The following is a talk I gave to a group of Moms a few months ago. I was going to save it in the event I was ever invited to do another talk, but as my wonderful (and supportive) husband pointed out, “That’s not gonna happen for a long, long time. It was good – you should publish it.” Again, the king of the backhanded compliments never disappoints. Enjoy.
Making the decision to quit my job and stay home full time with my kids was not one I entered into lightly.
Part of my choice was based on the fact that I felt like I was missing out on all of the good stuff at home. My daughter was seven months old at the time and our nanny was sending me videos of things like the first time she rolled over, and emailing me pictures of their first trip to the zoo. And seeing her starting to grow without me made me sad.
But between us girls, the real reason I left my job is because working is awful.
I was a senior brand manager at advertising agency, which, if you’ve ever seen an episode of Mad Men, is exactly nothing like that. I was surrounded by people who thought it made them interesting if they didn’t bathe. I would get in fights with my creative team over things like no you can’t give an entire presentation in a pirate voice, or using sock puppets. They were egotistical, selfish, and thought the world revolved around them because they knew how to use Photoshop and wore fedoras.
When I wasn’t busy babysitting the creative team, I was bent over in a boiler room somewhere getting it Shawshank style from clients who couldn’t understand why we did things like charge money, or need more than an hour to come up with a revolutionary idea that would totally turn their dying business around. Usually their qualifications to run a multi-million dollar company were that they were born.
They would stroll into our meeting 20 minutes late, inform us their 16-year-old son disliked the shade of blue we used in the print ad, and kill an entire strategy and creative campaign that robbed us months of our lives with a wave of their hand.
It was not uncommon for us to pull an all-niter to meet a deadline they moved up on a whim, and then have them call the next morning as we drove bleary eyed to the meeting to see if we could present next week instead.
Clients had no idea how much time and effort it took for us to make the gears of the marketing machine turn, which, to be honest, was sort of by design. We feared if they peeked behind the magic curtain and saw how things really worked and how the campaign got to their table they would be appalled at the disorganized chaos.
So I left it all behind and didn’t look back. The stress, the manipulation games, the rat race. I couldn’t wait to slow down and truly experience what life was all about. I envisioned the perfect life I would have as a stay at home Mom. My kids and I would spend our days strolling through museums, swapping gossip magazines as we got our toes done, taking long naps and end the day sitting around the fire talking about all the boys we have crushes on.
My house would be the epitome of a Pottery Barn catalog and our yard would be the envy of our neighbors. Every evening my husband and I would walk hand in hand through our backyard Japanese garden and we would gaze adoringly into each others eyes as our children tossed pellets into a pond filled with those giant creepy goldfish. My husband would wonder how he got so lucky to have such a perfect wife and prance me around town like a sparkly little show pony, and my kids would idolize my every move. Usually this fantasy also included me winning a break dance competition of some sort in front of a crowd of hundreds.
I was certain my life would be perfect.
Fast forward four years to a few weeks ago when my family all got the stomach flu at the same time. I was hunched over scrubbing their rancid vomit out of the carpet and my daughters screamed bloody murder because my butt was blocking the way of their cartoon.
And P.S. – because my turd of a husband has a “real job” he threw me to the wolves. He got to barf in the privacy and comfort of our bathroom all night while I shared a bed and a bucket with three little girls in the guest room.
And the next morning, when I was barfing so hard I saw the ghost of my dead grandma hovering over the toilet telling me to come to the light, I heard my four year old whisper to my three year old, “Hey, maybe we’ll get a NEW mommy!”
Four years ago I didn’t know how good I had it with sock puppets and pirate voices.
At least the creative team had the decency to wait until we were back in the privacy of our ad agency to throw a tantrum. My kids don’t give a hoot who is around. They’ve thrown themselves upon the finest floors in the city in front of dozens of horrified onlookers. In fact, they prefer to misbehave in public because it practically guarantees my reaction will be within the confines of the law.
Now, I live and die by my kids’ happiness. Not a minute goes by in my day that I’m not thinking about how I can somehow make their lives better, constantly worrying that they are not happy enough, evaluating myself as a mother and continually thinking of ways to make sure they have the most perfect lives possible. I look at these kids and understand the meaning of life. I went to Yo Gabba Gabba live for god sakes.
And in return, my children are physically incapable of being happy unless I am actively waiting on them. For example. I sit down to dinner completely exhausted. I’ve been running like a crazy frantic person all day breaking up fights and diffusing tantrums and cleaning up poop and a cornucopia of other usually unidentifiable bodily fluids.
And they will purposely wait until I sit down and put the fork to my lips to tell me that they need a napkin. And then when I point out that their napkin is right there under their fork they will frown and frantically look around for something they’re missing that will make me have to get my old tired bones up from the table to get for them. And if they can’t find anything they will chug their milk until it is gone and whine that they are still thirsty until I get up and get them more.
They are sick and twisted little creatures.
And now my 3-year-old has started running into our room in the middle of the night, putting her little hands on my cheeks and whispering, “mommy tuck me back in!” about three inches from my face. And, like anyone who has seen The Grudge, my eyelids spring open and three weeks are immediately shaved off my life.
Now let’s think about this for a minute. She is three. Old enough to pick out her own outfit every morning and put on her own shoes and coat. Old enough to mentally run through at least a rudimentary decision making process as she lays awake in bed coverless at 3am. And the conclusion at which she arrives is that she would rather come into my room and wake me up in the middle of the night, startling the tuna salad out of me, and ruin my entire next day because it takes me five years to fall back asleep because now I can’t stop thinking about that little girl from The Grudge crawling up the side of my bed, than pull up her blanket.
And this is especially dangerous for her at this point in my life because since becoming a stay at home mom I have completely lost my fear of going to prison.
If I would have ever, EVER, had a co-worker wake me up in the middle of the night on a regular basis I would have put a mouse head in their lunch box, or at the very least change their computer password to “I am a giant butthole”.
But no. I will not stand for a sub par performance review from my kids. I drag my half asleep self out of my warm bed. I follow her to her room. She runs to her miniature bed and jumps in, curls up with her little stuffed sheep, and she’s asleep before I even spread out the quilt. And I have no idea where it comes from, but somewhere deep inside me I’m like, “awww!” and I drop the screwdriver.
Which brings me to my next point – my ungrateful fart knocker of a client. AKA my husband.
Like when we used to pull all niters only to have the client change the meeting at the last minute, my husband will suggest I have big fancy home cooked meal ready when he comes home from work. Which means a trip to the grocery store with three little kids, immediately catapulting it to a double Zoloft kind of day.
So I prepare dinner with three kids screaming and fighting at my feet. Do you have any idea what kind of self restraint it takes to continue to use a butcher knife to calmly chop vegetables while someone wipes their snotty nose on your bare leg?
And you know what he does, right as I’m getting ready to set the table and the food is hot and ready? My husband will call to see if I mind if he goes to the gym before he comes home.
And when he arrives home an hour later, he is completely oblivious to how much work is was to keep the house standing upright. In fact, he has the nerve to ask why there’s a Barbie in the toilet. And I’m just thankful he didn’t come home five minutes earlier when the cat was on fire and the baby went missing. There are so many times in my day where, if he were to come home and see what shape the house was in, he would fire me and re-hire the nanny.
So as it was best that the client remained ignorant of the process by which the advertising concepts made their way to their board room table, it is better my husband doesn’t know what accidentally fell into his dinner. I just smile and ask him if he enjoyed his workout.
And my identity as a professional has been slowly, painfully erased one day at a time. The part I was looking forward to the most – the part that I thought would be the easiest – was slowing down. But that has been the hardest. Letting my 4-year-old help me make pancakes even though I know it will take 20 minutes longer is like nails on a chalkboard. I have to leave the room as my 3-year-old slowly works on a puzzle because I can barely fight the urge to push her aside and finish it as quickly as possible so we can move on to the next task.
I never knew it was possible to develop anxiety from doing nothing. But yes, I have officially developed a case of the crazies, or as my doctor calls it: “alcoholism”. At my old job I could juggle thirty projects at once blindfolded. Now my sporadic attempts at simple, sentimental good old fashioned family togetherness without fail end in a blaze of glory.
I feel like I’m the only parent in the world who can’t manage a simple project. We are going to get pictures with Santa Claus. Let’s commemorate your first hair cut. We are going to eat dinner now. But the higher my expectations for perfection, the more chaotic and painful the experience.
A blowout diaper up the back right before they sit on Santa’s lap. Death grip around my neck every time the beautician comes at them with a comb. Hustling out of a restaurant in shame. I used to be the queen of manipulation, but now I just pray and wear comfortable shoes.
But the past four years I have been slowly transforming from type A to type MC – More Chardonnay.
When I first became a stay at home Mom I was terrified of the police showing up at my house because I made some horrible parenting mistake. Now, if they show up I will ask them if I can borrow their tazer for a second.
I used to sneak into the bathroom to pee in private like a normal human being, now I call all of my girls in to give them lessons on proper wiping technique.
I think about the months I worked on my master’s thesis as I eat cold and stale macaroni and cheese out of the pan over the kitchen sink in my pajamas.
I think about how I gave presentations to CMOs of some of the world’s largest companies as I sniff someone’s butt. Actually those are sort of the same thing.
I used to wear make up. Now, I don’t even clean the food out of my beard before I go to Target.
And I’ve learned that being a stay at home Mom is as challenging of a career as any. And as with any job, it’s all about balance. Using the nursery at the gym to give myself a break to blow off steam in a kick boxing class. Scheduling a massage while the kids are at pre-school instead of cleaning the bathrooms. Bringing my flask to the playground.
No, the best I can do is keep working, learning, and hope that one day I will become the Mom that I have been medicated to be.