One of the most frustrating comments that as a stay-at-home-mom I have ever received is, "Oh you're just a mom." Nine times out of ten, this doesn't come from other parents, definitely not other mothers, and rarely fathers (though there are some); typically it comes from the childless. My ex and I often refer to these people as single, even though they might be married or in a serious relationship, couples are really just two single people co-existing. No one truly understands what a commitment is until you are a parent. No one truly understands the demands of parenthood until you become one. No one truly understand the demands of a stay-at-home-parent, unless he or she does it day-in-day-out for several years. Even my ex, after a day alone with the kids in the emergency room for a minor busted lip, tells me how exhausted he is, and how he needs a three-shot-cappuccino to finish out the day. I usually nod sympathetically, and think to myself, I know, been-there-done-that.
Now many of you have read this article Why Stay-At-Home Moms Should Earn A $115,000 Salary or one like it, but unless you've actually done it, there is still no way to fully wrap your head around what this means. Before becoming a mom, I was a career woman, and a fairly successful one. My first job out of University was to work for Al Gore's Presidential Campaign. This job required me working 12-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week for minimal pay. I lived with a supporter, on their cattle farm an hour drive from my office. When I woke up in the morning it was still dark outside, when I returned, it was still dark outside. I woke up ate breakfast, got in my car, drove all the way to the office, worked at the office in the field all day, ate more greasy take-out food than you can possibly manage, drove home crawled into bed, only to get up and do it again the next day. When I had the flu, I still went to work. I remember on one occasion crawling under my desk to take a fifteen minute power nap on a cold cement floor. Occasionally, we had happy hour, and then we went back to work a few drinks in...Occasionally we went out for a few drinks after work, and I would crash on a colleagues couch, so I didn't have to drive back to the farm.
This job was the most intense job I've ever been paid for, and it pales in comparison to being a Stay-At-Home-Mom. It is only 9am, and I've already been awake for four hours. Last night, I made a rookie parent mistake, and stayed up talking to a friend until midnight. Five hours later, the birds in spring fever wake me up singing outside my fourth story window, but the moment I wake up, instead of tuning out the birds and falling back asleep, my brain turns on and I start working, mentally organizing my day. Thirty minutes later, my almost five-year-old comes to my door crying, because he needs to pee. In my usual grumpy overly tired way, when it is way too early in the morning, I respond with, "Then go pee!" Which of course reduces him to tears, and he insists that he needed my help him his with PJs. Too tired to say no, too tired to fight with him, and not wanting to have to clean up an accident, I relent and help him to the toilet.
Fifteen minutes later, he is back in bed, and I conk out for the last thirty minutes before my alarm goes off, when I rouse the kids out of bed. After waking up my boy with kisses, the first question out of his mouth, "Mama, is today a school day?" To my answer, he pulled the covers back up over his head. Moving to my almost three-year-old, a much less friendly recipient to being awoken by my kisses, even after twelve hours of sleep, and who continues to fight to stay asleep while pushing me away. By the time I have her awake, I realize that Maxi is still buried deep under his covers. When I ask him, he peaks his head out of the blanket, a mischievous grin on his face and says, "Mama, my body hurts all over, I'm too sick to go to school today, I need to stay in bed."
Now my daughter insists on me carrying her to the kitchen, for her "Tiger Cereal," where both her and Maxi fight over who gets the blue bowl, so that I finally relent and get the other blue bowl out of the cupboard, pour the cereal into that and use the orange bowl for myself, because less face it, this is just not a fight worth fighting. I pull spoons out of the drawer, and Maggie flips out, because Miss Three Going on Thirty has to do everything her own way and has decided today that she wants to use a fork to eat her cereal. By the time, I've gotten her out of the cutlery drawer, and the milk poured into the cereal, Maxi has pulled his favorite blanket in and puts it on the back of his chair. By the time I've put the cereal bowls on the table, Maggie is crying for her favorite blanket so she can be like her brother. Because it is just faster and easier than fighting with Maggie, I get her blanket for her, return to put it on the back of the couch, only to realize that Maggie has decided she is going to sit in a different seat, and in the process of relocating her cereal, has spilled milk all over herself and the floor. When I go to get a towel, both kids have decided that instead of their napkins covering their laps, it is a better idea for them to sit on their napkins. Still not one bite of cereal has been eaten.
I grab the kitchen timer, set it for ten minutes, and tell them they have ten minutes left to eat breakfast. I eat my breakfast quickly, and I turn on the computer to check the weather. Yes, I can tell from outside that is currently raining, but this is Springtime in Bavaria. By recess time, the sun could be shining or snow could be falling, and I need to know how to dress the kids. By the time I've finished with that, I add another five minutes to the timer, so that Maggie will finish her cereal, and Maxi and I go off to get dressed.
Motivating Maxi is like trying to herd cats. So I often call on his competitive nature, and I offered to race him. Which one of us would get dressed faster? Him or me. Unfortunately, Maxi hasn't learned the grace of losing yet, so I give him plenty of lead time. I pull his clothes out before I pull out my own. I check on Maggie, before I start getting dressed, at which point he comes into the living room, half-naked in a complete panic, because he forgot to take his pajama shirt off before he put his t-shirt on. I help him work it out, and return to my bedroom to get dressed. Then he puts his t-shirt on before his under shirt, and he freaks out again yelling from his bedroom that he needs my help, so that I don't win the race. So reaching into that deep calm place within me, I start to talk him through it from my bedroom. When I am dressed, and he is almost dressed, I move to help him button his pants.
Then he asks me if I've won the race, because I'm already dressed. I tell him no, because I need to put my boots on. He tells me to slow down, and I tell him I need to get Maggie dressed first, so he has plenty of time. I get Maggie's clothes, who has by now finished eating breakfast. Getting Maggie dressed is even harder than Maxi, because Maggie is über independent, and would prefer to wear her PJs to school. With Maxi I can call on reason and sometimes his competitive nature. With Maggie, it's a combination of carrying her back and forth to time-out and wrestling. Every step of the way, it is a battle of wills between us, from changing her diaper, to pushing her arms into the sleeves, to trying to explain to her why she has to wear her boots today instead of her new sneakers that will get ruined in the mud.
With Maxi I was able to employ the methods of Love and Logic during the terrible threes. Maggie has figured out that there are more answers to the question than the choices I give her, which means I have to employ the methods of Robert J. MacKenzie's Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child, which often means picking my battles. By the time I have gotten all three of us in boots, coats and jackets, the kids have each picked out what they are taking to school with them today. Maxi a mismatched set of nesting cups we play with in the sand, and Maggie has decided on a shovel, a marble and a book. My rule with the kids on what they can take to school, if they can carry it, they can take it.
Now, we take the elevator down to the cellar where the bike and trailer are kept. Of course the kids like kids do, fight over who gets to push the buttons, one kid pushes the button to call the elevator and one kid pushes the button for the cellar. Sometimes, when he is feeling extra mischievous, Maxi beats Maggie to both buttons, and I calm her down, by letting her push another button on the elevator before we get out.
Out the elevator door, and Maxi spills his nesting cups on the floor. Quickly scooping them up and re-stacking them, we head down the stairs. Maggie insists on me carrying her, and drops her marble on the way. Yes, I still carry my kids when they ask me too. Soon enough, they will be too big, and I won't be able to carry them, and they won't want me to carry them, so right now, when I have the opportunity, I carry them. All the extra hugs and snuggles I can pack in now, I do.
Bottom of the stairs, Maxi spills his cups again. Since I don't need to hold the self-locking door open to the cellar anymore, I let him handle it on his own while I get Maggie strapped into the bike trailer. Two minutes later, I'm strapping Maxi in, and Maggie is whining because Maxi is leaning against her. I pull the bike trailer into the wide space of the hallway. If I don't do this before I pull my bike down, the limited space in the bike room, causes me to pull another bike down with mine. I wheel my bike through two sets of doors to the garage, and return to get the kids in the trailer, which now I turn around to back over the thresholds of the two doors on the way to the garage. I hitch the bike to the trailer, and then run/walk the bike and trailer up the hill and out of the garage door. Now, I wish I could ride up this hill, but I've more than doubled my weight with the two kids and trailer hitched on back, and the combination of gravity and muscle strength is not enough for me to get up that hill, even with easier gears. If I go to the easiest gear, by the time I get up that hill, and hit the wet slick driveway, I have no traction left to pull the kids. So I run/walk up the hill.
The bike ride to school is easy, yes, it is raining and it is cold, but the kids are safe, dry and snuggled into a lambswool. Additionally, I can't hear them fighting, so for ten minutes, I have some respite. We get to school, and Maggie has lost her marble much to her despair for which she is blaming Maxi.. I undo the kids buckles, Maxi pops out, Maggie fights with me, and I have to count to three, before I pull her arched body out of the wagon. I hold her while walking into the Kindergarten, and Maxi tells me he doesn't want to go to school today. "Mama, the kids are crazy here!" I know this is just Maxi's theatre, because when I pick him up at the end of the day, he'll tell me he doesn't want to go home, because he loves his kindergarten, his teachers and his friends.
He comes upstairs with me to help deposit Maggie into her classroom, who surprisingly has decided to cooperate, and after much cajoling and his teacher's help, I manage to convince Maxi to go into his classroom. All of this happened by 9am, and this was an easy morning, because no one was sick, I wasn't sick, I didn't have drop the kids off earlier so I could make it to my German class. So when I return home in the rain with the bike wagon, and I really should be folding a weeks worth of accumulated laundry, I hop on my computer to write this blog, because I can't believe that anyone would ever think that my life is easy because I'm just a mom.
And I just realized that I forgot to brush their teeth this morning.