The week before school starts is madness. The air is electric with heat, anxiety, that last plucked nerve, anticipation. There are snakes in the yard. Banana spiders spinning their webs across doorways. Crazy thunderstorms with destructive lightning and a cacophony of frogs and cicadas. Three tropical disturbances swirling out in the Atlantic. It all feels very precarious. Everything could be swept away in an instant.
The heat is oppressive, the Open Houses zoo-like, the lists endless. Oh, the lists! Every good thing from summer is now ending and we must be on a SCHEDULE. And we must be ORGANIZED. We have to submit to a CALENDAR to tell us where to be and when. We have to SIGN ALL THE THINGS. We have to at least make an effort to work out. I mean, now we have all this TIME.
The page on my wall calendar for August is colored green, and that means GO. Despite the colors changing as I rip off each month’s page, this will be our default mode until next summer, when we can stop again. The color for June? Red, of course. Those calendar designers knew what they were doing when they made their color choices.
The overburdened air sizzles and pops and does not let you out of its grip until the first-day-of-school picture is over and the kids are safely ensconced in their classrooms. And the madness continues well after the first day. With forms and forgotten lunch boxes and schedule changes and locker drama.
And what are you left with? The echoes of summer laughter and adventure. Score sheets from a hundred games of rummy around the kitchen table. Crumpled eclipse glasses. All of those unfinished summer art projects piled up on the dining room table. An unnamed ache around your heart. And that old anxiety around YOUR plans and YOUR schedule and YOUR to-do list.
Only one person asked me when my youngest entered kindergarten, “So, what will you do now that they’ll both be in school?” What will I do? It’s hard not to feel indignant at the question. Like I have been lying around for the past seven years, and these kids have up and raised themselves. What will I do? I will do the same thing I’ve been doing, just without a kid attached to me! Shopping. Cooking. Driving. Cleaning all the things. Planning. Managing. All the myriad little tasks that make up the colossal daily effort of mothering.
No one has asked me that question (outright) in seven years now, but the start of the school year begs for that question to be answered, among others:
What am I doing with my life?
Is it enough?
Where am I going?
How am I contributing?
Am I using my education?
Am I setting a good example?
Does being a full-time mom automatically make me a good one?
Who decides the answers to these questions anyway? And over what time frame?
I tell myself that there is no such thing as the Mommy Wars. But then the question is innocently asked, “What do you do?” and I immediately draw my weapon. Ready to go to battle over my decision to stay home. Yet, no one has ever challenged that decision. The Mommy Wars only wage within. What is the endgame here? Happy, healthy families. And there are as many versions of that as there are parents trying to create their own unique version of happy and healthy.
As agitated and as anxious as I still am about being a stay-at-home mom, I have to recognize some truths:
I have made my choice; picked my side. Let me carry on, wasting no more time on a war that is only with myself.
And there are no sides. Only mothers. Doing what they know is best for their families- and themselves.
I love to be home, focused only on my family.
And I ache to perform a job well and make money and feel useful.
I have more than enough to do to raise a happy, healthy family.
And I don’t have enough to do.
I am lacking in the gene called hustle.
And I spend every waking moment mothering.
I like to go against the grain. I hate crowds. I don’t want to be at Costco on a Saturday. Tuesday mornings are quiet, with no lines.
And I like to feel like I am a part of things, dipping my big toe into the stream of life. I love to belong.
I want an easy answer to the question from a stranger- “What do you do?”
And I relish the nuance and complexity of full-time motherhood.
I need quiet and rest and time to think things out. My knee-jerk reaction is almost always wrong. But if I can pause and reflect, the right answer, the good answer, the life-affirming answer always comes.
And I need structure and a schedule and deadlines and to-do lists in order to feel productive.
I don’t want to fit motherhood into the cracks of who I am.
And I don’t only want to be a mother.
I want to dive deep into the issues and challenges my family faces.
And I want to pretend we are a perfect family with no problems.
I have fifteen years of skin in the motherhood game and I’m no closer to answering those questions or solving these dichotomies.
I hate that.
And it’s what keeps me going.
Every time I think about how I want to contribute to this world, it always comes back to my family. These people are my friends. My tribe. My ride-or-dies. My family is my life’s work. For better or for worse, it will be my legacy. My oldest will be in college in three years. My youngest, three years after that. I have six years left to be their constant, their rock. This lovely life that my husband and I have helped create, with both kids under one roof, has a fast-approaching expiration date. I don’t want to miss any of it.
My family- it is all I ever wanted.
And I want so much more for myself.
Sometimes motherhood is too much.
And it is always enough.