Between Worlds: From Stay-at-Home to Working Motherhood & Everything in Between

Originally published on RedTricycle 

I sent my best friend an SOS text: “If I hear Hey mom! one more time, I’m legally changing my name to Not Mom.”

The kids had been home for four days and I was going crazy.

“They go back tomorrow, we got this. I think,” she texted back. “I’m currently hiding…in my bathroom. I may or may not be stuffing chocolate in my face. No sharing required when hidden. One more day! How did we do this every day all day?”

“What I wouldn’t give to be drowning in work right now.”  I inserted a funny gif of a cartoon drowning. I keep going one hilarious gif at a time. “I’ll NEVER do that again. I can’t even handle these four full days.”

I don’t know how I survived as a stay-at-home-mom for six child-centered years. I did it—and I think I liked it—but I can’t say for certain. I had a toddler and newborn at one point and with that combo, things got hazy. There was a lot of crying. And the kids got pretty noisy too.

Still I threw myself into it, using chalkboard paint, making cute themed lunches, attending mommy-and-me classes with people I never really bonded with. As an infant, my first born had a busier social schedule than I did in my ’20s. I was desperate for adult human interaction. We lived in a community where everyone drove down the street, pressed the garage door opener and pulled right in, closing the garage door before sneaking inside through the attached door. No one socialized.

One time I saw another mom on my cul-de-sac with an infant! I ran outside to greet her.

“Hi! I have a baby, too. We live here in this townhouse behind me. We moved in a year ago and I’ve never seen kids on this block. This is exciting. I’d love to get together and have a play date. We are always outside in the back playing, just walk on down sometime. Which house are you in?” I rambled without taking a breath.

Her deer-in-the-headlight look of surprise should have prepared me. She never did walk over when we played outside.

We moved and my both of my kids started school. I stumbled across different work opportunities. I found a writing gig at a local neighborhood newspaper. I started working for a refugee organization writing profile pieces and then shifted into their internal communications and staff support team. I stayed with the refugee organization for two years before stepping down, but in the middle of my tenure I started as a communications director for a local election. During all of that, I accepted a position on a non-profit advisory board.

Suddenly my life no longer revolved around evaluating the color of another human’s poop. I mean, I still had to do that from time to time, but I also got to discuss climate change and affordable housing and galas and outreach and nonprofit boards. Now I was the one filling my calendar. My tightly scheduled life gave me joy and purpose and I ignored creeping feelings of spreading myself too thin. That was for another time, I was flying! I did this all while balancing doctor appointments and sports and clubs and so many piano recitals. I was living the working-mom dream. Or nightmare. This point is subjective.

And then, the election was over, just like that. We lost. I went from having a role on a great team one second to just being done the next second. I watched my life change instantly as the election night returns refreshed across my screen.

That’s the funny thing about sweeping declarations. I’ll NEVER do that again.They have sharp teeth. And they’re incredibly painful. Or humbling. Usually a fine mixture of both, served up in pie form.

I told my kids I wanted to go back to work right away and they both screamed—bloody murder, not joyful noise, just to be clear.

Did you like a sprinkle of mom-guilt on your day? Because I have a surplus of that stored in my heart. Happy to share the wealth. Once again, my world revolved around evaluating another human’s poop. Despite my refusal to return, I was again a stay-at-home-mom.

I ordered chalkboard sheets the other day. I’m turning two doors into half-chalkboards. My kids are pretty pumped about that. We live in a three-bedroom condo, that’s a good chunk of our doors. And a chalkboard label for a cookie jar. I’m going to write “fresh store-bought cookies” because even at my most stay-at-home mom phase, I wasn’t a baker, which means I’m certainly not now. I can make a mean chicken though. And veggies are my jam. Maybe I can experiment with vegetable jams. Is that a thing? Maybe I can start an Etsy store.

I haven’t made a cute lunch yet. I’m still too tired in the morning. Doubtful that will ever change. A certain four-year-old crawls in my bed every single night, kicking me in the teeth with his adorable baby-soft toes. Sometimes he grabs my hand and holds it. My frustration subsides, but I’m still not making a cute lunch. Reheated leftovers or microwaved chicken nuggets will have to do.

But the thing is, being a mom is hard no matter if you stay home, work from home, work full/part-time outside the home or find yourself jumping in and out of those roles. It’s never as simple on the other side as we imagine it. I’ve been on all the sides and the emotional labor of being a mom is always draining. We carry the burden of unseen labor—school pickups, doctor appointments, emotional support, unconditional love, extra-curricular schedules, worrying about bullying or social dynamics, fruit snack opening, tear drying, butt wiping (so much butt wiping) and on and on…

The other day my son came up to me while I was making another lunch made of dinner leftovers and asked me to help him. I told him to ask daddy.

He said, “Well no, Daddy is doing something.”

Excuse me? Am I not scrambling to make two entirely different lunches because you and your brother do not eat the same things because of course my life couldn’t be simplified into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because we aren’t allowed to send peanut butter anymore and I totally respect that and you don’t like peanut butter and jelly anyway but your brother does so even if I could send PB&J I couldn’t I’d still have to make two different lunches and why can’t you bother Daddy when he’s doing something why did you walk across the house to seek me out I could use, like, one millisecond here.

Instead, I reply simply, “Sweetheart, I’m trying to make all of the lunches. Go ask Daddy.”

See, all that emotional labor? Falls on moms.

When it comes down to it, my kids just want me—all of me—and they will walk right by their empty-handed relaxing-on-the-couch dad to inform me of that while I’m rinsing soap off my face in the our not frosted-glass shower. I hope you like giving a soapy naked show when showering, because that’s motherhood, whether you stay-at-home or work or fall somewhere in-between.

Details are of no matter to your babies. All that matters on their journey is you, mama.

© 2019 by Nicole VandeBoom.