I had my first of three children over ten years ago now. The fact that I have a ten-year-old child does not really compute in my brain. I am still young and young people do not have ten year-olds. My next child is eight and the last is five-"and-a-half." But I didn't become a mother ten years ago. I think I became a mom about three or four years ago.
I read a blog last night, which I posted on Twitter, that reminded me just how I felt about motherhood. My first child stayed in daycare for the first year of his life while I finished a doctoral program in Educational Administration. I used to rush out of my grad assistantship, pick him up before his second nap and whisk him home to snuggle and sleep together. Those afternoon are among my favorite memories.
I defended my dissertation at 8.5 months pregnant with number 2. Who in the world was going to flunk a woman whose belly was visible crawling during her answers? I passed, graduated, moved home to Mississippi, and Mike started private practice. I assumed I would work at the University and pick up my kids at daycare just like I had before. Life took an unexpected turn.
A few months after being here, Mike's partners broke off to cover a hospital closer to where they lived, and he stayed here. He began working 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Something had to give, and it wasn't my salary. I stayed home with my infant and two-year-old. And I hated it.
I hated several things. First, I hated the long, dull days of sippy cups, diapers, and boring foods. I mean these days seemed like the very longest days on earth. By five-thirty I would start calling Mike, "Are you on your way?" By six I would be banging pots and pans. Second, I hated it when people asked me, "What do you do?" I made up all kinds of answers like, "Well, I'm the President of the Public School Foundation," which I was even though my kids wouldn't be in school for three years. Or, "Well, I'm a teacher, but staying with my kids right now."
I knew so many women who sacrificed and scrimped to be able to stay home with their kids, but I was not one of them. I felt selfish for not embracing the opportunity I had. I signed up for every committee and project that came down the pipe. I took every mom and me class around, and I put my kids in preschool for half a day.
It took me time, experience, and being around some committed friend-moms to teach me some very important things. First, I didn't understand that mothering may be the most powerful act a woman can have. Taking good care of the people we bring into the world may be the most powerful job we are afforded as people - not just women, but as families, aunties, and communities. Mother Theresa famously said, "If you want to change the world, go home and love your family." For some women, that may happen after work. That's okay.It's about being present when you are there.
The other thing I didn't get was what good care looked like. Good care isn't boring. It is a lot of work - way harder than my doctorate program; probably harder than when I taught 30 alternative school kids in Jackson. It is hard to give good care to kids 24/7. Our daycare workers are the most underpaid, undervalued, important professionals in our communities. Good care involves finding good food, being present, and creating loving community.
The last thing I didn't get was how quickly this time would pass. All three kids are in school now. I'm thankful they don't remember when I was filling a role as a mom and not embracing it. They have never had a "stay-at-home-mom" and probably never will. I always have a project or three and a farm. But what my kids finally have is someone who understands how important it is to be a mother. It is more important than any outside work, project, or role. Taking good care of my kids is at the top of my list now, because I understand that while caregiving may be one of the most undervalued roles in our society, society is often wrong.
When people ask what I do now, I am able to say with confidence, "First, I'm a mom." In ten years I have learned that this is an accomplished thing to say.