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Our Story Begins: Should I Stay or Should I…

I know that technically I’m a journalist and I’m not supposed to express any kind of opinion but there are some things that even my Edward R. Morrow-obsessed, ethics-bound, investigative mind feel have to come out of my fingers. This is one of them:

A great, at-home mom is the hardest working, most under-appreciated employee ever.

And I hate you all!

Let me qualify that. Jealous is probably the more appropriate word. You see, I think that raising kids is a pleasurable experience. It’s the outlying factors, the extraneous insanity that is difficult and frustrating. I’m jealous because I see my day and my kids and I wonder how I’m ever going to get these four amazing individuals the care and attention they deserve. I wonder how we’re going to get through eight more years of school and projects and research papers.

I also worry about the fact that, for the last three of her life, my kids had the equivalent of an at-home mom. When Andrea’s knees went out, she was home on disability. She couldn’t move well and didn’t do a ton, but she was there: loving, working, planning, and brilliant; arranging her work schedule for nights and weekends so she could be there like they needed. Even then, my wife had to work full-time and it made things rough in our household. Knowing that, if I won the lottery or had an at-home job or even just could afford to do it, I’d stay home.

The reason I make that statement is because I look around me and wonder how we’ve ended up in the state we’re in.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know how we got here, but I don’t want to admit it. Until this last weekend we have lived in what I’ve described to my children as a “hoarder house” (read: “OH-MY-GOD-WHAT-THE-HELL-IS-WRONG-WITH-YOU-FOUR-WE-LOOK-LIKE-WE-LIVE-IN-A-HOARDER’S -HOUSE!!!!!”). My middle daughter, when told to take the tags off of a new shirt I was forced to buy (so she would have a costume for a Renaissance Faire we can’t afford–whole other post) pulls the tag and throws it directly onto the ground below her. My oldest daughter makes cake pops and leaves red food dye lying around and sinking, nay staining into the counter tops. My sons have legos . . . EVERYWHERE!

This led me to a dual epiphany. The first I’ve already mentioned: I’d stay home and be Mr. Mom (thank you, John Hughes!) if I had the opportunity. The second is something I should have faced a year ago but was too selfish: I have to do the work. Sure, I stayed up, wrote on my blog, wrote here for Rene, all of it. But that came at a certain point in the evening. Now I realize that, much like the words my mother and father often spoke, if I want it done – and I mean really done – I just have to do it.

So this Saturday I started cleaning, like a madman. I picked up the legos, and just like the consequences I’d threatened to all my children if they didn’t clean up days before, I tossed any superfluous legos unceremoniously in the trash.  When I cleaned up the kitchen and hand-washed what wouldn’t fit in the sink while my daughter, Hannah, watched TV oblivious, I turned off the television, put an old LP with some John Coltrane on the turntable, and eliminated all her privileges but the ability to sleep and read. My oldest actually grabbed sponges, cleaners and clothes and did laundry and cleaned the bathroom.  My one success.

Do you get what my epiphany was by my actions? I can’t write or play the guitar or sit and read a Neil Gaiman novel (and I’m dying to read the unabridged anniversary edition of American Gods, by the way). If I am going to be who these four kids need, I need to be the at-home parent when I’m at home. You may think this is obvious, something right in front of my face, but it’s not. I have my guitars and amps sprinkled around the house because it kills me not to. I see the world in terms of rhythm and harmony. My mind is always filled with a melody.  But the itch in my fingertips to feel steel on flesh has to take a back burner.

I grew up with my mom making breakfast for us every morning. Maybe it was eggs over-easy with toast.  Maybe it was Cream of Wheat.  Sometimes she just fed us cereal. The point is she did the feeding. She was up – sure in her robe and slippers, but up nonetheless – and prodded us to get our day going and out the door. We got in the car with our Dad and he drove us to school on his way to work. She pushed us to do chores, but other than the dishes, she did it all, laundry, cleaned the house, picked up. That doesn’t mean we didn’t get a verbal browbeating or punished when we got home if the mess was our fault. It meant that our home was clean and comfortable and the daily chores were complete.  That way, after we’d cleaned up from dinner, we watched TV, played cards, played the Atari (yeah, I’m that old, get over it) and spent time together.

I came to the realization that we need the weekends, and not the weekends we’ve been doing, filled with cleaning, primping, dusting, cooking, all of it.  This was the last one – that’s my hope and prediction.  If the dishes are still out and dirty I won’t do anything else until I have the house picked up and the day in order.  It may be 10pm, it may be 2am, but the day and the week go better when it is.

This weekend is the perfect example: I have a concert in Oakland with my oldest daughter. It was supposed to be with both daughters, but Hannah didn’t come through with her grades and homework so she’s staying with her brothers at their aunt’s house. Saturday is my oldest’s first prom.  The other kids want to see The Avengers and Pirates! at the theater. Those would all be so stressful if I had to clean and pick up or see the house get more and more disgusting because we let them fall apart.

So I made the decision that my own activities begin when our activities end. I make lunches, clean up, pick up, and push the consequences of my kids not helping out. I want my kids to have the opportunities I did. I make breakfast – even if it’s just toaster waffles – every morning.  I pack up their lunches. I help them get organized for their day. My hope is that they don’t see the day their mom died as the day it all fell apart.

When I see moms who stay home – the true, selfless, loving moms who want to raise their kids, much like my mom did, I am impressed and envious. When I see those who criticize them as being less than hard-working I get angry. When I see at-home moms who care more about telling people how hard it is to care for children than caring for their kids I get angry – because I’d stay home in an instant if it was possible. It’s not a slam on the working mother, I am right there with them. In the trenches, digging through the mess.

I do it the best I can now so that the weekends are for all of us, not what the week should have been. But if it came to asking “should I stay or should I go?”  If there was no financial consequence, I’d stay . . . every single time.

But what about you?  When you see the mom dropping off her kids at school in her sweats and t-shirt do you see the woman worthy of respect?  Do you think she’s less capable because she’s at home than if she were in the workplace? The true at-home moms . . . the moms like my mom . . . are women to be praised.

And maybe a little envied.

More From GEM:

Single Mom Slice Of Life: All Alone and I LIKE IT!

The GEM Debate: Yeah, But Is It REALLY Work?

All Grown Up.. You Sure About That, Buddy?


Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California.  A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.

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