Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Juggling & Still Adjusting

** I originally posted this in January 2011 on my first blog Small Portion of a Life's Journey. As I'm sifting through to close that one entirely, I realized that this particular subject is still a challenge for me... but a blessfully, blissful challenge it is!

As a mommy to three children, one with a medically demanding condition, I'm told at least once a day by an on-looker how "strong" I am or how so-and-so is in awe of my ability "make it through the day" with a smile on my face. I do not feel any stronger than any other parent and I know that I definitely barely make it through some days, let alone with a smile on my face. Motivation is fleeting at times and hopeless emotions flood my evenings when I think of all the things I should have completed and look around to try and discover what exactly I managed to do... since it always seems like nothing.

Granted, our household is plagued by this "cloud" of insecurities and worries associated with the "terminal" prognosis attached to the littlest member of our family, who is living with hydranencephaly... but our household is the same as any other.. It's chaos and drama-filled on some days, for no identifiable reason, and other days are so blissful that I try and relish that time to rewind in memory when things do not go as planned.

Just like everyone else, I struggle through some days more than others. I do not always make the best decisions and I have to learn from the ones that are seemingly questionable. Crabby mommy comes out on occasion, more often than I'd like to admit, sometimes feeling at wits end and completely helpless since things are often beyond my control in the world.

Why does this seem so very difficult, especially after 4 years separated from the "traditional" work environment? After many excruciatingly long hours in the restaurant management business over nearly 10 years, with two children at home and still a household to care for, being a stay-at-home mommy should be a piece of cake compared to the previous juggling act I performed on a daily basis. Between the working world on top of mommy/wifey duties, there was a new ball to juggle thrown in every week. Strangely enough, staying home has been more difficult than working outside the home ever was! 

There are no breaks from the monotonicity, it is never-ending and ever-demanding. I do not get to clock out and have lunch or leave for the day, to allow my mind to escape the thoughts of work. A break for me is grocery shopping, and a vacation is when I can do it without any kids in tow. The people I work for now do not make demands on a set schedule, with the workload running in to the night, and even in to another day sometimes. Then there is the emotional battle with  not financially providing for my children as I used to, and envy I have for my husband who gets to come home and have time to "unwind" and disconnect from the world after a gruelingly long shift at work himself.

When I'm able to examine the reality of the situation, I know how important my new position is. I know how blessed I am to be allowed to stay home with my children, being a greater part of their lives... especially after missing years out of my oldest ones. Life is overwhelming and recognizing where you are and what you are doing in the world is essential to not cracking under the pressure of it all. The appreciation of a grateful husband makes emotions easier to tame as well... and I'm so thankful to have one!

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms
By: Billy Cuchens

"Until you have a child, you've never been certain you'd give your life for someone, you've never been so proud, you've never been so tired."
~Elizabeth Vargas

The transition from working a traditional job to becoming a stay-at-home mom is tough on anyone. But for my wife who worked as a nanny before having kids, it was particularly difficult. For over twelve years, she mothered other people's children. She changed diapers and cleaned up toys full-time. These may have been long days but at least she had a paycheck and the end of the day to look forward to.

Her first job after college was working full-time for a wealthy family of lawyers. This was before we had met and here's how she has described the experience: "The husband was horrible. He turned me into a housekeeper. Every day I had to run the dishwasher even if there were only a couple of things to clean and then empty it before they came home from work. I had to fold all the clothes and towels a specific way and position them in the closet facing the same direction on wood hangers. In the winter, I had to vacuum the ashes out of the fireplace every day. He would yell at me if I didn't do things exactly the way he wanted. It was the worst job I ever had." Despite being offered a raise to stay, she quit after working for this family for a year.

My wife has a family of her own now -- a toddler son, an infant daughter, a fifty-pound Australian Shepherd, and a little Pomeranian/Chihuahua puppy. She's been trying to cope with the fact that cleaning the house is a losing battle. I came home from work the other day and all the children ran to greet me, including the furry ones. My wife was sprawled on the couch and was the least enthused to see me. "Sorry about the house," she groaned. I surveyed what was left of the living room. It looked like the cave of a pack of wild animals. The floor was littered with toys, granola bar wrappers, and clumps of black dog hair. The coffee table was strewn with the day's mail, multiple board books, and overturned sippy cups. Sitting next to my wife on the couch was an unopened package of diapers. I put my keys on the kitchen table and noticed several used diapers next to the laptop.

I headed to the bedroom to take my shoes off and get comfortable. I saw a layer of toys on the floor and another layer in our bed, along with some folded laundry and a few snack wrappers. I made enough room on the bed to sit down and took off my socks and, as I threw them in the hamper, I saw the dirty clothes piled up to my waist.

My wife walked into the bedroom. "Honey, I know the house looks bad and I don't want to hear it," she said.

"I didn't say anything." But I couldn't help but think back to the obsessive lawyer and his dishwasher and wonder what he did right that maybe I was doing wrong. I decided to say, "I'm sure you've had a rough day," which I thought would be a neutral statement. However, she received a different message -- you are not doing your job -- and felt the need to defend herself.

"I have had a rough day. The baby's been crying since she woke up this morning at 6:00 A.M. She cried anytime I wasn't holding her. When I picked her up, she either thrashed around or hit me. The dogs got into the trash again. All your son ever says is, 'Can I watch a show?'" She paused for a moment. I thought she might be done but she was only considering how to go on.

"I know I should straighten up when they take their nap but I'm so tired I just need a break. You get to leave your job and come home. I never get a break. Even when you're here, they're still constantly all over me. They start before the sun comes up and don't stop until bedtime." She took a breath and put her arm over her forehead and lay on the bed quietly.

I waited a few moments to make sure she was done. When I thought it was safe, I said, "I'm sorry you've had a hard day. What can I do to help?"

"I don't know. Just keep everyone out of the kitchen so I can make dinner."

She got up and headed to the kitchen. I sat on the edge of the bed for a few moments. I thought about what she said and tried to sympathize. I'd worked a long, hard day but I had something to show for it, I had a boss and coworkers to tell me 'good job'. I felt bad for her because the house was in such bad shape that I couldn't even notice what she had done.

I realized the difference between the lawyer's home and our home was that she was being paid for her work. Keeping their home clean was her job. Mothering my children is not just her job, it is her whole life. It's futile to think that I could pay her an adequate salary for the tireless work that she does or the endless hours she puts in.

I remember a story my wife told me about another family she nannied for. She had been taking care of a boy who was around three years old. The two of them had a perfect day together. They played games and read books all day. He took a decent nap and ate his lunch well. He had no tantrums and she hadn't lost her temper once. They were watching a show together when his mom came home from work. The boy went into the next room as his mom and my wife discussed the day. After a minute or so, my wife looked over and saw that the boy was naked from the waist down and lion-taming the family dog with his step stool. "So we just looked at each other and laughed. Then I grabbed my keys and said, 'See you later.'"

I would think incidents like this one, as well as things like diapers and the countless hours without adult engagement as a nanny, would have worn her out before she even became a mother. But they haven't. She's so glad to have kids that she rarely complains about that stuff. It's the clutter that stresses her out. And it's not because she doesn't notice or care.

That's what I love about her. She does notice the pile of laundry and the dishes. But she's just one person, who is drastically outnumbered.

I may be home only a few hours every day, but even I see the children pull toys out of their toy bins just to pull them out. They don't even play with the toys, they just move on to emptying the next bin. I think about the lion-taming incident and consider how my wife took for granted her job as a nanny, when at least she could look forward to going home at the end of the day. And I realize, as a grateful husband, that the workday of a stay-at-home mother never ends.

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