For years I was just a mom. When people asked what I did for a living, I’d respond, “I’m just a stay-at-home mom.” Ironically, I was never home. I was shuttling kids to and from softball, swimming, dance, school and the mall. I spent approximately 20 years living in my van—and I wasn’t even homeless.
Being a full-time mom is exhausting. People who’ve never spent 24 hours with small children Have No Idea how listening to the opening notes of “Sesame Street” for the billionth time can make your ear drums bleed.
I’d wake up early to enjoy some alone time and hear the shuffling of pajama-footed feet as a toddler waddled into the kitchen and onto my lap where she rested against my chest, smelling like baby shampoo, warm blankets and dreams. I’d put my nose in her hair, inhale that scent and think: remember this.
I’d snuggle with my daughters on the couch with piles of library books. We’d read about hungry caterpillars, wicked witches, Sneetches, wild things and little blue engines. I’d share stories about being kind, wise and brave, and I’d pray those messages would stick.
A favorite activity was making cinnamon rolls, letting the girls bake their own sugar-covered creations. They would be coated with flour, butter and cinnamon, and the same ingredients blanketed the floor, but it was okay. It was cleanable. Memories lasted longer than spilled milk.
Depending on the day, my girls were princesses, gypsies, cheerleaders or demons. They’d walk down the sidewalk with pink, plastic high-heeled shoes slapping the soles of their feet, or wear queen costumes while racing on Big Wheels, catching the fabric under the wheels until all their dresses had shredded hems.
There were thousands of homework assignments, reading logs and math quizzes, and hundreds of times hearing: “My teacher hates me” or “I don’t get it. Explain it again.”
At night, there were bedtime stories, bedtime songs and bedtime prayers: all the rituals kids need to keep their moms around a few more moments, delaying sleep just a little bit longer.
But sleep was never a reprieve. I’d often go from coma-level slumber to caffeine-addict wide awake in five seconds or less, wakened by a cry, and sometimes the undeniably disgusting sound of vomit hitting the sheets or carpet.
And the next day I’d do it all again.
I was so jealous of my neighbor. She’d go to work each morning dressed in a classy skirt and blazer, looking important and doing important things. She was able to talk to grown-ups all day, and probably didn’t have to tell any co-worker to stop wiping their boogers on the couch.
She didn’t go to bed scraping Play-Doh out of her hair. She didn’t watch Cinderella all day or have to be the Ken doll all the time. I schlepped around the house 24/7 in stained yoga paints and T-shirts, listening to poop jokes and kids telling on each other.
Because the grass is always greener, maybe she wished she could be a slacker like me, eating cold fish sticks and playing Chutes and Ladders for hours at a time.
We were far from rich, but we were also far from poor. It was a time when Band-Aids and kisses healed skinned knees, and chocolate chip cookies and hugs mended broken hearts. And even though it was an emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting time, I’m so grateful for my daughters’ childhoods.
I’m so thankful I was able to play and laugh and love. Even though I was just a mom.