I spent most of my young adult life wanting to grow up to be a mother and a wife and nothing else. My mother commented to me recently that she never understood why I would want to be a stay-at-home-mom. She never saw it as something I would be content to do. I guess, idealistically, it's something I would love to do-- to be there for a husband and children, to provide help with homework, serve up wholesome, comforting dinners, hand out assembly line lunches lovingly packed with the desires of each in mind, volunteer at the church, at the school, for the sports teams. Realistically, however, I wouldn't be any good at it. I space out about too many things. My kids would head off to school with the kindergartner's homework in the 15 year-old's backpack, the ten year-old would open his to find an Algebra textbook in place of spelling words, and the teenager would be practicing homonyms from an elementary spelling workbook. If they were lucky enough to get lunch, there would be no guarantee the ham and cheese with mayo went in the same bag as the fritos and the peanut butter and jelly made it with the apples. The fact that school lunches can be paid for, monthly, out of an account is a near-miracle. In the end, they would likely all ask when I would be going back to work.
As it is, I am not with all of my children full-time. This is the single most distressing feature of my adult life and a fact that, at this moment, cannot be undone. I pray, daily, that my boys will not grow up full of hate and resentment toward me and that they will manage to know and love one another despite the circumstances in which we have found ourselves at my hand. They are kind and supportive of me as a mother and I could not ask for better sons. They are an even greater gift than I could have imagined, and the fact that I do not deserve such well-behaved, attentive and forgiving sons is magnified each time one of them does something sweet for me. My fifteen year-old tells me he loves me in front of his friends, brags about me in public and actually asked if I'd get my picture taken with him. "It doesn't matter where you live, Mama. You will always be our mom", says the sweetest ten year-old I know. My baby boy comes in my bedroom on Saturday mornings when he wakes up too early and asks if he can snuggle with me. Each gets good grades and treats others with respect. Their use of good manners comes naturally and none suffer from an inability to apologize when they are wrong. I hope that this means they will grow up to be great men. Of course, I have to give their fathers credit for this. Good manners and respect do not just fall out of the sky, discipline and good grades are not handed out like candy, and forgiving spirits, though heaven sent, are learned by example at home.
I used to think that to really be a great mother, the kind in Proverbs 31, that I had to stay home, have a spotless house, be creative, and color-coordinated. Strains of I Have Confidence and Just A Spoonful of Sugar echo in my nightmares as Julie Andrews brags about being "firm, but kind" and "practically perfect in every way". Christmas cookies looking very Martha-Stewart-Magazine-ish dance in my daydreams, while reality barely offers Pillsbury sliced sugar cookies with the you-pick-the-holiday-design already in the center. "So the edges are a little crispy... children in Namibia would give their eye-teeth for a cookie! Be thankful you have cookies at all!" is a more likely scene from my kitchen. Or even more likely, "Hello, Louie's Bakery? How much for three-dozen iced Christmas sugar cookies? $150? Hmmm. How about two dozen? $100? Sigh. When can I pick them up?" Would I really pay $100 for cookies so my son could have them for his school party? Not likely. However, when I'm in the middle of slicing and attempting to bake those sweetened little hockey pucks, it seems like a pretty darn good idea. I've likely said out loud that I'd give someone a hundred bucks for handling the task. When baking, I begin to understand what the Bible means by "a thousand years is as a day". My preschooler's teachers all thought I was a health nut for the first three years of his life because I always bought fruits and vegetables to his class. I finally confessed, "Are you kidding? Do you know how much easier it is to dump a bunch of grapes, carrots and celery into a ziplock bag?"
I realized when I read that the woman whose worth was "far greater than rubies" had servants and a job (Prov 31:15 "provides food... for her maidservants", vs 16: "she considers a field and buys it"; vs. 18- "her trading is profitable", and vs. 24 "makes linen garments and sells them"), that sometimes it is okay for a woman to go to work to provide for her family and that it isn't wrong to pay people to carry out tasks for the good of your household that you are too busy to do since you are working or tending to the personal needs of your family. The family down the street whose business is house-cleaning needs income, I need my house cleaned. Granted, I haven't actually called them to do it, but I like knowing that it would not be wrong if I did. I see signs that advertise "25 pounds of laundry washed, folded and pressed every week for $38 a week." Some weeks that doesn't seem like a bad idea. *audio dream sequence echo* I wonder how much 25 pounds of laundry is..."
The funny thing is, if my oil needs changing, I have no trouble taking care of it myself. Is the grass getting high? Happy to fire up the mower. Sadly, "Mama, can we bring cookies to school on Friday" makes me reach for my inhaler. Still, I'm learning that a gift of storebought birthday cookies can make a ten year-old feel more loved than anything, that doing something to land myself on television (without lights, sirens, or handcuffs involved) can garner a public Facebook post that reads "I love you, Mom!", and a box of Dunkin Donuts Munchkins can make a four year-old feel like he is the birthday king. I may not be Martha Stewart (besides, she went to prison, and everyone else on her show does the work, anyway) Mary Poppins or Maria Von Trapp, but I work hard and I love my children. I pray that teaching them to be kind, loving, honest, and responsible is as important as passing out home-cooked meals, ironing shirts and throwing rock star-like birthday parties. Sometimes it is hard for me to admit that I'd fail miserably at being a stay-at-home mom. It isn't that I don't think it is a valuable career, I do. But, just like rocket science or accounting, I won't excel. Need minor electrical work done? Need a medic? Oil change? Give me a ring. I envy my friends who stay home with their children. It's honorable and I'm jealous. I would be doing my children a disservice in the attempt. I'm slowly learning that I am not alone in this and that it is not a sin.
So, tonight, as I finished reading about Sam-I-Am and his here-there, house-mouse, box-fox, boat-train dilemma, I realized that there are some things that money can't buy. But there are some things it can and that is no sin, either. I think I'll focus on the things you can't pay for and not feel guilty about paying someone to accomplish things that don't necessarily have to be done by me. You can find me reading Dr.Seuss any given night and you're welcome to join us. But, (to quote my mom's refrigerator magnet) "If you've come to see me, come anytime. If you've come to see my house, call first." It's a sobering realization and excruciating to admit that I cannot do it all. Not only is it something I never thought I'd say, but it pains me to do it...
Ma, you're right. I'd never make it as a stay-at-home mom.