I think it's fair to say all stay-at-home moms hate the phrase, "What did you do all day?" Even broached innocently (which it is probably 98% of the time), we automatically take it as a hostile interrogation intended to expose us for the frauds we worry we are.
So, when my husband asks it nearly every evening after he gets home from work, I find myself automatically switching into defensive mode where suddenly, the smallest details of a perfectly ordinary day are exaggerated for maximum effect.
"Well, Chase had a huge blowout and he's been really cranky all day -- his teeth are bothering him again -- and he barely napped at all," I recap in a huffy rush. "Plus, the checkout line at the grocery store took forever and he basically cried the whole time."
I hear myself saying these things and I realize that I'm glossing over all the other details that made up a wholly pleasant day -- the giggles while we sang songs in front of the mirror, the walk we took by the beach with the wind blowing through his white-blonde hair, the two whole hours he napped and I got to write or finish the dishes or watch just one teeny episode of "House of Cards" (alright, maybe three.)
But I don't talk about those things because I worry. I worry that if my day doesn't seem hard enough or chaotic enough, I'm not doing it right. I worry that my husband (and maybe the rest of the working world too) thinks I'm getting a free ride on the gravy train. I worry that someone is going to come and revoke my stay at home mom card.
I know. When it's written down, staring me in the face in black and white, the notion seem ridiculously hyperbolic and just plain crazy. I'm fully aware that there are no stay-at-home-mom police waiting to slap on the cuffs and drag me away because my son is an agreeable child with an affinity for taking long naps.
And yet, I constantly feel the need to prove myself. To my husband. To other moms who work. To my friends who don't yet have kids. Prove to them that my work is hard too, that I'm not just milking the system. I think the reason I crave that validation is because the truth is, some days, being a stay-at-home mom is really freakin' easy. And on those days, I feel guilty.
I picture my husband busting his ass at work, looking over really boring, complicated diagrams (or whatever the hell an electrical engineer actually does), staying late to impress his new boss while his wife whines in his ear about getting poop on her shirt.
I envision my former colleagues, who work all day and then have to pick up the kids at daycare, cook an edible meal, give baths and check homework while half their brain is still occupied by the proposal they have to give in the morning. I think about my friends whose whole world is conference calls and productivity meetings and expense account lunches, whose workdays are long and demanding and certainly no afternoon walk at the beach with a happy baby.
And then I remember what it's like to work at a real job. I remember that sometimes people bring cupcakes into work. And sometimes you kill an hour looking at dumb Internet memes that Helen from Accounting emailed out to the whole office. Sometimes your boss lets you cut out a little early because it's Friday and he wants to go home, too.
I remember that when you work in an office you get sick days and vacation time and no one spreads feces on you. I remember that, at most jobs, the client doesn't wake you up in the middle of the night because his teeth hurt or he peed in his bed. I remember that a regular job, your work is still work, not the all-consuming, terribly important work of being responsible for someone's whole childhood.
And then I remember that, even on the easy days, I'm still at work, too.
The perks are just different.
Melissa is a stay-at-home mom to 1-year-old Chase, with baby boy #2 currently cooking. Her hobbies include: eating peanut butter from the jar, finding acceptable styles for unwashed hair and coming up with a patent for disposable laundry. She blogs about her life as a (sometimes clueless, but always honest) new mom at One Mother to Another.