What does the first day of school look like for a SAHM with no kids at home?
Disclaimer: I can talk about this because, for years, I have said the same to other SAHMs. Hell, I did it THIS year.
Polite, medicated, socially capable me responds like this:
“Enjoy your day off!” I sure will.
“I can’t wait until all of my kids are in school all day!” Oh, aware that my kids are actively listening to my response, it IS exciting, but I sure will miss having them home with me.
“Are you going back to work?” For pay? Not this year.
“What ARE you going to DO with yourself for an entire day? All that free time!” Well, I have this book that I’ve been trying to write for a year– it’s such a great story, but fiction is hard. And I volunteer a lot…
My mouth, both good and bad, often flies solo. It’s true, I just open my lips and watch the appropriately vapid responses stream out. After all, these aren’t people stabbing me with a passive-aggressive-interest-knife. In previous years, I’ve spoken similar words and received similar vapidity in response.
This is what I meant when I said these things to other SAHMs.
“Enjoy your day off!” Not having to bargain for every vegetable eaten, or moment of silence for 8 hours feels like a vacation day. I feel sad for me, but happy for you.
“I can’t wait until all of my kids are in school all day!” Spending 8 hours with children of any age is mentally and physically exhausting. I wish I could explain why 2 hours of Candyland creates the same need-a-nap as 2 hours of painting. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s the truth.
“Are you going back to work?” Everyone wants to know when the SAHM is going back to work, especially other SAHMs. Whether staying home was an intentional decision, or a financial necessity caused by expensive childcare, SAHMs deliberately walk away from the job market. Deciding to leave my career at the exact moment that my painfully carved out niche’ began to pay me in respect dividends was scary. Thinking about going back after being gone for almost 7 years? Paralyzing, sweaty-palmed, heart-banging terror.
“What ARE you going to DO with yourself for an entire day? Listen, all parents understand how easily children, what with their basic needs and, you know,
limit-testing curiosity, chisel away at the hours. Kids just want things, like food and attention, all day long. Those delicious moments you’ve had when your kids were someplace else foreshadowed a future where peeing doesn’t include the phrase, “No, I can’t find your socks right this minute; I’M IN THE BATHROOM”. Those self-contained, no-kid moments are like watching a commercial for the reruns of the reality show of your previous life.
My brain whispers these unspoken, remembered meanings to itself trying to tricking my mouth into saying stuff better left unsaid. I’m telling y’all this, not sanctimommy anyone into feeling badly, but because my pharmaceutically-induced verbal filter is struggling at maximum capacity.
“Enjoy your day off!” Can you enjoy a day while scrubbing the crystallized urine off the bathroom floor? If so, I’m all over it. You see, in spite of the overwhelmed exhaustion and self-doubt that coincides with parenting, so too does the joy. The part of my day that I enjoyed– experiencing life from my child’s perspective— is the part that has /waves hands/ gone away. The other part, the defaulted domestic responsibility for almost-all-things-cleaning-cooking-scheduling-animals-kids-husband-paperwork, the consume-without-meaningful-reward part, stayed behind. Sure, listening to really loud, really inappropriate music makes folding laundry more tolerable, but I am still folding laundry.
Five feminists die each time I write domestic responsibility and housework in the same paragraph, so I can also add “failing all of my foremothers” to my mixed emotions on what it means to ‘enjoy my day off’.
“I can’t wait until all of my kids are in school all day!” Yeah, here’s the thing that most of us don’t consider while entertaining this fantasy during the 112th game of Candyland: In some social circles, attending playdates without any children is often seen as strange behavior. Now that my kids are in school all day, I get to experience isolation in a whole new way! The flip side, if you will, of becoming a new mother when none of your friends have kids yet. Except there is no cute newborn drawing people to you, and thus you to people. It’s ironic that I have regularly struggled and complained about being overwhelmed with the fullness of my social pie, only to wake up one day feeling sort of sad about finding nothing left of it but the crumbs.
Now I have to redefine the relationships I have with my friends, many of which we forged together after we were mothers. I’ve had exactly 14 uninterrupted conversations in the past 8 years. I already know that I struggle to maintain eye contact during prolonged verbal exchanges. I attribute this to a Pavlovian-conditioning that created an association between my speaking to adults, and being responsible for making sure my kids weren’t playing in traffic.
Seriously, my sunglasses-wearing addiction has very little to do with the sun, and a lot to do with my incurable shifty-eye problem.
“Are you going back to work?” Ermahgerd! Reaction Alert! I never quit working, thankyouverymuch. No, I didn’t put on grown-up clothes to serve my time in my people-crate-cubicle. But I DID work. Those arts and crafts, glitter, water-play sessions that I jealously watched other friends’ kids enjoy during the childcare hours? The day that the water bead adventure turned into skating on slimy water beads all over my kitchen? The day when 20 minutes of lazy supervision resulted in two toddlers gaining free access to large bottles of loose glitter? Happened. In. My. House.
As for getting a job that pays an actual salary, maybe even something with, I dunno, a retirement plan? I’ve looked around. Did you know the economy sucks now? In terms of marketability, my BS in Sociology doesn’t so much fling open the Doors of Flextime Employment Opportunities. Those all-day gigs when coupled with the cost of after-school care for two children? Having to invest in a replacement wardrobe for my current eclectic haute couture blend of athletic wear and flip-flops? Trying to figure out how to update a resume’ that has collected nothing but cracker dust for almost a decade?
I want to write a book and JB agreed that this is my chance. I can’t lay the blame for non-writing at the feet of my children, because they aren’t here. Opportunity and privilege have kerplunked into my lap. This could be my Pivotal Moment, or a dictionary-worthy definition of Professional Procrastination. I’ll get back to you.
“What ARE you going to DO all day? All that free time!” Watch (more) porn and smoke crack. What else is there?