Monday, June 20, 2011

Endless Vacation?

First, a disclaimer: This is not a post intended to dis mothers with jobs.

Sarah at Fumbling Toward Grace has an interesting post examining service -- service in general, but also the particular call on a mother's life. Sarah describes thoughts she had as a college student regarding motherhood:
The idea that a woman would purposefully give up the years she is supposed to be “getting established in her career” to get married, have babies, and take care of them, seemed repulsive and nauseating.

That’s because I was living Non Serviam.

The kind of intimate, challenging, service associated with embracing any vocation, was not to be borne. If I ever did get married and have children, I remember thinking, I would of course have a nanny, or at the very least, a housekeeper. That type of work would be too far beneath me to do myself.

As a teenager and a young college student, I was convinced I would never be a stay-at-home mother. I mean, why would I? Of course I mulled  these ideas over in my head in a vacuum, long before I had ever known the drudgery of a work week, before I had ever held a newborn to my breast, before I had ever thought through the logistics of day care and commutes and long hours.

I had my first child at 33. By that time, I was well-acquainted with the pluses and minuses of the working world. I had some experiences with precious newborn nieces and nephews. And I knew I wanted to stay home with my baby.

Since then, I have never struggled with the idea -- the ideal --  of being a stay-at-home mother. I have many close friends who would love to stay home full time but circumstances don't allow it. I have friends who work outside their home and wouldn't have it any other way.

So, for me, as an ideal, being a stay-at-home is great. But the reality of it? This I frequently struggle with. I recall the day Dave came home from work and innocently asked what I had done that day.

My response? Thanks for asking, honey. I hauled plastic crap from one room to another.

I was only half kidding. It can be tedious, the life of a stay-at-home mother. I am grateful for numerous opportunities to engage in Grown Up Activities -- writing projects, service teams, this blog -- that break up the monotony and help me return refreshed to embrace this life of mine.

I am on a pastoral team that meets twice a month for a few hours. I served on the team while pregnant with Ainsley and then toted her along with me for fourteen or fifteen months. By that time, she was super mobile and into everything, so I began leaving her home. The other team members missed her and wondered why I no longer brought her along for the ride. Bottom line: I enjoyed spending two hours with big people talking about big people issues. I appreciated the break.

To be sure, we live in time when Me Time has become something of an idol. I worked with the Missionaries of Charity for  many, many years. Their Me Time? Thirty minutes of recreation each afternoon and a visit home every ten years. I confess that when I hear the word pampering bandied about as something We deserve, by golly!, I am somewhat repulsed.

Forty-zillion weeks pregnant? You deserved to be pampered! Fresh out of surgery? Pamper away! The bride-to-be? It's your time, honey.

But on a day-to-day basis, I think our culture grossly over emphasizes Me Time and Pampering. Dave and I own a timeshare. I could write a lengthy series of posts on that subject alone. Every month we receive a timeshare magazine called Endless Vacation. The title irks me to no end. Why? If we actually buy into the lie that life is supposed to be an Endless Vacation, no wonder so many of us suffer from discontentment and depression.

Life is not an Endless Vacation. It is supposed to be peaceful, joyful, and fulfilling, yes, but if it's all about Me! Me! Me!, we're in big trouble.

What did Jesus say? Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. He didn't say schedule a weekly mani and pedi.

Now I am all about taking care of the people who take care of everyone else. The old saying is true: If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. Friendship, prayer support, the counsel of other mothers, hobbies, enjoying lunch out -- all of these go a long way in doing what true recreation is supposed to do -- re-create us so that we can move forward in the great work that God has called us to do.

I just placed an order for Do Hard Things.  "Combating the idea of adolescence as a vacation from responsibility," says the Do Hard Things website, "the authors weave together biblical insights, history, and modern examples to redefine the teen years as the launching pad of life and map a clear trajectory for long-term fulfillment and eternal impact."

This is not an endorsement since I haven't yet read the book, but I think we can all stand to combat the notion that any time of life is a vacation from responsibility (except, of course, for vacation).

I mentioned that several months back I conferred with a friend about why it's all sometimes so hard -- harder than it should be, it seemed to me. I know that part of my struggle is that I've bought into the myth of Endless Vacation. At a certain basic level, I don't want to die to myself, to grow in fortitude, to do the hard thing.

Ainsey in about two years?
The rub is that when I overcome my weak will, when I fully embrace this life, when I stop cutting corners, when I put off  petty feelings of resentment, in short, when I truly love -- the result is joy.

The other day I picked up a sweet little book for Ainsley. It's called Little Mommy. Hard-core feminists would have a field day with this retro-tome. Little Mommy devotes a good portion of her day to housework. I actually started to laugh when I read about the ironing that awaited her. Now, I had just bought and assembled the cutest miniature kitchen for Ainsey, but I draw the line at toy vacuum cleaners and especially at the toy ironing board. Sheer drudgery, Ainsey-girl! Make no mistake about it!

So the book briefly made me laugh. But it is sweet, depicting as it does a day spent in loving service to others. Besides that, Little Mommy has blond hair and bears a striking resemblance to my precious daughter.

Looking at the pictures of Little Mommy taking her babies for a walk, cleaning house, and, yes, even ironing, begs the question: Are these jobs beneath us?

Sarah writes, "But if they are, if that is true, then who is fit to do them? If I say that someone else is fit to do the work that is “beneath me” then what I am saying about me?

Food for thought.

And now I should close and run. Thirteen-year-old Tim reports that three-year-old John has up-chucked in the hall. Sometimes "repulsive" and "nauseating" really do fit the bill.


Sarah said...

I love it Kelly! I went to a Mary Kay thing about a year ago and the young woman who was conducting the makeover stuff said that anyone who doesn't think that she deserves to have it all needs to see her after the class, because we all deserve to have it all. I felt like I was going to upchuck myself! The hard truth is that we don't deserve anything. I deserve the depths of hell, and I am grateful for the life, love and joy that God has given me instead. Deserve is a dirty word!

I also love the part about toting plastic stuff from room to room. I laughed aloud! I feel that way most days and it's nice to see it written with such truth and humor! What a gift it is to stay at home, but what a difficult task too!

Anonymous said...

Kelly (and Sarah) I couldn't agree more about the "go on, you deserve it" mentality! Kelly, I thought your post was about much more than staying at home or working outside the home. We can do either with an attitude of service, or with resentment.

I work part-time, and enjoy participating in the adult world and being paid for it. But I would never forfeit the time I have for my children and for domestic things. And I also do a fair amount of work for the church, such as doing the garden. In all these settings I try to correct occasional feelings of resentment, and replace them with the attitude, "God, how can I be of service here?" That sounds horribly pious and worthy, and of course I fail regularly!

I think one of the worst disservices we can do to our growing children is to keep them ignorant of the joy of having a purpose and of serving. Everyone deserves to be able to serve others. Vacations need to be earned.

(Here endeth the lesson!)

Kelly said...

Thanks, Sarah and Christine -

There really is such joy that comes from a job well done. Mother Theresa always talked about doing small jobs with great love. Small children especially offer so many opportunities to be kind in little ways. It is very difficult to help my three-year-old brush his teeth. I can be hurried and rough or slow and gentle. I think about rinsing soap out of Ainsely's hair. Same thing.

Of course the same attitudes carry over into outside employment. The teacher grading essays can be thorough or haphazard. I think about the zillions of times students needed a hall pass or some other little thing. Gentle or resentful?