I have been a stay-at-home mom for over nine years. My babiest baby is not even two yet. I had zero plans of changing my at-home status until she was in Kindergarten four years from now. Even then, I would look for a part-time gig.
Things change. God opens and closes doors at will, and we can either resist or follow. Following doesn’t always mean glitter and gold… in fact it can downright suck. But there is purpose in the suckage.
The second-to-last week of August, we moved into an apartment (after owning a home for 7 years, this has been interesting to say the least). The next week, I walked my second and fourth graders into their classes. The week after that I walked my pre-K and toddler into their preschool classes. The week after that, I suited up in my old faithful scrubs, donned a mask, picked up a scaler, and was launched back into the working world as a full-time orthodontic assistant. Just like that, I went from being home 24/7, to being gone until 5:30 every day.
I love orthodontics and love assisting. I was trained on the job as a measly 18 year old, fresh out of high school in 2003. I worked at this office for four years, until I had my first baby, and stayed home after that. I filled in here and there for a while, but home was my calling. This summer, when it became evident that going back to work was the next stage in my life, I immediately got in touch with my former boss. I didn’t want to be away from my babies. But if I had to, then I had to love my job. There was no other way. I was hired back immediately, welcomed by my boss, a new boss, and an entire staff eager to have me working with them again. I won’t go into all the details, but it was very clear this was exactly where God wanted me. I tear up any time I think of it. I love LOVE my job.
But its not all sunshine and butterflies. My job is fantastic. But I am struggling in so many areas. I am used to being on top of things, over-preparing in advance, and moving at my own pace. Now, life is mostly dictated by a clock (and traffic. Raleigh drivers, get your crap together). There aren’t enough seconds in a minute, hours in a day, or ounces in a coffee cup.
The hardest part? The mom-guilt. In no way have I ever looked down on or judged a working mom. But myself? Well, I guess it’s true that we are our own worst critics.
On Thursday morning, I had a 7:40 conference with my son’s teacher. His teacher and I hadn’t really clicked yet. Which I, of course, internalize and blame myself for. If I wasn’t working, I would be more involved with his class instead of just hastily initialing his weekly behavior sheet and clipping Box Tops. I knew I needed to be up front with his teacher from the get-go of the conference. I owed it to her, to myself. Within two minutes I broke down in tears and apologized. She thought I was apologizing for throwing a take-home-reader book away (#ihaveitalltogether #allthetime) and tried to encourage me that it was no big deal. I sucked in my breath and squeaked out, “No. Not that. Well, yes, I am sorry for that. But that’s not what’s going on.” She waited patiently and let me lose it for a minute. I shared with her a few things, none of the least of these, were my failings as a mother. I had never been away from my kids, and am struggling. Struggling with being away, with not being able to stay on them and their assignments, not being intentional with reading, not being involved with class, not knowing the kids they talk about. My life has been thrown into overdrive, and I get home and after I smooch all over my kids and hear three excited stories and one excited jibber jabber, all at the same time… I begin dinner. While dinner cooks, I’m prepping four lunches for the next day. In the middle of slicing strawberries, I’m signing permission slips and behavior charts, writing notes to a math teacher, reading through paperwork, throwing books away by accident, forgetting to pay for school photos, forgetting water bottles, burning the (frozen) pizza, all while holding my baby who doesn’t want to be put down and listening to a fifteen minute shpeal on a Wax Museum Project and asking my son if he read to his nanny, and getting my four year old out of the Halloween candy at the top of the pantry, and stepping on goldfish (internally screaming as I type this by the way), suddenly smelling a poopy diaper, breaking up an argument, sending kids to get their pjs on… then dinner. Then clean up. Then bed time. I’m trying to balance a very busy job, errands, chores, the gym, relaxing, and being with my babies. I told my son’s teacher that I feel like I am failing as a mother. In every. single. way. Not being home is ruining my kids for the rest of their lives. Through tears and sniffles I told her, “I promise I’m a better mom than this. I promise I’m not this horrible of a mother.”
Mrs. G was so gracious. As I went through eighty-seven of her Finding Dory tissues, she encouraged me and told me that I was doing the best that I can, she understood.. and was ready and willing to help on her side of things in any way I needed. We proceeded to the actual conference, instead of my therapy session. Levi was doing extremely well in math, which didn’t really surprise me. Math clicks with him (he did not inherit that from me). But the reading that I was sure was spiraling downward because of my absence… he is already at the level 2nd graders need to be at by the end of the year. I was further surprised when his teacher told me that he gets taken out of class with a few other students in the grade to be in what they call a “Book Club”. That’s the PC way of saying he’s in an advanced reading group. I was floored. Utterly floored. I had no idea. His reading log is crumpled up at the bottom of his backpack, and I don’t remember the last time he wrote an entry (never mind that he’s supposed to log it every single night).
We were wrapping up the conference when his teacher closed her notes. She said she wanted to tell me something else. An unnamed boy in the class had recently been identified on the autism spectrum. He had been struggling. But Levi… my sweet boy. Mrs. G informed me that Levi talks with this boy all the time (mostly about Pokemon), doesn’t ever seem to notice a difference about this boy, and sits with him every day at lunch- that the boy always saves him a seat. She wanted me to know that Levi’s character was amazing and it was obvious that whatever he was being shown or taught at home was making an impact on him.
You guessed it. I cried like a baby.
Suddenly, his math scores and reading level didn’t seem to matter. My son befriended a boy who many would label “different”. My son intentionally spends time with him and loves him like Jesus does. Every single day. I sat Levi down later when I had some time. I told him that I was proud of how well he was doing in school, and asked him why I didn’t know about the Book Club. Then I grabbed him in my arms and looked into his huge blue eyes, and I told him I knew about his special friendship. He didn’t seem to think it was a big deal (which, actually, I’m glad about)… but I told him that though I was glad he was smart and works hard, nothing made me prouder than knowing he was loving others and showing them Jesus. I didn’t care if he was the smartest boy in his class, or if he had to repeat second grade- the most important thing was loving others well. That that was enough. He was enough.
I was so thankful for that conference with his teacher. Beyond academics, I needed that conference for my soul. It was encouragement I didn’t foresee, and certainly struggled accepting. I beat myself up constantly for not being able to do it all. I’m in a season of my life where just about nothing is in my control. And a lot of the time- it is dark for me. I’m trying to balance my priorities- which, FYI- dishes are low on that totem pole now. I’m trying to keep up, and most days I feel like I am absolutely drowning.
I don’t know where I’m going with this. Other than to share that I’m struggling. Maybe someone else needs to know they aren’t alone with the balancing and the mom guilt and the thoughts that they are ruining their kids’ lives. My facebook would probably make people assume that everything is hunky-dory. Dressing up as a hotdog and dancing around Target, or riding a bike with a unicorn helmet and life jacket on around the store, or chasing people with a light saber and a Ninjago mask on… it looks fun. And it is fun. But it’s not an entirely accurate picture of my life right now.
A more accurate picture would be if you followed me into Harris Teeter Friday afternoon with all four of my kids. One screaming that she wants to walk as I push her through the entire store, one asking incessantly if we can get this, and get that, and get those, and get this, and and and and (internally screaming again), one telling me every food he hates as we walk past them (which is about 98.6% of the store), and the four year old disappearing and climbing into shelves of toilet paper, touching every product at her level, running away, reappearing with apples she has already taken bites out of, the food-hater pressing the call button at the butcher counter over and over as I’m getting onto the apple eater for apple eating before apple buying. The baby screams when she sees food she wants (why did I go to the store at 4:30. That’s an amateur move, Emily). Everyone wants a different colored apple. We’ve lost a paci, so now we backtrack through the store because that stupid paci was $18 (it is a pink giraffe wubanub. It made sense when I was sleep-deprived.) and I refuse to lose that thing. We go to check out, and I forget a few items. But they are on the other side of the store so SCREW THAT. I made the mistake of going to self-checkout. Not only am I keeping up with four children, I am now arguing with a machine about my item in the bagging area.
Just when I’m about to snap, this older mom and her mother walk past me. I had seen them several times throughout the store. As they were heading out and I was shoving dollar bills into the machine, I hear, “You’re doing a great job”. And a kind smile offered by both women toward me.
You guessed it. I cried like a baby.
So. Here I am. Being honest with you about my struggle. My struggle of not being enough. My struggle of failing miserably as a mom, even as a person in general. I don’t have much to offer in advice right now. But if you’re struggling, just know you’re not alone. If the happy-go-lucky lady dancing in the hot dog suit is struggling, you’re allowed to struggle, too. I imagine you’re at the end of your rope. Struggling to keep your head above water.
The good news, and what I cling to- is that God is with you. A few weeks ago my pastor said something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. That you can trust God’s good heart when you can’t see His good hand. There are times we struggle or suffer, times we are in the dark and are hurting. We can’t see God’s good hand in the situation. But we know God and we know He is a good God- that He works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He loves us so much.. so much that He gave His only Son as a ransom for our souls. If He spared not His own Son to show us how much He loves us- we can trust His good heart when we can’t see His good hand.