As a gorgeous Mother’s Day has come and gone, I need to reflect on how big this mom-job is. Parenthood is so full of great stories and devastating ones, funny memories and typical traumas. I am not the first woman to have left her career, moved to a foreign country and become a house manager (that’s what I’m planning to put on my resume to describe this season…I’d love to go with house master, but that seems a little over the top;). Some of my friends here in Chile are in the same boat. And thankfully, I am also not the first mama to have a toddler. So here I am, a stay-at-home manager, with all of the privilege and exhaustion that comes with it.
When I think of how to describe how Rayna and I spend our days, I’m somewhat amazed at how LITTLE we accomplish. I used to be able to whip out 5 things on my to-do list before I left the house for work in the morning. Now, if I get three things done in a day, I am a hero. I can only speculate about the reasons for this…is it my utterly divided attention, that has me moving from prepping dinner to changing diapers to texting other adults for my sanity to reading a story to Skyping with family to…wait, where was I going with this?
Or could my lack of productivity be just more confusion? Like the Chilean Spanish that baffles me so often, could the metric I measure my days on simply need translating? I used to be a student, then a law clerk, then an attorney. In all of those jobs, there were measurable goals and my efficiency and competency could often be gauged, or at least noted. My job as a GAL was emotional, yes, but there were reprieves. I could hang up the phone if someone started screaming at me. I could process with my colleagues if a child I cared deeply about was struggling or was doing so great, and then I could move on to my next pressing piece of business. And I could take days off when I felt like I was reaching my limit.
Here, in this precious work we call mothering, there are no measurable goals. I mean sure, I am to keep my child alive. I would also love to see her become literate someday, and hopefully before that, potty trained. So I guess there are goals, just off a different breed.
But efficiency be damned. Toddlers cannot be rushed and when you’re 20 months old you want to learn from the sidewalk bricks as much as you want to learn from a book. Living in the city, I have to decide how best to get our two bodies to wherever we’re going…will it be rush hour on the metro? Is the weather OK to bike? Is it close enough for her to walk on her own and do I have the fortitude to deal with a melt down and carry her home if not? There is also no fair, concrete way to gauge my competency at being a parent. Is she not talking much because she’s in a bilingual life or because I play too much music and don’t give her space to talk? Am I making the most of our time together, or am I just trying to keep her busy until Jeff comes home? And so I battle with these doubts and with the thief of all joy, comparison. I try to reject expectations others might have for us, meanwhile texting my friends to make sure I’m not being totally crazy/negligent/horrid.
I’ve come to see this is a common experience. That the days really are long and it seems that the years may indeed be short. This last week, I decided Rayna had to start doing time-outs. We got into a semi-dangerous situation in the parking garage and I needed to help her understand she needed to listen to me, especially when my arms are full of exploding grocery bags and we’ve missed 3 elevators. This sounds SO simple. So basic. And yet it drained me. I made my sweet girl cry as she waited through her one minute of time out and I worried I was harming her. I read articles for and against time-out, sought the advice of friends, and prayed to be formed into a wise and patient parent. And I wrestled with how best to teach my child, when I still have so much to learn. I spent this energy because even though I don’t get a pay check and I won’t be receiving any plaques at the end of the year, I know with every fiber of my being that this is such important work. I realize this might sound so cliche or even crazy to people who spend their time doing other things. I guess to them I’ll just say, Ok (because I just don’t have the emotional energy to give it anymore).
I try to email Rayna when she learns important things like how to request a specific beverage (no, she does not know the word for wine, yetJ) or how to twirl in our hallway. I want her to have my sweet memories of our wake-up snuggles and also to know that sometimes, her toddler ways led me to literally collapse on the couch when Jeff walked through the door, so physically exhausting are tantrums and the little cute pig-tailed emotional roller coasters that throw them. But most of all, I do it so that she never has to question how loved she is. So that anytime she needs a laugh, she can open that email about her Alberta Einstein post-bath hair routine. So that in the years to come, these precious moments don’t go unremembered. And when I go back to lawyering someday, we will both have those emails to recount the sweet season when my only job was to try to accomplish one or two of those 248 small jobs that come with trying your best to love your family well.
P.S. I am in awe of all single parents. I talk as though I’m doing this alone, when in fact I have an incredibly supportive, involved, caring partner helping me along this road. Cheers to each and every one of you loving people!