At school pick-up, my second-grader usually bounds over to me like a golden retriever, dropping her backpack at my feet and begging to play with her friends a while longer. But the other day, when I met her in the schoolyard, her sweet little face was stained with tears. She hugged me and blurted out between sobs, “My tummy hurts, and I’m cold.”
Luckily we live close to school because 10 minutes later she was throwing up while I held her hair back. I calmed her in a warm bath and read her bedtime stories before she slept off a 24-hour virus in the comfort of her own bed.
I sat back and breathed, feeling so grateful to be able to give my kid exactly what she needed when she needed it. There are many parts of parenting I fail at: my inconsistent discipline, how easily I give in to whining, my inability to enforce a strict bedtime. But I show up. That’s my thing.
Which is why I get prickly and anxious every time my husband suggests that maybe it’s time I go back to work. Sure, it’s been nearly 10 years since I brought home a proper paycheck, and yes, we need the money, and I agree, honey, the kids are getting older and more self-sufficient. But that doesn’t make me ready. Sometimes I wonder if I ever will be.
The funny thing is, back when I was pregnant with my first child, I assumed I would go back to work. I can even remember interviewing pediatricians and asking them if they had early morning hours so I could bring my kid in “before work.” That all changed when I got put on bedrest, gave up a long-term freelance position, and settled into a different kind of life. I liked being home with my baby. I liked nursing on demand. I liked using 100 percent of what was left of my brain on the matters of our family and household, and not some job I didn’t really care about.
Still, a few months after giving birth, I went on some interviews, attempting to market myself as a part-timer, or even a strict 9-to-5’er, but no one was interested in my particular skill set unless it came packaged with unlimited availability. Which was out of the question for a baby-obsessed new mom. Just…no. I officially became a SAHM.
My husband understood. After all, with one and then two littles at home, the childcare math worked in my favor. The cost of quality daycare or a great nanny would barely be covered by my after-tax income. What was the point?
Now, however, the kids are in school, leaving fewer hours to cover. I could conceivably get a job outside the home, which would take a lot of economic pressure off my husband. I just don’t want to. Yeah, that sounds pretty selfish. But here’s the thing, after 10 years in yoga pants, the thought of zipping up a pencil skirt gives me hives. I don’t want to make nice with colleagues and kiss up to a boss. I would fully lose it sitting through a pointless meeting when I could be throwing a ball or baking cookies with my children while they are still young enough to enjoy spending time with me.
I appreciate and admire my many working mom friends who love their careers and get fulfillment from a well-rounded life. I can’t really explain why I’m not more like them, other than to say that I feel like my purpose in life right now is to be here, physically, for my kids. To pick them up and drop them off. To stay home with them when they’re sick. To volunteer at their schools. To spend my free time scheduling their activities and playdates and dentist appointments.
It’s not like I treasure every moment. I get frustrated. I yell. I take long breaks courtesy of Sesame Street. But I know in my bones that this is what I need to do right now.
I’m sorry, husband, I realize my paycheck really sucks right now. But the benefits are amazing.