Aim high

"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.

One day.


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.


Devan said...


I hate being overlooked in conversation with people who are, seemingly, in a different world than me. It's frustrating and makes me feel small.

Marie Green said...

Yes. Yesyesyesyes. I'm so conflicted about it too, and I wonder if it's because I'm raising 3 girls? I mean, would I be AS conflicted if I was raising 3 boys? Also, your sentence about being a suburban SAHM on prozac etc? You're so right that it's not permanent, and it's also just a very small slice of a very big, full life. You (none of us) can be summed up in a sentence like that.

Cortney said...

Oh again I can relate so well. I tell my husband frequently that I feel invisible. I struggle with finding my place and my worth all the time.

I'm reading a really insightful book right now called Maternal Desire by Daphne de Marneffe. It addresses, through the cultural lens of the feminist movement, these very issues. Her main thought (and I'm only a few chapters in) is that for many mothers the desire to actually be with her children and interact daily is as meaningful (or more) than working outside the home. I've been dying to discuss it with other mamas...But no one else I know has read it yet.

Grateful Twin Mom said...

I have so many questions about dance. I wish we could have some kind of 21st century "salon" like Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, only online where we get to talk about art, culture, and life. Hey, isn't that exactly what blogging does?

I get frustrated with the music industry and lawyer talk of DG and his "people." Your people are definitely here and I for one would love a post on modern dance. :)

Z and E have a super smart mommy and her insights and intelligence are always appreciated here and I know by the girls too.

Swistle said...

Man, this resonated with me SO HARD. And CG's quick response brought tears to my eyes!

Barb said...

wow...just wow...that is all that comes to mind now. being an out of the house working mother is SO hard b/c I am thinking about my lil one ALL. THE. TIME. and thinking about am I doing the wrong thing by not being home with him....(I could go on for pages about this one....). BTW - it is not right when ppl say a working mom versus a non-working mom - because if you are a SAHM you are absolutely working - it is SUCH a hard job - you can't even go to the bathroom by yourself! You are doing the right thing for you and your family right now and you are amazing!!

Barb said...

i hope my previous comment makes any coherent sense - I am at work, sick and was up half the night with a sick lil one also :( oye....

miyoko said...

heh. when P grows up she just wants to "stay home and live with mommy and daddy, forever".

miyoko said...

And GOOD JOB CG. You deserve gold bullion for that rapid response! ;)

Gina said...

As a former dancer, I too, would enjoy a discussion of dance. =)

But dancing aside, I work part-time and it is an ideal (for me), but strange world in some respects. My kids would much prefer me home with them full-time, my paying job treats my days with the kids like "vacation" days ("Why can't you just come in on Tuesday?"), and we have some marital disagreements over equal division of housework because hey, I'm home with the kids 2 days a week so why don't I have time to do more housework? (Ha ha ha!). I would love to think that it is possible to be a mother without the constant struggle of your wants vs. the kids' needs vs. money vs. guilt, but that just doesn't seem to be the case.

Something that I heard that has helped me when I have felt "less than" because I have sacrificed my career for the kids is that "You are the expert on your kids". Not just the mom, but the EXPERT. My Type-A self enjoys being the expert about something - even if it is how to get a four year old dressed in the morning without tears.

D.B. said...

As moms we don't usually get progress reports but I think when a child says they want to be like you, that's equivalent to an outstanding job performance review! Congrats!

And hey, why not invite a bunch of moms over for a dinner party and we can talk about our jobs while CG gets the chance to feel what's it's like to be out of the loop? Great idea, right? What time should I come over?

KG said...

All the comments I have tried to write are way to long for this rich, amazing, insightful post! Here is my attempt at a summary:

GO CG!!!! Seriously, dude.

GO CBHM!! The way you wrestle with these thoughts and feelings and then SHARE about them so articulately is amazing.

Sarah said...

I too have many plans for that point when our youngest child (probably yet unborn!) goes off to school and I am no longer needed all day long. Whenever I discuss this with Addy (because yes, it's a subject that's come up at our table, too) she reacts with tears, saying, "But we NEED you!" And I try to explain that eventually she won't feel that way, and that by the time I go to work or school again, she will be ten or more. But it's still a touchy subject. I think you handled it very well!

Amy said...

Wow. Can so relate to this. Also, you are a writer too...when that person asked ou about dance, I was waiting for your reply and when the other person jumped in I was saying to myself, "stop talking. She is a dancer. Let her tell this one." You totally captured what the dinner was like for you. And like the other commenters, I would love to learn something more about dance from you if you ever feel like blogging about it.

Good Enough Mom said...

I hear you. I have a scientist hubby too. This was the WORST kind of night when I was home full-time. Worst.

I can't wait to see what you do wind up doing next. It's sure to be amazing!

Bird said...

I struggle with this daily. I want to be home with the kids because I think its important. I worry that being home with the kids is robbing me of a fulfilling career and the chance to feel good at something other than raising kids/running a household. I find that at dinner parties conversation dies after I reply to the "what do you do" question with "I'm a SAHM." I try to be taken seriously but do I undermine myself by not feeling like I'm doing anything?

Great post. Well said.

mindful mama said...

I'm probably embarrassing myself to admit to having watched way too much Little House on the Prairie as a kid ( I learned sooo much from that show)but I'll always remember what Laura's Mom said to her as she was crying the night before getting married and becoming a mother, giving up her job as a teacher in the process.... "Oh Laura. You'll be a teacher, don't you worry. A mother is a teacher, a nurse, a doctor, a cook [I'd substitute four star chef] A mother is all things. When I think about the fact that I haven't worked as a social worker for almost five years since becoming a mom, I realize that all those people I might be helping if I was working, are still benefiting by my raising kind, caring, children who will become good citizens for a better world. (ok, gag, I know!!) Not the most interesting dinner conversation, but you can really put a spin on it that will get the other people at the table thinking about how maybe what THEY do is really not that important... are THEY shaping the adults of the future???

mindful mama said...

oh, and my GOD woman... you are a WRITER!

Jessica Berger Gross said...

I am so moved by your recent posts... I find myself thinking about them for days after reading. I often become torn up about my part time work which should be "ideal" but can sometimes feel like the worst rather than best of both worlds, depending on the day. Really brave posts about depression, motherhood -- thank you for them.

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