I’ve asked a handful of mommy friends to share their stories, and hopefully we can encourage and support each other. Being a mom is the best job I’ve ever had. It’s also the most exhausting, draining job I’ve ever done. During the early years, I remember one day explaining this to Norm, and he couldn’t understand. He said, “It’s not like you’re not working in a coal mine…” He was right. I’ve never worked in a coal mine. Everything I know about mining I’ve learned from Minecraft. But maybe moms are a little bit like miners. Sometimes it’s dark or lonely, and sometimes we can’t see where we need to go. We know there’s something precious around us, and it’s our job to find what’s useful or beautiful and help shape it.
This essay is for the times when I can’t remember why: for the times when a teenager seems ungrateful, or when a toddler doesn’t know what gratitude means, for when your son runs away from school, or when your precious daughter says something snarky and it breaks your heart.
This is for 5:25pm and you haven’t figured out what’s for dinner, when kid #2 and kid #3 are fighting and kid #2 storms off when you tell him to run five laps around the block. This is for when your mother in law has cancer and you don’t know how to help. This is for when your baby is fussy and the laundry has piled up. This is for when your youngest goes off to kindergarten and you think, “What next?” This essay is my reminder.
I love my kids. I believe God sent them to me for a reason. The things I’ve taught them pale in comparison to the things I’ve learned along this journey. I’ve become somebody completely different than I was before. The miracle is in the transformation. Sure, my physical body has been reconfigured four times, during pregnancy and childbirth and the recovery. But my mind and heart have also changed. Maybe I’m wiser now, or less selfish. Maybe I’m less arrogant or judgmental. If I am better, I owe it to the Lord, who gave me these kids and the tutorial in living. They’ve been the impetus for growth that I needed.
I can’t write this essay without first honoring my husband. He’s the fun daddy that makes it all possible. How can I begin to express my love and gratitude to my companion? We often joke that he makes the deposits and I make the withdrawals. Seriously, I’m grateful for the choice we’ve made that allows me to stay home and manage things here. I’m blown away at what a good job he does at work and in providing for us. I’m glad he’s by my side, and that we stand together when life’s waves come crashing.
Fourteen years ago I began my career. We’re kind of a dying breed, the stay-home mommies. To answer the question, “Why do you do what you do?” I have to look back in time. When I was a girl, I wanted to grow up and be exactly like my mom. When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say, “a teacher…” but the real answer in my heart was, “I want to be a mom and be just like her.” Of course you can’t say that at school. People want to know what you’ll do to make money. Somehow money has become the metric for measuring a job’s worth.
After high school, I went off to college. I considered majoring in music, but my first roommate Jamie was a music major, so I had a window into her world. No thanks. I was having way too much fun with classes like folk dancing and candy making and Spanish and Chinese and sewing; after a few semesters I realized psychology was the quickest way to get a degree. Armed with an Associate’s Degree, I was ready to begin another dream. I filled out my papers and served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paraguay. Paraguay is the overlooked, landlocked land, just next to Argentina and Brazil. It was like going back in time 100+ years. The poverty and illiteracy were astounding, but the people were warm and gracious.
Fast forward a few years, Norm and I had married and I was pregnant with baby #2, and I finally graduated from BYU. It wasn’t easy. I remember leaving baby C one night when he was sick, I had a presentation, and Norm was at work. My neighbor Barb gave me the courage to go. She took care of him and urged me out the door, saying, “He will be fine. You’re almost done. You have to finish.” Then the last day of the semester came, and it was the final exam in my hardest class, and the car wouldn’t start. My neighbor Mary gave me a ride, and by some miracle, I passed my statistics class.
My psych degree was mainly for me. I needed to understand the bits and pieces of myself and my childhood and the people I love. So yes, I use my degree every day. But I’m not a therapist.
This mommy gig isn’t all peaches and cream. Sometimes it’s quite lacking in glamour. The trick is to notice the sweet details and write them down. Henry David Thoreau described it well: “The true harvest of my life is intangible – a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched.” When I have eyes to see the stardust, my days are more meaningful.
A few years ago I started keeping track of the shenanigans. Most of the stories are funny. Our son S is often at the center of the drama. What would we do without our bright, clever, energetic little boy? The day he swallowed a penny has faded in my memory. I’m pleased to report that he passed it well. *gross. It was good preparation for a few years later when our older son C would accidentally swallow a Lego Ninjago sword. Knowing that a penny can travel safely through a boy’s colon, we trusted that the sword would too. This time I didn’t bother to check.
Two years ago, we were at a crossroads with our family. We had three kids and life was full. I’d gotten rid of the crib and the changing table and most of the baby stuff. I needed closure on the childbearing years, and essentially told the Lord that if our family wasn’t finished growing, “Could He please give my husband a pretty strong YES that would answer our question?” Needless to say, the Lord is mindful of the details. His timing and His ways are significantly better than mine.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
We learned we were pregnant a few weeks later. This baby is different. This time we were different. Having a baby when you’re 20-something is exciting. Having a baby when you’re 37 is a gift. Our bonus baby has brought so much joy. This time we waited until birth to learn the gender. *magical. We’ve both given up on trying to tell God how to direct our lives. This time when we brought the baby home, there were big kids waiting with open hearts. Our joy is tripled as we delight in the big kids’ delight. The latest game is asking baby A if she likes something or somebody. She’ll nod her head up and down, and left and right. Her yes’s and no’s aren’t entirely accurate nor predictable, so the fun is in the asking.
One day when our son S was playing in the new basement with some friends, I thought they were crashing Matchbox cars together. There was a happy ruckus coming from below. Little did I realize that they’d carried off two pints of fresh raspberries, and were playing baseball with them. Of course, most of the raspberries landed in their mouths. If you visit my basement, you’ll see the hand lettered sign that says “NO food in the basement!” which was made by the chief offender.
Sometimes I’ll have one or two kids snuggled up next to me, reading a book. The phone rings and we ignore it. I can’t trade this moment for anything. Reading with my kids is one of my favorite things.
One day my bright bubbly boy made brownies, and cleaned up most of the mess himself. While they were hot, he hastily scribbled a thank you note and rushed to make a delivery to his Primary teachers. The sweetest part for me was to watch him eat his first bite of brownie after his delivery was done. That good deed compensates for a few of the shenanigans.
My payoff comes when I pause long enough to notice: To notice when my two little girls are playing together. Baby A has discovered how fun it is to knock on doors. When big sister giggles and greets her on the other side, the happy shriek of delight is my measure of stardust.
Jane Clayson Johnson’s book I am a Mother is one of my favorites. It’s an excellent read. I was going to share my favorite paragraph, but yesterday we cleaned the house before my parents came to dinner, and now I can’t find it.
We’re still a work in progress. I keep thinking I’ll have my job figured out and the house organized, sometime soon. But in the meantime, I’m glad for the rainbows and glad for the messes. I’m glad for the happy ruckus, and yes, I’m even glad for the really difficult moments. Without them, I’d never notice the sweet ones. I’m glad for my other mommy friends. I can’t imagine raising my kids without them. They say that women need to speak a certain number of words per day. That means another friend is listening.
This past summer my neighbor Natalie was gone for five weeks. I missed her so much. She’s one of the best moms I’ve ever met. I can’t even count how many times I’ve walked across the street to her house, just because I know she’ll be there. Just because I need a grown-up to see me and acknowledge me and talk to me. There’s something beautiful in being able to walk over to a friend’s house, without an appointment or an invitation, and know you’re loved. I’m sure if I asked her, she’d say she’s just ordinary. Not really. Natalie’s mothering extends beyond her own children. She makes the whole neighborhood a better place, by consistently being present, by being available.
I choose to stay home full time for a handful of reasons. 1. My kids need me. When they walk through the door after school, they know that I care. My teenager knows that I’ll happily make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for his snack, just because I like him. 2. My worth isn’t dependent on how much money I make. I don’t make any money. I make a lot of sandwiches, and cookies, etc. 3. I can’t find a substitute me. It’s my job to teach them and love them. Truly, it’s more than a job. It’s my life’s work. 4. By taking care of the details at home, Norm is free to put his whole effort into his work. 5. In being home, I’m free to volunteer at school or church or in the community.
There are two things that stay home mommies have to have: friends and hobbies. If I’m home alone all day and I don’t get to talk to other moms, I start losing my mind. When I’m home and there’s a quiet minute, I have a piano or a glue gun or a kitchen filled with cool ingredients so I can make stuff. Being able to create is a wonderful gift. I love to read and write, so having paper and books and markers and crayons are also necessary supplies.
A few weeks ago, Norm and the kids and I had a campfire late in the evening. It was dark and the stars were spectacular. We were away from the city where you can see the milky way. Baby A had finally fallen asleep in my arms, and the big kids were enjoying the campfire. There was one brief moment where my husband and I were both looking at the same place and we saw a shooting star. It was remarkable. We had just celebrated our anniversary. The true harvest of my days is measured in intangible stuff like stardust.