Since I was a little girl, I have known I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. There was never a question. There was never an option. My parents lost their first child to SIDS at eleven months old. My mom had a great job before he was born and the company she worked for really wanted her to stay. They offered to pay for all of her child care costs on top of her salary, but she resolutely declined. They had waited almost ten years before that sweet baby came into their lives and she was sure in her decision to stay home with him. She left him only once in those eleven months, and it was the one time he was filmed on video. The babysitter was filming her child and him and just happened to mostly film him. This is the only video my parents have of him and they treasure it. This little angel passed on to the next life and my dear mother and father could not have felt more grateful that they made that pivotal decision to stay home with him and spend every precious moment they could with him.
I grew up knowing this story and being taught since I was a child the eternal importance of family and that nothing else matters, especially money or anything you can buy with it. I made that decision young and didn’t really think much more about it until my son was born.
I had been working as a nurse and had to continue to work five days every two weeks in order to maintain our health insurance. I felt nothing short of ill when I had to return to work and anytime I left him. As he has grown older and we have added another son to our family, this feeling has not diminished. (When I’m going to work that is. I have become a lot more comfortable and much less anxiety-stricken with leaving them for a few hours to go on a date or run an errand.) I’m sure that anxiety I felt when leaving them stemmed from a combination of many things, including those experiences in my family and really just the incredible obsession I feel for my children. Once I became a mother, as far as I was concerned, that was it. I could not have cared less about being a nurse or anything else. I WAS A MOTHER. That was everything. That was enough.
I had no idea how all-encompassing motherhood would be. I gladly and instinctively gave every facet of my eager soul and every speck in my beating heart to these two little boys. I worked part-time like that for a few months, and then when we moved I only did short travel-nursing assignments here and there so I could continue to be home with my dear children. Like I said, my world was completely overcome by these little souls. From morning until evening and every moment in between, my every move revolved around their well-being, safety, and happiness. And although I liked it that way and chose to be as obsessive as I was, I would get worn out. I was tired. I was never off-duty. And it was exhausting. I would try to explain to Dan that when he was working, he would get home and be done. When he was on a break from school, he was truly on a break and was able to turn off his worries and relax. I told him that I never got a break or took even a short hiatus from worrying. The work was literally never done. I went to sleep right there in the “office,” spent every waking moment tirelessly working, and even woke up several times in the night continuing my work! (Every mother reading this is smirking and nodding in empathy.) This is motherhood and it is work in every sense of the word. It can truly be so difficult to try to find that balance and find a way to let your busy mind and worrying heart take a “break” every once in a while.
When we moved to Texas, I got a job as a Med-Surg nurse working two to four shifts per month. I went through an orientation period where I worked full-time and more part-time orientation before I went on my regular two to four shift per month schedule. Leaving Jude (only him at that time) was miserable. Even when my mom flew down to watch him, it was treacherous to leave him. Although it was nice to get paid to sit and watch orientation movies and listen to speakers all day, I missed him. He was my heart and a part of me was missing when I was not with him.
Before long I was out on the floor working. Friends would ask me if it was kind of a “break” to work and get out of the routine. I told them it would be if my job wasn’t so incredibly tedious. (Thirteen-hour shifts where I would rarely sit and was constantly running from one patient to the next medicating for pain and taking doctor’s orders and everything in between). It was utterly exhausting and I longed for the days of story times and sitting at the kitchen table eating an hour long lunch with my babes. I began to dread leaving them in every sense of the word. Although normally a very low-anxiety and confident person, I would get full-on, almost debilitating, anxiety even up to two weeks before I had to work! I found myself not able to truly enjoy my days with my children because I was so worried about leaving them. It was more so with Jude when someone other than Dan was watching him as I would fret over his needs concerning his allergies, knowing how to care for him, prepare his foods, and give him the medications he was taking at the time.
I gladly took a four-month maternity leave after Abraham was born but quickly realized my altered reality was coming to an end as I depleted all our savings and had to start making plans to go back to work. Since I worked so infrequently, I still was not “on my own” as a nurse. I was still working with another nurse on orientation and that was nice, but I worried about going on my own and not having that help. They allowed me a few more shifts of orientation after I returned to get back in the groove, but before long the apron strings were abruptly cut and I started working on my own.
While setting up shifts with the staffing coordinator, I expressed my difficulty in working the 13-14 hour shifts (I was always behind). I would wake up before the children were awake and get home after they had gone to bed. I would not see them all day! I had to pump several times a day as I was nursing Abraham. The staffing coordinator mentioned the possibility of doing 8-hour shifts and I told her I would absolutely love that. She was able to get them approved and I started working 8-hour shifts, from 2:45 pm – 11:00 pm (more like midnight or later). I was entirely delighted. I got to spend the whole morning with my darlings, put them both down for their naps, and then get ready for work and go. I only missed them for a few short hours between naptime and bedtime. And I only had to pump once during my 8-hour shift. (I need to pump more, but I can get away with once.)
Dan reminded me that after one of my first 8-hour shifts, I admitted that I might have actually “enjoyed” it a little bit. (WHAT?!?! Have I gone crazy?!) I was working on my own. I got to do my own thing. I was on an off-shift so I didn’t receive typical report during a busy shift change and immediately take on a full-load of patients. One day, I even did tech work and another shift I was a sitter for the last four hours and got to watch HGTV while sitting by a confusing patient who was soundly sleeping!
I started to understand what people meant when they said work might be a nice break for me. Although most days I was very busy and I missed my children dearly, I knew they were being safely cared for by their father and I was really only away from them (awake) for 3-4 hours.
I began to notice a change in myself when I was home with them. The day after I worked, I was the most pleasant, patient, and jovial mother this household had ever seen. I would laugh and giggle at everything they did. I noticed little things about them that I had not appreciated or even seen in the past. I was entirely content to spend my whole morning playing horsies with them, reading stories, and going on walks. I felt I could accomplish nothing greater than just to laugh with them and enjoy the perfection of their presence. Dan would come home and ask me what I did that day and I would joyfully and unapologetically and proudly tell him I “had a wonderful day enjoying being with my babies.”
When I do not work out of the home, I oftentimes find myself getting caught up in everything I need to “get done.” I’m running busily from laundry to phone calls, to making appointments, to checking “something important” on my iPad, and before I knew it I’m putting Abraham down for his nap and suddenly missing him because I realize I hadn’t taken the time to bounce him on my leg or make him laugh all morning. Working, although not often, helped me really savor those little moments that may not seem like much to an outsider, but to me, those little moments are sheer, unadulterated HEAVEN.
Sometimes it is easy to take things for granted when we always have them.
After I had worked, I felt proud of myself and accomplished for working and making some money, but a million times better and an ocean’s worth of smiles that I was now home with nothing on my calendar for the day and I got to spend the whole day (and next week!) just being a mom. What could be better?! I have convinced myself, believe, and know that the answer to that question is – absolutely nothing.
I fear that as stay at home moms, we can get so caught up in the days and the routines and looking at motherhood as a “job”, we lose sight of the BREATHTAKING and BEAUTIFUL moments that slowly and simply create the masterpiece of motherhood.
Although it’s been a roller coaster of a journey, I am grateful that I am able to work. It helps me maintain an eternal perspective on motherhood. I put myself in check and reevaluate how I’m doing as a wife and mother when I am taken out of that role. And, for the record, absolutely nothing beats that feeling of leaving work and stepping into that ancient elevator on my way to the parking garage, knowing I will be seeing the most beautiful faces in the world in a few hours and that they will be all mine.
Sometimes it takes “losing” something (or someone) to realize how much we love and appreciate and desperately need them.
Here’s to PASSIONATELY and DESPERATELY loving our families and our roles as mothers whatever our circumstance may be.