It’s Tuesday morning, and Ainsley rolls out of bed with both eyes crusted shut and a voice that is a cross between an eighty-five-year-old life-long smoker and Kim Carnes singing Betty Davis Eyes. Gravelly, throaty, Darth Vaderesque.
Clearly she’s encountered some pesky virus.
Here’s a confession I’ve made many times: I’m happy when my kids get sick. Not happy for their suffering, of course, but inwardly glad because I know that I’ll simply stop.
Some other Mommy-blogger once coined the term Hard Stops. Hard Stops are those moments sprinkled throughout our day or week that lead us to declare a halt to the frenzy of demands that assail mothers – the laundry, the unsigned permission slip, the missing soccer cleat, the prescription that needs to be picked up, the next meal.
Hard Stops help us set aside what seems urgent to focus on what’s far more important.
In my house that means being fully present to my children, being with them rather than doing things for them, setting aside my To Do List to simply be. When I have a sick child, I stop. That child gets one hundred percent of me. Or maybe 90%. But significantly more, I’m sad to say, than on an ordinary day. We may pick up pizza. We may eat frozen waffles. Housework and cooking, blogging and bill paying – these get shuttled to the margins, and my sick child comes front and center.
Sometimes Hard Stops are not quite so hard as a fever, as colorful as a rash, as dramatic as a sudden bout of vomiting. That still, small voice called mother’s intuition tells me that all is not well with my twelve-year-old. I notice that my typically amenable five-year-old seems to be nothing but obstreperous. These symptoms call for a Hard Stop but the call comes as a whisper, a Holy Spirit-nudge. I take the tween out for a milk-shake or invite the five-year-old to the library with no one else in tow.
Kind of a Soft Hard Stop.
A Hard Stop may involve Mom. One recent seven day period began with a weekend visit to Disney World and then moved on to a science fair project, packing Daddy off for two weeks in Alaska, making sandwiches for the bereavement committee at church, supervising an in depth geometry project, multiple doctor’s appointments. And at the end of it, I collapsed.
Hard, Hard Stop.
We need to take care of the person who is taking care of everyone else.
What does any of this have to do with being a stay at home Mom? Being home with my children helps me to listen to these Hard Stops. Life with four children is intense. I am an intense person. Gosh, how there are times I wish I could wiggle my nose and be a different version of me – more mellow, more go-with-the-flow, chilled, ya know?
That calm version of me might turn up yet, might just blow in with an East wind like Mary Poppins. But until the day that epochal transformation occurs, it would behoove me to build margins into my life, to erect boundaries that help me put first things first, to add space and time into my life so that I can better hear and heed the voice that says:
Let It Go
Cuddle on the Couch
Build the Fort
Read the Story
Oohhh and Aahhh over that Lego creation
Listen to the Twelve-Year-Old
My decision to stay home helps -- it helps quite a lot.
So this morning I looked at my red-eyed cherub and gave her four options: painting, reading, having a little tea party, playing doll house with Mama. And we sat down with our water colors and got to work.
Seventeen years ago, I looked down at the second blue line that told me I was a mother. At the time, I was working two jobs – I was a high school English teacher and a weekend warrior with the US Army. I loved both jobs but knew I’d leave them when Tim arrived. My husband, thankfully, has always seen the value of having Mom at home.
Truthfully, I’ve viewed this as more of a privilege than a sacrifice. I’ve cried with close friend s as they’ve prepared to send tiny babies to daycare when they would have gladly stayed home had that been an option.
“You’re going to work,” I told one friend, “so that your son can go to the doctor.”
Her husband was self-employed with no insurance, so my friend had found a job with benefits. It was no small sacrifice.
Certainly many people view full-time homemaking as a waste of an education, but, good gravy, I was once a logistics manager for Procter and Gamble and, believe me, the demands of that job don’t compare to the challenges of ordering the lives and living space of six people. Especially now, having a preschooler and a teenager and two others in between, this life I lead demands all my energy, all my creativity, all my organizational skills , more patience than I possess – in short, it takes virtue, brawn, and brains.
On my bad days – and I have plenty of them – I am grateful that I married relatively late (at 32) and became a mother well past the average age (at 33). I went into this SAHM gig with plenty of real world experience. I had held a variety of jobs and had travelled widely before turning in my power suit, my grade book, my Army fatigues for a life of babies and car pools, Legos and play dates. While some mothers might indulge in wistful thoughts about the working world, might think the grass is greener on the other side, I’ve seen the grass and, though it’s different, it’s not necessarily greener. The clothes are nicer, the pay is better, but it comes with its own set of stresses that I know only too well.
When a mother discerns how best to live out her vocation, here is a pearl of wisdom I have found most helpful: Know thyself. I have friends who beautifully balance motherhood and outside employment. As for me, I think of the words of Jesus: You cannot serve two masters. As an intense, competitive person, were I to invest in a career right now, it would be at the expense of my family. I’m afraid I’d leave them all in the dust. Home is the best place for me for now, and I am so very grateful that it’s a viable option for our family.
No one expresses the value of motherhood more eloquently than G.K. Chesterton who once wrote:
How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.