This is a short essay I wrote for the Mothers and More newsletter (March 2010).
“You are little saucy tonight”, I told my two and a half year old son, Buddy, one night at dinner when he was being especially silly.
“Mommy is Goose saucy?” he asked, referring to his twin sister.
“Sometimes she is,” I replied, “but at the moment she’s sweet.”
“Is Bear saucy?” he said looking at the fuzzy-headed baby in the highchair.
“No. Bear is sort of… savory.”
“Is daddy saucy?” he inquired with his little blond head tilted slightly to the side.
“No,” I thought for a moment, “daddy is spicy.”
“What are you, mommy?” he asked.
“Mommy’s mostly just bitter.”
There was a heavy pause before my husband and I both started laughing, and Buddy toddled away, clearly bored with the discussion he couldn’t understand. Bitter. It was funny. It was the kind of funny that comes bubbling out of the vacuum created when tension is released. It was funny, not because bitter is funny, but because bitter is true and in that moment, I said it out loud and laughing was the only thing to do.
After all, what is there to be bitter about? I am happily married. I have three truly wonderful children. We are financially stable during uncertain times. I am lucky. When we first talked about starting a family, we discussed the arrangements: my husband owns his own business and he would continue to run it while I, who had made a conscious choice to work for considerably less money because I loved my job, would stay home with the children. It made perfect sense financially and he can’t opt to work part-time for a company he owns. If we were going to have children, one of us would stay home to raise them, and that would have to be me. Period. That was the only thing about parenthood of which we were certain.
I had planned on thriving in a stay-at-home world in the same way I was thriving in my work world. I expected to love doting on my brood 24 hours a day and tending to all things domestic, except that I didn’t. I missed my job. And with that admission, came an avalanche of self-inflicted guilt and admonishment. What kind of mother am I?
I am the mother that doesn’t fit. When I realized that I needed to work-for-pay to keep my sanity, I arranged a part-time schedule. I work two to three days a week. To most “stay-at-home” moms, I am considered a “working” mom. To most “working” moms, I am a “stay-at-home” mom. If you ask me what I “do” my answer will vary based on what I think you do. If the “mommy wars” were more than just a figment of the collective self-defeating imagination, I would be a stealthy double agent.
I guess that’s why I’m bitter. A double agent has a lonely life. I envy the moms who stay home with their kids and are fulfilled doing family work. I am equally jealous of the mothers who are working for pay full time and advancing their careers. I am neither, and I long for both. Instead of doing one thing well, I am doing two things half-way. I am ashamed to have forgotten my identity; I remember that once, I was a person with a voice that mattered, a voice that could be heard singing “Karma Chameleon” really loudly and off-key whenever the mood struck. I had a voice full of power and conviction (and bad eighties music, what can I say? It’s a guilty pleasure.). I had that voice. It’s still mine. It’s time I started using it. Now if I can just find a spoonful of sugar to cut the bitter aftertaste.