Staying On My Mat

Last Thursday was “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” dress-up day at Saoirse’s preschool, which is a really hard concept for a four-year-old whose picture of the world is limited to her teachers, the mail carrier, and the little family living within the four walls of her home.  A couple of days beforehand, at the table during lunch, I asked Saoirse how she wanted to dress for the big day.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked her.

Saoirse frowned.  “I dunno.”

“Well,” I said, “when you become a grown-up, and aren’t a kid anymore, what do you want to be? What kind of job would you like?”

SK’s face brightened, a small smile breaking open.

“A mommy,” she decided, satisfied.

I swallowed.

“What’s that?” I asked. “You want to be a mommy?”

“Yeah!” Saoirse replied, nodding. “I want to be a mommy.”

Inside, in my brain, I involuntarily called out, Wait, no! You want to be more than that!  But I smiled at my daughter, said okay.

“All right, that’s great! Mommy it is!”

I gulped, blinking hard, and reached for a sip of my water.

What is wrong with me? Why would THAT be my reaction? When I told my own mother about it–especially that “noooo!” part, she reared back like I’d verbally slapped her. My mom stayed at home to raise us.  She loved it, and often says that our early years where some of the happiest times of her life.  And I cherish being able to be with my kiddos, too.  So why in the world would I begrudge my four-year-old daughter the desire to be a mom? Wanting to be like me, for Pete’s sake, when I should be flattered that she sees what I’m doing, and deems it worthy enough to emulate?

Because my daughter is smart, that’s why, and my initial reaction is that she’s so much “more” than “just” being a mom. Yes, I want to hit myself in the head for thinking that, too. She’s intelligent and sensitive, and David and I will laughingly speculate on what kind of career she’ll have. Professional soccer player, lawyer, geologist.  We don’t sit around the couch in the evenings, discussing what kind of mother our daughters will be. No, we talk about SK’s insightfulness and Quinn’s fearlessness, and the types of high-powered, leadership-oriented, involved careers they’ll have.  Stay-at-home-mom doesn’t register on the radar, and not just because of my husband’s absolute denial to acknowledge what they, as adults, will have to do to become moms.

Am I horrible? Am I normal? I consider it a blessing that we’re by-the-skin-of-our-teeth able to swing the one-income thing so I can be there to put Quinn down for her nap, to pick Saoirse up from preschool.  So why do I still think, as a SAH mom, that my role isn’t good enough? Important enough? This job is the most emotionally draining, fantastically rewarding, most challenging role I’ve ever held. So what is it? The monotony of the day-to-day life? The fact that one day leads into another, without performance reviews, or promotions, or salary raises to give me incentive to keep plugging away?  Or is it because I look at other women, who are holding down jobs while raising their families, and think, huh–they’re doing so much more?

Saoirse’s dress-up day strangely coincided with the whole Rosen-Romney “mommy wars” debacle, and I was all sorts of fired up about the whole issue. I felt defensive because of Rosen’s accusation of SAH moms not working, or understanding economics (um, anybody’s who’s ever tried to balance a one-income family’s checkbook while trying to figure out a budget that includes the purchase of new children’s shoes and the quarterly insurance payment understands economics). I felt smug because unlike Romney, I don’t have the luxury of a housekeeper that shows up once a week. But it shouldn’t be that way. Isn’t the whole idea of feminism that a woman should be able to pursue the path she wants, without societal influence holding her back?

I’ve friends who are moms, who work full-time jobs because they have to make the bills. I’ve friends who work because they’ve become accustomed to a lifestyle they want to likewise provide for their children. And yes, I’ve friends who work because they think they’re better parents with something outside the home to draw their focus/stress/energies.

Sounds like I’ve tons of friends, the way I talk.

I also have friends who stay home full time, but desperately want to get out of the house, back to work. And there are others who love being home with their kids but feel like they need to apologize to the world for giving up their careers for their offspring. And, yes, I also know people with babysitters and housekeepers who drop off their kids at the gym childcare center so they can work out for two hours, take a leisurely shower, and enjoy their “me” time. Not that I’m judging. But there are people like me, too, who really love staying at home, because even though their houses are a mess and their children are literally hanging from their pockets as they make them scrambled eggs in the morning, and are so bored and tired and looking forward to the glass of wine they allow themselves as they cook dinner in the evening, they know this choice is precious and personal.  These are the women that become photographers and bakers and accountants and writers because one day their children will grow, but their own talents are still there to be utilized, developed, nurtured. Stay-at-home moms aren’t homemakers in dirty sweatpants and grimy children, the way some people perceive. They’re moms who’ve shelved their ambitions and talents temporarily so that their kids can develop theirs.

Back when I first joined my gym, an all-female establishment, six years ago, I think, I was so insecure about working out with all these other women. Everyone seemed to be faster, quicker, stronger than I was, and I was intimidated to the point where I was performing less well than I’d be if I weren’t so distracted by what she was doing, and how effortless that exercise was for her.  But all that comparison was self-defeating. So I stopped comparing. If someone impressed me, I used that as motivation to improve–lift more, punch harder, jump higher.  And it worked.

I read a motto the actress Portia de Rossi once said a friend taught her: “Stay on your own mat.” Like in a yoga class, instead of thinking you’ll never get that pose as well as the person next to you, stay on your own mat. Focus on your own growth, your own skill. Do what you do best, and stop worrying about what the lady next to you is doing. Certainly don’t verbally slam her for doing it. I think if we just worked on filling up our own space as well as we can, the positive effects that result would ebb naturally out on their own. I know you agree with me.

Saoirse was the only preschooler dressed as a “mommy” that day. There was a boy costumed as a police officer, another a firefighter, and another as a professional golfer. There was a girl who came as a princess, and another as a cosmetologist.  But Saoirse came in looking like she did almost any other day. I’d asked her what a mommy wore, and spent the next five minutes being scrutinized.

“Do you want to wear jeans, or do mommies wear pants?”

She squinted at me.

“Hmmm. Jeans.”

“Okay. Do mommies wear their hair down or in ponytails?”

She eyed the messy bun on the back of my head.

“Po’tails.”

“Okay. And what do mommies carry? A purse? A baby?”

Saoirse thought.

“Groceries.”

She ended up walking in that day in jeans and a t-shirt, wearing a necklace and sunglasses, with her hair tied back in a low ponytail. She carried a small purse and a baby doll tucked under one arm (not the cute Pottery Barn baby doll she has, of course, but the scary, bald horror that looks like a cross between Chucky and that doll-creature thing that shows up in the scary kid’s house in Toy Story).

She gave me a kiss and skipped into her classroom that morning as her teacher looked on. Mrs. M. smiled and nodded at me. “There’s always one or two every year that come as their Mommy,” she said.

Their Mommy. As in, she came as me. And it hit me: Saoirse wants to be like me when she grows up.

Chew on that, self-doubt. Moms, we’re doing all right. In fact, I think I’ll quit yammering your ear off and return to that mat of mine. It’s looking mighty comfortable right now.

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