I believe I am changing the world, one diaper at a time. I have to believe this, or being home with my children would shake my sanity.
There was a time when my life was organized, my body moisturized. The freedoms of childfree adulthood went unappreciated. Now there’s a new normal. I wear the same sweatpants and I constantly pick up toys. Days are full of sidewalk chalk, LEGOs, and the smell of grape cough syrup. The minutia of living with small children causes me to feel like my hours are on automatic replay: make food, serve food, clean up; make food, serve food, clean up. Where my life was once smooth jazz, now it’s a cacophony of cartoons and Raffi on repeat. Some days I don’t brush my teeth. Some days I feel invisible.
Before I became a mother, I thought parenting would be easy. I liked kids and was comfortable around them. I knew how to change a diaper and never wanted a life without children. But my firstborn brought a reality for which I was unprepared. My previous vision of motherhood came from the poetry of Mother’s Day cards. In truth, my children cling to me like leeches, unrelenting bundles of need. It’s difficult to find meaning amid the continuous knock-knock jokes and “Why? Why? Why?” The demands are constant; the crises are hourly. No, you cannot give my plants a haircut. No, your broccoli isn’t poisonous. Yes, you must aim for the toilet. My sense of self, once confident and recognizable, is now at times fleeting and fragile. Gratefulness can be shamefully elusive.
Yet deep down, I know I have the most meaningful job in the world: raising children. I invest all that I know to be true and worthy into impressionable young lives and hope they forgive me when I fall short of what they deserve. While the days are long, the years are speeding by. I take my moments of beauty as they come: baking cookies together, finally finding a babysitter for date night, a stick-figured drawing of our family labeled “We aor happee.” In these moments I see what I have, not what I lack. My carefully pruned former life is now a wild, overgrown garden bursting with color and scent. My life has never been so messy, or so beautiful.
I am a stay-at-home parent and I am thankful to have that choice. This bittersweet tether to the home gives me my sense of belonging and purpose. Though it is easily forgotten during the temper tantrums (both mine and theirs), this glorious tediousness is my calling. I am doing my best to raise children of integrity and compassion, and I trust that these values will pass on to future generations. This is what I offer to the world.
Kristen Hands is a Louisiana native who has called Lexington home for nearly twenty years. She joined a writing group at the Carnegie Center to have conversation with grownups during her kids’ naptime. The basis for this essay originated there.
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