You better work, work, work, work, work

(Okay, so I totally wrote that singing Fifth Harmony and now you will too)

When you’re a mother, life is full of hard decisions. Everyday you’re faced
with tough choices, some bigger than others. What am I making for dinner
tonight? Should my daughter take ballet over playing soccer this season? Can my
son handle his math homework or does he need a tutor? And in my opinion, the biggest
and one of the hardest questions of all is should I stay at home or go back to
work? I have experienced both options and let me tell you, one is not easier
than the other.

After I had my daughter Reagan, my first child, in March of 2012, I knew I
would take my 12 week maternity leave and then go back to my teaching job. I
loved my daughter, but I also felt like I had a responsibility to finish the
year with my first graders. I was lucky enough to figure out a setup that would
have my mother being with Reagan while I worked full time. I would leave my
house at 5:30 am, leave Reagan with my mom and drive down to the city. I’d work
my full day and then drive back through rush hour traffic only to get home by
6, since my hour commute always turned into a two hour ordeal. Thank you, Major
Deegan Expressway. I would often have papers to grade and lesson planning when
I got home, which left me with an hour with my baby…if I was lucky. I had mom
guilt like you wouldn’t believe. I would ask myself, “Nicole, why did you have
a baby if you can’t stay home with her?” Luckily, I only had to work three
weeks before the summer came which gave me two months off to spend devoted to
my little girl. We had such a relaxing summer spent by the kiddie pool, on the
beach, and napping at our leisure. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that at the
end of August, I’d be away from her all day again. When I went back to work, it
was really hard. Sometimes I felt like she was growing up without me. My mom
reassured me that she was the next best thing after me and that all that
mattered was my daughter’s happiness. Reagan was happy. She was also safe and
healthy which reassured me. My mom would also send me photos and videos
throughout the day that I would check during my prep periods and at lunch time.
When Reagan took her first steps, I was actually home. But I couldn’t shake the
fact that she probably took them earlier and I had just missed them. The mom
guilt was eating at me, but I powered through. I told myself that Reagan would
see her mom working and know how smart and capable she was. She would grow up
to be successful and hard-working because she had me as an example. I also knew
if I wanted to buy a house for her that I had to work long hours and save up. I
knew I was doing the right thing.

A year later we decided to move down to Brooklyn from where we were living
in Mahopac. I thought the commute would be better…little did I know that it
would be much, much worse. If you ever took the D Train from Brooklyn, you’d
understand. Let’s just say that one time, someone let crickets out into the
train. My travel time was always longer than expected. I also knew I’d have to
find a babysitter which was giving me mini anxiety attacks. How could I leave
my daughter with a stranger all day? It was killing me.

I remember interviewing about 5 people. One lady came in her pajamas. One
sweet girl was only 17. One woman drew her eyebrows on with markers and had red
lipstick on her teeth. I was dying inside. How was I going to go back to work?
This seemed impossible. I finally met a very sweet woman who lived a couple of
blocks away and she promised to love my daughter and take care of her as I
would. I finally felt confident and at ease, so off to work I went. I still had
a very hard time knowing that I couldn’t put my toddler down for her midday
naps, couldn’t push her on the swing at the park, and wouldn’t see her until
after six every day. I made sure once a week we walked to the diner down the
street for pancakes for dinner. I was trying to create memories with the little
time I had. Throughout all of this, Reagan was happy and I told myself again
that I was doing the right thing. When she was two, we decided to put her in
daycare and she was thriving. She was such an easygoing toddler and made so
many friends. I told myself that I was giving my daughter a good life, even
though I was running around like crazy and I couldn’t be with her for the
majority of the day.

When I got pregnant with Johnny in February of 2016, I was teaching
kindergarten in the same neighborhood of East Harlem that I had been in for the
majority of my teaching career. I remembered how tough it was working pregnant,
but I powered through. By that June, at 22 weeks pregnant, I told my school
that I wouldn’t be coming back in September and that my husband John and I had
bought a house in Westchester County. I was finally going to be a stay at home
mom with two kids. I knew there was no way I could commute to the city with two
little kids at home. Plus, I was tired. I had given a huge part of my life to
being a teacher and I knew it was time to sacrifice a little part of myself and
to give it entirely to my children.

I enjoyed being home for the most part. I was glad I was waking up at 5:30
am (and 1:30 am) to feed my son and not to catch a train. I was grateful I
could take care of my baby when he was sick and not frantically trying to
arrange childcare last minute. I was overjoyed at getting to visit Reagan at
preschool when they had special days. I was relieved. I felt like a weight had
been taken off of my shoulders. I could finally focus on being with my kids and
not juggling a million things at once.

When Johnny was around four months old or so, the guilt came back. But it
was different. I felt like I wasn’t contributing financially and it was so
strange for me. I had been working since I was 15. I had always juggled
different jobs, worked full time while in graduate school, and wore many hats
as a teacher. But now I was managing a household and had two kids and sometimes
I crazily felt like I had nothing to show for it. There were also no more
bathroom breaks by myself and I was definitely eating lunch standing up while
feeding a baby. I hated admitting to myself that I missed parts of my career. I
missed my co-workers, I missed feeling appreciated by my students’ parents and
I missed my old students, even the nutty ones. I was also having a very hard
time telling people that I wasn’t a teacher anymore. I didn’t realize how
strongly I identified with that label and that part of myself. I was happy to
finally be able to calm down and be present with my children. But why was I
feeling this way? Isn’t this what I had wanted?

Now, it’s six years later and I’m still a stay at home mom. I’ve had a few
part time jobs here and there but they were always positions that allowed me to
take my children with me or to work from home. Now that I have three children,
I am even more consumed with my kids and all of their needs. The activities are
enough to keep me busy forever! But I often wonder, do my kids like having me
at home? Are they happy that I can put them on the bus and be there for them
when they get home? Do they appreciate me being able to volunteer at school,
organize play dates for them, and cook dinner most nights? I’d like to think
they do, but I often wonder if they don’t think I’m valuable because I’m not a
“working mom” anymore. I used to love picking Reagan up from daycare dressed
well from a hard day’s work. I felt capable. I loved showing her that mommy
could do anything.

I think I learned that my kids never altered their way of thinking about me.
It didn’t matter if I was in heels rushing to get to work or in my sweats
holding a cup of lukewarm coffee, they loved me regardless. I was my own worst
enemy and second guessing all of my decisions. I was using my former paycheck
to determine my worth and if what I was doing was important and meaningful. I
had to take a step back and tell myself that I had an important job, despite
the fact that I wasn’t on the payroll anymore and that my new boss was a pudgy
kid in diapers who liked to scream his head off between 4 and 7 pm everyday.

There were parts of working that l loved and parts that were hard, like
really hard. The same could be said about staying home. In life there are
seasons, and one day it will be my time again to get back out there. But for me
that time is when my kids are all in school full time, and that’s just what
works best for me and my family. For some mothers, they need to get back after
a month, a year, whatever they need to do for themselves and for their
families. One choice isn’t better than the other. So the next time someone asks
you why you made your choice, stand firm in your decision if it’s what brings
you and your kids happiness…even if that person asking you is yourself.

One response to “You better work, work, work, work, work”

  1. Beautifully written. You will never regret being home with your children. They need Mom and Mom needs them. You can never get that time back Each day home with your children is a gift

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