The most common reaction I received when people found out that Mini Michelangelo was headed to five-day-a-week, full-day school this fall was:
“Oh my goodness, what are you going to do with yourself?!”
To which I had three simultaneous thoughts:
1. “Uhm, work?!?! Just like I’ve been doing for the past 2.5 years…”
2. “Write my first novel, of course!”
3. “Why sit and eat Bon Bons!”
In actuality, I’d just try to keep my eyes from bugging out of my head in disbelief, while laughing and saying something along the lines of:
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll fill the time.”
But, If people really pushed me, I’d respond with one of the snarky thoughts I outlined above. What can I say… I was sensitive. I think that the whole working/not working thing is where all of us mamas can be a little protective of our choices, and maybe a wee bit sensitive like I was. It’s one of the greatest debates and decisions that many of us make. And many times, there are feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, insecurity, second-guessing, with a dash of “the grass is greener” mixed in. (I’m speaking from personal experience only here.) I’m firmly in the camp of “everyone needs to do what’s right for them (both individual and family unit)” and I try to support all my fellow mamas in their decision. Whatever it may be.
I took pride in my WAHM status. I felt that I had found an ideal balance that worked for our family. (Most of the time.) I really needed the fulfillment that my job offered. My mini really needed the social interaction that daycare/pre-school gave him. Our budget was much happier with my income in the mix. As Kindergarten approached, I was really excited to ramp up a little when Mini Michelangelo went off to school. Ramping up would provide a much needed distraction from the “wait to travel” for son #2, as well as help us financially meet the ever-changing requirements of that trip. I was looking forward to having the majority of my “work hours” coincide with “daylight hours.” I was excited to dig in on some creative projects that I just didn’t have time for currently. I was ready for this change in our lives.
So when people questioned the use of all my “free time,” it was all I could do not to channel my inner Stephanie Tanner and respond with “How rude!” Or huff off with a “Well, I never!”
In all honesty, a part of me understands where they are coming from. It does seem like a lot of time. But, in reality, it’s not. Especially when you add in chores and items on your to-do list that have been neglected for years. Oh yes, it still tickles me when I walk into Target or the supermarket alone. I’m giddy over the amount of errands I can run in half the time. And household chores take significantly less time when you don’t have a “helper.” In addition to all that, I was hoping to get my work-week up to 32-35 hours. When I added this up in my head and suddenly, 8:30 – 2:30 didn’t seem like that much time. At all. All of the sudden, I was feeling like “oh my gosh, where’s all my free time?!”
Then this summer happened. And my work world flipped upside down and inside out. Granted, a lot was hitting the fan here in our personal lives… but my work was the one stable realm I had. Until it wasn’t. The details don’t matter since nothing went wrong, and it’s a pretty boring story, but my workload went from a solid 25 hours a week to—ah—more like 3-4-5 hours. So essentially, nothing. I didn’t even know what to do about it. Do I try to pitch new clients, hoping that I’d travel this winter? (My work doesn’t lend itself to short-term commitments.) Do I embrace the free time? Do I take this as a sign and focus on a new avenue? I ended up getting pretty sick, and then the decision was made for me. I couldn’t manage work, the household, and my mama gig until I was healthy. The mama gig and the household were non-negotiable, so for the time being… work had to be put on the back burner. “Healthy” was/is a work in progress… and before I knew it, I was sending my son to school, full-day… and not working.
I was a SAHM with no kiddo to my “Mom.” How did I get here?!
After a few days of wallowing in self-pity, I decided to embrace it. Hopefully (hopefully!) we will be traveling for son #2 later this year. It’s not the right time to pitch new clients. It’s not the right time to start a completely new gig. It’s not the right time to ramp up, apparently.* However… it is the right time for many things. It’s the right time to get back to 100% health-wise. It’s the right time to take on some pro-bono work for local causes. It’s the right time to spend time “being creative” instead of meeting deadlines. It’s the right time to “nest.” It’s the right time to prepare for a month-long journey to meet our son halfway around the world and back. It’s the right time to take care of tasks that have been ignored since our first son came home.
So what have I been doing with all this “free” time?! I took a photography class. I’m writing more. Not a novel per se, but writing. I’m doing pro-bono work. The house is cleaner than it’s been in years, and the laundry isn’t piled everywhere. I’m nesting, big time. I’m teaching myself how to take care of home improvements that have been waiting years to be resolved. I’m filling my time, that’s for sure! And trust me when I say there’s not a Bon Bon in sight.
At the end of the day though… the grass is still greener on the other side. Funny how that works. I would like to be working more, and I may just find myself starting up a new gig and pitching new clients if there is no sign of travel soon. I’ve been talking with a former colleague and it looks like the stars may be aligning for me to work part-time with her for the next few months. (Like I said above… it’s about finding the right solution for you, and your family. And I’m still trying to figure out what that is. But I feel really lucky for this opportunity!)
I enjoyed my month of being a SAHM… but I feel like I ended up doing this all backwards. Isn’t the norm to go back to work once your kiddo goes off to school?! I’m embracing the opportunity that I’ve been given… but I’m very much looking forward to a little more work-life balance for myself.
Until I find that though, I’m trying to figure out what’s next for me. And that’s a terrifying notion. Maybe I should in fact sit down with some Bon Bons and mull this all over…
* I should note that we are very, very lucky that financially we can swing this… for now. It isn’t pretty, but it’s a possibility that hasn’t been there in the past.