Today is Mother’s Day, a made-up holiday that, nevertheless, makes me reflect on motherhood; gratitude for the mamas that have influenced my life, my journey since becoming a mother, and the dirty, frustrating, heart-stoppingly beautiful experience that it has been for me.
I just loved this weekend. My sweet Ben (with a little lot of help from his father, Ron) surprised me by doing some painting that I’ve been wanting to do, installing a classy storm door, and doing a front porch makeover complete with painting the wicker furniture and new hanging plants and a welcome mat. What a gift! Then I got to go see a movie with some girl friends on Friday night and spend Saturday and Sunday with my favorite four people in the world…the Miller Friends.
It was great, but my heart was reflecting on Mother’s Day 2013, and a card I received with the simple, yet profound message, “Quit.” A one-word invitation to a leap of faith. One year ago, Ben gave me the gift of being a stay-at-home mom.
I spent the first six years of motherhood as a full-time middle school social studies teacher. I loved it! Of course, there were times when I toyed with the idea of staying home but I always reminded myself of how easy I really had it. I worked super hard for nine months but then had a more flexible work schedule in the summer. (By the way, those of you that think teachers don’t work in the summer may be unaware of the time spent on professional development, classroom cleaning, curriculum planning, etc.. during the summer. No complaints here. I loved doing most of that, but it isn’t the school-free three months that many paint it to be.) I loved the students that I worked with and felt that I was making a difference in their lives. My children stayed with my mom and mother-in-law while I worked. They were loved and cared for. My husband was self-employed with a flexible schedule that allowed him to stay home with a sick child or run kids to the doctor if I couldn’t. The school that I taught at was the same one where my boys started preschool. The school treated me as a professional. My chunks of planning time could be used for doctors appointments and other things without penalty. My job provided great health insurance for a minimal cost, a really important benefit with a self-employed husband. I was engaged in professional leadership and committee work that was inspiring and that made an impact on my students and colleagues. I had colleagues friends that shared my life. Sounds pretty ideal, right?
It was, but September 3, 2010, my perspective changed. Our third son, Bennett, was stillborn at 32 weeks. That loss profoundly changed my view of my motherhood. I spent most of my pregnancy casually carrying that child, as if having another child was just something that you do. I lost the wonder of the miracle, I suppose. In facing his loss, I remembered that I desperately wanted that baby and what was important shifted. I held Max, then four-years-old, and Will, then two, a little bit closer. I looked at my little miracles with new eyes.
In the years between the fall of 2010 and the spring of 2013, I continued balancing as best as I could, this new awareness coloring the way I prioritized but not really changing anything. If anything, my frustration level grew as I saw the kind of mother and wife I wanted to be so much more clearly but was still unable to reach it. During this time we also decided to change our financial family tree. That meant digging in, working, paying off the poor decisions, fighting to be good stewards of the gifts we had been given. Staying home seemed impossible. I didn’t want to drag our family down. I didn’t want Ben to be gone all the time because I wanted to have more time with our kids.
February, 2012 – After holding my breath for forty weeks, our beautiful baby girl was born. She had dark hair with blonde highlights – no joke. Her tongue was always sticking out. Her mouth would later grow into that tongue and she would never stop talking. Oh, how I loved my time home with her that spring. I went back to school for the last couple of weeks of the year and spent a chunk of it in tears. Going back made sense, so I did it.
In August of 2012, after a message series at church on Godly parenting, I remember crying to my dear friend, Dawn, about how I wished I could stay home. I wanted to be a better mom, less tired, less angry. Ben was in his busy season, which meant he would work several nights during the week and weekend. It felt like we were ships passing in the night. Me staying home just didn’t seem possible. It didn’t seem smart. It seemed so selfish.
The school year of 2012-2013 was a tough one. I spent much of the fall semester pretty sick and tired. I wanted to continue nursing Violet so I spent a lot of my time at school making sure she had enough milk to drink. I tried to reestablish a workout routine but couldn’t seem to get consistent at 5:30 a.m. I tried to cook healthy meals and have relaxed family time, but I felt like I was on a treadmill and I couldn’t get off. Worse, I tried to spend time with God but it seemed like just another thing on a list of things I was failing at. The voices in my head were loud, full of accusations about what a sucky teacher, mother, and wife I was.
I was in tumult.
Between January 2013 and March 2013, a dream for a different life was within our reach and then gone. It was an opportunity that we were scared and excited about, but that, as we dreamed, gave us hope that we didn’t realize we had been lacking. While the opportunity didn’t pan out, I credit it with giving us the courage to challenge our assumptions about what was possible and what was fair and to realize that God’s voice didn’t always make sense.
Shortly after Mother’s Day 2013, I quit my job, with tears of sadness and of joy, but also with peace that I had long been missing.
Ben sacrificed. He closed his office to build one at home. He let his assistant go and changed his business to a family-run model. WE are now Premier Productions.
This year has had it’s own challenges. Things have been tight but God has always provided. I’m working hard at the business and caring for my family, but in most cases I’m free to do what matters rather than what is urgent, the next deadline. Our income has gone down, but so have our expenses. I’m cooking, exercising, reading, listening, and laughing a lot more. We’ve built a stronger family this year. We’re listening carefully to God’s voice about what is next for us.
This made-up holiday will always remind me of the leap of faith Ben took with me, and I’ll always be grateful for it.