He only just turned two, but LM is already in school. Sort of. I’m not sure if it counts as “preschool” – it’s a “two’s” program, a pre-preschool. It seems like we keep starting them younger and younger, doesn’t it? Part of me wondered whether I needed to enroll him in such a program — couldn’t he just play and be a kid for a little while longer?
And was I just giving in to peer pressure? I saw my other mom friends sending their kids to school, so I thought LM should be as well. Then I thought of that scene in one of my favorite movies, Baby Boom, when Diane Keaton overhears the moms at the park talking about how they need to get into a good preschool, so they can get into a good kindergarten, a good prep school, a good college. If you don’t have your kid enrolled early you’re “behind.”
And I also think about the current state of education in America (a topic which I’m not really qualified to talk about since I’m not totally informed about it, but I will anyway), and how kindergarten is now like first grade and they get mounds of homework and are stressed out about tests and getting ADHD from sitting too much and not being allowed to play outside. And how in some European countries they don’t even attempt to teach anything educational until kids are, like, six; and how Europeans are smarter than us so they must be doing something right. And how I have no idea how to do that Common Core math sh*t and so I won’t even be able to help him with his homework. Speaking of which, are we supposed to “help” our kids with their homework so it’s all correct when they hand it in or are we supposed to let them make their own mistakes? And if I let LM make mistakes because that’s how he learns will that put him behind all the other kids whose parents do their homework for them? People are so competitive when it comes to their kids that they’re teaching them some really bad lessons. Is that what school is going to be for LM?
OK, hold on, back it up. LM just had his first day of pre-preschool!
Even after going through all that in my head, I’m pretty sure I made the right decision to put him into school. Not because I’m worried about him getting in college (yet). It’s because I think, from what I observed on his first day, it was just the right level of structure and play. They had open gym, they listened to a story, they did an art project, they played in the sensory (i.e. sand) table, they sang songs, they played with musical instruments and blocks. I admit to wondering if it was enough — was I just paying to have him run around the room? — but on closer inspection I think the class was a good way to get him into some kind of routine and to have some structure in his day. And let’s face it: I think LM is bored at home with me all day. I don’t want to over schedule him, but I want him to learn and have new experiences. It’s good for him to be with other kids; and it’s good for him to be without me.
What was actually harder was me being without him.
The night before his first day I couldn’t sleep. I had jitters, just like back on my own first days of school. I was nervous about leaving him, nervous about how he would do, if he would miss me, how his behavior would reflect on me as a parent. I double-checked that I had all the necessary required items (diapers, change of clothes) but forgot to print and fill out the paperwork. I was worried we’d be late (as I often am), and this was one more thing I would need to do before heading out the door.
But the morning came and everything fell into place. We got there on time, and before I knew it, class was about to begin. But not before one unfortunate mom got barfed on by her hysterical child. At least LM isn’t freaking out like that, I thought.
The program I enrolled him in is “gradual separation,” which means that parents can be there for the first class or as long as they feel is necessary. But of the ten kids in the class, only three parents stayed, myself included. Some of the kids had definitely been there before, so that was probably why other parents didn’t feel the need to hover. The class moves between three rooms, and after the first room one of the three moms left; another left during the second. That left me there alone watching the kids. And actually, it was kind of boring (hopefully just for me, not for them). So then I made myself scarce as well during snack time.
One of the other moms and I hung out in the hallway, trying to peek through the windows without letting our children see us. Because we are normally with them almost every second of every day, it was hard to not know what they were doing, if only for an hour. But every time I caught a glimpse of him, he was laughing, playing, bouncing around and generally enjoying himself.
I realized this was my first taste of what it is like to watch your child grow up, that slow process in which they inch by inch detach themselves from you. It almost felt physical, like something had been removed from my body. After so much close contact, he wasn’t there for me to hold. And I had to let him go where I wouldn’t be to take care of him.
This isn’t going to be easy, is it?
Do you find first days of school difficult as a parent?
I feel a little down today and I’m not sure why. I *should* be super happy – it’s Christmastime, I have a wonderful son, I have a great husband and family – but somehow something is missing. I’m not sure what it is.
I talked to my husband about this last night as we lay in bed. He thinks it’s that I’m constantly searching for something more, that I can never be happy with what I have. I think he’s partially right. I do want more – but I’m not sure what more is. I don’t want to go back to work. I don’t want to be in an office all day, answering to some a-hole boss, feeling guilty about being away from my son and then feeling guilty for going home to be with my son. I don’t want my son in daycare. I don’t want to have someone else raise him.
But at the same time, this stay-at-home mom thing is tough. I nearly had a breakdown this morning because I couldn’t get our new printer to print our freaking Christmas card address labels. My son was playing in the guest room, where we have the desk and printer, but I knew it was only a matter of time before he would start whining. It was just taking too long to figure out the damn printer – and sure enough, I couldn’t get it done before he was begging for my attention.
I don’t recognize myself anymore, and I think a big part of my identity crisis has to do with not working. Yes, I do blog – but that doesn’t make any money. I do freelance – but I don’t think I will even crack 10K in freelance pay this year. And it’s not even about the money – it’s about feeling that I am doing something worthwhile, that I am contributing to my family and to my community and to society at large. My husband tells me that I am because I am raising my son. So why do I so easily brush that aside?
I envy some other SAHMs who are completely content to do what they are doing and have no desire to do anything else. I feel jealous when I see a former coworker interviewing stars on the red carpet, or flying somewhere to do a set visit, or hosting some big event. I get jealous of unmarried, child-free Carrie Bradshaw types I know who are living a fabulous life in the city with their urban families and their glamorous parties and their high-powered careers. I see myself there in an alternate universe.
And yet I don’t want to trade places with these other people I’m jealous of. I know if I was living that life, I would be missing what I have now, and I know it’s not possible to “have it all.” I also know I don’t want to be trying to juggle working full time and raising kids and keeping my marriage afloat and doing family activities on the weekend while still having time to read the newspaper and bake cookies and whip up gourmet dinners.
The modern myth persists that this is possible. I can tell you, it’s not. Unless maybe you’re one of those people who can live on four hours of sleep or have lots of hired help. For some reason, in mom culture there is always the notion that we aren’t good enough, that we should be doing all these things perfectly. I feel like I’m constantly trying to keep up with some impossible standard that just doesn’t exist in real life.
So this sense of floating along, of being adrift in my life, is me trying to find my new way in the world. Because I have no idea where I’m headed. I would like to make a new career of writing and working from home – but by “career” I mean something that pays. I would like to figure out how to do that while having a childcare situation that I’m happy with. I don’t want to feel like I’m constantly having to choose between my identity as a career person and my identity as a mom.
Last night the movie Baby Boom with Diane Keaton was on. I love this movie – even though it was made in the eighties I’m amazed at how well it holds up, and how relevant the struggles that she faces still are today. If you haven’t seen it (spoilers ahead), it’s about a career woman, the “tiger lady,” they call her – who unexpectedly inherits a baby from distant cousins who died. After trying to balance her stressful job with parenting, she gets pushed out of her position in NYC and moves to Vermont, where she goes a little nuts but eventually finds a new path making homemade baby food. Her business expands, and her old bosses want to acquire it from her, which would necessitate a move back to the city to work as COO. The deal is a great one, but she turns it down. Remembering how her boss had told her she’d have to make sacrifices to get ahead, she tells him, “I don’t want to make those sacrifices – and the bottom line is, nobody should have to.” She finds her own way in the world and is able to be a success on her own terms, while still being the mom she wants to be.
That’s what I want. I hope I can find it.
Did becoming a mom change your identity? Has your perception of yourself shifted? How do you balance work and parental responsibilities?