Gusts of wind wave and snap the branches of the trees that line the playground. I'm wearing a baby wrapped snug against me, under my coat, and looking up warily to make sure no errant sticks come flying our way. It is still unseasonably warm, as it has been for the last few days, so being outside is actually pleasant, with the exception of the gale-force winds. Gabriel is trotting around busy with this and that, digging and wielding his own sticks and pretending to be a fireman all at once. I decide to sit down slowly, gingerly on one of the swings--the "mommy bench" won't work, as the little wrapped bundle on my chest doesn't seem to like to stay asleep when I sit down. Perhaps, I think, I can rest for a moment, and fool baby Peter by half-standing, half-sitting on the swing.
The second I sit down on the swing, Gabriel's eyes light up. "Mommy! I would like to swing!" For a split second, I think: Of course. And sigh inwardly. But I muster up some cheer, and go to lift him up onto the swing. Quite a trick when he's 35 pounds and I'm already wearing 15 extra baby pounds of Peter on my front. It also takes a bit of work to be cheerful, as I know Gabriel will probably complain that I can't push him high enough. He's been going through a "negative" phase recently, and doesn't like the fact that I can't sprint under the swing and do an "underdog" while I'm carrying Peter.
At such moments, I am beginning to find that analogizing my role as mother to a position in the working world quite helpful. If I were getting paid to do this--if I were literally employed to be a mother to these two children--I would, out of a sense of integrity and duty, give not a second thought to plopping the little guy on the swing and helping him have some fun. After all, someone would be paying me to do it; my time would not be my own; I would be on someone else's clock.
It has only recently occurred to me that my staying home full time is, in our culture, just as much a choice as working out in the world in some professional capacity. I decided to do this. I had forgotten this somewhere along the way. In my former life, I took all the paid jobs I worked quite seriously, and tried to be conscientious about doing only tasks relevant to my position while "on the clock." I organized more than one office in disarray; made thousands of photocopies; set up programs that I hoped would be enriching; and taught and counseled a couple hundred kids, most of whom I don't see anymore. I made some money that is probably all spent at this point, and learned some useful life-lessons.
If I approach my work as a mother with the same integrity, I must realize that here at home I am not on my own clock either. My heavenly Employer asks me to be fully present to my children to the best of my ability, rather than sticking to a rigid agenda of "things to get done" and responding to them with absent "mmm hmms" and nods. I get paid in my baby's belly laughs and my two year old's sweet words: "Mommy, I like reading books with you." I have to cling to these when my baby is wailing and overtired and my two year old is screaming "NOOO!" to my polite request that he use the bathroom before his nap. Certainly any employee has to overlook the not-so-savory qualities of the others she is working with; most people would be out of a job if they threw in the towel the moment someone at work annoyed them.
On-going job training is key in the mothering business: it starts with daily prayer and Scripture and branches out into spiritual reading, parenting books, spousal consultations, and even S.O.S. phone calls to other trusted moms. The more training I get, the higher my pay, as my eyes are opened to who my children are right now and how I can best love, serve, and teach them. Their sweetness becomes all the more apparent and carries me through the low times.
Of course, there are places where the analogy just falls through. Sick days come to mind. Oh how wonderful it would be to have someone just whisk the little ones away for a bit while mommy goes about resting and recovering. (Sometimes I wonder if this momentary respite from the mommy job wouldn't speed my recovery along--I feel like even a little cold just drags on and on now that I have babies to keep caring for.)
For the most part, though, the analogy works, and it has been helping me approach my role at home with a new level of enthusiasm, and a new realization of just how much energy it actually takes to "be at home with the children." The next time someone asks me what I do, I will not use the words "I'm just at home." I am 100% sure this job is tougher and more emotionally and psychologically challenging, and requires more creativity, than any other one I have ever had in the working world. I am not sure how to convey that in a short, casual, small-talk-esque response, but I will be working on it--off the mommy clock, of course!