Sunday, January 24, 2010

What I do

The other night, I was trying to set the dining room table for dinner. You know the drill: stepping over the dog, moving papers that had piled up in the course of the afternoon, calling to Nate to take out the trash. Calvin sat in the middle of it all, homework spread out across the table’s surface as I set placemats and silverware around him. He was reading aloud in a happy, sing-song tone as he worked on some sort of worksheet about his family:

"Where I was born…" he wrote. "Spokane, Washington. Father’s occupation…sales. Mother’s occupation…taking care of me."

He emphasized this last word with a flourish that rang of contentment. Truly, you should have seen his happy, little boy face; I cannot do it justice. And then he stopped abruptly as though caught in a lie. He glanced up at me warily, and though he was silent, his expression said: boy, she’s not gonna like that! And the shameful thing is, he was right: my precise internal reaction was, hey! As though he’d insulted me. As though listing all the other things I did with my time, my talents, my education, what have you would have been more significant…more honorable…than my role as his mother. Of taking care of him.

And so I smiled at him, and nodded, but he was already backpedaling: “Well, I mean, you also do lots of other--”

I stopped him midsentence.

Because somehow, the way he put it finally got a rather basic principle through my thick-headed skull: what I do here at home is worthy of pride.

I am embarrassed to say that most of the time, I am not proud of this job I fell into ten years ago. I abhor the term ‘SAHM’. I go to great lengths to identify myself as anything but. Why? What could be more honorable than putting a career on hold (probably doing it great harm) to care for your children? (Ok, probably several things, but still, it’s honorable, and that’s my point.)

I know I’ve written about this issue before--the issue of a woman’s (specifically a mother’s) worth--but I don’t mind revisiting the subject because I confront it every day. Every day, it’s staring me in the face (so you can bet that at least every other day, you’re gonna hear about it). Every morning, wake up before my kids. I make coffee. I pack lunches, I pour cereal, and I send little people out the door. I carve out a few hours for my freelance travel writing or running, and then I have a kid (the littlest kid) home again. I make lunch. I greet bus riders. I make snacks and drive people to practices. I cook dinner (mostly). I help with homework and eventually, I put people to bed. There’s more to it all than that, but you all know that.

And all the while, I’m straddling duel fears: firstly, that my children (boys, no less) will see me at home with them, day-in and day-out, and they will believe that this is a woman’s only role. And I will have modeled this for them. Me. Despite the fact that I cook badly, can’t sew, and only sporadically clean the house. Despite my ambition. They will see that I am the one organizing meals, the one folding laundry, and the one waiting when they step off the bus after school. This is not to say that their father does not do any of this; he could do all of it, to be honest, which only makes me feel an acute lack of job security, when I think about it.

But secondly--terrifyingly--I fear my children will think I do not want this job. That they will read the conflict on my face whenever I am described (by them or anyone else) as only their mother and nothing more. No addendum. No asterisk. (I'm so accustomed to adding them.) I am afraid that they will see that I want more, and that they will feel like burdens.

Because of this conflict, I worry that the message I have actually sent is the one Calvin hinted toward: I’m here, but I don’t have to be. I’m taking care of you, but just so you know, I could be doing all sorts of other things. And that’s not how I feel at all.

Not most days, anyway. And hopefully, as I think of Calvin's genuinely happy, secure-in-his-cared-for-existance expression, not many more days at all.

This post has been linked to Tuesdays Unwrapped at Chatting at the Sky. Because I want to be here, in the moment, living a conscious life as much as I can.
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