I have to say something really bugged me today.
My youngest child is five years old. She is in half-day kindergarten. That means that for 3 hours she sits in a classroom coloring, sorting, and counting. Not enough time for me to do anything else since I have to drop her off and pick her up on time, lest I get the stare down from the teacher's aid if I am even a couple minutes late.
Well, standing on line, a full ten minutes before the anticipation of the doors open, watching all the other suburban moms wait for their little cherubs, there was something that bothered me. It is how much the role of at-home-mom is devalued or diminished. This is not easy work.
Salary.com posts salaries of careers. It is always a good gage when preparing for an interview or asking for a raise (do those even exist in this economy?) to at least check out the salary range for the particular position. This site and its reporting of the mom salary always makes annual buzz on the morning news circuits. It then leads to a discussion of the never-ending mommy wars between at home and at career moms (notice, I did not say "working moms" because all moms work!). The last time I checked, it put the salary at $119,000. I nodded, yep, that is about right.
Back when I was working outside my home and had never worked at home full-time, I use to daydream about all the little games I could play with my then three sons, the laundry that wouldn't pile up, the pristine house that would result, all the things I knew at-home moms were enjoying...then I became at at-home mom and the rose colored glasses came off.
A simple thing like finishing a meal is not something at-home moms can count on. I know my mornings are often rushed between getting the girls ready (every tried to do a little black girl's hair in the morning while making breakfast while finding the other little black girl's homework while making sure the teenage son didn't forget anything and still trying to get a cup of coffee because you were up at 2am with said little black girl?????) and making the fight through morning traffic to get them to school on time. I'm often grabbing a granola bar or simply listening to the tune of my growling stomach while I drive the bubbly girls to school.
Or what about those beloved coffee breaks and lunch breaks that working moms get? I remember those. I used to walk over to the Plaza and shop for new shoes and suits, enjoy a gourmet lunch someone else made, and then get back to my office to "regroup" before my next meeting. I remember meetings.
Meetings were an excuse for the corporate types to stop at the snack cart and get some kind of snack from skittles to soda to snickers to make it through the 30-minute PowerPoint presentation that really could have been summed up in a 2-minute email. Just a reason for grown-ups to gather in a room and talk. And the company I worked for back then was notorious for these "meetings."
Or what about thinking? You know. Taking a moment to let an idea flourish in your mind before you write it down. Actually hearing your own voice in your head without your little one demanding a snack every five minutes or making a mess that has to be cleaned up before your husband gets home. Just think about the privilege of thinking without little ones constantly knocking on the door of your thoughts. Silence.
Yet, in all the I miss, being at home has been rewarding, my five-year-old pretty much doesn't know anything else. It has also been hard at times. I have had to fight to maintain my self-esteem and worth. To know that I am creating legacy, making a lasting impact, far more than any marketing plan I ever developed.
So, standing on line I also realized the public perception of a well-educated, reportedly strong, tenacious, and determined woman such as myself was doing "nothing" but "wasting" her education by being at home. The perception is worsened because I am black. See, I live in this affluent suburb where the majority of the people at home are white women. I am not part of that mommy & me club, never was, even when I first came home and my second-grader was about 18 months old. They looked at me like I did not belong, and to society, perhaps I didn't.
Black women have always worked. That is why the whole women's lib was not about us. We were not trying to burn our bras (they cost too much) and already knew we brought home the bacon and fried it up in a pan. When doors started opening for more black men to have stable jobs and a home (like First Lady Michelle Obama's dad), more black women made the decision to forgo the new hat or new purse so their kids could have something more valuable than big momma's cornbread - their mother at home (why I love Mocha Moms, Inc).
I understood the double-standard even more when I started rewriting the script for the next few years of my life. My daughter is not in school long enough for me to work part-time or even full-time without paying my whole check to KinderCare for babysitting. So I began exploring what my new life would be like next fall when all my children are finally occupied from 8:40-3:40 (who set these school hours anyway?). It is in this exploring that I understand the shallowness of our society.
This society, does not value the things that matter. Education? We are lower than some third-world nations. Health care? Nope, only for the rich. What about family (not talking that right-wing, conservative religious version) if your skin color is something closer to caramel. Arts? How about being ridiculed because you sit and look at the trees while you muse on the short-story you are writing? Or the composition dancing around your head? Or the decision to eat ramen noodles until that new CD hits the stores? Creativity is not valued in this society. And sadly, neither is motherhood, not really. Children are treated more as little commodities or things to be managed rather than souls to be nurtured.
I told someone the other day that I would not trade anything for the time I've had to be a part of my children's lives. I've watched my daughter grow into the confident 2nd grader who reads like a 4th-5th grader. I've nurtured my five-year-old's health to a point where she is not heavily medicated, on formula, or with a feeding tube in her stomach due to her chronic and incurable illness. I've seen my son in his plays and musicals and performances, without having to cringe about missing work she I could get him to rehearsal on time. I've talked to my son serving in the U.S. Navy at five o'clock in the morning without worrying about being tired at some boring meeting. And I'm not standing at the ready, able, to leave in a moment's notice when my son's children are born in January. These are things that do not have a price tag, that are worth more than a thousand coffee shop trips.
Today, I stand proudly as a full-time, at-home, working-mother who has contributed to the future of society. I will stand on line this afternoon to pick up my daughter, and actually sit and listen to her regale me about her day. I will sit with my kindergartner while she reads me a story and shares her popcorn snack. My son knows I am here at a moment's notice to take his forgotten French binder up to the high school. These are the reasons for my air, and for that, I am fulfilled and worth more than the latest designer pumps.