I’m Sorry. Did You Just Call Me a Stay-At-Home-Mom?


By: Lisa Donovan

When my son Joseph started kindergarten last August we had all the obligatory parent meetings. We had meetings to get to know the school, meetings to get to know the teachers, meetings to get to get to know the other parents, meetings to get to know ourselves. I can't really remember anything at all about these meetings to be honest. I can't really remember anything at all except one thing: an encounter with a fellow parent in Joseph's classroom. She was tall, attractive, stylish and well put together — with all due respect to the other mothers in the room — she looked quite out of place. During one particularly droll segment about the bathroom policy in the classroom, I can remember her seeming as if she had something important to tell me. Her eyes kept darting over to me and so I, reactively, kept flickering my eyes back to her. We were, in a very friendly Inspector Clouseau sort of way, sizing each other up. After the meeting, she came up to me with a great look of relief — finally we would get to talk. She had just moved down here from New York and was very green at the "stay-at-home-mom" bit and was, to put it mildly, uncomfortable about how to do it and really what it consisted of. She was hoping that, in me, she would find a kindred spirit — someone whom she had something in common with outside of our children and who was also, by choice, sans career. We were both artists and I too stood out from the other mothers (Though not because I am striking, mind you. Moreover, because I am younger than most of the moms and kind of weird and geeky looking in, what I can only hope, is in mostly an interesting sort of way). Dreadfully though, our relationship was not meant to flourish for the reasons she was seeking. At the time I was fully employed at an Art College and couldn't really be a source of comfort or advice regarding the stay at home bit. I couldn't relate in the slightest and felt only pity for her urgent need for camaraderie. And, unfortunately, my knack for saying the wrong things at the wrong time kicked in — all I could talk about was the amazing job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY that she left and how, indeed, she must be having some adjustment issues. It occurred to me later, much later, that I probably sent her into a much less happier place than she was before she met me. In my defense though, I had no idea what she was going through. I had no idea what she was going through until about three weeks ago.

I am embarking on week four of my stint as a — eek, I can't even use the phrase. See how well I am adjusting? In my defense (again) I have always had a problem with labels not just when it comes to issues of domestication. So it is not wholly because I am freaked about my new role — though that is a huge part of it. I quit my job and, even though I am writing full time and in the process of building a darkroom, by all accounts of definition I am a full time mommy (or "stay-at-home-mom" — there, I said it).

I think I am going through a routine that might be familiar to women who have embarked on the brave and noble task of transitioning from independent-career-savvy-mom classically attired for her lunch meeting to harried-distracted covered-in-peanut-butter-and-jelly-most-of-the-day blue-jean-wearing can't-complete-a-sentence-half-the-time because-you-have-child-dangling-from-your-pant-leg stay-at-home-mom. (Note: see how when I met the NY mother at the meeting I felt pity and, now that it is my deal I feel like it is the most noble cause in the universe — we live and learn). Here's about how it has gone so far: The first week was bliss. I spent my days napping with Maggie, taking walks after lunch and spending idyllic afternoons reading "Dinosaur Roar" while eating graham crackers and listening to Bob Dylan on our balcony together. I wondered why I spent my time doing anything else but this. Week two was still golden. All four of us were adjusting very well to our new schedule. I even turned down a part time (one night a week) teaching gig because I was certain it would disrupt the flow of our new peaceful anti-chaos dwelling. It was a good decision. Week three I started to tick a bit. I started to feel a little isolated and unsure that I could do the whole no career thing with enthusiasm anymore. I wouldn't say that I was depressed, just off and on concerned with my future well being and mental state. Week four is beginning and the I'm entering into the reflection zone — this is when I take all my crazy and force it to make sense.

Here's the thing though and where I get frustrated and confused at the complicated/aggravating nature of the female mind. I haven't had a single day (isolated feeling or not) in which I feel like I have made the wrong decision. I still enjoy all (yes, all) of my time with both the kids and have found a certain luxurious comfort in their comfort and security. It is just that as time goes on the little voice in my head that doesn't seem to care that I have a family pipes in with its very opinionated comments regarding my career and my independence and my inherent need to make art. It is a voice to be reckoned with because it is part of me that, well, makes me who I am. So how do we deal with this complicated set of rules regarding our psyche? How do we allow that part of ourselves to exist and still be content to let it come second or third or eightieth for awhile? The best I can do, for now, is to say that there is something to be said about this Moment. Without getting entirely Buddhist on you, I have to stress that if you are dealing with even anything remotely like this it is helpful to realize two things (or at least it has been helpful to me). First: Take this moment for everything it is worth. If you are paying attention to all that surrounds you — the good, the bad, the beautiful, the quirky, the complicated- chances are you won't have time to think about the things that you find so alluring about "career" and "independence" — it will occur to you that those triggers exist in many forms. Plus there is just entirely so much to take in when you have children. However trite and overused it may be the old saying is true — they do grow up so fast (and so do you). Secondly: You can find whatever your passion is in this daily grind of parenthood. When things get hard and you feel like you aren't taking in those precious moments and that you have lost all form of an identity outside of your kids, reel them into your world. When did we become a society of people that feel guilt for making our kids do something they don't want to do? If you try hard enough, you can make it amusing for everyone. I fully plan on giving the kids their own disposable cameras to take with them the next time I go on a photo-excursion. You might not believe it but a two year old is a great photographer — usually you get some great abstract expressionist photos out of it as well. Find a way to not lose yourself in whatever capacity that is. I firmly believe that our kids (not mine, ours collectively) are better off and grow up happier when they see us being who we are and continuing our search for self and personal progress, career or no career.

I ran into the NY mom a few days ago at a birthday party. We had a very candid discussion about ourselves and our kids and our "adjustment". She was very calm and had a look of complete sincerity and deliberate-ness in everything she said and did. Me, I was scattered and had the same glazed over urgent look on my face as she did the first time we met. We talked about photography and our kid's teacher, the Met and the schoolyard, darkroom techniques and birthday party ideas. There is something very liberating in figuring out that being there for your kids doesn't mean checking out on your life. I'm not so worried about week four anymore — or week five hundred and thirty three for that matter.

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