Last month, a friend of mine came in town for a work conference and asked me to join her as a guest to the mid-week conference reception. Not only was I happy to be spending an evening with her; I was thrilled to be getting out of the house and heading into the “big city”; thrilled to be wearing something I actually had to iron and to carry a purse smaller than my head.
As we walked into the fancy downtown hotel ballroom, I glanced around at the small groups of mingling professionals. I wondered for a second how I’d mesh with them since I wasn’t familiar with the conference topic – some kind of software or hardware – something that hadn’t been mentioned on Super Why. I noticed the women who had traveled away from their kids for the week, engaging in conversations about intellectual stuff — about something other than which spray works best to get the pee smell out of a mattress. I checked out their shoes – taking note of the styles available beyond flip flops and running shoes (or shoes that I wear just to make it appear that I have been running). And then I decided to stop staring at their feet because I might be freaking them out.
My friend and I each grabbed a glass of wine from the bar before heading to the food table covered with different types of cheeses and crackers. I picked up the metal cheese tongs and since she had her wine glass in her hand, I placed a piece of cheese on my plate, then picked up another one to put on hers.
“Thanks,” she said. “Hey, can you get me a nut?”
“A what?” I asked.
I looked down and saw that there were a few pecans scattered around the platter. So I picked up the tongs and tried to use them to pick up the nut. But the nut was small and the tongs were big, so I missed. I tried again a couple times and kept missing (and note, there was a long line of business people waiting for food). Finally, I picked up the pecan, turned around to her plate and opened the tongs to let it go, only instead of landing on her plate, it bounced off and rolled onto the floor under the table. We were both stifling giggles as I picked up the tongs again to get another nut.
“Forget it!” she whispered as she tried not to laugh out loud.
Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t turn to the guy next to me after my first attempt and say, “Excuse me, Mr. Professional Person. Do you know if there’s a nut grabber around here?” Because obviously, that cheese grabber was way too big.
Luckily my friend wasn’t too embarrassed by my Elly May Clampett antics. She’s known me since before I went to college, saw how hard I worked to graduate with honors, and watched me excel in my career for those years that I went to work every day. At one time, I was telling her about the conferences I had attended – about the cool cities I’d visited and hotel ballrooms in which I’d mingled with co-workers. She also knew how important it was for me to give up my career and stay home with my kids when I had them, and when that time came, how happy I was to do it.
Staying home with my babies — teaching them ABC’s and singing songs and discovering bugs and watching them learn to ride tricycles — was awesome. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have a huge house or the newest van (although at some point my kids are going to start getting really embarrassed that we’re the only family that doesn’t have automatic doors at drop off). It doesn’t matter that I’m completely behind in fashion and pop culture (I didn’t even see the Miley twerk until a week after it happened). Because for the past ten years, I’ve been, for the most part, where I want to be.
But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t wondered where I would be — where I COULD be — if I had made a different decision.
Maybe it’s because the kids are getting older and don’t need me ALL the time. Maybe it’s because I suck at everything domestic: I’m a terrible cook. I don’t bake pies. I’m not organized or crafty. Everything I stick in the ground dies. Maybe it’s because I wouldn’t mind a drive alone to work without Dora screaming “Say Abre!” behind my head for the seventeenth time.
Or maybe – just maybe – it’s because I miss the feeling of personal accomplishment. That feeling of using my brain, my skills, my education – to make something happen. Having someone say to me, “Good job,” for writing something well, or for presenting something from which others can learn.
I don’t think I’m the only stay at home mom who feels this way. In the past ten years, I’ve seen other moms trying to find ways to feel like something – someone – other than moms. Sure, they were trying to make extra money, but I also think that selling jewelry or books or clothing allowed them to be experts in something other than making PBJ’s or getting stains out of baseball pants.
My youngest started preschool last week. I love hearing about her day when I pick her up, and I’m glad I still have some time with her before she starts kindergarten full time. But part of me is getting excited that sometime soon, I’ll find out what I’m going to be when I grow up. Not just what I COULD be, but what I WILL be. I might write a book, or finally see my stories in the pages of a glossy magazine – and most likely, they’ll have something to do with what I’ve learned in these past ten years.
Somewhere between running kids to activities and helping with homework and being a supportive wife, I’ll start my career.
Let’s just hope that when I do, I’ll be able to handle everything that lands on my plate.