back slowly away from the crazy woman

It’s just before six and I’m kneading dough for pita while my son helps clean the dough bowl. This is the third meal from scratch I’ve made today and normally this is doable but today, it’s not. And yesterday, Saturday, stretches out behind me of a day of cooking and having just a few dollars for groceries. The lack of money is only a problem in that I’m forced to be more creative, but I’m just tired in some elemental way that makes me exhausted tenfold to think on what to feed the family. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow I get to get up and do it again, amen.

This weekend I didn’t get things done I wanted to: printing out my finished zine, making more headway on my brother’s coat I’m sewing (I’m currently angry about some bound pockets that didn’t quite work), enjoying the family, relaxing. We did do a lot of chores and Ralph’s loft bed is finished and painted with the kids’ room all set up for them and I freeycled two things and got a buyer for Sophie’s old bed frame. But no amount of “getting done” helps me now because with my hands on the dough at the table it just seems all I do is cook and clean and clean the refrigerator and work for other people and when I take time to myself I’m too tired to do anything worthwhile. It’s a horrible feeling. It’s no one’s fault. It feels like being first trimester pregnant again. Wretched and uninspired.

At least today I got to tell my mother, remember that part in that Ya Ya Sisterhood book (we both read it) where the mom goes crazy and just leaves her family for month? I keep telling them I’m going to do it but they don’t realize I mean it. I think because to the outside world and to them it looks like I’m functioning the same, functioning well. My mom told me to take a job. I’m not sure that will help; I’m not sure what will help, really. And I don’t want help; I want to learn how to take care of myself so I can take care of my Others. And I want to be able to tell people I might be needing a Crazy Person Vacation, even if it doesn’t end up happening quite that way.

“Are you OK?” Yes, I’m OK. Just not every minute of every day.

a good saturday

When I get inspired it’s a glorious thing. I’m liable to tear a whole room apart, clean, and reassemble. Or run off to a craft store and purchase a handful of 55 cent vellum sheets for homemade cards; rummage through the hardware store spending way too much time on something silly and mundane; change needles on my machine, surf Etsy or Flickr and think of what I want to sew or draw or write on. I got extra screw-off time this morning as Ralph took the kids swimming and then to freinds’ for lunch.

My father came over at two PM – barely able to get through a work session after his Thursday chemo – to help Ralph build Sophie’s loft bed. Before they start my husband asks, “So any changes to the plans?” and my dad replies, “No… I mean not unless you’ve changed something.” To which Ralph says, “Look, I just want to know we can work in [awkward] silence the whole time.” They vanish into the next room with drill and two by fours and saws and (I hope) a level.

After my father leaves in the early evening – very sick, in fact – the family reconvenes. Sophie so loves the promise of the new bed that she perches up there – on the unpainted plywood plank – with a few books to read, bright with happiness. Nels scuttles off post-dinner and Ralph and I finish out our conversation about our current activities. I wander into the living room while sipping coffee and rice milk and my eye wanders into the dark bathroom where Nels sits, perched on the toilet, shirt lifted to show his newly-fed frog belly as he takes care of toilet business. “It’s me,” he grins at me when I turn his way. The little hobgoblin.

Tonight: endless zine work, proofreading. Homemade Valentine’s Day cards. Loud music and the sounds of kids splashing in the bath. Everyone stays up late and we watch MST3K together. Family life really works for me, sometimes.

of goatsbusters and lo-fi

Today I sustained my first new bike injury. While attempting to strap a cardboard box on my rack (taking a moment to giggle immaturely) the bungee I was using, too short, snapped back and whacked my left index fingernail. I was kind of impressed with how badly this hurt. I now have a nasty bruise under the fingernail and I hope something gross and infected doesn’t result. Meanwhile I have Ralph put to work with a Stud Finder (another giggle) to put a hook inside the house for bike storage. Because yes, my bike will be living inside with me.

The local bike shop, I could see myself hanging out there – if I was someone who knew anything about bikes or had more money to spend on them. I have a hard time describing the shop owner T. Firstly, he is a very knowledgeable bike technician and a total pleasure to talk bikes with. Secondly, he is a little bit… different. Personally, I think he’s kind of cute but maybe that’s because I get inexplicable crushes on focussed mechanical savants who look like they don’t have girlfriends. At my parents’ last night while I talked about my new bike my husband asked why all bike shop owners are a little odd (he said “weirdo”, okay) and I said, “No wait, what about…” and then stopped. Because, well. He was right. I guess there was one bike shop owner in PT that wasn’t so much weird as arrogant. But the other two shop owners – woooo! And I had a crush on one of them, too.

Tonight we continued our pleasant weekend experience by a babysitting gift from our friend A. When Ralph and I arrived to pick our children up – after a lovely, lovely dinner at home including uninterrupted conversation – the children were in various states of costumery / undress and watching Ghostbusters (only one of the best family movies ever). On our way out with our two reluctantly-departing children we travelled out the back way to visit A.’s baby goats but the little creatures were apparently sleeping. I didn’t know goats took time off like that especially when there was the off chance we were delivering late-night alfalfa.

Then while home Ralph bathes the children and I start come chocolate rye coffee cake (for tomorrow’s breakfast – I’d love to make this a Saturday night / Sunday morning tradition) and mix up a batch of laundry soap. Sophie mistakes my grating Fels Naptha soap as a cheese operation and asks for a taste, which I oblige and we laugh at her nose-scrunching reaction.

I love weekends. We sleep in, I make Ralph do stuff, I clean the house, I cook for my family and we cuddle late into the night. Good times.

"the stuff legends are made of" all right

Welcome to the world of Relative Invisibility. When I have a day like today I remember that’s where I’m supposed to be stationed. The fact is, one’s best days as a housewife and mother (or “domestic engineer” as a recent Etsy survey allowed) are often the days where you take care of the things that no one, and I mean no one, notices needed done nor gives acknowledgment to the tasks’ completions.

Today it was working a shift at the preschool, signing up for a dessert raffle, stopping at the notary’s to sign the school’s lease, mailing a package and buying stamps at the post office, dropping a package (Sophie’s shoe return to zappos.com) at the UPS store, dropping off a clothing donation to the Salvation Army, dropping off a letter to a friend, picking up fresh eggs, calling in and picking up an (incomplete) shot record for my daughter’s pediatrician, taking my daughter to the pediatrician, picking up a prescription at the pharmacy, along with the requisite grooming, dressing, loving, feeding, and guidance to my children. When all was said and done my van was cleaner, my to-do list diminished, and I was ready to go home. At which point, while taking ten minutes at the computer, my son dismantled the Christmas tree and threw ornaments against the wall.

TGIF or; Ralph, you are so taking care of some shit for me this weekend.

"just like me… empty inside"

Tonight I walked the kids to my mom’s to have dinner. She was in a muddle of what her current state often is: stress / drinking to relax or relieve stress / over-giving / enjoying herself. The part that was enjoying herself was the part that invited us for dinner, made a lovely stew, and had rented some family movies. The part that was over-giving was the part that tried to make the stew “perfect” for us then (and this was the part that was stressed and used drink to manage it so inhibitions were dropped but not the underlying stress) used an angry tone on my children for preferring their cornbread and eating it first. My dad took some special medicine and seemed to be feeling better than he had over the last few days (something tipped this week and he has now become someone “dying”, no longer someone coping with illness. I’d like to feel differently on that one if I could) but this meant he retreated for our viewing of Harry Potter and I didn’t get to see him much. It was a nice dinner and I really did enormously appreciate the night out and the homecooked meal. But I can’t get away from the the strain and bad feelings that my life’s dinnerplate seems to hold when I look down at what I’m eating.

I’m getting that really paranoid, really perfectionist sense of angst. If anything goes wrong I am a wreck (internal, so as not to inconvenience anyone). Sometimes I get a vision of who I might be when age and senility set in. And it feels small, like tiny wheels turning in my head, mucked up and in semi-darkness and doubt, unsure of myself unless someone tells me they love me or not just that they love me, but they promise not to be mean to me. Today I missed two appointments I had. One I was able to recover OK; the other I just completely missed. This is rare for me. And when I screw up like that on a commitment I make to others, or something I told myself I’d do, or whatever, I really just hate myself and it eats away at me for an indeterminate amount of time.

I don’t think but two or three people close to me realize what a perfectionist I am. I laugh at the term “perfectionist” a bit because no one who knows me would think my life looked perfect. Yet that drive, that insatiable unsettledness, has a strong a grip on every aspect of my waking hours. I hold myself to ridiculous standards and then feel bad, like pit-of-the-stomach bad, when I inevitably screw up. I have to have a clean house or if I don’t, a plan to get it clean. I can’t relax until housework is taken care of; then I’d better relax correctly. I hate myself if I have something to drink, or if my husband and I aren’t getting along for the evening, or if somehow during the day I was amiss in my parenting. I have to take care of my kids properly which means clothing and grooming and brushing and flossing and if they miss a night of this I have to demand my husband help but if he doesn’t do it I feel like a failure that we don’t provide this to them. I have to meet my commitments on the three volunteer leadership positions I’m in. If I don’t meet them I feel I can’t get over it or make amends to those I might have (usually only minorly) inconvenienced. No, for me if I mess up, it means people hate me and they have a right to hate me. It takes me a lot of internal thought and sometimes discussion with a friend (Ralph, my mom, or Cyn mostly) to “talk me down” from the ledge of I-Suck.

For a half year I wouldn’t allow myself to buy the family clothes but had to scrump, sew or thrift them. This was a fun and interesting project, sure – but it also became a burden at some point. I hold myself to the standard of preparing nutritious meals without taking culinary shortcuts. I feel bad if I buy anything “extravagant” or even buy anything without having it on a list first – or else I eschew cooking altogether and go out to eat (which, for some reason, feels like a tremendous ease on my daily cooking burdens). I choose to, for God’s sake, plan, write, edit, layout, and design for a zine which I then have to publish on our shoestring budget. I have to balance my marriage such that I support my husband and manage my own needs without asking for his emotional help when I’m fragile – which I am all the time these days, whether it’s apparent to others or not.

Some reading here may think these confessions mean I’m a miserable person all the time. That is precisely the problem; I’m not miserable, I love doing so many of these things. Every effort of mine is born of love and energy. I thrive on creativity, on learning now to do things well, on pushing myself just a little bit because it seems like I can. I do sometimes congratulate myself on the fact that I can “coast” as a housemom on some days and do well at providing for my loved ones. I love every single thing I write, or sew, or every meal I cook or the way my counter looks when I wipe it down. It is precisely the dual love-hate of the work vs. the drive to do the work right, every time, that makes for tricky terrain.

Perfectionism, as far as I can tell, has no easy cure. It isn’t a matter of, “Why don’t you do less?”* That question is like asking, “Why don’t you stop having the Kelly-brain?” or, “Have you thought about leaving your tits at home before you go out in the day?” It’s a non-sequitur. It doesn’t follow. My struggle with perfectionism could probably only be helped by – no offense to any reader who thought I was more hip in some way – prayer and discourse with God. My struggle with perfectionism was manageable in PT. It has become at least trebly difficult since moving here. I have my ideas of why this would be; for now it’s enough to recognize it’s happening.

One thing, the walk with the kids over to my parents’ was nice. I’d prepared us for the cold – coats, hats, gloves and good shoes – but the rain started falling intensely and there was nothing to save us from the wet of eight blocks. How to explain a Pacific Northwest winter rain? It is not violent at all but rather like a cold spell that covers us, the air filling with rain that is safe, nourishing, life-giving. You expect rain so you don’t begrudge it except a few weak moments, here and there, in the five solidly soaking months we get per year. You get home and strip off your clothes and put some in the dryer and towel your hair (we don’t generally use umbrellas here) and fix coffee and look outside at our beautiful weather. Tonight I watch my children on the walk. Sophie walks self-protectively. She puts her hat on firmly and zips her coat and steps carefully but purposefully. Nels just barges out into the elements, sure that he will be fine. I start to know he’s cold and wet when his hand creeps into mine and he falls silent. The children act as if they were born for this weather.

* If any well-meaning friend writes or says, “You should relax your housekeeping standards,” or “Why don’t you give up such-and-such?” I will deliver a cock-punch via Airmail.

so where are you going to i don’t mind / if i live too long i’m afraid i’ll die

Insomnia. Again. No external culprits: no late-night caffeine, no alcohol. Exercise earlier in the day. No illness. Just nerves. Alone, abandoned, sad. Listening to my family sleeping. At least the cats are outside cold (yes, I’m about to let them in). At night I tell myself that in the morning I’ll feel better. It doesn’t help much but, of course, eventually I do sleep. If I was prone to ulcers I’d have developed one.

My days are good. I have been so busy lately – in a good way. I’ve been working really hard at helping my daughter’s class in their learning and enjoyment of school. Her teacher is awesome in that she will help me integrate a food or food activity into the lessons they do during the week. Ever since we started dong this stuff my little bird-brain gears spin away, bordering on the way-too-involved. Today was pumpkin pie day, pumpkin pie being the food the kids voted on earlier in the week (I’m sad they didn’t vote for the soup, which would have been more fun to make!). Two-dozen individual pies and one large one for the teachers. The kids sat and unfolded a napkin and we listened to a song about manners while they all ate. It was a nice scene.

Next week I’m even worse. I am currently cooking recipes and planning a little school unit on bread-baking which includes book holds at the library, a Sesame Street video podcast, and a book the kids and I worked on today.

I have been putting together my zine (website pending) which I must finish before I allow myself to sew again (post-Halloween resolution). I am on the preschool board and run little errands for that which aren’t rocket science but nevertheless take up a bit of time. Ralph and I have had two meetings each this week (I missed one), being more active in the film / theatre community here. And just trying to keep on top of housework and stay happy with the children and take Sophie to her swim lessons and enjoy peaceful evenings at home. We’re hitting it dead-on this week, for a change. No strain, just fun.

Here’s the thing: anytime someone tells you they’re busy it’s easy to not care, to tune out what they’re doing. But the point is I decided these things were important. I decided I cared about them, I committed to doing them. It’s different than a paid job where someone gives you a formal accolade or a formal paycheck and says, “Yes, that’s what you should be doing.” It’s a good groove though; I’ll admit. Today after baking pumpernickel bread my children opted out of playing together to come back in the kitchen and help me make two-dozen rolls (homemade burgers tonight for my dad’s dinner). One nice thing about having an at-home parent is your children learn so very much from you. It is truly an honor and inspiration to have them as pupils, too.

The hour grows only later and my body does not feel ready for sleep. Nevertheless I shall try.

of ire and misplaced laundry

Today my husband sends me this Newsweek article regarding something any traditional (that is to say, two-parent) family knows: that even in dual-working families, mom is doing more of the family work.

There are two potential reactions to this newsbit. There are those without families who read this or hear of it and they simply don’t care. Maybe they think it doesn’t really matter, doesn’t really affect them. If they start families of their own someday their tune will change and they’ll be fighting over this mundane shit. Even if they don’t start a family, these issues affect them. Cultural and societal expectations of men and women regarding work and the home infuse our entire experience of living, whether we are aware of it or not.

I found the article mostly a waste; under-explored, trite. But the subject itself is very much with me and has been for the last half-decade. In fact on Monday I sat on my counselor Cheryl’s couch in our first-ever session without Ralph and this was part of what we talked about – the societal function and personal experience of housewifery. I expressed my growing frustration and disillusionment, an ennui that in part stems from a lack of acknowledgment within my community and larger culture. Cheryl asked me to provide some examples of this and I had so much to say I almost choked on the words: the categorical assumption that my time is valueless and fluid; an observance of how when mommy starts feeling ready to work her income is deemed “supplemental” and therefore any childcare expenses are de facto deducted from her earnings (as opposed to a combined income); how in most blended families I’ve known or experienced it is stepmom, not bio dad, who manages her step-children’s school, doctor visits, social calendar, care and clothing – she is merely expected to do so and in fact Daddy often quickly sits back and lets his former and current mate to sort out the messy issues between families. Some of my examples had no relevance to my personal life (we are not a blended family and I have not seriously considered working out of the home, for instance) and most of my examples have so little to do with my own family (Ralph and the kids are genuinely full of love and acknowledgment) – but these examples and others have everything to do with an oppressive and depressing outer reality.

These issues are not a problem for breeding females alone. Whether the other caregiver (hereafter called “daddy” for ease’s sake) can express it or not, he suffers as well. Speaking in generalities I have seen how the lack of know-how, competence, and ownership that daddy feels will create – often, not always – a father who feels out of their element, constantly nagged or perhaps just not ever “getting it right”, and tempted to carve out limited space (his shop, hunting trips, the game of airplane referenced in the article) where he can experience life with his children in a meaningful way. Daddy feels a stranger, intruder, or bumbler in his own home; perhaps he is resentful or believes his partner over-exacting or on the opposite end of the spectrum, a slovenly housekeeper (my husband, having spent a year being housekeeper and caregiver – not merely a weekend here or there – never makes this erroneous charge). Daddy pines for time to himself or out with friends while often not fulfilling an egalitarian view of time at home. Neither mommy or daddy are truly satisfied and both feel frustrated with the other and sometimes, their children.

I notice Daddy’s consistent contributions seem to be alternately glorified or denigrated. If I hear one more time how “lucky” I am that my husband can and will “babysit” the kids I’m going to deliver a cock-punch (altho’ it’s usually females that tell me this). On the other hand, when is the last time we ladies earnestly thanked our partners for some of their consistent and not-so-glorious efforts for the family? For instance their willingness to drag the garbage can out in the freezing morning rain, to take a late-night drive to the store (and yes A., I know M. really likes to do that; most people don’t), their tireless efforts to actually accomplish tasks on a list that we make for them (I would not like to do that, myself). Have we thanked them for their good spirits when the fact is their work – whether they love or hate it – is made liquid into cash which is devoured, literally, by those in their household? Have we stepped back and marveled at their ability to eschew powerful cultural expectations of being lavicious, selfish caveman lusting afer boobage and instead remain faithful, sexually available, and loving to us for life?

I am grateful to my husband for everything listed above and more. But when it comes to the distribution of household work, I honestly feel like if I worked outside the home it would be easier to know when I’m being taken advantage of for being Mama. Because as it stands, it is right and good that I am doing more work than Ralph. Ralph has his fifty or so hours away from home and during that time I’m expected to do my job – cook, clean, launder, run errands, and mess about with the kids by grooming, loving, reading to, feeding, disciplining and encouraging them; an endless series of repetitive tasks, none of which are rocket science but the balance and coordination required to pull them all off can be by turns draining or exhilarating.

I imagine in dual-earning families it often just seems like a heck of a lot of work when parents return home; both of them tired and wanting respite, wanting time together, time alone, time as a family. Frustrated by projects or housework that is never done to one or both’s satisfaction (ask my brother about, “This house WAS looked good!”) but at least a fair bulk of the work needed is not definitely placed in one parent’s sphere (as in the SAHM’s case). I feel like if I worked outside the home as much as Ralph did I sure as hell wouldn’t meekly accept more of the dishes than he does.

I have some thoughts regarding the deficit in husband / daddy care – opinions that are based on my own experiences and that of close friends (literally three minutes after Ralph sends me this link a friend (mother to two) says via IM, “Kelly, I need to ask you a question. How clean is your house? … [I]f you are busy now, I would really like to have this conversation with you at a later date. I trust your opinion and know we are coming from a similar place as domestic workers.”). I’m sure I’ve exceeded Chris’s word count tolerance; I’ll step off the soapbox in just a minute. Here’s my summation, since the article above came nowhere close.

First, let’s have some acknowledgment of one another. People – especially you boys – take some time off to say, “Thank you” to your Mama, even if only in your own mind and heart (in person would be better). The truth is, your mom probably worked too hard without enough self-care and respect for what she did. Perhaps she never took the time to find out what she wanted for herself. That’s her deal. But in the meantime, thank her for her efforts.

Men, put your minds to how you can help out at home. Diminishing the significance of the ongoing argument about where the dishes go after they’re washed is Assholian. You benefit from these systems as does your children. Man up. You have a big brain in your cavity; you are not a clueless Homer Simpson even if you sometimes use it as an excuse to be lazy. Still not convinced? To be over-frank, putting your mind into your household will get you laid. And I mean your wife will buy something slutty and do something really dirty
to you. Do you want that or not?

Ladies, ask your man what he might need. Let your kids be dirty or unfed or screechingly loud for a few minutes to focus on your man. It may surprise you. Maybe he doesn’t need a night out with friends or more time at his hobby. Maybe he needs more sex (that goes a long way for lots of men), a nicer dinner on the table, or ten minutes to himself when he gets home – after which point he should focus his ass on the family a bit more. Ask more from him and rather than nagging or complaining or accepting his hangdog I-fucked-up routine, meet him with clear-eyed questioning and don’t let him off the hook. Don’t look at this as you being a Mama to another (adult) child; look at this as an adult who has an agreement with another adult.

And ladies, since you’re kind of an overworked mess, take time to acknowledge your needs. Quit pretending that’s anyone’s job but your own.

Kids, maintain. You’re doing good. We love you.

"yeah well, some women find it offensive"

Our friend Paige who performed as childcare / housesitter / kid-lover did an excellent job. An excellent job. The main ways I have of knowing this are that A., my children were content and had that well-cared for mien upon our return, and B. the types of questions Paige would ask when we’d IM or call from our break. Yesterday when we arrived our house had been returned to it’s previous order (well… no one can clean my bathroom like I can except perhaps Stephanie), laundry done, books on the shelves, children happy and fed – it was like stepping right back into our life, no adjustments needed. And I don’t know about Paige, but the kids definitely did not tire of her care. Today as I was getting Nels out of the van he looked me in the eyes and said, “Paige was good to me.” Later in the day as we headed out on an errand he said, “Where’s Paige?” but was satisfied when I told her she’d headed home (it helps that we get to expect Paige’s mother Cyn tomorrow on a weekend visit – yay!).

P.S. I think Paige also fed them far more milk than they’re used to from Ralph and I; I also think Nels gained a pound while we were gone.

It’s good to be home. I’m currently cooking banana bread and a fresh, local Heart of Gold squash – stuffed with two kinds of rice, barley, tomato paste, garlic, spices, and cheese. It smells so amazing in my house you might as well not try to imagine it, because you can’t, it’s just that good. Today I have a refreshed outlook on housework and a more centered mind around time with the children, although I won’t deny that yesterday had some rough patches as we got used to life as a foursome – and Ralph and my responsibilities – again.

Goals for the remainder of the week: be sweet to children, keep house clean during the day and enjoy more movie / cuddling / hangout time with Ralph in the evening.

synopsis of why I’m making fresh bread and peach pie this morning

So goes the family legend: my mother attempted to stay home to my brother and I but it didn’t work out. I was carefully and repetitively informed that she “couldn’t do it”. She was “bored”, she “couldn’t get things done.” My father was just “naturally better” at it so, he stayed home. As we got older they both worked more and more, soon having two fulltime jobs. The house was empty after school but the family was together for dinner every night. My brother and I enjoyed a stable and home-centered upbringing and we all knew my mom was too “independent” to be a stay-at-home mom and my dad was “laid back” enough to do it. Read: stay-at-home moms were cow-like and didn’t expect much from life; my father was lazy so did well at it.

This story worked well for my interests as at 18 I pursued college (full scholarship) and a career in engineering – a field similar to my mom (she worked in civil; I in chemical). I was one up from most in my FOO since I would be getting a four-year degree right off the bat and supposedly bounce into a well-paying field and then the promotions and if I could catch a man, the coveted DINK status. Sure enough, post-graduation I did well in my workplace; I loved it, I was liked, I was up to the challenge of the job and loved the mental and cerebral energy I could pour into it. Children were not on my radar. Looking back I wasn’t doing any of this resentfully, fearfully, or for other people’s reasons at all. I loved the schoolwork (not so much the classes or the university) and even more, the work itself. How I loved the work; how I still miss it.

After a few years in the workplace I became pregnant and married my long-term boyfriend and father of the child-to-be. While Ralph and I were pregnant, newlywed, and being begged by our employer (we both worked at Port Townsend Paper Corporation) to stay on to dual salaries we briefly considered it. Not for more than about four minutes. It didn’t feel wrong for us to both work, precisely – and my salary was hardly cushy for a single-income family. I think we felt like, Who would be with this baby then? and there was no satisfactory answer. I still can’t explain why Ralph and I felt this way – it was instinctive, it was mutual, and it has ended up only strengthening with time.

Of course, I had the better-paying job and the degree, not to mention the familial expectation of breadwinner while Ralph was to get the less glamorous and more onerous duty of nose-wiping, cooking, cleaning, and diapering. When I went back to work after my maternity leave (which, despite being federally protected, I had to fight against my work culture for) Ralph came home as a happy homemaker and loving father to our very, very lovely and precious new baby girl. I remember printing out the latest pictures of her to tape to my hardhat. I remember my pride being an engineer, the first female foreman at my workplace, in charge of men twice my age; a mother, wife, and full-time breastfeeder as well. There is nothing that can take the pride and joy away from me that I felt during that time.

Some people may be under the impression I left work immediately after my first child was born; not so. It happened neither suddenly nor consciously. I left my job because the job started to suck; mostly my boss(es). When I started seriously considering leaving I remember my mother’s advice and comments – she was literally split between admiration that I would not be pushed around or work in conditions I couldn’t stand – versus many objections to do with my income and my nature – as in, I wasn’t the type who COULD stay home and raise children. “Ralph is so good at it… It would be too hard for you!” I remember hearing often.

This internalized bias existed within myself as I quit my job and came home, supplemented on unemployment and more and more reluctant to return to work. At some point it became Ralph more actively looking for work than I (he was doing independent consulting at the time). I still remember being pregnant with my second child as Ralph took on fulltime work with more and less flexible hours and I wasn’t quite in ownership of my choices. Deep down I was completely sure I couldn’t do it; this sham of Kelly-at-home would crash down. My mother was right, I thought. Helpfully, my father picked on me; to this day makes jokes that I don’t have a job, yet he sprinkles enigmatic compliments around our family’s lifestyle choices. If I wanted to find out what was beneath his assholian teasings I might ask; perhaps someday I will.

What gradually began to piss me off was this idea that a housewife and mother needs to have “something else” going for her. Money, a job. That a woman who stayed home had to be lazy or have no aspirations or “laid back” in order to enjoy and do well. Because I am none of those things yet time has shown I make a good mother, wife, and run a home well. I existed as a strong, energetic, too-frenetic mother whose strengths were emerging despite being told from all sides this work wasn’t worth my or anyone else’s time.

It took me years to feel I could stay home. I may have been built to do science and math and work aggressively in a male-dominated field and ironically, I was trained out of thinking I could do anything else. But as it turns out, daily I’m glad I “pushed through” my barriers to staying at home, to leaving (however briefly or for the rest of my life) my career. It hasn’t been easy to put myself in a vocation denigrated by so many (men I used to work with would get sad I’d quit, “You had such a great mind!” one once said); nor to feed, clothe, and support four of us on a single income. In fact, in many ways – physically, mentally, and emotionally – it’s been the toughest challenge I’ve faced. In overcoming that challenge along with that of school, engineering, the world of work I discover a few things about myself: one, that I’m good at challenges; two, that I seem to seek them out.

You can’t have it all and all at once. I miss work. I miss earning money. I am sometimes sad that my cohorts and peers advance – not so much in position or title but that they are earning work experience in a field I enjoy. I am glad I remain true to myself and don’t live life according to anyone’s expectations, according to fear or pseudo-security needs regarding money. I’m glad Ralph’s career got a chance to flourish and I know he likes it. Mostly I’m glad to get to spend so much time with and love on the three most important and amazing people in my life. I will never regret one moment I’ve spent with them.

Saturday was my anniversary. Ralph and I have been married six years – which means we’ve been together for almost ten! Or as Ralph points out, “Nearly one third of our life”. I just about fell off the bike when he reported this. I’ve still been thinking about it. He’s been my advocate, cheerleader, lover, partner, best friend, and co-parent for all these years. I guess he’s just as up to a challenge as I am.

"he slides a single white rose beneath my stall"