All I ever wanted was to be a wife and a mother. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wanted a million other things too, but this far and away led the list. It was so much a part of who I was, even at a young age, that a dear friend actually gave me a subscription to Brides Magazine for my sixteenth birthday (true story). Let me tell you that seeing that magazine in my dorm room (yes, I continued the subscription until the day I was married) scared quite a few young men along the way! And let’s not even mention the notebook of every changing baby names that I kept for years!
I grew up as the youngest of three, and when I was eight years old, my mom started an in-home day care business called Dot’s Tots. Without realizing it then, Dot’s Tots definitely helped shape my hopes and dreams. I would get home from school every day, and my mom was there to talk with me and to hear about my day, but there were lots of little people there as well. I always had a baby to hold or a toddler to play with. I watched these children grow up in my home. As I got older, I got more involved with the children. These were the kids I’d babysit for on the weekend, and during the summer I would serve as lifeguard by the pool, and even started the famous “Dot’s Tots Summer Olympics.” Babies were in my blood. Trust me, there were days I would have loved to come home to an empty house or a house with just my mom in it, but most days I loved walking through the door to see all of those little faces.
I don’t remember thinking about whether or not I’d be a stay at home mom when I was young. My picture definitely had a husband and kids in it, but I was raised to believe that I could do or be anything that I wanted in life. Neither of my parents went to college, and I was the only one in my family to finish. My parents truly made me feel like anything I strived for was possible. I guess I believed I could “have it all” even though I didn’t really know what that looked like, or even meant.
Fast forward to a few years after college… I married Michael, my college sweetheart. This was, far and away, the best decision of my entire life. I moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania and began a career in Pharmaceutical Sales. I loved it and I was very good at it. I was at the top of my class in sales school, and won the Fast Start Award my first year out. I had aspirations of working in sales training, but hadn’t quite figured out how that would work since my company’s home office was in Kansas City, and Michael’s career and our whole life was on the east coast. I remember briefly feeling like it wasn’t fair that his career (much more established than mine at that point) took priority. Shouldn’t I get the chance to go to Kansas City and see what I could do? Boy, I really didn’t worry about this for long. Instead, I got the baby bug.
Michael and I bought our first home at Christmastime, about a year and half after we were married. I remember wanting to get pregnant so badly around that time. I think Michael would have preferred to wait a bit longer, save a bit more money, etc. We had many teary (on my part) conversations that involved him saying that we weren’t in a position for me to be home full-time, and my swearing that I had no problem going back to work full-time if we could just have a baby (I thought I meant it). I was pregnant by June.
I loved being pregnant. I loved everything about it. I couldn’t wait until I could wear maternity clothes, and in hindsight, I really jumped the gun on that one. But I wanted EVERYONE to know I was pregnant. My career flourished. My sales territory was the amazing neighborhoods in and around South Philly, a predominantly Italian area of Philadelphia. Here I was, this young woman with a very Italian last name and clearly not a drop of Italian blood in her. I had established great relationships in my doctors’ offices, but the pregnancy took things to a whole new level. I spent months being turned around to decide if my nose had spread more than my backside, and sat still while having my wedding ring spun on a string over my giant belly – all this to decide if I was having a boy or a girl…South Philly style. The prevailing wisdom said girl…and they were right.
Five days after my due date, in the early morning hours, my beautiful Katie arrived – and I was never, ever the same. In those very first moments I knew with a certainty unlike anything I had ever experienced before, that my life’s work had just begun. I was a mom.
But remember those teary promises about going back to work full-time if I could just have a baby? …well, it had to happen. The mortgage loomed. Twelve weeks later, I returned to work. And so began a whole new series of teary conversations about how and when I could stop working. We got so lucky, because I know this isn’t the case for so many families. Six months after I returned to work, I was able to transition to a two day per week schedule in my sales job.
This two day per week schedule continued for the next few years, and worked out well for us. I still wanted to be home full-time, and we were getting close. We welcomed Cole, our beautiful boy, two years later, and in the fall of 1999, we embarked on the adventure of a lifetime and moved our family to Denmark.
The three years we spent as guests in this beautiful country, were three of the best years of my life. We welcomed Abbey seven months after arriving, and I settled in so fantastically to my role as full-time stay at home mom. Being home to kiss every boo-boo, snuggling up to watch The Lion King for the billionth time, seeing the wonder on those beautiful little faces as they discovered new things – I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.
I’ve been blessed over the years to have several part-time jobs that fell in my lap just at the right time, but that left just as gracefully when they were no longer needed. Some were short-term projects with old colleagues involving really exciting stuff that let me feel useful and smart in a different way when maybe I was doubting myself or my value (Wow! That was a whopper of a run-on sentence!). Others let me make a difference in the lives of children when my three were happy and busy at school, yet let me be home before the first feet stepped off the school bus at the end of the day. I know I’ve been very lucky -- lucky to be at home all of these years, lucky to have a husband that bent over backwards to make it possible and mostly lucky to have chosen the absolute right dad for my kids, and most amazing husband for me.
As I’m writing my story, I realize that I want you all to know every detail, but unless you have nothing else to do today but read this (ha, you’re most likely moms, which means you have a million other things to do today), all I really need to share is that I loved it. I loved all of it. Not every minute of every day of course, because it’s really, really hard work some times. But in true Denise form, my rose-colored glasses are firmly in place while I write this, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
To help fill my need for grown-up interaction and activity and to be as involved with my kids as possible, I was homeroom mom more times than I can count, I attended every Halloween, Holiday and End of the Year party that I could, went on the field trips, etc. As the kids grew and I had more available time, I took on bigger roles in their schools. I ran the book fair for several years, then switched gears and handled all of the tickets for the amazing high school theatre program. My latest endeavor is handling all of the refreshments for the middle school musical. I love being able to use my time and talents to support my kids in the things they love and also support their amazing teachers and schools.
I laugh when I think about my eventual return to the work force, and how I’ll use my communication skills to convince my future employer that my volunteer jobs and mom skills garnered over the last twenty years make me a valuable employee. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, but for now I’m going to savor every minute of my last few years at home.
My baby turned 14 yesterday, and this fall I will have two kids in college. I kiss fewer boo-boos these days, but I’m still lucky enough to snuggle up for a movie (or an episode of Say Yes to the Dress – our guilty pleasure). Some days I feel like my role is simply that of chief cook and housekeeper. But just when I’m feeling like I’m not as needed as I used to be, someone needs to talk, or vent, or work through a problem, and I’m there to listen, or give advice (gingerly), or just give them a hug.
I struggle with my new place in the world. I sometimes question who I’ll be or what I’ll do when they are all off being their amazing selves and making their own mark on the world. But really, I do know who I’ll be. I’ll be their mom, forever and always, and I can’t think of anything better I could have done.