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You’re Doing a Great Job

Happy Dog Last night, while my husband was working late, I loaded my two kids into the double stroller, strapped leashes on the dogs and headed out for an evening walk.

It had been a long day. Nothing had gone as planned and by the time I got everyone out the door it was practically bedtime.

The trials of the day had taken their toll, fraying my nerves and eroding my patience. I felt leaned on and used up and just plain worn out.

So many days as a stay-at-home mom feel like yesterday did. Two young kids and two rowdy dogs provide a fair amount of chaos inside my home. Nothing’s ever clean enough, we’re never punctual enough, no one gets to bed early enough and my son could definitely use a few more baths throughout the week.

There are so many jobs to do as a stay-at-home mom that it’s hard to feel like I’m ever doing enough. There are days when I feel I’m doing great as a parent, but that’s usually when the dishes sit in the sink unwashed. And on the days when the house gets a good cleaning, dinner may get neglected. It’s not often I feel like I’m succeeding on all fronts.

So as I negotiated the heavy double stroller down our steep driveway, I exhaled a deep, long breath. Not your best day, I said to myself, letting it all go.

It takes some concentration to steer the kids with one hand while gripping two dog leashes with the other. Countless things can disrupt the careful balance: a toddler removing and hurling a shoe, a dog walking toward us, a loose hair tickling my face. But we found our rhythm and picked up the pace.

The breeze felt good against my skin and the sky was darkening just enough to provide glimpses of families inside their lamp-lit homes, preparing for the end of the day. Eventually, we passed a middle-aged couple out for an evening stroll. I saw them eye my cumbersome load and, instead of offering up the usual remark (“you’ve got your hands full!”), the woman nodded to me and said matter-of-factly, “You’re doing a great job.”

Just like that. You’re doing a great job.

I knew she was referring to my command of two dogs and two kids, but in that moment it felt bigger than that. I let her words wash over me; let them soak through my skin and into my core.

You’re doing a great job.

Before I became a stay-at-home mom, I thought this job was easy. I admit it: I did. The realities of this vocation blew my expectations away.

Raising children is physical, emotional, patience-testing work.

It can be painfully lonely. It can be demeaning. It can leave you aching at the end of the day, exhausted and wired at the same time. Some days, it can make a person wonder if she’s up to the task.

And yet, here was a total stranger, telling me I was doing a great job when, most days, I can’t say those words to myself.

It’s so hard to let go of the laundry that didn’t get done, the dinner that didn’t turn out as hoped, the tufts of dog hair that waft across the floor just after the vacuum’s been run. Every time I start to feel like I’m succeeding in this job, one of the dogs chews up a precious toy and throws it up in the middle of the night or my toddler reacts with total disinterest to a fun surprise I’ve planned.

You never know when something’s going to pop up out of nowhere to make you feel like a big, fat failure. Last night, the opposite happened.

This is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. I don’t know that I’m always doing a great job, but maybe I ought to tell myself I am a little more often. In parenting, you’ve got to celebrate the successes and let go of the flops.

I’m doing a great job. (Now excuse me: I’m pretty sure there’s some dog vomit around here somewhere.)

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My Machine Wash Life

John Paul Gaultier quote

Wise words from a fashion guru

Help me: I’m in a closet-induced funk.

The quaint little walk-in closet was the first room I painted when we moved into this house and my husband kindly granted me the space unshared. I coated the walls in an airy shade of blue and hung a little shelf with framed quotes by Coco Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier. It’s the girliest place in my entire house and I love being in there.

Or I used to, anyway.

Nowadays, my closet is a reminder of the life I no longer have; of the uselessness of dry-clean-only clothes and platform heels.

I’m immensely thankful for the opportunity to care for my son. But, after doing the stay-at-home mom thing for 14 months, I have days when I feel like I’m losing touch with who I used to be.

On those days, my closet sings to me like a siren. The strappy heels, the silk blouses, the chic little dresses: they make me sigh and long for an occasion to wear them. And, on a day like today, they make me unsure of what to do.

A few times a year, I go through my closet and rotate my clothes based on the current season, packing away the summer clothes at the beginning of autumn and stowing the winter items at the first hint of spring. During this time, I purge my closet of clothes and shoes I can do without, and I usually feel lighter and freer after having doing so. But this year, I’m in a crisis over it.

I’ve already been through my closet several times since the birth of my son. Each time, I confidently passed over my suits and business woman heels, thinking I’ll wear these things again someday. But today, I find myself wondering if I should just cut a swath through my little blue room and give these clothes to someone who may actually wear them.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I talked with another mom about how changed we feel since the birth of our kids. We both laughed about how it no longer seems appropriate to wear slinky dresses and revealing tops, and that it’s not just the fact that our stomachs aren’t as firm as they used to be. It’s as if I believe I have the word, “MOM” tattooed on my forehead. I guess I think people see me as a mother before they see me as a woman.

In actuality, I feel more womanly than ever after having borne a child. But sexy? Young? Vibrant? Not so much.

I know I’m feeling this way mostly because my son and I have both been sick for the past few days — again  — and the walls are starting to close in on me. I haven’t followed my own advice about getting out of the house, and I’m paying the price for it. But still, my clothes remain strewn all over the bed, abandoned after my crisis over what to do with them.

Perhaps for today, I’ll simply put them back on their hangers and save the organizing for another, better day. I’ll read the framed quotes on my shelf and remember why I love my little blue room. And I’ll ponder the wise words of John Paul Gaultier:

“Elegance is a question of personality, more than one’s clothing.”

Locomotive Appreciation Day

Posted on
Little Red Caboose

Photo credit: Stephen Mimms, Fotoblur

I’m just starting to emerge from the haze of a triple whammy: strep throat, sinusitis and an infection in both ears. Let me tell you: there’s nothing like a few days in bed to make a gal feel needed. With me down for the count and my husband working long hours at his commission-only job, our house looked like an episode of “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” Throughout the week I spent flat on my back, I lost track of the number of times my husband came to my bedside and said, “Wow. You really are the locomotive of this household!”

As sexy and glamorous as that metaphor is, there are many days I want a break from shoveling coal. But, as I’ve mentioned before, the job is relentless.

Over the past six months, I’ve thought many times about how much I admire moms who work outside the home. I remember one day, shortly after having made the decision to stay home with my son, when I watched a woman lugging an umbrella stroller off a city bus with a young child in her arms and rain pouring from the sky.

I think of that woman often. Nearly every time I feel like I’m not cut out for the job of stay-at-home mom, I remember the stolid look on her face. I picture her pulling herself out of bed in the darkness of the yet-unbroken day, yawning as she pulls clothes onto her little one. Walking to the bus stop to board the first of several buses she’d ride that day. Going from home to daycare to work and back to daycare before finally arriving home, exhausted and soaking wet.

Every time I see her in my mind, I think to myself how I could not do what she does.

But being sick for a few days gave me a new and unexpected perspective on my job as a stay-at-home mom. Is it possible I’m tougher than I thought I was?

Every morning during the time when I was sick, my husband would bring my son to me in bed and I’d think to myself, I want so badly to call in sick today. But each day, I still had to do my job. Granted, I didn’t do it well during this time, keeping my son in bed with me most of the day. But I found the strength to smile for him, tickle his chubby belly and nurse him frequently to keep him well. And, amazingly, it worked. My son came through unscathed, suffering no more than a stuffy nose.

This job, which I’m so lucky to have right now, is — frankly — really, really hard. It’s mentally exhausting and emotionally challenging. But I’m starting to realize that there may be some people out there who feel they couldn’t do what I do every day — even if I’m not pushing a stroller through the rain.

While I was sick, each time my husband referenced a train to compliment me, I’d respond, “But I just want to be the caboose!” Alas, we ladies rarely get to be that cute little red caboose. Whether we’re pulling along our friends in times of crisis, or our parents, significant others or pets, we seem destined to be caretakers. We put our own needs last and respond to the call of those we love.

Call me a feminist if you like (I was, after all, voted “Most Chauvinistic” in high school), but in addition to Mother’s Day, I think there should be a Women’s Day. Although, that term sounds a little matronly. Ladies’ Day? A bit menstrual. Gals’ Day? Too “Mad Men.” Vagina Day? That one has potential, but may return some undesired results when entered into a search engine.

I guess that leaves only one thing … Happy Locomotive Day, ladies!

What the Frump

I’m engaged in a deep existential struggle: To frump, or not to frump.

I’ve always believed wholeheartedly in the value of keeping up one’s appearance. Many times I’ve sworn to myself I would never turn into one of those moms you see schlepping around the grocery store in threadbare sweat pants and a circa-1985 banana clip. Oh, no. I don’t wear sweat pants. I wear yoga pants.

It wasn’t having a baby that threatened my credo on this matter; it was breastfeeding. When you’re breastfeeding, there’s little reason to get dressed at all. If you decide going topless just isn’t for you, you’d better find a shirt that can be stripped off with a crying baby in your arms and no more than two free fingers. Add in that it should be barf-resistant and breathable enough to keep you from melting while a toasty warm baby is pressed up against you, and your options grow smaller.

And so, despite having a closet full of beautiful dry-clean-only garments, I find myself wearing the same two or three things day in, day out. Then, I got a robe.

I’ve never been too big on robes. Reference the Abilify® antidepressant commercial: a robe that’s supposed to symbolize depression but looks more like cookie monster’s ghost stalks a woman who can’t shake her chronic sadness. Apparently we’re supposed to understand that the formerly unhappy woman has left depression behind. To me, the robe seems more like a date rapist, lurking about and then jumping her from behind when she least expects it.

The funniest part of this commercial is when the lady’s doctor shows a movie of himself explaining the drug’s evil side effects. The robe watches the movie and takes notes — as if he’s plotting his strategy for how to fight back.

"You can't beat me ... muah ha ha ..."

This commercial makes me laugh every time I watch it, and pretty well sums up my usual association with robes. But, my parents gave me a very nice robe for Christmas, a plush and luxurious one that’s about as stylish as a robe can be. So, I gave it a try.

Now, I wear my luxurious depression robe every day. Since I’m all toasty warm in it, there’s really no need to change out of the pajamas underneath the robe. Plus, it meets my other criteria: it can be opened with the flick of a finger and — bonus! — is the exact color of baby spit-up!

The only problem is when my husband sees me in the robe. I usually try to have changed out of the robe and jammies by the end of the day, but sometimes he comes home for lunch and finds me strolling around in it. He’s taken to calling me “Hef-etta” when I wear the robe, as if I’m the female version of Hugh Hefner. I consider that a compliment, as I’d rather be Hugh Hefner than the sad lady from the Abilify commercial.

But does this mean I’ve given up? Have I become the banana-clipped mom? Have I abandoned all standards for myself?

As in most things, I think the answer lies in balance. I embrace my depression robe. When the crying baby alarm clock goes off each morning, the robe is a quick and easy solution that allows me to tend to my son quickly and effortlessly. But each day, I try to put on real clothes at some point before dinnertime. And I may not be doing full hair and makeup each day, but I’ve found it’s good for my self-esteem if I spend just a little time on myself. I think it helps me be more confident, more efficient and a better mom.

Balance. That’s the key. I’ll stick with my robe, but it stops there. If you see me trolling about in a Forever Lazy, I give you permission to kick my ass.

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