"Mama, I'm not going to have a job when I grow up, I'm just going to be a mommy," Z announced one morning at the breakfast table, apropos of nothing.
I sat in stunned silence because... how do I even begin to respond to that?
Luckily, CG was there to quickly and firmly respond, "Being a mommy is the hardest job there is." And I promptly forgave him for any perceived slight, minor or major, in nine years of marriage.
"I know, I just mean, I'm not going to have a JOB job," Z persisted.
I still didn't know how to respond to her. I know I should be flattered that she wants to emulate me and be at home with her children but that realization is after some reflection. My initial instinctive reaction was something approaching horror. Rising up from below was a desire to say "No! Dream big! Aim high!" with the undeniable implication that being a stay-at-home mom isn't dreaming big enough, aiming high enough.
You could say I'm still ambivalent about being a stay-at-home mother.
In the last year, as I struggled to fit in here in Virginia and weather the many concurrent transitions, I often turned to a fantasy that "going back to work" would solve my every problem. There were several problems with this line of thought, the first being that there is no clear job for me to "go back" to, let alone one that could pay for daycare for two kids.
But maybe part time, on the weekends? Just to start? Problem was, I kept butting my head against a clear, heartfelt truth: I didn't actually want to go to a job outside the house right now, what I want is to stay home with my kids, while they're little, and be happy about it. I haven't given up working ever again, I just know that my heart is here, now.
Maybe I haven't lost all ambition after all. At the moment, I can't think of a loftier personal ambition for myself than staying put for a few more years and being happy about it.
So. Here I am. A suburban stay-at-home mother, in therapy, on Pr0zac. So many aspects of that sentence are temporary. It helps to remember that.
We had some work friends of CG's over the other night for dinner and what originally was going to be a relaxed dinner with people I know can talk about things other than science turned into All Scientific Workplace All The Time because one of our guests invited a couple of visiting work people we didn't know. It's important to note that while we had an equal mix of men and women, all our guests were unmarried, childless scientists, so I wasn't exactly expecting to have a ton in common with these people. As I struggled to contain the frantically social Z ("Attention! Attention everybody! My dancing show will start in TWOOOOO minutesssss!") and the clingy, antisocial E, I felt invisible as these highly educated, highly employed people chatted all around me, seemingly oblivious to my existence.
During a lull in the conversation, and, thankfully, the dancing show, one kind friend turned to me and asked, "So can you explain Alvin Ailey to me? We saw a poster for his company and I still don't understand what they're all about." This friend knows I was a modern dancer in my previous life. He was being kind, trying to include me in the world of conversing adults. As I took a breath and tried to compose a coherent opening sentence about the history and significance of this pre-eminent African-American dance company, one of the visitors, who perhaps hadn't seen him address the question to me, jumped in, "Well, since I live in New York, I see them all the time and....."
I dropped my gaze and listened to her give an accurate account of their history and significance before finally rising, toddler firmly suctioned to my side, and set the table.
I've been with CG for 11 years now, so I'm used to being surrounded by scientists chatting about things I can barely understand. Not being included in the conversation used to be a mild annoyance, but it was one that we both endured at regular intervals as we used to work in our own separate worlds. Now it's skewed, CG is never surrounded by a group of my people, unable to follow the lexicon of my world. Not that I would ever hope to make him feel invisible, but the inequality of this, the fact that he alone has a whole intellectual life outside of our home, coupled with a craving for that experience myself, is a major motivator for me to get a job.
The evening after Z declared her intention to be a stay at home mother over her Cheerios, I brought it back up with her.
"Z.....you know.... I love that I can be home with you and E right now, while you're little, and I do eventually want to get a JOB job." I practiced in my head beforehand to make sure I said "and" not "but".
"You do? Why?" she asked with the guileless simplicity of a child.
"Well, I have lots of things I'm interested in, lots of ways I can contribute to the world, and one day, sooner than we both realize, you and E won't need me around quite so much."
"Oh," she said. "Okay," and went back to her coloring book.
This was, of course, only the beginning of a lifelong conversation with my girls, and with myself, about the many, many ways you can aim high as a mom, a woman, a human.
This is mine, right now.