Two weeks ago was 'Back to School' for my children and most of the other kids in the state of Minnesota. While it wasn't punctuated with the normal crisp Fall back to school weather there was still the smell of new folders and the sharp pencil leads and composition notebooks. I love notebooks. All kinds. And if there is one thing people can count on to make it feel like back to school again it's my Facebook statuses and countdowns. This year I had people filling in the meme blanks for me, tagging me in photos or posting on my timeline. I didn't even have to Google for anything.
This year I got the impression from many people that they truly believe I don't want my children around. It started to have a real negative connotation and frankly put a major buzzkill on my Back to School festivities.
And festivities there have been. In the past we've celebrated with high fives at the bus stop. I've had standing first day of school coffee dates with a friend every year. I've had back to school cocktails and first week of school sushi lunch dates. I've even threatened to make a man out of that bus driver a time or two. This year I had a long coffee date with an old coworker from the gym. There's always some way to celebrate.
The truth is, aside from my time as an employee at the gym, I have been self-employed for seventeen years. I've run my own business at home since around my one year wedding anniversary, partly due to some changes that were taking place at the company that I worked at but mostly because I knew we would someday have children. I thought it was a good time to try for a career that I could have at home while caring for babies.
I did very well the first few years. Work was abundant. Setting my own hours was perfect and I had plenty of time to spend with my husband. About three years later we decided to move to another home so that we'd have room for a family. The work load was still great but I struggled with staying focused during this time. I like to call these The eBay Years. How else was a girl supposed to find everything she didn't know she needed for her new home? It's not like Amazon was invented yet.
Not long after this I did manage to get pregnant with our first child. Enter the Pregnancy Website Months, Motherhood Books Weeks and Babies'R'Us, the mecca of all things baby and time wasting. My expanding uterus had no interest in getting any work done and I struggled with taking advantage of the busy season. Dumb move since it was the last season I'd ever have with uninterrupted work.
My oldest son was born at the end of December in the year 2000. My line of work is usually fairly slow from Thanksgiving till New Years as people are focusing on the holidays rather than new construction. But come January, the impending Spring building season has everyone clamoring to get their blueprints ready. I remember working two weeks after he was born, via c-section I might add, sneaking drafting time during naps when I should have been sleeping myself. Rigging a musical toy over a Pack N Play next to my desk so I could get more work in. Nights. Weekends. Any possible moment I could steal away because we couldn't afford for me not to work and at that point daycare made no financial sense.
I got pregnant again when my son was 8 months old. If I thought working at home was tough before it was nothing compared to having two babies. The days that I got them both to nap at the same time I thought I was Anne Sullivan, the damn Miracle Worker. When my toddler dropped a nap I was reduced to the ultimate shameful mom practice of letting him watch tv while I worked. Still I wasn't making enough money. I wasn't keeping the house clean. I had my husband pick up take-out a little too often. Mom of the Year I wasn't.
When you are going to have kids you are faced with a big decision as a mother. Do I keep going to work or do I stay at home? It's a tough one and there are pros and cons to both. But there is a third species and it's called a WAHM. Work at home mom - it seems like the answer. What could be better than staying at home with your little bundle and still bringing in money? Everything. All the other options are better than working from home when you have young ones. I would encourage you to please, please choose one of the other two options. Trust.
There is never enough work done. The house is never clean enough. You never spend enough "quality time" with the kids. Dinners are half-hazard things you can throw together, assuming you have groceries because no one wants to go to the store with two babies. (Seriously, my first outing by myself with a 17 month old and a newborn resulted in the toddler puking all over himself and the baby shitting all the way up his back to his hair. Both requiring car seats to be hosed down. I went home, cleaned everyone up, wept and vowed never to leave my house again. Ever.) Showering was completely optional and being romantic with my husband? Pffffffttt Whatever. Pretty standard SAHM troubles but throw work deadlines in and it's a hot mess.
I was pretty much failing at ever aspect of every one of my jobs. WAHM's are spread so thin all the time (not to say that SAHM mom's aren't. It's tough all around.) that they pretty much suck at everything. Or maybe it was just me. Maybe I couldn't hack it. This may come to a surprise to you and you may want to sit down but... I'm not really the Earth mother type.
I did have a nanny two days a week for a year or so in the form of my niece and she helped immensely. But I'll be honest and tell you that it's still tough to run a business from home with the sounds of tag and Play-doh in the house. Not to mention the kids still knew I was there, hiding away in my office, and I would easily fall pray to my control issues and step in whenever I heard my niece struggling.
And then... School (cue angels singing)
School is the WAHM's wet dream. School is the answer to all her prayers. School means she can get work done during the day and still be a mom at night. School means not having to choose who gets more of her attention during those work hours and not feeling the guilt that is bound to go with either decision. School is my air. By the time I had both kids in school I really thought I'd made it. But I forgot about one thing.
This Summer was particularly tough. I had an enormous work load. And with both boys and my husband (yeah, he works at home, too - how's that for fucking togetherness) with me 24/7 it was constant chaos. I would like very much to plan all kinds of activities for my boys. I would love to take them on fantastical fieldtrips to museums and parks and playdates and waterparks and the zoo. I would love to even send them to some camps so they could have fun with friends but they won't go anymore. Unfortunately I can't do all these things. I have a business and when you are self-employed and there's actually work to be had you just don't say no. You never know when the next dry spell will be.
Working from home in the Summer makes me feel more inept as a mother than anything I do. The mom guilt is overwhelming and the resulting shame of not being good enough tears me down daily. I know I'm not the first mother to have mom guilt but we, and by we I mean all of mom-hood, don't really talk about it. I promise you this, though. Any mom who says she doesn't have mom guilt is lying through her box of wine.
With all the guilt of being a shitty mom, a shitty money earner and a shitty wife it's really hard to spread myself any thinner. So instead I got fatter. I know I when I wrote in June I said I hadn't gained any weight over the last year since leaving my job at the gym. Yeah, that's no longer true. I've gained weight like it's my job the last couple of months and apparently that's the one job I can do even with all the distractions. I haven't had a gym membership and I've literally had no time to take care of myself fitness-wise.
But you know what? I did my best. Could I get up and go for a run at 5am to make sure I got my workout in before I started my day as super mom / wife / drafter? Bwahahahahhahaa No. I can't. And I know that about myself. What I couldn't do after feeling like I already was the worst mom ever for an entire Summer was go and leave them in the evening to get my workout in. I did the best I possibly could to take care of my work obligations and my family and it came at a little expense to myself but that's the way it is. And I'm at peace with that. It's a small sacrifice to make to be able to work at home with no pants on.
I have a new gym membership that I started attending during the first week of school. I had my shiny new padlock and my shiny new gym shoes. It was my own "first day of school" where I knew no one and couldn't figure out where to go. But I've got 9 months of homework to do as I take advantage of having the time and freedom to take care of myself and relieve a little stress before it starts all over again. It's a fair trade.
So I survived. And I celebrated. And it doesn't mean that I don't love my kids or that I don't want them around, regardless of what my Facebook friends may think. I've more than paid my mom dues over the years. I just can't be everything to everyone at the same time without the guilt. And if that means I have to let taking care of myself fall to the wayside a little during the Summer then so be it. Back to School is, I think, the Universe saying "You did well. You survived, you are a great mom and you shall be rewarded greatly for your efforts."
Of course then I got knocked-on-my-ass sick for more than week immediately after school started. I'm still sick. Well played, Karma. Well played. I see what you did there.