In the middle of the week, my 9-year-old son Evan has a massive temper tantrum just before dinner. He is over-stimulated. He is tired. He is hungry. He doesn’t know what he is. But he’s definitely on strike from piano lessons. That same day, my 11-year-old Ashley shares with me that she’s suffered a social trauma. In her class, there are an odd number of boys and girls. So whenever they partner up, there is usually one boy and one girl leftover. Ashley says she is always that leftover girl. “I hate being the leftovers,” she confesses.
Evan’s temper tantrum crawls under my skin and makes me want to scream. Ashley’s confession crawls under my skin too, but in a way that breaks my heart to pieces. I’m her mom. Naturally, I hate it when she suffers. What kind of teaching moment is this, God, when all I want to do is wrap her in my arms and protect her from all the social rejection and angst that will plague her for the rest of her life? Because being a social being hurts? Dear God, it hurts. And I want to strangle Evan for being on strike from piano lessons while I’m at it.
So emotional tumult riots about in my skull.
Then my friend Lavone’s counsel again echoes through my mind. “You’re going through a time of transition. It’s huge —things are moving under the surface. It has a rippling effect on everyone else around you.”
Of course, she’s right. As I throw the idea around, it dawns on me that my kids’ little traumas are just above-surface signals of tectonic plates shifting underground in our family. And though it’s unpleasant, I am so thankful that God is opening my eyes to the effects of the shift before a full-blown earthquake erupts.
For pretty much their entire lives, I’ve either been their stay-home mom or their part-time working mom. This autumn is the first season in which I’ve ever been a full-time working mom. And I’m doing it unhealthily. I’m working frantically and frenetically out of fear, out of lack and out of loss. I think that somehow the past ten years have been wasted and now I need to catch-up. I need to be another version of single-mom JK Rowling, who famously juggled a full-time job whilst staying up late into the night to write Harry Potter while her school-age children slept.
And suddenly, I’ve unwittingly caved in to the myth of “you’re nobody unless you have a career”. I send my kids to school by themselves, pack them a harried lunch, am late to pick them up from school. I ignore them throughout the evening, obsessing with octupus-like tenacity on my next big story, my next break-out piece. I’m all about me.
And I seriously need a mommy wake-up call.
I need a reminder that being home for the past decade — and not just home in body, but really, presently home — has been priceless. That I don’t regret waking up in the middle of the night to clean up vomit. I don’t regret spending prime-time hours scrubbing moldy bathroom grout. I don’t regret evenings in front of the TV folding pOuNdS of laundry (laundry not soiled by me). Because my presence at home has gained my daughter’s trust and she’s actually coming to me with her pain and her authenticity. She’s trusting me with the fragility that is her heart. And God will do something beautiful with that. I must not, cannot and will not stop being present —even as a working mom.
So mommy, it’s time to turn over the proverbial new leaf. The trees outside are blazing red and gold in autumnal glory. It’s a new season. But I’m here. I’m not checking out. Oh God, wake me up again if I begin to check out. Keep me here, keep me present.