In this phase of life – of parenthood? Of 2020? – time seems exceedingly distorted. Mornings stretch out into almost infinity as I process load after load of laundry only to look up and see that it’s 9:23 am and, so, apparently time has stood still.
If it’s later in the week, on a day when I have only 2 sleeping babies at home, if the stars align and they synch up their naps, time speeds to triple and I blink and it’s time to leave for carpool. I’m so grateful our kids are in full day school this year, so grateful there have been no issues so far, so happy they’re so happy. Lockdown was hard on all of us, hardest on me, I thought for sure, but now that they’re with their friends again, playing sports, swapping stories of what I did on my weirdest summer vacation ever, I realize how hard it must have been on them.
Yesterday I ordered takeout from a favorite burger place for a living room picnic with the 4 little kids while Dave had a work dinner and the big boys were camping with Grandpa. Later in the evening I overheard Luke describing the interior of the restaurant to Evie in exacting detail, commenting on the lights, the tables, the piped in music. I had to laugh because we were in the lobby for maybe 25 seconds, standing just inside the entrance while a hostess grabbed our to-go order from a makeshift station and handed it over. But the poor guy, he has hardly seen the inside of a building other than home or our parish in 6 months. He was entranced! I made a mental note to let him join me on my next shopping trip. If he thinks the lobby of Bad Daddy’s was rad, wait until he sees Walmart.
I’ve noticed, also, that my drive to work outside of our four walls has waned to an unrecognizable level. I’m still enjoying running Off the Charts, supporting and encouraging couples in their practice of NFP, but my appetite for growing the ministry, for speaking or writing outside of this little space and the videos I record for the community there, has dwindled to nothing. At first I chalked it up to PPD; once that was handled, I figured it was a 4 month sleep deficit and lockdown ptsd. But, I think it’s something else. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately sort of sitting at the feet, so to speak, of more experienced moms, reading their essays, watching their youtube tutorials. I spent hours last week during our freakishly early snowstorm and 48 hour cold snap poring through the Like Mother, Like Daughter archives, reading post after post from Leila Lawler’s years and years of compiled wisdom. I’ve come to realize, after spending days and weeks and months tethered more closely than ever to home, that far from being a drudgery and prison, it has become a place of increasing freedom.
Let me back up a bit.
For much of my motherly life, as those of you who’ve been reading from the beginning already probably know (gulp, Mama Needs Coffee turns 10 next year!) I’ve found myself walking that familiar tightrope of identifying as a stay at home mom but also, “something more.”
Initially I worked out of necessity, I told myself, paying down my student loan debt and chipping away with a BIG shovel at the ‘ol Dave Ramsey snowball. And then the babies started coming. I doubled down my efforts and kept apace, but something strange started to happen. My shovel shrank.
Or, rather, the pile of snow started to accumulate rather than melt away, with diapers and hospital co-pays and the cost of living with 3 and then 4 and then 8 family members, yes, but also with the cost of convenience foods, dinners out, trips, gym memberships, babysitting, trips through the Starbucks drive through, the Target dollar spot, sparkling water by the caseload…all things that I could, technically, do without, but things I wasn’t willing to surrender so long as I was working like a dog to “do it all.”
I took on massive freelance projects, pushed myself after babies’ bedtimes to hit deadlines that I’d plowed ahead and committed to, working my regular job in the shrinking hours between kid needs and meal requests.
As the babies grew into toddlers and then preschoolers and kindergarteners, their immediate physical needs waned, even as their emotional and social needs skyrocketed. I could no longer count on 2 or 3 hours of quiet work time in the afternoons. I could no longer count on any quiet work time. My mornings got earlier and my nights got later. I was tired and resentful and definitely not enjoying motherhood.
Enter baby number 6. Benny’s pregnancy was really the last straw. It only took half a dozen kids, but I finally hit the limit, mentally, physically, and emotionally. It made zero sense on paper, but I finally got the courage to quit my job at CNA and started out on my own with increasingly regular speaking gigs, bigger writing projects, and of course, Off the Charts. All throughout the first 2 trimesters of that pregnancy I was pretty much high on the intoxicating rush of freedom and sheer terror that is self employment. I switched gyms and joined the YMCA specifically for their 2 hour daily childcare limit. I worked feverishly at a peeling laminate table squeezed between the racquetball courts and the men’s locker room, familiarizing myself with the back end of a website and learning about list building and sales funnels and how to batch record content. I registered for an LLC, bought a handful of domains, hired a bookkeeper, added 2 contract employees to help manage admin tasks, and it was off to the races.
The first 6 months were exhilarating. The second 6 months were excruciating. Now, more than a year out, I’m finally feeling like I know enough to know that I don’t know much, at all. The fire to grow my audience and self promote has dwindled to absolute ashes, thanks in large part, no doubt, to abandoning social media in all its forms.
And the strangest things begin to happen.
I spend time scrolling though soothing images of clean, empty rooms on Pinterest and somehow find bags and bags of clothes and toys and books to donate. Every week at least another bag or two. I start googling things like “how to deep clean a bathroom” and I watch video tutorials on big family batch cooking and how to expertly roll paint on a wall. As the online world fades and the actual world seems like an ever hotter burning dumpster fire, home starts to look less like a prison and more like a refuge. I let my sister direct a redecoration of almost the entire first floor of our house, tossing out hand me down end tables and the mishmash of “eclectic” pieces of furniture we had somehow amassed over the 7 years since we moved home from Rome.
The thrift store angels yield up one treasure after another, items and prices too good to be true: a 12 by 14 ft jute rug still rolled up in its packaging, unmarked and haggled by me down to $19 dollars. I googled it later and widened my eyes at the original price: $500. I toss all our old, mismatched plastic kid gear and fill the cupboard with one shelf of thrifted, all white Corelle dishes. Shatterproof, yes, but not technically, entirely unbreakable. Even so, the peace and beauty of the kitchen without Paw Patrol water bottles and neon green plastic cups and bowls is worth the price of a broken dish every couple of weeks or so. (Luke.)
As home becomes more beautiful and kids become increasingly awake, active, and self aware, my focus continues to shift ever more inward, my vision narrowing at times for days and days on the four walls of our house.
When I was a younger mom I had to leave the house at least once a day for the library, the gym, Chicfila, just anywhere but here. I felt frantic to escape the narrowing walls of what felt, sometimes, a bit like a prison. I chafed at the weight of the daily tasks required of me, the tasks I felt at once overqualified to perform at at the same time deeply unprepared to carry out well. I had yet to experience the sweaty satisfaction of a bathroom well scrubbed and sanitized, a massive pile of laundry reduced to nothing.
I knew little about home making, and so making a home seemed little, too. Insignificant and secondary. Cooking 3 meals a day felt – still feels sometimes, truth be told – like some kind of work release program: “yes, you get to have these cute kids and wonderful husband, but there’s a catch – they’re going to want to eat. Every day.”
Where am I going with this rambling, meandering reflection? I’m not sure. But there is some thread running through this all I can’t quite pull together, something about narrowing one’s field of vision and suddenly having the entire horizon filled with the beauty of your immediate surroundings.
With increasing regularity, I am learning not to mind standing at the sink, washing the millionth pile of dishes for the week (our dishwasher broke in June, because of course it did. And the part is backordered forever because 2020.) I am content not to weigh in on The Latest Thing, much of the time now. I’m not sure, financially, what will be the ramifications of my pulling back from my earning potential, saying no to more outside work as the pace of the inside work accelerates. But I know it’s what they need.
And it’s what I need, too. And I can say that now, honestly. I need to be home. My home needs me. And it is not beneath my station to learn how to properly scrub a toilet or roast a cheap cut of meat. Quite the opposite, I’m finding it thrilling to grow in mastery at things I just assumed I wasn’t good at.
Kind of like that season I spent learning HTML and online marketing.
I think we’ve all been given a rather unique opportunity to see the value of the work done in and around the home these past 6 months. How many of us darkened the door of a hardware store in that span, perhaps for the first time in a long time, the first time ever? How many internet searches for “how to repair a blank” were sent out into the ether? How many of us experienced the beauty and the exquisite, exquisite pain of explaining multiplication or a finer point of grammar to someone who shares your last name and your dinner table but whose academic formation was formerly a complete mystery?
I have no conclusion, but I wonder in continued curiosity at the way things are unfolding, the way life is developing in a totally different direction than I’d have ever predicted – or asked for.