It’s Monday afternoon, and I’m having an ugly stay-at-home mama day.
You know, the day you haven’t a moment to primp in front of the mirror, so you pull back your hair, throw on a t-shirt, and pray the only familiar face you see is your own reflection in the mini-van rearview mirror. It’s the day the pimple on your forehead shines; the shoes on your feet clash your outfit; and the only phrases that exit your mouth are imperative sentences.
I drag my preschooler to his swim lesson, slump in a chair, and bounce my fussy toddler on my knee. I make chit-chat with a familiar stranger while pacifying my toddler with crackers—one after another. Crumbs dribble down his chin onto his shirt, fusing with fabric, and somewhere in between small talk, the snack box, and sporadic hand waves to my preschooler, my toddler survives the entire half hour. I rush my preschooler in and out of the change room — presto. I think we just might escape anyone we know.
Just as I round up my boys and head toward the door, I hear a proverbial voice.
I look back and gulp. It’s my gorgeous always-put-together Facebook-mommy-acquaintance-friend wearing a cute athletic outfit and glittering white tennis shoes.
“Hey.” I hoist my toddler on my hip while my preschooler hides behind my leg. “I haven’t seen you in a long time. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m doing great.” My friend reveals a set of flawless white teeth and a seamless life.
She tells me how she’s now working full time as a manager, and she has never felt better. She’s hired a nanny to watch her kids, and she’s taking great care of herself by working out every day. And after she rattles off her shopping list of accomplishments, she asks the dreaded question, “So, what are you doing?”
I rack my brain for a genius answer to this question. Should I say I’m a home manager? A child specialist? Laundry connoisseur?
“Oh … I’m just home.” I say instead.
My friend flashes a sympathetic smile.
“But we’re expecting again, and I’m doing a little writing.”
I’m convinced the last two variables make my job more acceptable. It’s as if having two kids isn’t reason enough for me to stay home. And just to ensure my friend knows I have something other than the kids, I feel the need to share my moonlight fiction and freelance writing.
“Congratulations,” my friend says. “Wow, three kids. You’re going to be busy. Aren’t you going to go crazy?”
I spew some heroic answer about how I’ve always wanted a bigger family. My cheeks feel warm. Where’s the nearest exit?
“Well, we should go out for lunch sometime.” My friend gives me a hug and then sprints away.
Since when can a stay-at-home mom go out for lunch?
As I leave the gym, my heart is as empty as my son’s cracker box. For in this season of pregnancy, I’ve felt bloated, tired, and unproductive. And some days, I’ve wished I could put on a nice dress and red lipstick, sit in an office with a bay window, and perform some fancy job description.
I strap my kids in their car seats and head toward home, dreaming of my friend’s glorious life.
“How do some women do it all?” I ask my husband over dinner.
“They don’t.” My husband looks me in the eye. “Something always gives.”
I know my husband is right. Superwoman is a myth. In either case, whether a woman works inside or outside the home, some aspect of professional and personal development, housekeeping, or family life lacks. And at the end of the day, a mother’s work decision comes down to a personal calling lived out in faith. For some courageous women, working outside the home is not a choice, but a necessity.
In my case, I decided to stay and work from home after hearing many older mothers tell me this ancient adage of childrearing: the days are long, but the years are short. After the birth of my first son, I chose to pursue my professional goals at a slower pace and, with my husband in graduate school, embrace a simple lifestyle (it can be done!), for I knew with all my heart I didn’t want to miss my children’s first steps, words, and years of life. Working full time outside the home just wasn’t worth the extra car or luxury of eating out and, though staying home has meant delaying other dreams, I’m confident I’ve made the right decision for our family.
So, why am I ashamed to say I stay at home? I have been given such a unique privilege. I am a full time mother to three sons; I am present in their lives for most of their waking hours; and I’ve had the joy of discovering my professional passion (I only discovered a love for fiction writing after staying home). I have the best job for such a short season. All too soon my sons will venture out into the big, wide world, and I’ll enter a new season.
Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” My children are gifts from God, and I have a short time to invest in their souls — to build my house. For me, this means staying home while they are very young, and perhaps again when they are in their tumultuous teenage years. I must remember raising children is the most valuable job I will ever do — one with eternal repercussions.
Later that evening, I tuck my preschooler under his covers. He looks at me and says, “I love you, Mama.”
Is he referring to me? The unkempt mama who rushed him around during the day and snapped at various moments?
I scoop him in my arms and swallow hard. “You are so precious to me.”
In moments like these, I know why I love my job as a full-time mama.
I’m positive there will be more days where I’ll long to pull out my hair, or better yet, spend time making it pretty, but I know I wouldn’t trade this season of pattering feet, stained onesies, and sticky fingers for any other. As my children grow older, I’m certain I’ll have more opportunities to pursue my professional dream of publication. God makes everything beautiful in His time (Ecc.3:11), granting me glimpses of His grace even on my ugliest days.