace different than you’d imagined, it takes some time to adjust. Like, nearly a decade, in my case. Especially if you’re a Type A, goal-setting, success oriented person, because here’s what some SAHM advocates, message boards, and mommy blogs don’t want you to know: staying at home--and foregoing a career--takes a huge hit on your self esteem.

I won’t lie: not bringing home a substantial paycheck is really, really hard for me to swallow.

But slowly, ever so slowly, I‘m beginning to see the value in what I do around here. It’s starting to dawn on me that there’s more than one way to define ‘contribution’. Maybe the ability to separate self worth from a job title and income comes with maturity, or distancing oneself from mainstream thought. Maybe it comes from a new appreciation for simplicity as a lifestyle. Either way, I’m getting older, and I’m starting to get it.

Being there is important. My availability in and of itself is a valuable commodity, especially--interestingly enough--as my kids get older. (And for the moms who are able to work full time and remain available--and I know some of you personally--my hat is off to you. No, really. Stop showing the rest of us up.)

My being present reduces our stress levels, slows down our lifestyle, and gives my children a security (at least at home) that I think is lacking in most aspects of life in this place and time. Admittedly, home is not always where I want to be, but what full-time employed mother is always where they want to be, either?

And I like to think that despite the hefty burden of breadwinning that falls on my husband, my choice has lightened the load on his shoulders, too. That’s got to be worth something, right? (Maybe benefits? A 401K?) Because it’d be nice if I could go on strike until I get a decent health insurance plan.

In the meantime, these were the most pressing projects (to my superiors) today:

And this was my most important presentation:

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