I didn't know it at the time, but when I left the hospital carrying my new bundle of wonderful, I also gained a new piece of luggage. I'm not sure exactly when I received it - although I suspect it was when I was getting my epidural (which is probably why they kicked my husband out of the room). Maybe in the 50,000 pieces of paper I signed about not shaking my baby, vaccinations and horrible newborn photos - they slipped this in. I don't have a clue. What I do know is that I can't get rid of it and it keeps getting heavier as Mommyhood morphs. It's my Backpack of Guilt.
It started out light. Oh sure, the bottom was lined with "Did I make all the right choices for my baby when I was pregnant?" and "Did breathing in that fire extinguisher the dumb ass sprayed as a joke compromise my infants immune system?" "Is my baby going to get rejected from Yale because I didn't get the video that promised to make my baby read in the womb?" But, it was manageable.
Through the beginning of motherhood the backpack began to get filled. I left my high paying executive job to be a teacher. Much (much) less money - better hours. But, I had worked so hard to get to that level (and pay grade). And I walked away because it required too much travel and I would be gone from my babies more than I would be home raising them. My husband and I made a decision that we felt was best for raising our children. However, it didn't come without baggage. Guilt because we had half the income. Guilt because I left my career. Guilt because it was costing us more money than I was making so I could teach. But, I shoved that guilt down into that weird front pocket of my backpack because I knew it was the best choice for my family.
The years stretched on and so did my backpack. There were times when the guilt pile lessened. "Oh, God. She just banged her head for the 3,000th time. Is she going to have brain damage?" When it became apparent that she was not, that load lightened. But, it was quickly replaced with "Should I have a second baby? Will she be ok sharing me? Will I be able to handle everything since my first baby was so challenging? Did I remember to put sunscreen on her? Is she going to turn into a serial killer because we let her watch Sponge Bob?"
My second pregnancy was excruciatingly difficult. I was sick and miserable and depressed through all 40 hideous, torturous weeks of hell. I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. I felt guilty because I was a deadbeat mom and a terrible wife. There was too much television, not enough outside adventures, absolutely no cleaning or cooking and no happiness at all. I hid from my friends and family because I was a giant, fat, sick pile of misery and everything coming out of my mouth was toxic. I left teaching midway through the year because I couldn't handle my life. My doctor wanted to put me on anti-depressants but I didn't want to put my burgeoning baby through that chemical dependency, withdrawal and chance for birth defects (I mean, being born is hard enough!). Shove this guilt in the backpack's side drink holder!
Then, I had the mother lode of guilt to store. My OB thought I was having a pulmonary embolism. I was hospitalized and required x-rays. I just sat and cried because this could seriously affect my baby. I couldn't even make the decision; my husband had to because I was sobbing too hard to talk (and extra McHot with hives and hiccups). Thankfully my baby and I survived unscathed and there was no damage from the radiation. But, as crap rolls down hill - so does guilt: Is my oldest child being neglected because my newborn demands so much attention? Is she going to grow up to hate me as a result? Is the youngest getting enough attention because the oldest is jealous? Is the youngest getting enough tummy time, exercise, fresh air? Why is my hair falling out in fistfuls? Am I going to be bald?
Then my world shifted on its axis: my husband accepted a position clear across the country. All of the sudden an extension was added to my backpack. I'm taking the girls to paradise but it's on the opposite side of the world from everyone you know and love. Oh, and I won't be working now. Which brings on a whole NEW set of guilt and challenges and wonderful and atrocious.
I never thought I was the kind of person that can be home full time. Lena and I get along much better when we’re not together constantly. And, I have high anxiety and a short fuse. How the hell was I supposed to handle being on call 24 hours a day with no break EVER? There are no sick days. There are no vacation days. There’s just mommyhood. But now I get to be home with my pumpkins in paradise and help shape them into being wonderful adults.
But, there’s a strange stigma with stay at home mom-dom. There are many people that look down at you for making this choice. I have actually had people say to me that they can’t believe how smart I am because they assumed I would be too dumb to have a “real job” which is why I am home. Um, what the fuck? Being home is by far the hardest job I have ever had! I end every day mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted. Because trying not to raise a flock of assholes is really hard work! When there are highs at home – it’s amazing and makes all the sacrifices you have made 150% worth it. But, there are a lot of lows no one really talks about. A lot of crying, whining, fighting – and that’s just me. And you sometimes feel like “I have a Master’s degree and all I do is clean and wipe boogers and butts and referee!” And then you feel the guilt of the world weighing down on your shoulders because you should be enjoying this time and instead you want to hide from it.
Because sometimes I don't want to carpe the diem. Sometimes I want to run away from the diem. I want to find one of those moms that hangs a "Sorry for the mess ~ my kids are making memories" signs and leave my kids with her. Because my house is a mess and the only memories they are making are of me screaming "Stop (Insert one of the following: whining, crying, tattling, fighting, hitting, biting)." And my backpack keeps getting more and more stuffed. I want to seek out Dora the Explorer because that bitch has everything in her mochila and she never falls over like a turtle on its back. Which is what I feel like the weight of the guilt backpack is doing many days.
But, having stood on both sides of the fence I now realize that the grass isn't greener on either side. See, when you work full time you have this guilt that you're away from your kids too much. That they're being raised by someone else. That you're missing all the critical moments in their life. When they're sick you blame the fact that you have to send them to daycare. When they misbehave you are positive others are saying "Well, you know her mother is never around, right? She WORKS which is why that child is a heathen."
However, when you're home all the time you feel guilty that you are "just" a stay at home mom. Your career is over. You are not bringing in any money into the household. What if my husband loses his job or something happens to him or to our marriage? Then where are you? You now have taken time away from the corporate food chain and you're no longer the shark. You're not even a jelly fish. You're more like the salmon now trying to swim upstream against younger and singler (Yes, I know that's not a real word - just go with it for now) and less expensive candidates than you. Most likely they don't have kids to go home to and shoulders that are weighed down by this giant guilt backpack. They are willing to work long hours and crappy assignments because they're paying their dues - which you already paid! And, anytime your husband jokes about you having to get a paper route when you wish to purchase something for yourself it makes another part of you die inside. You are entirely, completely dependent upon another person. And, if you fall on your face, you're screwed. The only thing you're qualified for now is the bald lady at the circus because your hair has never recovered from pregnancy. Your body is stretched out of shape, your eyes look like they've been stomped on by chickens and you'd need a month long coma to really recover from the sleep deprivation and who would really want to hire a train wreck like you anyway???? You’d have to get a job as a stripper at a truck stop so you can support your family and they’d end up getting taken away from you because you turn to crystal meth as a diet plan so you can at least strip at a two star establishment and have enough energy left over to clean your house.
The grass on the other side of the fence is not really grass at all. It's turf. From afar it looks lush and verdant and so appealing that you would give anything just to run through it with bare feet and reckless abandon. However, when you get up close, you realize that it's not real. It's pretty. It looks nice but it's not real. Either side has benefits. Either side has downfalls. Both sides have guilt and people telling you that your choices are wrong. And, you have people looking at you from the other side of the fence wishing vehemently that they could just be in your Manolo Blahniks for a few hours (unless you’re on the SAHM side and then they want to be in your Havaianas).
So, we moms have to bond together to help shoulder this burden. Because this backpack can be suffocating. Share your frustrations with people going through it. You’ll find that you’re not alone. Other moms are experiencing the same guilt. And the same struggles. And the same challenges; some far worse than yours. Oh, and make sure you have a cute backpack. Because it’s much easier to be weighed down by something trendy than some hand-me-down. Although, you might want to get one with wheels.