Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Kind of Woman Stays at Home for 10 Years?

A high powered female attorney recently asked my dearest friend and I “What kind of woman stays home for ten years with her kids?”
My friend and I, both home with our children for ten years and recently putting our toes into the waters of outside employment, wanted to disappear in that moment. Having believed that women had a choice in whether to work outside of the home or not, we never expected to be looked down upon by one of our own gender.
Unfortunately in that moment I didn’t have answer to what kind of woman stays home.
As I think about what kind of woman stays home, I realize I spent some of that time at home, but I didn’t spend much time at home. I spent a lot of time in the community, in the mini van, and at various meetings.
 I won’t even begin to touch upon the whole motherhood thing, because women who work outside of the home and those who are home with their children have the same responsibilities of caring for their children. Sleep deprived years, thousands of dirty diapers disposed of, clothing covered with spit up, enough said.
During my years at home with my girls I assisted my elderly grandparents. I took them grocery shopping, to doctor’s appointments, and cleaned their home. I even rototilled their garden plot while in my last trimester of pregnancy, so that the hobby my grandparents enjoyed could continue even though my grandfather wasn’t strong enough to plow. My time with my grandparents was beneficial to all parties involved. My children were fussed over by their wonderful great grandparents, I benefited from their words of wisdom, and they benefited from the social interaction and extra help around the house.
While “home” with my children I found myself a member of our school district’s Committee on Preschool Special Education. This committee made up of members of the county and the school district decides if preschool children with developmental delays qualify for services like speech, occupational and physical therapy. As a parent representative on the committee I often helped parents accept services. Many times parents came in not wanting their three-year-old to be placed in a program for children with developmental delays. I made countless phone calls offering support, assuring parents that these services would help their nonverbal child blossom. As early intervention can significantly reduce the need for services down the road, I wonder how many tax dollars I helped save. I know I helped those families send their children to kindergarten ready to learn and on par with their peers.
I helped create an integrated preschool program at a local private school. I brought together and Early Intervention Service program with the private school and we created a dynamic, year round learning environment. This program helped both the children with developmental delays and the typical children. It was one of the happiest classrooms in that building.
While at “home” I helped raised millions of dollars for our local chapter of the Autism Society of America by working on their annual fund raiser. In my previous life as a career person I had been a professional fund raiser. This was a win- win situation as I got to feel “professional” again, and they got a “professional” without having to pay me.
I met other at home mothers who were doing similar things. The former special ed teacher would consult with families looking for tutors or ideas for helping their child succeed at school; the former nurse was our first call when a strange medical problem arose and we weren’t sure if we should call the doctor.
Those of us who were at home tended to the mothers with breast cancer who were fighting the disease while raising their families. Unfortunately we also had to keep bedside vigils for one dear friend as she died. The brigade of women who cared for her on her journey, carried her coffin into the church as we buried her.
Another group of us made a quilt for a friend whose baby was born with a fatal condition and lived for a few short months. The baby was buried wrapped up in the quilt that was made lovingly at my dining room table.
Those of us at home ran school events and raised funds for the school as tax dollars dwindled. Because of our efforts early literacy programs continued, enrichment programs were offered, and supplies that had been slashed in the budgets were purchased.
We fed each other’s families and watched each other’s children when one of us got sick or dealt with the death of a parent. We were a safety net for each other.
What kind of woman stays at home? A strong, kick ass woman who knows how to get things done, a woman with nerves of steel, and a heart full of love.
My time as an at home mother was in hindsight too short, and nothing like I anticipated – my house was still never clean. It was the most challenging and the most rewarding job ever.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Advice to the Girl in the Red Convertible

Would she listen to the middle aged woman doing mundane chores?
Here is what every young college girl driving a red convertible needs to know. Wear sunscreen every day. Because I wore sunscreen my face does not have the wrinkles and age spots it could after years of driving said convertible.
Do not color your hair at home. Sure a semi-permanent highlight kit every now and then would be fine. But really at your age your hair is perfect and needs no help. Wait for the coloring when the greys come out. And when they do come make sure you see a professional or you may end up with aubergine hair instead of chestnut.
Listen to your grandparents. Your grandparents have lived a long life and made many mistakes. They can save you the pain of making the same mistakes as them which will allow you to make your own different mistakes, and you will then pass your lessons on to your grandchildren. They say that a grandparent’s love is the most like God’s love. Listen to your grandparents, because like God they won’t steer you wrong. They can see things that you can’t even imagine.
Pick your friends wisely. Really you only need a few. You don’t need a sorority house full of them and you certainly don’t have to jump through hoops to gain entrance to the sisterhood of friendship. If you’re lucky your friends will be with you your whole life. They will be there when you get your first job, get married, have a baby, find out your husband has a brain tumor, and when your father dies. They will make you casseroles to feed your family when you are too sick or too sad to do so.
Be true to your friends. Sure boyfriends are nice, but don’t blow off your friends because of some boy. Don’t let any relationship take you away from your friends. If your love interest doesn’t allow you time to be with your girls, it’s not a healthy relationship.
Make decisions about your life based on what you want not what your boyfriend wants. If you’ve dreamed of being an improve actor in New York don’t look for a job in human resources in Cheboygan because your boyfriend got a job there. It is more important to wake up every day and have a job you can’t wait to get to than have a boyfriend.  Love and marriage are hard enough, if you give up your dreams for someone love and marriage are almost impossible.
When it’s time to break up- BREAK UP. Don’t try to “stay friends.”  It doesn’t work. It makes the heartache long and drawn out for both of you. Some day at your 20th high school reunion you can meet and chat with him and his wife and share stories from back in the day.  Now is not the time to do that. You must move on without him.
As much as you love your career don’t let it interfere with your personal life. You will have good bosses and bad bosses. Do not lose one night’s sleep over work because unless you’re a brain surgeon it really doesn’t matter. The company you work for will get on without you; life will go on when you leave that job. Worry and sleep deprivation help no one. Leave work at work.
If you become a mother consider having a girlfriend or sister in the delivery room should complications arise. Your spouse may be in a state of shock by the whole process that when your face is swollen like a pumpkin and the doctor asks him if you always look like that he’ll respond yes. Your sister or girlfriend will be able to answer “No she’s retaining water and it looks like she’s losing consciousness.”
Once you bring that baby home from the hospital listen to everyone who says “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Sleep deprivation will make you miss some of the most fleeting and precious moments of motherhood. When your baby sleeps do not fold laundry or do the dishes. Eat off paper plates for a month or two and let your friends help with the laundry as they truly want to.
Do not beat yourself up. You are beautiful right now. You are too young to know it. You think you are too fat, and your skin is too red, and your chest is too small. You will one day look at pictures of yourself taken in this moment and think “I was pretty and I didn’t know it.”
Learn to accept compliments. Oddly enough you will not be complimented on the things you think you should be – the things that are hard for you to do. The things that come easy to you are the things that will amaze others. They will thank you for your organization skills, the visit to the hospital, or the letter you wrote. These things come easy to you – they don’t come easy to others. Give the other person the benefit of accepting the compliment.
When a friend loses someone to death go to the wake. No one likes wakes; you aren’t supposed to like them. However, like going to the dentist, there are certain things you have to do even if it makes you uncomfortable. At the wake you say to your friend or coworker or neighbor, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Don’t’ say anything else except maybe “This is horrible.” No one wants to hear “It’s all for the best” or “There’s a reason for this.” When someone is grieving they want people to acknowledge the pain. The whole process for you will take about ten minutes. For the one in grief those ten minutes you gave will be worth more than any flower arrangement you could send.
Finally, some day you won’t drive a convertible. That will be okay. When that day comes you need to be ready to pass on your wisdom to the next girl in the red convertible.