Fritz is going out of town early in the new year for a conference. In the recent past (since Mattias was born), he's been avoiding out-of-town conferences out of deference to me. I'm pretty afraid to spend more than 2 days and nights alone with just the boys. We attempted a two night trip last year. I mean: Fritz was gone for two nights. And the two night trip was, in fact, something of a disaster. Both boys got sick, I was sick, Fritz returned to utter chaos and a wife in tears. I more or less forgot the details and just remembered it as 'hard'. But Fritz didn't forget anything. He has avoided conferences ever since.
Oh, and I make additional excuses for why I'm unable to be alone with the boys for more than 48 hours. There's no grandma nearby to help. There's no regular daycare or childcare or babysitter. The boys are especially demanding.
I can go on and on, just like my sons.
But yet, other parents, under similar circumstances do it all the time.
My own mother did it for several months when I was 6 and my brothers were 4 and 2. My father was transferred by his employer and moved ahead of us. He was gone for about two weeks at time. We stayed behind, 3 kids and their mother, waiting for our house to sell.
I called my mother the other day to ask just how she managed to do it. Here is what she said:
"It was hard. I remember I called your grandmother and complained. She wasn't very understanding."
"Well. That stinks. She should have been more empathetic."
"But, still, Mom, how did you do it? How did you stay alone with us kids for days at a time?"
My mom sighed, "I didn't have your expectations." Um...
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, Ann. You have all these things you want to do; and you had all these professional plans and dreams before you became a mother. I didn't have that. I knew I was good with children. I just wanted to be a mother. That is what I wanted to do."
"So...why did that help you stay alone with us kids for several days?"
"Because it's hard when you change your expectations."
I think about this. I think about the obvious question: am I NOT suppose to have expectations? Or are my expectations suppose to revolve around ONLY motherhood? Because she didn't raise me that way. And I'm not that way, anyway.
She is right: I had expectations - I HAVE expectations. And some – many? – of these expectations have very little to do with motherhood. I'm still not really sure how this affects my ability to be alone with the boys for several days. But I think maybe I get the gist, even if I'm not really willing to accept her suggested consequences.
At this time of year, I also think intensely about all the things I miss about practicing architecture: the concrete problem solving, the coordinating and REAL planning, stomping around job sites, and even the zen-like typing movements of keyboard shortcuts while drafting. I think about my classmates and past colleagues, many of whom have very successful careers. And I have vivid nightmares revolving around various forms of professional failure.
Yet, as the boys reorganize the house and I cram information about heating and cooling systems into my rusty brain, I am reminded how very difficult it would be to be working professionally.
Have I told you that my dream for me would be to work part time? I worked 10-15 hours a week for about a year and half. Noah was under 2, we were still in Munich. I loved it. For me, it was great.
For the rest of my family, it was NOT GREAT. The problem was that since my job was mostly teaching, and it was already ONLY part time, it was difficult for me to call in sick. Instead, Fritz frequently and repeatedly missed work when the Tagesmutter (a woman who does home daycare) got sick. Or when her kids got sick. Or when her husband got sick. Or when her cat got sick. Or when her neighbor's cat got sick. No, just kidding on that last one. Noah himself got sick repeatedly and entered his phase of life as (what did the German pediatrician say? Oh, yes:) a bronchitis candidate. Here in the US, they just write ASTHMA on his charts. Eventually, Fritz insisted we quit the 'undependable' Tagesmutter and he recruited Oma to come and live with us for a few weeks at a time. Recruiting Oma was an option in Germany, where Oma was only 2 hours away by train.
I guess this is pretty normal stuff. Normal stuff for any family with two working parents. Additional problems accumulated: When Fritz was also teaching, it was more difficult for him to take off. And Fritz's grant writing; the necessary engine that drives this whole self-sufficient family unit, fell through the cracks. We vowed to make changes for self preservation. My job was just frosting. I'd stop working.
I used to say that I was waiting for Fritz's elusive grant that would secure life for a few years. THEN I would look for a paying-job.
But that grant came about 6 months ago, and I'm still here, paying-job-less.
Most of the time, I don't really know what to say for myself. And I do feel like I need to say something for myself. I feel like I need to bridge that gap between all the various expectations I have and the way my current life only fulfills half of my expectations. I'm not bridging the gap. At least, not yet. Instead, I'm slowly beginning to mentally defend this staying-at-home. I'm still not very comfortable with it. Even in my mind, the defenses feel mystical or whiny or weak or overly-sentimental. The defenses are based around the boys, who *I* (believe-it-or-not based on my frequent belly-aching around here) actually think are pretty awesome human beings. I'm determined to keep them as awesome as possible. All these years at home with them are starting to feel like maybe this Being at Home thing has been An Investment that can't be thrown away lightly or changed too readily. And I've got expectations for the boys and all their ongoing awesomeness now, too.
But the expectations of myself as mother? Seeing myself as a good mother, or thinking I'm good with children, or even wanting to be 'good with children?' I may be willing to credit the awesomeness I see in my sons to the State of Being Here at Home with them, but I don't feel that I can credit Me. As long as I know that I'm sitting here, half thinking about my Other Expectations, it's hard to feel good about my mothering efforts. But I'm not ready to let go of the Other Expectations. Those Other Expectations feel like a part of me, too. And in fact, Other Expectations have been a part of me for much longer than this motherhood thing.
|after painstakingly avoiding words like 'gun' and 'shoot' for 4 years with Noah, he still figures out the concept using a hollow wooden tube and dowel. WHATEVER.|
Do expectations fade?
When I told Fritz about my conversation with my mother, he thought she might be on to something:
"You are always saying that you aren't good at mothering, or that other people are better at mothering, or that you aren't meant to do this. Maybe you're making your own self-fulfilling prophecy."
Maybe, maybe not.
Maybe some expectations just come more easily than others. Maybe it's difficult for me to let differing expectations coexist.
|the way wrapping presents went|
Nonetheless, my conflicted self is sometimes a hard thing for my family and friends, and even myself, to accept. We're conditioned to want clear answers and wholistic truths about who we are and how we feel. And I, well, right now, I have none: more than that: I want none. For now.
Noah: Mommy?... Mommy?
Noah: Mommy? What should I be when I grow up?
Me: (Pause..consider...pause...stall) Hmm...
Noah: Mommy, what should I be when I grow up?
Me: (Pause) How about a person who helps other people? (Pause) What do you want to be?
Noah: I want to be a mommy. Can I be a mommy? I want to be a mommy, okay?