“Blessings on the full time mothers and fathers.” — comment from an unnamed mothering blog earlier this week
I am in training for the empty nest. I have a few good coaches in the mothers who have gone through similar nest remodels before me. Some are my dearest BFF’s or my loving mother-in-law who has never grown stale despite the fact that her youngest, my husband, is now 51. And just yesterday I discovered this great wordpress blog written by two sisters : http://afterthekidsleave.com/2012/08/03/where-i-introduce-karen-to-a-list/ . You know they had me at the subtitle for their site: “First you rent out their rooms.”
Part of my summer training has been early morning musing, reading and some times writing while the rest of my full house sleeps deeply and snores lightly. The writing part is elemental for for me: a part of my makeup, one that the crush of daily life has forced me to neglect for too long. But I don’t want too get too maudlin here because “Mum Neglects Mum in Her Zeal to Care for Everyone Else” is a tired headline and beside my point this morning. I have taken a lot of inspiration and laughter from other mothers’ blogs. And occasionally I also take a hit of irritation that makes my short hair stand on end. See the quotation above for example.
I know what the writer was getting at and that is exactly why I did not respond. I do not need the maelstrom of the stay-at-home vs working-mother debate at this stage of parenting. As mothers of a certain age, we shredded that issue to pieces ages ago and with it, at times, unnecessarily shredded each other. The process was divisive and sometimes even cruel. I remember so well the tension. It was like a lacrosse face-off over the ball of motherhood. Only one side would end up with the ball. Or so we thought.
Aside from my maternity leaves, I have worked continuously since before I started reproducing. It created a chronic low-grade anxiety when my boys were small – one that found me in awkward places pumping milk with an industrial strength machine or up before dawn decorating homemade sugar free cookies with raisin faces and then slipping out to the bus before they awoke. There were elementary school play costumes held together with staples rather than thread, dinners at McDonald’s ( a memory so strange that it still makes my organic sons question whether I was mature enough to mother in my 30’s), emailed conferences with teachers, showing up to chaperone field trips in suits and pumps and then raced back downtown. I was crestfallen when my oldest came home from a playdate during the first month of kindergarten and said, “I just learned you have it all wrong. Dads are supposed to get up in the morning and go to work. You are supposed to stay home.”
One of my husband’s three stay-at-home sisters remarked early on that it was “heresy” for me to believe I could raise my children as well as our mothers did when I spent 10 + hours a day at an office.
Eventually that sister went back to work, reluctantly but necessarily. We did not talk about “heresy” anymore. Because a funny thing happened to all of us between there and here. As the miles increased on our mothering odometers, judgments about other mothers sprang more slowly from our heads and lips. It turned out we were better off banded with other mothers than we were alone. We came to know that we are all “working mothers” and we are also all “full time mothers”.
When you think about it, have any of us ever met a mother who wasn’t “FULL TIME” no matter how old her children are? I am not as sure about fathers, but every mother I know is a “full time” mother. From the moment the babe is placed in our care – whether in utero or later, we are mothers 24/7/365. There is another program and agenda running constantly in the background of our minds and hearts. Whether we perform brain surgery, clean other people’s toilets, drive heavy machinery or run countries or run our own homes, we are always mothers first.
And the full-time demands do not stop when they can wipe their own bottoms or even drive themselves to school. In some ways they intensify. I laugh when neighbors with small children cruise by our house tugging their youngsters along and sigh when they spy my husband and I reading the newspaper or having a glass of wine as if we are leaving under a lucky star because we have teenagers. Ha ! Little kids / little problems…. you know how that saying ends. You know how it hurts. And how the kids’ program keeps running in the background on your personal hard drive.