Be honest. What comes to mind when you hear the word, "housewife?" Or "stay at home mom?" Does your mind immediately jump to the happy domestic scene in the above photo, or do you picture a Real Housewives type, dripping in diamonds, wearing nothing but the most expensive designer clothes, drinking vodka at 11am? Perhaps when you added "mom" to the mix, you thought of a chaotic household; clothes thrown all over the place, the dog eating the kids' leftover breakfast cereal, a frumpy looking woman chasing half-naked toddlers around the house, wearing stained sweatpants and a too-big t-shirt. There's a million stereotypes out there, and while I'll admit some of them are true, most are pure fantasy (or nightmare, depending on how you look at it).
I'll own it. I'm a housewife/stay at home mom. For a long time, I didn't know how to define myself. I haven't worked a paying job since 2009, when I left my position as a bank teller at the Ramstein Community Bank in Germany. We were getting ready to PCS (move, for all you non-military folk) back to the States in May, and Will and I wanted a few extra months to travel as much as possible, without having to worry about me taking vacation time, or work around my co-workers' schedules. I was fine with that. I had worked the entire time we lived in Germany, out of a desire to do something with my time, a desire to earn money to travel around Europe, and boredom, as I had a husband who deployed at the drop of a hat, or was constantly sent to the States for training, or on presidential missions with his working dog, etc. In other words, I worked because I wanted to, not because I had to. The extra money was certainly nice, but we could live without it. After resigning from my job in the fall of 2009, I wasn't quite sure what to do with all this extra time I suddenly had on my hands. I took Murphy O'Dwyer for a 3-mile walk every day. Our home was spotless, I searched the internet for new, exotic recipes, and I painstakingly prepared them for hours before Will came home from work. Will and I took 4-day weekend trips to East Germany and Poland, to see the beautiful city of Dresden, and then on to Auschwitz to visit the concentration camp. We spent 3 weeks traveling (by train) to Italy, the south of France, and Spain. It was during that time I found out I was pregnant. Shortly thereafter, we returned to the States, and Will began a new job as an Army recruiter in Boston.
We had decided, long ago, that when the time came for us to have children, I would be a stay at home mom. It was something I had always dreamed of being, and Will was happy with the idea of me staying home with our babies. (Not to mention, both of us almost keeled over when we saw the prices of daycares in the Boston area). The next couple of months passed rather quickly. I thought I would be bored, staying home alone every day, but I quickly found that wasn't the case. I busied myself with housework and laundry, both of which seemed never ending. I did a lot of work on the baby's room, organizing gifts we received from my baby shower, setting up the stroller and changing table, and washing, folding, and putting away baby clothes. I went to the library weekly, and checked out books on childbirth, parenting a newborn, breastfeeding, the baby's first year, you name it. I went to my doctor appointments in Arlington. I spent hours on the internet, joining chat forums about childbirth and child-rearing. I read mommy blogs. I made meal plans, grocery lists, and did the shopping, and Will almost always had a home-cooked meal when he came home from work. I familiarized myself with our new town, and took walks by the water in Southie. I loved our new city, and I felt so fortunate to live there. I was also incredibly grateful that I didn't have to work during this time. Will made it clear that he wanted me to rest and relax before the baby came, and he didn't want me stressing over a job. We had saved quite a bit of money during our years living overseas, and I made sure to stick to a budget, so finances weren't a concern.
Then we became parents.
All order, everything we had scheduled, was completely shot. Our sleep schedule. My weekly grocery trip. My housecleaning schedule. The homemade meals. We were first-time parents, and we had no friggin' idea what we were doing. Was Tony getting enough sleep? Sure, as much as a newborn could possibly get. Was he getting enough to eat? (Our pediatrician assured us that yes, a 4-month old who weighed 16lbs was getting more than enough to eat). Was his car seat installed correctly? Why did I nurse him with the TV on? He isn't supposed to be exposed to any media until he's at least 2!
I'm sure all of you seasoned parents (myself included) are having a good laugh over this. My point being, everything I enjoyed about being a stay at home wife was suddenly thrown out the window. Fortunately, Will didn't mind; he was a very involved father, who had no problem getting up with Tony at night, changing diapers, rocking and singing him to sleep so I could get a break. So he knew all too well how exhausted I was, and he never uttered a word of complaint when he came home to a frazzled, un-showered, half-crazed wife who resembled more Ursula from The Little Mermaid than Donna Reed. He simply took Tony from me so they could have some "bro time," and he called Gino's to place yet another order for pizza while I took a shower and chugged, I mean, enjoyed a glass of wine.
As Tony grew, and he grew out of the "I'm going to fuss and cry all night long unless someone is holding me" phase, our daily routine became, well, more routine. I knew what time Tony woke up every morning, so I set my alarm for an hour earlier. I got up, made the bed, brushed my teeth, put on my workout clothes, and sat down with a cup of coffee and the morning news. Tony woke up, I nursed him and changed his diaper, we played for a bit in his room and read a book, and then we were off on our daily walk, either at Quincy shore or the Wompatuck State Park, in a nearby town. We would get home, I'd change his diaper, nurse him again, and put him down for a nap. I'd clean myself up, eat lunch, and do some light housework and prep dinner. And so on, and so on. I knew how fortunate I was to have an easygoing baby who slept well, and it also didn't hurt that we lived in a relatively small space. Our apartment in Braintree was no bigger than 1100 sq ft, so it wasn't too difficult to keep it clean. I made sure that the meals I prepared during the weekday were fairly simple (because let's face it, no one wants to bounce a baby on your hip while attempting to stir a pot of mushroom risotto), and I saved my "adventurous" meals for the weekends, when Will was around to play with Tony.
Naturally, my homemaking schedule was always shot when we added a new baby to the mix, or when my back pain became truly awful, and we were in the midst of trying to figure out what the heck was going on with my spine. Or Uncle Sam decided that nah, he had had enough of us living in one place for eleven months, and we needed to gather up all of our worldly belongings and move across the country. Life, to put it bluntly, always managed to get in the way. However, no matter where we lived, no matter how large our family became, I always took pride in my home, and as my job as a stay at home mother. That was truly a turning point for me, when I began to look at what I was doing as a job. Yes, of course, I loved staying at home with my children, and we had lots of fun together every day. I took them to parks, swimming pools in the summer, libraries, and we spent our days reading books, baking cookies, coloring, and playing with toys. But trust me, there was always something to do around the house. Rugs that needed vacuuming (especially with a dog who always sheds), kitchen counters to be wiped down, dishes to be washed and put away, surfaces that needed to be dusted, and meals that needed to be made. If all I did was have fun with my children every day, but neglected the work, I wasn't doing my job. Simple as that.
That's certainly not to say I morphed into June Cleaver overnight. There was, ahem, a bit of a learning curve. It took me a long time to realize that, oh, hey, I should probably clean my baseboards after living here for a year and a half. And it's been a while since I scrubbed that bathtub, and yikes, there's a ring around it (and I didn't even like it! Okay, bad joke). Or the weatherman predicted a high of 95 degrees tomorrow, and oh look, I haven't done laundry in three days, and the only clean clothes are from the winter pile. There was a time when I always felt defeated, I felt like I was never good enough, and if I'm being really honest, times when I felt like an utter failure. This was never pressure put on me by Will; he was as grateful as can be for every meal I put in front of him, and every load of clean laundry I placed in his drawers. He never made me feel like I wasn't good enough. The pressure came solely from me. Part of it was the social media picture. I would see all of these picture perfect moms on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, with their spotlessly clean homes, their perfectly behaved children, and their days spent crafting, and making homemade Peeps for their children's Easter baskets. Wait, I had to make my own Easter candy now? I could barely keep the front hallway free of dirt for more than fifty seconds, and this b$%&# is showing me up with homemade PEEPS?
Obviously, no. I eventually learned that I have my own groove, and while it did include homemade bread and broth, holiday candy was out of the question. I was able to find a balance between keeping the house magazine-perfect at all times (my preference) and letting complete chaos take over and giving up entirely (Will and the kids' preference). I also began looking at housewives of the 1950's. Not the TV show ones, who vacuumed in heels and pearl necklaces, but the real ones. Like everything else in life, I heard about the good and the bad. How these women took pride in their homes and their families, how they had real, genuine friendships with their neighbors, how there was a home-cooked meal on the table almost every single night, how the family ate dinner at the table together, the mother was always home when the children came home from school, and how weekends were spent with the family. That, of course, was the good part. I also heard about women who felt trapped; women who longed for careers, but were unable to pursue them. Women who were trapped in loveless or abusive marriages. Women who felt that their only worth was tied up in how clean their house was, how good of a cook they were, or how polite and well-behaved their children were. I don't want to idealize the 1950's housewife. There were many things wrong not only with the image of the picture-perfect wife, but that time period in general. I have, however, decided to learn a little bit from the women who shared their wisdom with the younger generation.
There's nothing wrong with being, or even wanting to be, a housewife. Or a stay at home mom. There's something to be said for having a neat and tidy home, while realizing that there are times and situations that will cause your housework to slide. It's okay to let things go from time to time, as long as you don't get too comfortable in that "survival" period. A fresh coat of lipstick and running a brush through your hair at the end of the day can lift your spirits, and (gasp!) put a smile on your husband's face when he walks through the door. We're not supposed to admit that, are we? I'm not sure who came up with that rule, but frankly, I couldn't disagree more. Freshening up and wiping away the jelly stain-from Gianna, no doubt-from my face gives me a second lift. When I'm happy, Will generally is as well. Come on, haven't we all heard, "When mama ain't' happy, ain't nobody happy?" If all of these things make me a throwback, well, I guess I'll own that label. I didn't lose my intellect, my passion for literature, or my desire to keep up with current events simply because I decided to stay at home and take care of my family. I'm still the same person I was when I held a paying job, only now I have a different job. When our children are older and they don't need me as much, I have no doubt I'll explore another path. Maybe I'll focus more on writing, maybe I'll go back to school. In any case, I refuse to be ashamed of my current job title, simple because some insist that it's insulting, or demeaning. In the meantime, I'll just put on my apron, 4-inch heels, and scrub the kitchen floor, before bringing my husband a beer on a tray as soon as he walks in the door. ;)