The house is silent. My coffee cup warm in my palm. Our son is sleeping across the hall, snuggled up in his warm bed, our daughter snoring upstairs. My husband’s head is buried under a pillow to muffle the sounds of floorboards creaking, of the bathroom doorknob rattling, the roar of the hairdryer as I ready myself for a 7 AM shift shelving books.
I had it really good for several months there. No home-based soap business to run. No time card to punch. The leisure to walk the kids to the bus stop in the morning, hike with the family on the weekends, lift weights. Read the paper. Make home cooked meals. Paint my fingernails. For the first time in my nine years at home, our kids were in school all day. I had quiet and solitude during the day (gasp!), and I was shocked to find that even with the kids out of the house, my days were full of work – paying bills, grocery shopping, sweeping, vacuuming, laundry, dishes…
And it was with this realization that I finally appreciated my role as stay-at-home mom.
All these years I’ve struggled with my place. With being a strong, educated woman who chose to stay home with our kids. I regularly (and grudgingly) performed mundane chores, endlessly loading and unloading dishwashers and washing machines, always restless for something more, acutely aware that I had earning potential while our debts piled up. I have no passion, no career ambition, no drive so great that it trumps my desire to anchor the family in our home. But despite my deep desire to serve as that anchor, my restlessness persisted, and I was always torn, wanting to stay home with our kids while also feeling like I needed to work outside of the home to find the stimulus I craved.
What I did not realize until I was finally alone in our house was that it wasn’t just stimulus I craved. It was peace. Solitude. A slower pace. I craved freedom to manage the household and perform my chores without interruption, without anyone needing anything from me, without having to speak or listen. Space to spend time inside my head without feeling like I’m neglecting someone for it. Enough separation that I can’t wait to see our kids and my husband when they come back to me at the end of the day.
Once the kids started school, I began enjoying the simple pleasure of pulling clean towels warm from the dryer, folding them, and putting them away. I delighted in the small transformations that took place when I ironed wrinkles out of a shirt, swept leaves off the porch, or scrubbed blue toothpaste splatters out of the sink til the white basin sparkled. I made our home welcoming for the kids and my husband on their return from long days at school and work, and I derived great joy from that. Because once they came home, nobody had any more work to do.
Over the past few months, I finally comprehended that my work at home is valuable, its currency time instead of money. I fell in love with my at-home-mom role, and for the first time in my domestic career I felt like I was actually good at it. I gave my family, and myself, the gift of stress-free leisure time, and a clean, pleasant home to enjoy it in.
Of course, I understand this now that it’s too late for us to enjoy it. Thanks to the debts we took on in order for me to stay home with the kids all these years, I’m back at work again. A part time morning shift opened up at Barnes & Noble just as the budget dictated it was time for me to earn some money, so at least I will be able to work while the kids are in school. I won’t miss dinners and weekend family time like I did when I worked the evening shift in Minnesota. We just have to adjust. The chores have to be squeezed in somewhere. The kids and I miss our mornings together. We could pack for a weekend trip for four in the bags under my eyes from four consecutive days of waking up at 5am.
But there is an ironic beauty in all of this. Even though I have less freedom, less time, I have carved out space for a hope and a dream that I did not make time for before. For stimulus that does not require a career out in the world, only a little peace so that I can rattle around in my own brain. In the quiet of the morning, when the house is still asleep, and I don’t want to risk the clatter of putting dishes away, the silence is broken only by the quiet tapping of my fingers on the keyboard. I have finally found time to write.