Sunday, September 8, 2013

the day i cried in my closet (some thoughts from a stay-at-home-mom)

i taught my last english class 16 years ago. i loved teaching high school. in fact, i was one of those strange people who actually loved teaching high schoolers.

yes. yes, really.

but after our second born, tyler, hit the scene, the chance came for me to stay home full time.
and i did.

and i have never regretted that decision. not once.

not even on those days when the baby was crying and the toddlers were clinging and the dog was, at that very moment, Lord have mercy, stealing my lunch right off the kitchen counter.

i never regretted staying home, but it wasn't always easy -- especially when the children were really young. there were days. oh, let me tell you friend ... there.were.days.

though much of it remains a blur, i do remember in those early years hitting the wall a time or two (or twenty ...).  one day in particular stands out in my motherhood memory. it was just after our third child, sarah, was born. i was in that supremely idyllic season of breast feeding the newborn, potty training the toddler and trying to keep the mischievous first born alive in the midst of incessant blouse unbuttoning, training pants removing and diaper changing.

you get the picture, right?

i hadn't lost the baby weight, i hadn't figured out how to successfully operate three children on limited sleep, and i hadn't had a chance to shower much that week. it's easy to see some traces of desperation around the edges when you add into the equation that i had zero family in town and a husband often on business out of town. on this particular day, it seemed like child number three wasn't going to ever get the hang of this nursing thing, child number two wasn't going to ever stop wetting his pants and child number one, i was convinced, was going to grow up with serious issues of neglect because i was constantly attending to her two needy, younger siblings.

and then there was that dog ... i swear, always eating my lunch off the gosh-darn-counter!

one morning, after snapping wildly at my firstborn (because she didn't understand why i couldn't add finger painting to the afternoon agenda) i climbed into my closet, and with a defeated spirit, a couple of leaky breasts and a big ole flabby stomach, i laid full on the floor and cried my eyes out.

i cried and i cried and i cried.

but i knew in the back of my mind in the back of that closet that even my pathetic breakdown had to be tightly scheduled. the baby was napping, the toddlers camped out in front of a cartoon, and both, said nap and cartoon, were bound to come to an abrupt end any second. i had only a few minutes to spare on some uncontrollable sobbing and my gargantuan self pity before i would have to cowboy up and return to my stay-at-home-mom status.

i would have to go back down those stairs.

as i heaved my tired-mama-body off the floor, i found myself standing in the middle of my "teaching clothes" section of the closet. i am not sure why i still had these outfits, but i did. just in case, i guess -- tucked away in plastic, way in the back, hidden behind my elastic waisted maternity pants and loose fitting dresses. so there i was -- a red-faced, runny-nosed, out of shape stay-at-home mom staring at my size two suits and my cleaned and pressed professional blouses. there i was staring into the face of my former life.

yep, you know it  -- i started to cry all over again.

there was no way my body was ever going to fit back into those suits. and if i did somehow manage to squeeze myself into one, i was certain it would be covered with breast milk, peanut butter and finger paint in about five minutes flat. right?

i felt like such a mess.

i felt like such a mess up.

even on a bad day of teaching school, i still had on cute shoes and a reasonably nice outfit.

but on this bad day of motherhood, i was slightly overweight, barefoot, leaky and hiding out in my closet. (that, by the way, is the other version of "barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen...").

at that moment of feeling like the world's worst mother and a completely lost-cause-kind-of-woman, i remembered (or God reminded me): i had chosen this.

this. this stay at home and stay in the kitchen and stay with the kids and stay by the potty and stay nursing on the couch and stay in my maternity clothes and stay always within an arm's reach ... this.

this is where i chose to stay.
this is where God was allowing me to stay.
this is where God wanted me to stay.

this is where i wanted me to stay.

but there were some days when this just wasn't easy and i needed to be reminded not of my former life and my size two suits, but of my choice.

and of my promise.

years ago, when we decided i would stay home with the kids, i made not only a decision, but i also made a promise. i made a vow that i would be grateful. i would not waste it. i would not take it for granted. i would not live as woman who deserved it, expected it or was entitled to it.

i would see it for what it was ---

a gift.

even on the hardest, messiest, ugliest, dirtiest days ... i would stop in the midst of it all and i would, with open hands and a grateful heart, give thanks.

but some days it was harder than it should have been.

somedays, in fact, i said my "thank yous" with clenched fists and through clenched teeth (which, on somedays, i hadn't found time to brush).

because some days, even when we've been given an amazing gift, it takes more than it should to say thank you. we have to dig deeper than we ever thought possible for those two simple words.

when i was feeling less than grateful, i would literally remind myself that there were other women out there trying to juggle jobs and kids and errands and dinner time. i knew women who wanted desperately to be home with their young ones, but weren't able to swing it for one reason or another.

and there i was struggling to stay home and struggling to say thanks.

since those days of having really young children, things have gotten easier -- physically easier for sure.  i'm still home full time with them and still incredibly grateful. i'm thankful for the chance to kiss my high schoolers good-bye in the morning and i'm thankful to meet my kindergartner at her classroom door each day at noon. i'm thankful to have the opportunity to throw tyler's soccer jersey in the wash when he needs it or to run up to school a left behind lunchbox (not often, but on occasion). i'm thankful to have the opportunity to be in and out and all around the lives of my school-aged children. i'm thankful i can be available and i'm happy to be here.

but still, even now, i need to be reminded.

because after all these years of staying home with my kids, i'll be honest, it is easy to forget that it's a gift. even though the maternity clothes and leaky breasts are long gone, i still sometimes need a reminder. i can feel it deep in my bones. i can sense it seeping out in my actions. i have watched myself, on occasion, teeter on that line of entitlement.

it's in the small things.

it's in the way i just kind of expect things to go my way when the kids head out to school. i kind of expect to have my day to myself. i kind of expect to have control of the outcome...control of the hours.

like they belong to me.

like i've earned it.

like i've put in hard time with young children and now it is my time.

i cringe writing that because i know how ugly it reads.

this past week i had one of those moments. i was sitting in the hair salon with a head full of highlight foils when i got the message from my girlfriend, diana. "school is closing early due to some kind of electrical issue in the building. do you want me to get your kids?"

it was 9:30 in the morning. i should have had hours. but instead i had a head full of foils and only a handful of minutes -- my kids were heading back home. soon.

this wasn't my plan for the day.we were just coming off a three day weekend and i was really looking forward to just a little bit of uninterrupted time. i had a list.

and i'll admit,  my first thought was not about the safety of my children, but about the state of my highlighted hair. (don't judge). just to be clear here, from my friend's text, i knew the children were safe ... i didn't have to go THERE -- to that place of extreme mother-worry. but, i also didn't go the place of "oh goodie, i get an extra day with the kiddos!" i just didn't. (neither did my friend, by the way).

(okay, stop! i can feel're judging!)

when we talked a few minutes later though, she said to me ... "i have to run quickly to the grocery store, but then maybe i'll take the girls to the zoo?"
"the zoo?" i thought."really, the zoo?"
i had planned to do some shopping ... i had some errands to run.
i didn't have any spontaneous desire for the zoo. i just didn't.

did that make me a bad mom?

did that make me less of a stay-at-home kind of mom?

because isn't that the mark of a successful stay-at-home mom? a mom who when school is cancelled can whip right out of her back pocket some kind of fun day parade? i used to think that. i used to think that because i had the privilege of staying home full time i also had the responsibility of making things perfect full time.

i thought, because i was home, then i should always: cook healthy dinners, volunteer to bake cupcakes, have organized closets, video tape every event, grow my own produce, provide piano lessons, photograph every moment, make homemade applesauce, sew beautiful clothing, update baby books daily, smile at everything, host coffees, lead multiple bible studies, remember everyone's birthdays, make my own candles, always be happy ...



maybe some of you stay-at-home moms feel that way right now. maybe you're feeling since you aren't bringing in a paycheck you should sure as heck be bringing up perfect children in a perfectly smooth life.



right now.

take off that poor pathetic attempt and hang it up it with your supermom cape in the corner of your closet...behind your former-life-suits or your maternity mumus or your whatever.

and, then ...  shut the door fast.

and run.

stay-at-home mom: you've been given a privilege. a gift. an opportunity. and, by all means, be grateful! BE GRATEFUL! but don't think for one minute that the present is going to stay perfectly wrapped and the bow is going to always be pristine.

being home with our kids is like the christmas morning aftermath. it's a mess, right? there are gifts all over the place, but so is their mess all over the place. and somedays you can hardly find the gifts in the midst of all that the midst of all that undoing! we don't line up our gifts neatly on shelves ready for display, nope, we're all over the living room and all over each other and all over everything.

and when we see that kind of mess through eyes of gratitude and with a heart of grace ... we see, not something perfect, but something beautiful.

friend, see something beautiful.

some of you reading this are stuck in the closet crying ... some of you are juggling jobs outside the home ... some of you are hurried at the hair salon ... some of you have hours on your hands and aren't sure what to do with your day.

there are different seasons in this journey. but i know for me, whatever the season, i have to remind myself of my choice --

the choice to look through the lens of gratitude and grace ... no matter what.

no matter where we are.
no matter what we're doing.
no matter how it looks.

--- every season. every day. a gift.

(by the way, just in case you were wondering ... no one went to the zoo).


Stephanie said...

So enjoyed that tonight! And needed it and identified with it :) Thank you for sharing this reminder...I chose this and I AM grateful for it, even when I think it will kill me! Ha ha! Your writing is a blessing to me, Jody!

Melanie said...

really excellent. Great message. Yes, I think we have all been crying in the back of the closet during some moment in those pre-school years. My favorite part was talking about thinking because we are at home we must make everything perfect. So true, must justify my existence and lack of income production by being the perfect wife, mother, homemaker. Exhausting and a lie!

Anonymous said...

You blessed me as well. I was crying and smiling at the same time. Thank you.

snekcip said...

WONDERFUL POST!!! I loved it from BEGINNING to END!! You are truly a gifted writer!! Very humourous too!!

jodymcnatt said...

thanks for leaving a comment stephanie! it blesses me to know you were encouraged. i was watching you (beautifully) manage your two little ones at the soccer game last week and it was a sweet reminder to me ... how slow the days (sometimes) and how fast the years...

jodymcnatt said...

oh yes, that crying-smiling thing ... i get it! i do that all the time. =)

jodymcnatt said...

"must justify my existence" ... ha! the lie which the sly one loves to weave into our days of oatmeal pan scraping and toilet bowl cleaning... really, if we'd just stop and watch the utter gratitude on the faces of our young children when we engage, we'd be in need of no justification. often, we (I) don't see it because i'm already on the to the next thing ... why do we mothers, (new and veteran, young and old, stay-at-home and working outside home) think for one minute we need to justify anything. we love our kids and we do our best -- not perfectly. never perfectly--enough said. the rest is grace ...

jodymcnatt said...

so glad you enjoyed it. and so fun for me (all these years later) to look back at that desperate moment with a hint of humor. i think that means i've (slightly) recovered. =)