I was very lucky to have a mom who chose to stay home to care for me as I grew up. My mom taught school up until her first child was born. Then she and dad chose to have mom stay home to raise us kids. She didn’t go back to the classroom until her youngest child was in full day kindergarten. This meant, that until middle school, my mom was always there for me.
Our elementary school, being only a skip and a hop away from our home, allowed us kids in walking distance to sign out and eat lunch at home. I know right?! Crazy to think about that rule being in place now, but I was allowed to do that in the ’80s. I loved going home for lunch. When allowed, I would race across the green field of the play area of school and up a little hill to our little neighborhood and home. I’d barge in the door and say, “Hey ma, can you make me a sandwich?” To which she’d reply, “Poof, you’re a sandwich.” And we would laugh. I’d sit at the kitchen table eating PB&J and applesauce while she worked in the kitchen. What wonderful few brief moments were spent together right there in the middle of the day. Scarfing down my food, I’d get a kiss and out the door I’d race again back to school to play with my classmates.
Routine ruled our days. My mom drove my dad to the train station each morning as he hustled off to downtown Chicago. Then, she ensured we had all we needed to be successful for the day and that our homework was complete and hair was combed. If we didn’t come home for lunch, I always had a sack lunch full of healthy and fun food. I still, to this day, do not know what it is like to buy hot (or cold) lunch at school…even though I have also worked in schools for 18 + years. Arriving home from school, I remember many days warm cookies and ice cold milk were waiting for me as I walked in the door to sit and do my homework with. And each night, an amazing home cooked meal on the table. We’d greet dad as he arrived home on the 5:20 train with a big hug to the table our family of 6 sat to talk and be together. The meals were spaghetti, lasagna, steaks, meatloaf, fish, always with a side of salad or potatoes or garlic bread or veggies. These meals were always nutritious and plentiful.
As we all were older, mom ensured we were enrolled in and able to attend all our activities. Mom was always there. She was at every game, picking us up from every practice. She was never late and I never worried my mom wouldn’t show up. We always had the right equipment and were wearing the attire appropriate for the practice or event. She made sure we were prepared.
Then there is me…mother of three…and well, I am not the mother I grew up with.
Contrastly, I cannot remember, honestly, the last meal I cooked for my children. If I am home alone with the kids, I say, “kids, make your dinners.” They then go to the fridge or freezer, grab hot dogs or frozen corn dogs, or start boiling water for pasta. The 8 year old can jump onto the counter to reach the microwave. The 5 year old grabs plates and they make their own dinner of multiple frozen items. The only warm cookies they eat, are now the ones they make for themselves or the ones my amazing secretary, Lisa, makes for them at school.
Each new school year, my husband and I make the kids lunches for roughly two weeks before the morning routine proves to be just too much and so we start to require the kids to buy their lunches, crossing our fingers that they eat something nutritious at school. I find out from my kids that they have begged the teacher for a snack because we forgot to pack them in the morning. Even though I work at their school, I rarely even see them at lunch, let alone set aside time to eat with them.
Recently, my daughters wanted to join the new art club. I carried the sign up sheet in my work bag for two weeks before the first day of art club became tomorrow. That night, I learned that the registration was full. I attempted to explain this when the girls woke in the morning. Apparently I did not do a good job because after school, while I was at the PTO meeting, I realized I hadn’t seen the girls after school. I thought, again while sitting in a meeting, “my girls went to that club.” Sure enough, they attended and although the teacher was nice and allowed them to stay, I received a curt email the next day reminding me that the girls were not in fact enrolled and will not be allowed to attend in the future. I like to call these moments, “Mother of the Year” moments. Total mom fails. Those moments that you hit your forehead with your hand just like the emoji filled with a variety of emotions from embarrassment to sadness and insecurities.
In the last ten years, not only have I had all these children, but I have also increased my workload and employment responsibilities going from teacher to assistant principal and now principal. My kids know no other life than this. They think all moms don’t cook and that teachers just give out extra snacks. Last night at the school’s movie night, I arrived after my girls as I was attending a meeting and saw they both had pizza, candy (their blue lips were a dead giveaway to having enjoyed a ring pop), and glow necklaces. I asked, “who bought those for you” and both of them replied, “they were free.” #motheroftheyear I explained, someone had to pay for it….who paid for it…who were you in line with? Finally, I discovered that multiple sweet teachers and parents covered my kid’s indulgences. Hopefully I paid them all back by now…and it is an example of how amazing my school community is to support all kids, but man, these kids need a mother.
Every year I go through extreme feelings of nostalgia. Every November I want to move back to the midwest. And every February I call my mom in tears with mother’s guilt. I want my kids to have a childhood like I had. I want them to have a PB&J lunch. I want them to have a mom to great them at home at the door with warm cookies. I want them to have healthy home cooked dinners while we all sit at the table together. I want to attend all games and be there on time for all pick ups. And, yes, I have had the uncomfortable moment when the teacher is sitting outside the school with only Carter as I forgot to pick him up. #momoftheyear I want them to have what I had.
Each year when I call in tears, my mom is there for me agian and helps me pull up my boot straps.
- She reminds me that all generations have a new view on motherhood. She says when she stayed at home, the culture was encouraging women to work and she was the victim of much judgment for her choice to stay home. She reminds me that other people’s opinions don’t matter and I just need to do what is right for my family. Not to worry what other people think and not to be jealous of what other people do.
- She reminds me that I am doing a good job. She reminds me of what is important and builds me up helping repair my insecurities. She teaches me to let go of the negative thoughts that consume my mind.
- She reminds me of the lessons my kids are learning from my actions. She reminds me that my girls see me at school and are learning lessons from this life that will help them in their futures as women tasked with hard things. To focus on the positive aspects of our situation and see how they can be good. Instead of focusing on the “I don’ts” to focus on the “I dos”.
- She always uses humor. We laugh together when she claims I’d be a bad stay at home mother, which might be true. When I am home I eat and shop. Not good for my waistline or pocketbook! Maybe I thrive in a lifestyle that is the one I have. She helps me see that the grass isn’t always greener.
- And ultimately, she says, you can do this. She says keep going. She never lets me quit or be off the hook. She gives me the confidence and strength to stand back up, brush off my pants, put a smile on my face, and get back to work.
And so I do. I get back to work. I even think of new ideas like writing a blog, or a book, or creating a company like Second Arrow because of my new found energy to persist through her encouragement to do so…to be brave and proud.
We can’t allow our own minds to talk us into our situation being wrong. We can’t allow social media to tell us we aren’t doing it “right.” We can’t allow our minds to quit because something is different or hard or against society’s norms. We can’t allow our own minds to talk us into the grass being greener. We can’t allow our minds to talk us into insecurities of not being good enough or failing to reach perfection….realizing that there is no such thing as perfect. We must hone our inner “ma” whoever she is for you and find ways to do and be more, not to give in to feelings of failure and the insecurities of comparisons.
We must “poof” and become what we want to be!
I remember when Carter was born, my oldest baby, I had a profound and deep feeling rush over me, as I am sure all new mom’s experience no matter the birth order of the child as all children are miracles. This feeling of new love and an obligation of protection consumed me and filled me with happiness that I had never known before. At that time, I picked up the phone and I called my mom. I called her and said, “I’m sorry.” I finally understood the love she had for me, and I couldn’t stand all the negativity I had put her through as a bratty kid.
Thank you for being there for me Ma. Thank you for being here for me now.