I am slowly losing my mind. As I sat down to type this, I thought to myself- I know I am at home with one of my children and that my husband has brought my other child to an activity. But for the life of me, I cannot remember which child is sitting in the living room watching TV and which child is with my husband, or which activity they are at. Is the older one at pottery class? Is the younger one at gymnastics? Is it Saturday or Sunday?
This is not the first time this has happened. Two years ago, I hired a babysitter to watch my then two year old so I could go to the dentist, only to forget to go to the dentist once the babysitter arrived. (I’m completely serious. I blanked on the appointment and went shopping instead.) Sometimes, within five minutes of dropping my daughter off at preschool I check my rear view mirror to see if she is still in her booster seat. For a second, I can’t remember if I’ve actually dropped her off or not (as if I would actually drive through the drop off line and not stop to drop her off). These increasingly frequent moments of ‘momnesia’ are disturbing.
Admittedly, we are an over scheduled family. Between the four of us we are participating in dance classes (ballet and jazz), karate, pottery, gymnastics, Girl Scouts, and various volunteer activities. I spend about 15 hours a week driving the kids and myself back and forth to various schools, meetings, and extra-curricular activities. There is something about all that driving that numbs my brain and causes me to forget (at least momentarily) exactly who is in the back seat and where I am supposed to be taking them.
Despite having a calendar on the wall, a date book in my purse, and a smart phone that syncs a calendar with my iPad, I still feel like I am only one momnesia moment away from a complete schedule malfunction. At the end of each day, if everyone has gotten where they were supposed to be (despite being a few minutes late b/c I have initially gone to the wrong destination) I consider the day to be a success.
If I think about this as my definition of success for any length of time it bums me out. There was a time (even after my first child was born) that success meant something completely different. I was working full time as an Academic Advisor working with college students. In addition to helping students with the more straight-forward agenda items of choosing a major and navigating university policy, I presented at professional conferences, created a peer mentor program, and served on various university committees. I was confident in my professional abilities and respected by my peers. I looked forward to going to work each morning. My job was meaningful to me. I felt a sense of connection and purpose. I felt successful.
Like most parents, I went into parenthood with no idea of what to expect. Maternity leave, to me, felt like pledging a very bizarre sorority. Plagued with insecurity I always felt like there was information that I was not privy too. I just had to trust the process in order to gain access into the secret and exclusive society of competent mother hood. I knew that I had pledge sisters out there somewhere, but I had no idea how to find them. I was grateful to have sixteen weeks off from work (twelve of them paid) to bond with my newborn. But at the end of those sixteen weeks, it was not overly difficult to hand my first born over to her carefully selected daycare provider and return to the place where I felt way more confident.
In the spring of 2006, for various personal reasons, I made the decision to leave full time work and be a stay at home mom. I thought I might take a year or two off, but then my second daughter was born in late 2007 and being in a different place than I was in after the birth of my first child, I could never bring myself to put her in day care and return to the working world. It is a decision that I have never regretted, but being a stay at home mom has changed me- usually I think for the better but sometimes I am not 100% sure.
There are women I know who seem to be at their most comfortable and most confident in their role as mother. It doesn’t mean that they never need a break, or get frustrated, or that they always make perfect parenting decisions. But whether they have two kids or five, they get a sense of satisfaction out of being a mother that gives their lives a feeling of being complete. Whatever their individual situations their children seem to be at the center of their lives and their hearts. They draw their energy and inspiration from their children. They identify first with being a mom. I have a complete sense of respect and admiration for these women. I am not one of these women.
I have been away from professional work for six years. I didn’t realize until recently how much of my perceived value was tied to my professional identity. Working fulfilled my social, intellectual, and self esteem needs. As a stay at home mom I had to find new ways to do that and it was harder than I imagined it would be.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children and I would give my life for them. I wake up every morning feeling completely blessed. I know how lucky I am to have two healthy kids, and I know how lucky I am to be able to choose to stay home with them. I chose motherhood-twice. I revel in the joys and struggle through the challenges that come with the territory. I love being a mom. I am good at it. But I don’t believe staying home with my kids to be my purpose in life. It’s not why I was put on this earth. I want more. I need more.
This September, for the first time ever, both of my kids will be on the same schedule. They will get on the same bus at the same time and go to the same school. I can sign them up for after school activities on the same days and pick them up together. I will have a block of seven hours each day to schedule as I see fit. Obviously there are things I will have to get done (chores, errands, etc.) but I won’t have to use the leftover minutes in between the activities of my family members. I can give up being a time thief- stealing five minutes here and five minutes there, taking half a day to complete an activity that should take half an hour.
I am calling the 2012-2013 school year, “The Year of Meryl.” I am not sure exactly what my year will look like. So far I’ve decided this:
I am going to limit my volunteer activities to those things that are meaningful to me- no more volunteering to do something just because my kids are going to be there anyway.
I am going to set some goals with my writing and create plans to work towards meeting those goals.
I am going to drink beverages at any time of the day I please- without having to worry about needing to pee halfway through the 30 minute drive to my daughter’s preschool.
Going back to work is inevitable but I am looking forward to taking a little bit of time to figure out what I want to do next. What is my purpose? How do I create meaning in my life? What contribution do I want to make? Going forward, how will I define success?
If there are any parents out there who have had to re-evaluate their goals after a long stint as a stay at home parent, I’d love to hear from you. What questions did you ask yourself? How did you decide what to do next?