Yesterday morning, I sent my baby boy off to kindergarten.
This is a major milestone in his life, and in mine. In the last month, I’ve been processing my grief over the loss of the longest career I’ve ever had. I’ve been at home full time with my children for nearly 13 years, and while some people did not understand my choice to stay home, I will tell you right now that yes, I did it for them, but mostly I did it for me. It was an entirely selfish decision, because from the moment I met each of my children, I knew that I could not leave them. They were mine – my babies – and I didn’t want to miss one single thing. I knew that being away from them would make me miserable, so I decided that I would do everything possible to stay at home until they reached school-age…when I would have to start letting them go.
This is not to say that stay-at-home motherhood was always easy, financially or otherwise. It wasn’t. There were sacrifices to be made, and at times it was very difficult. As with any job, there were good days and bad days. There were days when I was so exhausted that I wasn’t sure I could make it until bedtime, or even naptime. There were nights when I sobbed in frustration, and questioned whether I had made the right decision. Sometimes I was angry, sometimes I was bored, sometimes I stared out the window at the world, and wondered what I was missing. I longed for the freedom to just jump in the car and go, even if it was just to the grocery store. The inescapable clutter and noise occasionally drove me to distraction. I missed quiet and solitude, I missed interaction with other adults, but on the rare occasions when I was away from my kids, I missed them the most.
In a way, staying at home all these years was like a test of endurance, and I made it! I did it….and sometimes I don’t even know how. I know that I often felt like giving up, but for every day that was “challenging,” there were twice as many funny, touching, memorable, heart-bursting days. There were hilarious moments, important milestones, terrible messes, and times of teaching. There were the illnesses I nurtured them through, the mistakes I disciplined them for, and the achievements and successes I applauded. All of these things, good and bad, strengthened the bond I had with them. They knew that when they went to bed at night, and when they got up in the morning, I would be there. At their practices and performances, if they looked for me in the crowd, they would always find me. If they needed a shoulder to cry on, or a listening ear, or someone to share their joy, I was there.
I was there to exclaim over dandelion bouquets and finger-paintings. I was there to bake birthday cupcakes, and bandage knees, and read library books. I was there to cut peanut butter sandwiches into dinosaur shapes, and make play dough, and admire drawings and Lego creations.
I was always there…and I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It wasn’t always simple, and it wasn’t always fun, but it was always worth it.
The rewards of stay-at-home motherhood are not monetary. They are not tangible, and they cannot be measured in any conventional way. There is no one lauding me for my success, or patting me on the back for making it this far. I find my reward in the strong and loving bond I have with my children, and in their happiness and success. I find it in my peace of mind in knowing that I will never look back someday with regret. Sure, I could’ve made more money in the last 13 years, but no amount of money can ever buy back time once it’s gone. I will never regret my decision to stay at home with my children. Never. If I was given the chance to do it all over again, I would. Without a doubt.
Honestly, the only thing I would change is myself. I would smile more. Yell less. Relax a bit. Savor the little moments. I would remember that my job is important, because it means something to raise people who are decent and kind, compassionate and hardworking. I would remember that no one is better qualified to raise my children than me, because I am their mother. I’m not perfect, and I make a lot of mistakes, but no one loves them more than I do. And that is enough.
Today, for the first time in more than a decade, I’m alone in an empty house. It’s quiet. There are no demands from anyone. My time is my own, and while I’m sure that I’ll eventually rejoice in that freedom, for now I just find myself wondering what the kids are doing. Is DJ at recess? Does he have friends? What are they having for lunch? Did Rach remember her jacket? How is Hayley handling her new class schedule? You don’t stop being a mother just because your kids go off to school, or to college, or to a home of their own. No matter how old they are, your children will forever be the babies who, when placed in your arms, inspired a lifetime of fierce love and devotion.
People keep asking me what I’ll do now, and to be honest, I’m not entirely certain. At the moment, I feel a little bit lost. It’s invigorating and exciting to think about what lies ahead, and I always find change refreshing (and a little bit frightening). I have ideas and prospects, but I’ve decided that whatever my work is in this stage of my life, I’ll still be sure to be here when my children get off the bus. For them, yes….but mostly for me.[print-me/]