Scene: Talking with the boys about options when they grow up.
Me: If you grew up to be like Daddy, what would you do?
Austin: Go to work, drive trucks, have meetings
Me: If you grew up to be like Mommy, what would you do?
Oliver: Hang out with my friends.
This little conversation happened a while ago, and though it makes me smile and I laughed as we were talking about it, it sticks with me. Right now, I'm OK with this being the answer, but I can't be sure that when the boys are 10 and 12, they will be able to answer that question the same way, so I wanted to take a moment and capture what is going on in this life of ours in this sparse online diary.
I am happy. I stay at home with the boys. I drive them to swim practice and soccer practice and tball practice. We carpool, I volunteer in their classes. We lay around the house for down time and have excursions to the library, museums, coffee shops (lots of coffee shops). We play video games and argue about what we will watch on Netflix and then head outside to ride bikes or see what friends are home. I do laundry (once every two weeks). I cook dinner (two times per week). I clean (when the dog hair is tumbling across the floor). There are other things outside of the home that I do such as volunteer with the Dreamers, help out on the HOA, coordinate volunteers for their school, but most of my time is spent with and for the boys. And that's good.
This week I have been taking a class in mediation. I don't know if it will lead anywhere, but right now, it is FUN. I leave the house at 7:45 and I don't come home for 10 hours. During that time I barely speak about the kids besides to say I am a mom. I listen to lectures, role play in mediation, solve problems, and share in the successes of others (a girl just passed the Colorado Bar exam today). It has been six years since I have felt this kind of enthusiasm and motivation to engage with adults, to collaborate and work with, and one of the most satisfying parts of this class, is feeling a sense of accomplishment and value that doesn't really occur that much when you stay at home.
Recently I was out to dinner with a couple of friends and my sister, and we were having a conversation about my upcoming class. I was thinking out loud of what careers I could look into as a result of this class and I vaguely compared mediation to counseling as that is what people who work in mediation will do and so I have picked it up as a reference point. I was not saying that mediation is counseling, but that the two careers are meeting with people in high stress situations and are trying to help find a resolution to their pain or hardship. One friend we were with recently just earned her Masters in counseling. The comments I was making was in an effort to recognize that I didn't want to go as far as counseling or take on that much in schooling, so a step before that level of commitment would be mediation. I have no idea if our friend found my comparison to be offensive, but my sister did as she later pointed out to me that our friend had just spent 3 years working towards this degree and it would be presumptuous of me to compare myself to that level. I agree (even though as far as I know, our friend wasn't offended, I wouldn't have minded if she had felt that way). The point being that she has worked her butt off and has been validated for those efforts in the form of an MS. And I think to myself, what a neat little system we have here. EXCEPT when the job being done isn't easily evaluated or have an authority figure.
I see my friends, old colleagues, and my sister succeeding in their careers. I hear their grumbles over lower raises, and being looked over in a meeting while at the same time I celebrate their successes and bonuses and degrees earned. I support Chris in career changes and tactics used in meetings and am (VERY) happy when he achieves raises and bonuses. I discuss the kid's successes and achievements with people and we celebrate with ice cream and extra stories at bedtime. I am happy for them all. And yet, not having any measurable success of my own and feeling like it might be embarrassing or a put down to compare myself to my friends doesn't feel all that good.
To stay at home, you need to find your own success and I'm not talking about feeling great when you have finally finished every piece of laundry in the house. I need (and I think it's safe to say that many stay at homers need) to find peace in the monotony. To understand people are not going to come give you a pat on the back when your kid learns to swim as that isn't your success, it's your kid's. To understand your success is that you created an environment where your kid had access to the pool, the time to learn it, and the confidence to try, and to know that that won't be acknowledged by most. I need (and I have) a partner that understands this and is amazing at communicating how happy he is, or grateful for the life that we have created for ourselves, and that feels good. To stay at home, you need to feel successful when that success is not measurable.
So, back to this class...it has been such an incredible experience, or a gift to myself, to see that I still have the desire to be beneficial to this world around me. That I enjoy when my thoughts are valued outside of parenting and that my vocabulary has not disappeared with my paychecks. And I think to the future, and I try to think about what that might look like, and I have to think that this part of me, the happiness that resides in being involved in things outside of our family will have to have some attention as the kids get older and aren't with me the majority of the time. And yet I am also so happy that this little test has shown me that no matter how much fun I have conversing and being with adults, there is nowhere I'd rather be at this moment then with the kids. I never pictured myself as staying at home, and yet I know without a doubt that there is nothing else I could do. For these few years, my place is at home, Chris is my sounding board, and the quality time with the kids is my paycheck. And that feels like success.