Moving At the Speed of Four
Photo credit: Sarah Potter Photography
I never thought I'd be the one to write this. I did not see this coming. Never.
But here goes.
To quote Shannon in her excellent piece "The Seven Year Itch: Separation," "I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for seven years now. Seven years. And, as it turns out, I’m all done."
I, too, have been a stay-at-home mom for 7 years - 7 1/2 to be precise. First to my older daughter, next to her and my younger daughter who was born 3 years later. This was never a job I sought, although I didn't seek other outside employment after I was laid off during my extended maternity leave. Because, as I wrote in "The Pause: Once in a Lifetime," "as much as I love teaching, I feel the obligation to stay home and make this life work only maybe one percentage point more. The best I can muster for housewifing is ambivalence hidden behind a closed-lip smile and some abstract belief that one day I'll be grateful that I did this. In the choice between throwing myself back into the classroom and staying home, staying home wins - but just barely."
I, too, am all done. Or nearly so.
My tenure as a stay-at-home parent has not been an easy one. I've felt conflicted for nearly all of it, trapped by most of it, and resentful for months (possibly years - I don't really want to remember) on end. And I know how privileged I am, and how lucky I am to be able to feel all of those nasty feelings while still having a clear choice of whether to stay home and raise babies or go to work and raise babies. I know what a gift it is to be able to even conceive of that choice. This burden is a blessing, just as this blessing has been a burden.
It wasn't always so fraught. When I was first staying home with my older daughter, in the sweet 6 months or so before I lost my job and was just on maternity leave, I loved it. I loved the gentle rhythm of our days and the freedom to follow her needs and my whims as we floated through a harmonious babymoon together. I knew that I had to revel in those days of unconflicted attention and care because soon, I thought, I'd be back to work, and those days would be over. I loved that time in large part because the days of having my daughter all to myself and of her having me all to herself were limited.
Until they weren't. Until the calendar yawned before me for years and years of homebound baby-raising. Until that one percentage point that tipped the scales in favor of staying home began to weigh heavier and heavier.
I can easily say that when I wrote "The Pause: Once in a Lifetime" last year, I was in a dark phase of SAHM'ing. My older daughter had just come through a long spell of poor health and a rough transition to first grade. My younger daughter was apparently entering her third year of terrible two's, which had begun around when she turned one. It was the middle. The godawful, "How did I get here and how will I get out?" middle. Melodramatically, it puts me in mind of the quote attributed to Churchill, "When you're going through hell, keep going." Being home with my kids wasn't hell exactly, at least not most days, but the only way out was through, so we kept going.
And now we're almost to the end of this particular era. This week I filled out my younger Smartling's application for kindergarten, which she'll start this fall. THIS fall. Not next fall. Not in a couple of years. Oh, no. THIS VERY FALL OF THIS VERY YEAR.
IT'S HAPPENING. FREEDOM IS WITHIN MY GRASP, AT LONG LAST.
I thought I would be throwing confetti and popping champagne bottles at this point. Surprisingly, though, I'm not.
Contrary to all expectation, given how long I've longed for this time, I'm feeling nostalgic and bittersweet about these years as a SAHM. I know I'm going to miss them, even as I'm still in the midst of them. It's very like how I felt when I was first a stay-at-home mother, when my escape route was apparently as clear as it appears now.
And so I find myself once again consciously, vibrantly appreciating the time I get to spend with my daughters, time afforded to me by staying home. It's as if someone has turned up the color just a bit on our daily lives, and I can see how much fun and enjoyment we share. Knowing that the end is coming makes the journey sweeter, and I find myself paying mindful attention to my younger daughter during our days at home. We play more, we snuggle more, we wrestle more, and I let her call more shots in how we spend our days together. This means that I find myself walking more slowly, listening more patiently, responding more sensitively, and taking more time during the day to see the world as my small person does.
More and more I'm moving at the speed of my four year-old, which I've mentally termed "moving at the speed of four" (and, when my older daughter is with us, moving at the speed of seven). This is a speed I may never be called upon to accommodate again as my girls grow, during a time I will never again relive as they move on to school and I to work.
I have never read Lean In, and I doubt I ever will. However, I keep recalling an interview with Sheryl Sandberg I listened to when she was in the throes of the media campaign for her book. She was encouraging women, particularly those on their way toward new jobs or maternity leave, not to disengage from their current work before they leave for other opportunities and experiences. She advocated leaning in to work even as one was preparing to leave it. And I find myself doing that here. I'm leaning in to raising my four year old, the last four year old I'll ever have.
It is beautiful. We have a family harmony we haven't experienced in years. Whether this is because one can't be in their terrible twos forever and my younger daughter is growing out of her challenging behavior, or whether it's because she's blooming under the extra attention and leniency, I neither know, nor care.
It is finite. Because school is coming, and new challenges approach, and the nature of human development, interaction, and life is temporary. This time cannot last.
It is beautiful because it is finite. Because it is now. Because it may never be again.
So it is that, at the end of a long term as a disgruntled stay-at-home mother, I find myself deeply enjoying this work that I've been so eager to shuck. I'm wearing my SAHM mantle with pride, joy, and ease, just as I did at the outset.
It is an unexpected pleasure, moving at the speed of four. It slows time some. The days seem longer when spent on the floor with Legos or diving to the bottom of a box of dress-up costumes. This time is worth slowing. It is worth savoring. I am so grateful to have discovered that before it is over.