This Path I Chose

My cousins’ wife posted a link to a blog essay that touched her and moved me as well. It was written by a stay-at-home mom, who left a career to raise children and offered the positives and negatives of her decision. The plusses far outweighed the negatives, in my estimation. Then again, I chose that route as well, only it was 25 years ago.

The question I used to ask myself was, “Do you regret your choice?”

Once or twice I have. For many years, my second daughter, now 25, would throw up my decision to me in anger. I could tell she resented that I didn’t have to help her father earn a living. Our automobiles were not new; we didn’t go on as many vacations as we might have. And, as she struggled through the difficult regimen of electrical engineering, she recognized that from the time I was her age, I didn’t have to work for a living as she was about to do.

This is how it would go:

Me: “You don’t have to worry, we will pay for your tuition/help you with that boat/cover your medical bills.”

She: “Don’t you mean Dad will with Dad’s money?”

Another time a childhood friend of mine came to visit. She remarked, “Look at us now. Who would’ve guessed? You got that fancy degree from Vanderbilt, and I didn’t finish college. Yet, I am the one with the career.” Ouch.

I used to chafe at those sorts of comments and wonder why some of my local friends never asked me what I was up to even as I asked how their jobs/careers were going. Now, at this point in my life, I no longer care! I am the happiest I have ever been. The reasons, some listed below, are clear to me now, and I have no regrets:

1. Seeing real success in front of me

My girls have been my greatest achievement. They have become thoughtful, curious, intellectual, and empathetic adult human beings. They have taken the reins of their lives and made something wonderful from what they were given, both genetically and with nurture. I am enormously proud. Did I help by being at home? I like to think so. I hope so.

I admit that I chose to stay home with them for selfish reasons as much as anything else. I wanted to be with them as they grew up! I started out on the merry-go-round of work weeks and didn’t like it. I chafed at having to pawn off the kids to someone else when they were sick. I knew what I was giving up at the time–good paycheck from great company, business friends. But, I didn’t assess what I was doing to myself by taking myself from the long term job market and rendering myself pretty unmarketable in the long run.

But there were those perks.

My being at home afforded me more time for things like taking the girls to the library and reading books to them, books with creativity and imagination. Next came a calm household where too much scheduling with sports and activities was not allowed. We participated in one sport and one activity at a time, and only IF the child wanted to play/try-out/investigate an activity. Once I became the nagger, the experience ended. No forcing practice, no yelling or cajoling. It never happened that we had to drop a team. But, the next year would be definitely out. We never did sports or obligated ourselves in the summertime. It was ours to spend freely and with imagination. (Now, if we had had boys or tremendous athletes, this might not have been possible. But, for us it worked.)

From the time the girls were young and in school, I would pick them up and immediately talk to them about their days’ experiences. Good and bad. I asked if anyone were left out and if one of the girls had made any inroads into getting people to join in. We talked of kindness and compassion. Then the girls spent hours playing, outdoors if the weather permitted and indoors otherwise. They had time at home. When Daddy arrived, we all sat down to dinner together and shared each person’s activities. Daddy got to come home to very little pressure and very few demands on his time. Sometimes he had to work on a school project that was beyond my scientific capabilities; sometimes he had to fix something or mow the yard. But mainly, he could spend his free time taking the girls on long bicycle rides and going to their soccer games.

I volunteered to teach art lessons from the time the first daughter started school and kept up a routine until the last graduated eighth grade, taking the girls to museums across the country every opportunity to allow them to absorb great works of art. Recently, a childhood friend of the oldest posted this on her Facebook page: “Wasn’t it your mother who taught us art in 4th grade? I held on to that collage we did in class for ages (read: I likely still have it somewhere!). I always wanted to credit her with helping to spark my love of art.” My heart sang when I read this!

2. Finding tenacity within myself

I kept businesses going on the side from the time I quit work until today. At first I used a word processor to type and edit papers for college and graduate students. Over time, I stopped typing and just edited. I found myself arguing theses with budding professors who valued my judgment and editing skills. These endeavors kept my brain from imploding from lack of stimulation. I also began writing my own book.

I painted furniture and walls as new techniques exploded on the design world. I used rags, sponges, and brushes to paint landscapes, murals, and intricate designs on everything from fireplaces to tables to bedroom suites. As I did this, I had three small children and a puppy underfoot with no housecleaning service to save me. I had no studio, only my kitchen floor. I often cried at the mess. But I kept trudging along. Later I worked with shells and other materials and sold my work online, through local businesses, and at shows.

I once sold my services to businesses around town as a welcome wagon. I identified newcomers to our town and gathered the free gifts and certificates to get them to frequent our stores and other businesses. I ran this business for over a year until the real Welcome Wagon put me out of commission. That was okay by me; I struggled with three businesses and three children at the same time anyway.

3. Making hay out of things around me and inside me

Without the freedom to create, I never would have learned to sew and make all of my window treatments and many of my daughters’ clothing. I learned to paint houses using oil and acrylic and can understand the intricacies of each. By trading my services and branching out into interior decorating and photo styling, I have valuable software tools like Photoshop and Quark. I parlayed these tools and talents into a sideline design business that ultimately landed my kitchen in the September 2008 issue of Better Homes and Gardens.

Mostly, without this freedom, I never would’ve found my voice. For, first and foremost, I am a writer. My articles are published monthly in the Lawrence County Advocate. For any writer, this is a true accomplishment. I have a following and the respect of my editor and publisher. I will be forever grateful for their giving me a chance to do what I love.

4. Freeing up my husband to live his own dream

My adored husband, who makes this life possible for me, lives his dream as well. For a great part because I am content to live and create from a farm in Tennessee, he can focus on his career, driving quite a distance, to have the peace that comes from land ownership. He can stay late, travel, attend events, and commit to virtually anything because I always have him backed up at home. He can tool around the farm on his Saturdays and Sundays now doing whatever he pleases. He doesn’t have to worry about laundry, housekeeping, gift buying, or visiting. I can take care of everything during the week.

We love our farm life. We love what his daily toil away from home and my daily toil at home have created. We work in sync. We dream in sync. We are the happiest we have been in our lives at 50, and if we could, we wouldn’t change a thing. (Well, except maybe we would add that master bathroom and barn.) I used to worry about not being the career-woman-role-model I thought the girls or my husband or I might need, but I do not worry any longer. They see me write; they read my oftentimes densely political op-ed essays and more lighthearted Lifestyles pieces. They know that I am trying to change the world, one article at a time.

My middle child sat with me one evening and told me that she had had an epiphany. She met a sad man with a wife who didn’t work, who didn’t nurture his child, who wouldn’t even leave the house to see her play ball. She said she sat back and thought of what her life at home was like with her own mother. She started listing things she remembered to me, things she was grateful for. Tears rolled down my cheeks. She said, “I didn’t mean to make you sad.” I couldn’t even tell her that I was not crying tears of sadness. I just kept saying to myself, She remembers!

This was our choice, mine and my husband’s. By no means do I judge women who must work to put food on the table and give children their start in life. They strive and juggle the demands of family and make the best of what they face. I have the greatest respect for them and for others who do not have the same options I have had. Ultimately, I am grateful for the  privilege of my freedom. It is something I value more than I can say.