Every stay at home parent is familiar with the look. It’s just a glance but it’s the preemptor for so many intrusive and unwelcome conversations. They sound like:
Don’t you want to use your degree?
When are you going back to work?
What message are you sending your daughters?
What message are you giving your sons?
Isn’t it a little…. boring?
How do you make small talk?
Like, what do you DO all day?
“What are you going to do when the kids are gone?” A friend asked.
“I just joined another board. Maybe I’ll find a third.” I answered half shrugging.
“That’s so cliche.” I have to admit that stung, I admired her and still do. I’m a cliche, this is who I am. Full shrug. No apology.
The questions, the conversations, the insults lobbed are endless and, mercifully, most are dull. So much so that when I was recently asked what I do for a living I made and held eye contact while saying, “Nothing.” And I offered no other explanation because it’s boring to try to explain to people what exactly the married mother of a high school student and a college student does all day. Why does no one ask if I’m reading a good book? I just finished one, it’s called Fleishman Is in Trouble. You should read it.
If a glimpse into my world is what you’re looking for then perhaps you’d like to know that at least 15 minutes of every week is consumed with finding the right batch of ice cream. Baskin Robbins has a chocolate chip issue. Each batch seems to be a little different. Up until a few months ago, I knew to avoid batch 30–90 but the only reason I knew that was because I open them in the grocery store and save everyone the trouble of returning ice cream that’s missing chips.
When I find a batch like 30–90 I just walk over to the manager at Gelson’s and say, “Hey, this doesn’t have enough chips in it. Do you want me to buy and return it, or just leave it with you.” And then they look at me funny, but not all that funny because I’m still the low maintenance shopper in my neighborhood. Pro tip: 47–225 has all the chips, you don’t need to open them in the store if you find this number.
Listen, I buy Gelson’s Mount Rainier Cherries for $11.99 a pound so we’re all stealing from each other at this point.
When I’m not busy not buying ice cream I’m organizing everyone’s lives. I’m planning travel, returning clothing they hate, washing what they’ve worn, coordinating trips to doctors and dentists, and I used to take care of dogs and cats. We are down to just Broccoli, and since the Prozac kicked in he’s approaching tame — so even he’s not terribly interesting.
Don’t tell me I’m not putting my degrees to good use. Some people drive home with substandard ice cream and don’t even think to return it.
I can’t speak for every stay at home parent, but I can tell you that I’ve spent much of my children’s teenage years waiting for them. Knocking out errands, appointments, and most of my social life while kids are in school is a habit so strong it may never break. When kids come home at the end of the day one of three things happens.
The first and most common scenario is that kids come home tired and hungry, feed themselves, ask as politely as one can muster to not chit chat and then disappear to their rooms until dinnertime. I putter around the house on days like these or go for a workout before dinner.
The next most likely scenario is that they want to talk a bit, something big and wonderful happened, I listen and try to remember who all the players are so that they don’t say, “Mom, you don’t know ANY of my friends.” (I don’t know them because you talk 800 miles a minute kids)
And the last scenario reaffirms my decision to stay home. The world is ending. It could be a teacher, it could be a kid, it could be a party, a grade, a sport.. it could be anything. Sometimes they’ll tell me why sometimes they won’t. But I’m home, and I’m listening. Most of what happens with teens cannot and should not be solved by parents. When the stakes are high I’m here if only to listen and to promise to neither judge nor advise.
I don’t know if I’m doing this parenting thing right. I just know that I’m doing it with my whole heart.
My kids have always known that I’m here. I keep their secrets, I arm them for life’s battles with a good education and a smidge more independence than kids are ready for. I listen without criticizing (whenever possible), and I watch everything. They’re good people, the moral compasses are firm. They mostly don’t need me, but when they do it’s either earth-shattering or it feels like it is. If the earth is shattering it’s nice to know that someone cares.
The job that I don’t have is ending.
Tomorrow I’m sending the first three boxes of bedding, towels, and winter clothes to our son’s college dorm. What happens to stay at home parents when there are no kids to stay home and parent?
When I’m asked how I spend my days shall I tell strangers about my golf handicap, my USTA rating, or my husband’s love of a crisply pressed shirt? Do I talk about my passion for affordable universities? The joy I get when the CSU-Pueblo Foundation lets me help give their money away? Do I talk about the writing that will never hit the web? The best essays that Michelle Lamar has cautioned us all to never share online? She told everyone to save it for something bigger. I don’t know what bigger is, but I’m saving the best. The best deserves an editor.
But I do nothing all day. I do nothing but sniff the stem ends of cantaloupes to be sure they’re ripe, and then open ice cream before I buy it.
Since 2006 in addition to being a stay at home mom, I’ve written about motherhood. Sure, I’ve written about cars, green living, and funny things. Yet everything written has been through a mother’s lens. You can’t undo motherhood, not even when the kids leave the house.
This job, this mothering gig — which must be separated from motherhood, which will never end — is over. The work is done and there’s no next.
Come September someone will ask what I do for a living. I’ll say, “I was a stay at home mom, but I’ve recently retired.” and when they ask the follow-up questions I’ll recommend a good book.
Originally published at https://jessicagottlieb.com on August 13, 2019.