Friday, August 3, 2012

My other full-time job

I am quick to admit that parenting is the toughest job around, and stay-at-home parents have my utmost respect and admiration.  It is a grueling 24/7 gig with few tangible benefits (if you take away those precious Kodak moments).  John and I have juggled childcare duties for the past 6+ years and we have been fortunate to have been able to flex our work schedules in order to be with our kids when they needed us.  We've been lucky enough to attend every school conference and preschool play (yes, even the ones where they stand still and in shock and refuse to say anything or move).  Full disclosure: we were somewhat forced into this arrangement by default as our first child was small and sickly and couldn't handle daycare.  But we knew it was what was best for him, and after a few (major) hiccups with our jobs, we settled into a routine.  In the beginning, it was exhausting.  One parent would be at home all morning with a crying, clingy baby.  When it was time to switch shifts, the other parent would return home, have a baby thrust upon him/her, while the first shift parent went to work (to crawl under the desk and nap).  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  John and I started missing each other, as we only caught passing glimpses where we had time only for a rundown of feeding schedules and medicine updates.  The kids also developed a complex where they would cry when one parent came home, knowing the other one was about to leave.  When there was a boo boo, they always cried for the parent that wasn't there.  When we grew to a family of four, the work and stress more than doubled.  I've written about my depression that followed, much of which could probably be attributed to pure, mind-numbing fatigue and the stress of numerous transitions.  We were blessed with a couple fabulous babysitters along the way (and many more BAD ones) that helped to ease the burden, but we also dreamed of a day when it wouldn't be so difficult.

When I accepted my calling to Hollins University, we knew things would have to change.  My schedule would be full and erratic.  While our childcare burden would be somewhat lighter with both kids in school all day, someone would need to be there to pick them up or get them off the bus.  There were holidays and sick days and summer to consider.  After talking it through, John decided to try being a stay-at-home dad while getting his coin business off the ground.  It was a gift to me and to the kids, and he has handled it all beautifully.  Through hard work, he has built a thriving business that helps to supplement our income (and provide for our daughter's private school tuition and our vacations).  He has also developed a deeper relationship with our children (it's a bittersweet twist that they often ask for him more than me now).  He cooks and cleans and does most all of what needs to be done for our house and for our kids.  This summer, he's been chief entertainer, taxi driver, teacher, enrichment planner, creative genius, fight referee, housekeeper, lifeguard, disciplinarian, artistic coordinator, chef, and more.  He is truly a superhero and I know everyday how very lucky I am (and some days I remember to tell him, too).

I still struggle with letting go of control and not being here more, at least in my heart where my guilt resides.  But I will also admit that I'm usually eager to get out the door and off to work, as it is a retreat of sorts from all the mess and noise and demands.  I am more in control at work, and generally my work has predictable results.  Kids are anything but predictable.  This morning, we woke to the sound that we fear most: the cries of a sick child.  I stayed at home from work to help out, and I was reminded again of all the work it takes to keep the household going.  In addition to the extra loads of laundry that a sick child generates (thank you, John, for the laundry), there's the delicate balance of keeping the kids separated ("quarantined") to prevent the spread of germs, and to entertain one while soothing another.  There is feeding one while explaining to the other why she cannot eat (and reprimanding the first when he rubs it in her face that he gets to enjoy ice cream).  There is the constant cleaning and manic spraying of Lysol that becomes pointless after the sick child spits in the well child's face.  There is the worry that things will get worse, the helpless feeling of not being able to make your child better, and the fear that the germs will spread and take out the entire family (especially as John is preaching and I'm leading worship on Sunday as our pastor will be out of town).  Plans are cancelled or tentatively put on hold ("let's wait and see") and now not only is the child feeling terrible, but may have to miss the birthday party she's been anticipating (and reminding you of daily) for two weeks.

After a day like this, I'm feeling like I've been hit by a train.  How's the sick one doing?  Bouncing off the wall, pulling me by the arm to come upstairs and play (again), begging for a brownie, running up and down the stairs, and dreaming about all the fun she will have tomorrow.  She's the queen of the 2-hour viruses (thanks be to God for quick healing and literally "bouncing back").  There go my hopes of sleeping in (like that's been an option since pregnancy).

Ahh...the resiliency and energy of children.  Now I wish THOSE were contagious.

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