Every year, in January, when Zama is back from her well-deserved break and the holiday clubs / playschools are open again, I take the week off.
I go to gym at a reasonable hour, hanging around afterwards sipping on extra nutritious, extra vitamin loaded, extra expensive smoothies with my girlfriends. I plan little DIY projects around the house, pinning items to my home inspiration boards on Pinterest. I organise lunches with other friends with kids and coffee dates (even though I haven’t had coffee in over 10 years, it doesn’t sound right saying let’s meet for a tea). I browse the make-up isle at Dischem and don’t actually buy anything from the self-medication section, you know, just to see if it can be done and that you can walk out there without spending a quarter of your salary each time. I watch Netflix, wait for it, during the day! I sometimes even watch a bit of reality TV on E! (Yes, I do, I am not afraid to admit it. It’s my guilty pleasure) I have dinner cooked from scratch before 3pm. My fridge and freezer are cleaned, categorised and organised. I arrange play dates for the kids if school has not opened yet and take them out for a treat here and there. I realised yesterday, driving down Field’s Hill with the kids that it was the first time I had ventured outside Hillcrest in 2 weeks! I play games and puzzled with them. I make a barbie wardrobe out of shoes boxes and paperclips. We watch Shark Tale, again, and listen to the Frozen soundtrack, again.
I pretend, for a week, that I am a stay-at-home Mom.
Why do I do this?
Ever since I became a Mom, I have struggled wit the guilt I know all of us are straddled with as soon as we hear our new born cry. I felt like the moment I gave birth, I broke in two pieces. The ME and the MOM. And without any epidurals or painkillers I literally felt it too. It’s a constant struggle to get the pieces all back together, in the right places. Sometimes there are way more MOM pieces than ME, sometimes there is a big corner piece of ME needed, required in fact, to be there in order for the rest of the pieces to stick together, sometimes by sticky tape, glue, Prestik, other pieces by nails or double-sided tape. Tip – double-sided tape does not work well in Durban’s humidity. It will eventually fall off the wall, guaranteed! And, of course, I will never be how I was BC (Before Children), but that is not a bad thing. The problem for me is when I try and do this puzzle as I used to be. Instead I realised that it is a new puzzle, and once I figured that out, the pieces have started slotting in a lot easier.
My MOM pieces wanted me to stay at home. My ME pieces felt like that wasn’t enough and that I needed to work, to have my independence, to get fulfilment outside the home. Now I know that for a lot of Moms there is no choice and you have to go back to work. And for others who want to go back, they can’t find employment. Nothing is easy or simple, cut and dried, black and white. Nothing. Ever.
For Aiden’s first 18 months I was in a fortunate position to be able to be at home with him. But that didn’t end up being the lovely “Stay-at-home Mom” dream I had envisioned. I struggled. I lost all of my ME pieces. I ended up with post-natal depression.
Then I went back to work, full time, and I struggled. I felt I was losing all of my MOM pieces.
When I had Ava-Jane I didn’t want my first experience to be repeated. I worked hard to get my head right, and built a good support system in place with family and friends. I got a bit more balance, started working out at the gym, taking Ava to play groups, making friends. I had 6 months maternity leave, and I loved it. I really loved it. Then I had to go back to work and I was torn. Did I want to go back? But this time around I didn’t have a choice. Like most families in SA, we needed 2 incomes. It was the classic “can’t have what you want, don’t want what you have” scenario.
What changed for me was meeting an iconic woman, who created very successful business in her 40’s, with 3 kids. We were at her estate, in front of the fireplace, with her butler filling up our glasses of wine, listening to her stories. There were so many stories. Then and there I decided that I wanted to be a woman my children could be proud of. I wanted to be a woman that I could be proud of. One day I want to be in my 80’s, surrounded by loved ones, friends, colleagues, sitting in front of my fireplace with stories to tell. It dawned on me that it didn’t have to be either or. It could be both. ME and MOM.
I could be both, and here’s the thing, if I ALLOWED myself to be both.
I am a MOM and I am ME – new and improved ME
I am more assertive, decisive and mentally stronger. Try 5 days in a row of nagging on a professional level by a highly sensitive, strong-willed 7 year old, with ADHD, and mood swings to rival the worst PMS ever, like ever. And you have to be decisive as kids don’t respond well to “I don’t know, let me think about it, I’ll decide later”. They want answers dammit hell, like yesterday. I procrastinate far less. Trust me, if you leave it until later tonight, the kids WILL get sick, and/or get second winds and obliterate any hope of you finishing that project or email or report. Do it now or forever hold your peace. And I can function to an acceptable level on 5 hours of broken sleep. With these updated skills honed and fine-tuned, they are being put to good use in the work place.
It has taken me a long time to be comfortable with being a working mom and I still have times when I feel guilty at work that I am not home and guilty at home that I am not at work. I am not sure that goes away, but it is manageable. I love my family. I love my job. They are both demanding and busy and stressful. Both give me joy and fulfillment.
So once a year, for a week, I pretend I am a stay-at-home Mom, so I can be thankful for what I have and thankful for the opportunities in my life before I start another year of being a “sometimes -at-home-sometimes-working-mom”.