A Facebook friend shared today a blog post she’d seen. It’s called “To the Mother with Only One Child,” by Simcha Fisher, and it’s just…it’s so…it’s really…well, I dare you to read it only once, and I double dog dare you to read it, then be able to go about your day without sitting quietly in your seat for a few moments first, solemnly contemplating what you’d just read. To any parent–any mother, especially–it’s really quite a reality check.
I’ll give you a moment to go read it, then come back to me.
Oh, good you’re back. Pretty moving stuff, right? And for me, it strikes at a place that’s just a little too close to home. I’ve written what feels like countless virtual pages about how tough it was to make the transition to staying at home, how tired I am of doing all the flipping laundry all day long while my husband goes out for sushi at lunch with his co-workers, how I wish I had an excuse to travel to some place more often, farther away than the 5-mile stretch of thoroughfare connecting my town with two others. When I recently heard news of another acquaintance, a professor, who just applied for tenure at a local university (congratulations and good luck, S!), I totally and with embarrassment admit that I had that pang of “Oh, she’s charging forward with her life, while mine is sort of stalled.” I distinctly remember turning to David and asking him if we were doing a good thing in having me stay home full-time with the girls. Is it worth it? Will they be better off for it? Will it have made a difference? Because sometimes I think our house would be cleaner, the laundry would get put away more regularly, Saoirse wouldn’t beg to watch Thomas repeatedly if, well, we weren’t so focused on each other all day long. We’d travel more. We’d have bought a newer house long before this. I’d wear pants I have to iron more often.
But. Fisher’s blog post sort of jolted me out of my head. I remember a time, and I know I’ve talked about this before, when all that concerned me was getting to the next step in life. When I worked in publishing, all I focused on was getting my next promotion. When I was teaching, a job I loved, a lot of times I was just trying to make it to the next vacation break before burning out. Even when David and I got engaged, and my priest told us he had an open date for the wedding in the following July–a little less than a year after we’d met–I said let’s go for it, let’s get a move on, already. I’d made my decision, and wanted to hurry up and let this new life I’d chosen begin. I was always, always looking around the corner to see what was there. I wanted it. I wanted what was next.
I can barely remember what that young woman was like, though I can pretty much guarantee that she was really, really insecure and probably grated on her friends’ nerves just a little bit. I keep thinking about Fisher’s line about how life is hard, and that it’s going to be hard. It’s just what it is. It’s not supposed to be perfect. And I know that if I were still working full-time, instead of washing dishes seven times a day, and wiping milk off the floor fourteen times a day, I’d be spending most of my free time at home grading papers or planning lessons. I know that if I worked, instead of driving my kids all over town to MyGym, and preschool, and the grocery store, I’d be driving them to day care, then to work, then to the grocery store. The merry-go-round doesn’t stop turning just because you choose a different horse.
I keep this blog as a creative outlet, as a way to document these years with our children. I did finish that book, by the way, and with about eighty-seven edits, this has slowly, painfully (okay, it was a lot of fun for me. Once an editor, always an editor?) evolved into what I now call the Great American Novel of Witty Wit and Wisdom, and I’m anxious to start another. I have ideas bursting out of my brain all the time, and sometimes I wish I could just spend all day doing my best Hemingway (without the suicidal tendencies, overgrown facial hair, and choppy sentence structure, of course). I worry that no one will ever see the GANWWW, because I’m proud of it the way a mother is of a child who just swam across the pool for the first time: this little bundle is something capable, something that exists because of you, but isn’t you, if that makes sense. I worry that I don’t spend enough time focusing on my children because I’m so busy with the extraneous stuff like bills and tidying and the ABC News (okay, Facebook) app on my phone. I worry that I can let the living room get so messy sometimes I fully expect a TV crew from Hoarders to show up. And I fret because I’ll spontaneously think of yet another change I want to make in that one chapter, but I’m in the middle of music class and have to get home, feed the girls, and put them down for their naps before I can get to the computer. There are times where I wonder if I gave up a job with good benefits where I spent my days enriching the lives of teenagers just to now spend them nagging my children to stop pulling each other’s hair. And most of all, and this is the hardest to admit, I worry that I’m in the middle of the most difficult, most important job of my life, and doing what I hope is the best job I know how, but only years from now, after the fact, will I know if I was good enough.
Here’s the thing, though, and this is where Fisher strikes a chord. The job–the mothering–is what’s important. The dishes aren’t my life. They’re just something that needs to be done. Same with the cleaning, and the driving, and shopping. It’s just the minutiae. What matters is today. It snowed last night, and we woke up to that awesome glow-y world outside our windows and an almost-4-year-old excitedly running into our room, calling, “Mom! Dad! It snowed! There’s even snow on your cars!” By mid-morning, both girls were outside, bundled up in their snowsuits, playing with their dad in the yard. A half hour after that, Quinn was back inside, curled up in my lap. We rocked in the glider, and she leaned against me in the quiet of her peaceful room, sucking her thumb, so still I checked to see if she’d fallen asleep. I could hear Saoirse giggling outside as she helped David shovel the front walk with her sand toys. I knew that when they came in, I would make lunch, and David would give them baths. He would fold the clean towels and I’d start the dishwasher. Tonight, we’re going to a party to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and tomorrow morning, we’ll all go to mass, I and our daughters and my decidedly un-Catholic husband who goes every week anyway because community and faith and family are that important to him. My husband, by the way, who’s growing a short beard and looks like something out of an Eddie Bauer catalog and makes my heart jump every time he walks into a room. It’s a quiet life. But it’s such a good life that I have no need to look forward, plan ahead, worry about what’s going to happen next. There is at least one point in every day where I look around and feel profoundly thankful for what I have, and that, despite the laundry piled up on the couch beside me right now, is pretty remarkable.
I am thirty-five years old, and I’m not freaking out. Well, much. Will we be looking for a new house sometime soon? Probably, but I can’t tell you exactly when. Would I like to hop on a plane tomorrow with my family and visit someplace new, feel again like I did in my twenties, when a passport was something to be used, and the country was bigger than my little part of Pennsylvania? Of course, but our kids don’t know the difference at their age. And speaking of children, will we have more? We’ll see. I’m not really worrying about it. And–oh, my–will I ever see my book on one of those focal-point tables in the front of a bookstore? Who knows, but I’m not sweating over building my platform and going to workshops and submitting to literary journals, because right now Quinn’s diaper needs to be changed, and she wants a snack. I’ve realized that I can’t do everything I want to do at 100 percent, so I’ve learned to be okay with doing the best I can with the time I have. I think that was Fisher’s point, wasn’t it? If life is hard, if you’re exhausted, if you’re wondering when the next break is going to be, you’re obviously doing something to fulfill your days, right? I think that’s all we need.
I will most likely be complaining to you at some point soon here about vacuuming or dog hair (our dear husky has begun the dreaded bi-yearly shed of his undercoat) or how hard it is to get chocolate Annie’s bunnies crumbs out of the creases of a car seat. And I will absolutely need to refrain myself from throwing my peanut butter and jelly sandwich at David’s head the next time he mentions how full he is from lunch at this new place I totally need to try. But I also know that right now he is washing clothes so I can finish this post, and my daughters tell me “I love you” more than Kris Jenner does to her plastic surgeon. It’s good. It’s tough.
It’s all I need.