The scariest thing about being a parent, so far, is making choices that will have a permanent and lasting impact on our kid. We’ve never even met him… how are we supposed to make these decisions for him? One of the downsides of our current world is an over abundance of information. There are strong supporters of completely opposite views for almost any choice we have to make in life. Parenting is no different. Already, my husband and I have had to make some significant choices for our son’s future. Some were easy to make. Some took us months to decide.
For the next five weeks, I will be publishing an extra post each Friday. This series of “bonus” posts will focus on our first five important parenting decisions. Each of these will reflect the personal choices that Kenny and I have made for our son and our family. They’re not all popular choices. In fact, one or both of our mothers disagrees with each one of these decisions. Many of you will have made the opposite decision. Whether you and I have made the same decision or not, we can agree that we love our children and only want what’s best for them based on our beliefs, research, and perspective. This is a five-part story, not about why our choices are “right,” but about the journey my husband and I have taken over the past six months or so to learn to make decisions as part of a parental unit.
Part 2 of 5- Decision: Child Care
When I was younger, I always wanted to be a mom. I played house with my neighbor every day- he was the daddy, I was the mommy, and if my little brother, Charles, would play along, he got to be our baby. We were woefully mistaken about the details of child birth, but we enjoyed our game all the same. As I grew up, I also wanted various careers. I wanted to be a teacher, a veterinarian, an artist, a writer, a social worker, and eventually a lawyer. The fun part about being young is, you can dream up all of the things you want in your life without ever wondering how they might fit together. If I wanted to be a mom and a teacher and a vet all at the same time, who was going to stop me? That comes to a screeching halt round about junior year of high school when suddenly you’re expected to decide college majors and schools and careers and which paths you will go down for the rest of your life. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to “do.” I wanted to help people who had problems, I wanted to protect the down-trodden, I wanted to create beautiful things, and I wanted to be proud of my ability to stand on my own two feet. As my guidance counselor pointed out, you can’t major in any of those things.
Fast forward through college where I took exactly twenty minutes of Business 101 before walking out of the class and switching my major.
Fast forward through my struggles as an unemployed, 21-year-old college graduate with no direction. Sound familiar? I bet you know one.
Fast forward through my TERRIBLE score on the GRE and my decision to switch from pursuing a Master’s in Social Work to a degree in law.
Fast forward to 2014- I had two years left to go in law school, I got married, and suddenly I was supposed to have not just my career figured out, but also my marriage, and my entire future. Kenny and I were asked often when we would have kids. Fortunately when you tell people you’re in law school and your husband is 22, they stop insisting that babies need to happen ASAP.
I spent my days (and nights) studying. Kenny was working part-time jobs he didn’t love so he would have time for his music. He did all of the housework so that when the tiny words in my textbooks started to blur, I could relax and not worry about anything else. It was a system that worked well because, as it turns out, Kenny is actually better at cooking and cleaning than I am… much better. We talked briefly about what life would look like when we had kids. We came up with a cursory plan: I would work as a lawyer and Kenny would stay home with the kids during the day and play music at night.
It would work for us. He never cared whether he had a great career or a prestigious title, he just wanted to play music. He was great at getting things done around the house and he made amazing food. I, on the other hand, had been wrapped up in a world of wannabe lawyers for a year and was convinced I needed to work 100 hours a week at a top law firm if I ever wanted to be able to look a stranger in the eye when he asked what I did for a living. If Kenny stayed home with the future kids, my days would be wide open for me to become a workaholic nightmare. We thought we had it figured out.
After law school, I gobbled up the first job I was offered, terrified I would never find another and started my life as a baby attorney. Things got off to a rocky start. I walked in my first day, lip quivering. My grandpa had died the day before and my long commute to work was the first time I’d be alone since I got the news. As soon as I started to speak, tears ran down my cheeks. My boss, a New York attorney, was not impressed. For the next month, I guess I did well at my job but I constantly felt like a failure. As month two began, I was ready to quit, but I didn’t want to give up. Month two was worse than month one. I came home crying several times. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so strongly that I was on the complete wrong life path, but what was I going to do? Give up on being a lawyer because I didn’t like one job? I’d just finished 3 grueling years of school and I hadn’t even been admitted as an attorney yet.
Then, just under one year ago, I was taking a walk with my mom before work and she got a text that my cousin’s daughter had been in a car accident. I put on my suit and drove to work, trying to keep it together, waiting on an update. I clicked around on the computer and shuffled papers, unable to focus, checking my phone every minute. Finally, I got the call that my little cousin, Hannah, had died early that morning. I guess it had been understood by my mom, and others, that when we didn’t receive word for so long, it meant Hannah was already gone- no family was rushing to spread the word and gather prayers because there was nothing to be done. I had thought it meant there was hope. That Friday, was my admissions ceremony to the Connecticut bar. My mom and Kenny came with me to the state capital so I could be sworn in as an official lawyer. I stood for the ceremony, smiled for pictures as people congratulated me, and then boarded a plane for Tennessee, still holding my awkwardly giant certificate. I had just made this same flight two months earlier for my grandfather’s funeral; I can’t describe how it felt to be going back so soon to the same family and the same church to mourn two family members who were 80 years apart in age.
I went back to work on Monday with no patience for my boss’ lack of sympathy and no compassion for the people whose cases I was working on. Everything felt pointless. I sat at my desk absolutely miserable, holding back tears, for a week. Then Kenny called me at work, he had been in a car accident. He was absolutely fine, it was just a fender bender. It didn’t matter. Something about the words “car accident” set me off. Tears streamed down my face as I asked again and again if he was okay. My boss came to my desk and I tried to explain that Kenny was ok I just found it so upsetting to think that Kenny could have been in an accident just like my cousin, one day there, the next day gone. Realizing I was overreacting, I chuckled and wiped my tears, “I’m sorry, I’m not usually this emotional.” My boss, again, was not impressed. He came back with a comment about the futility of trying to argue with “emotional women.” I gave my two week’s notice.
I spent the next two months or so doing small things, visiting with my family, helping my cousin (Hannah’s mom) prepare for what I’m sure was the saddest Christmas she’ll ever have, and doing odd jobs for my parents. I spent a lot of time thinking about the life I wanted to live. My little cousin, Hannah, did everything she ever wanted. She didn’t care that it was unusual for teenagers to be in college. She never let the fact that she had college-level schoolwork, a job, a boyfriend, and 8 younger siblings stop her from writing books and doing art and working on movie. She never seemed to be limited by anything. If she wanted to do something, she went for it. And she followed her dreams through to completion. HOW? She wasn’t even old enough to vote. I looked at my life and I couldn’t think of anything I had accomplished. I went to law school. But being a lawyer had made me miserable thus far. I wasn’t helping people like I thought I would be. I had married my high school sweetheart, but that’s not really an accomplishment. I couldn’t even think of what dreams I had, let alone how to achieve them.
We were putting the house on the market and as I packed boxes, I found an old “Bucket List” I made as a young teen. “Become a guardian ad litem/ lawyer” was on the list. I guess I had achieved one of my dreams. I crossed it off. It was a short list and not full of very lofty goals: get a dog, have a garden, get married. All things I had “accomplished.” I realized maybe it was more of a “Before I Turn 30” than really a “Bucket List.” There was only one thing left on the list of goals I had dreamed up for myself years before: “Be a mom.”
A few months later, I found out I was pregnant. It was a surprise, but a very happy one. I kept thinking was that I have always wanted this. Even though I had denied it when asked for the past several years, always responding with “one day.” I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I didn’t want to be a teacher, or a vet, or anything. I just wanted to be a mom. I wanted to spend my days with my little kids and raise them into beautiful adults. I didn’t know how we would make any money or what poor Kenny would say about this shift in our life plan. Would it take away from his music? Would he be stressed? Can I really put that much pressure on him to find a new job and make more money so that I can just not work? Where would we live? Can we afford a place that is big enough and in a safe neighborhood? I started to think maybe it was impossible for me to actually stay home.
But then I decided if my little cousin had wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, she would have made it happen and I had nearly 10 years on her, so I better find a way.
It was easier than I thought. Kenny was thrilled with the idea of being a standard American dad. He wanted to kiss us goodbye every morning as he went off to work and come home and have dinner with his family, knowing he had worked to provide for us. He was happy to live on a tiny budget and live with my parents if it meant I could be at home. He loved the idea that I would be the one to raise our little kids and not a nanny or a daycare. Don’t get me wrong, I was a nanny myself so I know that they’re awesome. Some moms need their work- it gives them purpose and drive and fulfillment and identity and makes every minute with their kids incredibly precious. Other moms need to be with their babies. I read an article online about the life of a working mom who, I think, actually wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. She cried every morning when she left her kids and spent the whole day wishing she were with them. I knew that’s what I would be like if I had to work. I wouldn’t find my career fulfilling, I wouldn’t find it made all my moments with my kids even more precious, I would just feel torn. Kenny wanted to find a new job anyway- a 9-5 with a salary and a steady income where he could grow and he could have free nights and weekends to play shows. He told me proudly about how he explained to interviewers that he had certain requirements that must be met because he had “a kid on the way.” He landed a great new job. And that was it. Is it ideal to have a two bedroom apartment with my parents, us, and a baby? Nope. It’s a little squishy and the baby isn’t even here yet. But so far it’s completely worth it. I love knowing that once my boy is born, I won’t have to count down my weeks until maternity leave is over or try to work out a new schedule or a new job that accommodates my mommy life. I get as much time with my baby as I want. And if I do want to work eventually, I can make that shift knowing that it’s what I want to do, not something I feel I have to do because I’m afraid we won’t be able to make ends meet.
This was also a big part of my decision to start a blog. It’s amazing how once you start building the life you want, all the other things you want to do become so clear…
Other Posts in this Series