I’m going to confess something about my life with Sam, who is currently two years old, and with whom I spend all of my weekdays:
We go out to lunch together. By ourselves. Sometimes to nice places.
It might not sound like a big deal, but the truth is, it took me a while to realize we could do that.
Then, at some point, I realized that we could go hiking together. By ourselves. Then, I realized we could go on road trips together. By ourselves. And just because some awesome place that I wanted to visit was over an hour away, that didn’t mean we couldn’t pack up the car on a weekday and go there.
Then, last week (after traveling to Colorado and Florida solo with Sam this summer; I guess I’m a little slow on the uptake), I finally realized: we can go anywhere we want together.
The only thing stopping me is my preconceived notion of what moms with kids do on weekdays.
Long before I had Sam, I knew that I wanted to be a mom who hung out with her kids full-time (along with, of course, plenty of side projects). But the term “stay-at-home mom” just never sat right with me. Still doesn’t, two and a half years in, even though that’s technically my job title. My aversion to the term has nothing to do with how I feel about being physically at home; my home is my favorite place on earth. But I like other places, too. I like the open road, and coffee shops, and the beach, and the middle of the city, and cliffs, and airplanes, and cafés, and museums, and grassy fields. Those are the places where I want to raise Sam. But, you know, you get pregnant, and then you look around at all the other people hanging out with kids full-time, and so many of them seem a little bit trapped in their life. When I was pregnant, looking at a playground gave me heartburn (still does, two and a half years in, just a tiny bit), because it was like seeing a picture of my future, sitting on a playground bench growing gray hairs, waiting for my kid to grow up so I could do normal things again.
But I think that moms are the most competent people I know. Moms are rock stars in maneuvering around town with their kiddos. That’s not the issue. I think the real problem is the paradigm that there are certain things that moms with kids do during the week. Here’s the social standard that locks us in: Wait for the weekend to go to interesting places. Don’t go until your husband can go, too. Don’t go unless you can find another mom to go with. Please don’t get me wrong; it’s so important to do things as a family, to spend meaningful time with other moms and kids, and to share your time and adventures with others. But most of us do a good deal of that kind of stuff already. I think there’s a deficit somewhere else, and (at the risk of overstating my point) that’s why I’m writing this post: moms need to be empowered to do things solo with our kids when they’re in our sole care, and to enjoy that as much as we enjoy other pursuits. And I think that if we give ourselves that freedom, it will change how our culture views stay-at-home parenthood. It will revitalize the job title from something vaguely demeaning into something inspiring and desirable.
Here’s the interesting thing, though: going places alone with a tiny kid is in a similar category as going places all by yourself. We don’t live in a culture where it’s cool to be seen by yourself. If you’re doing something alone, it probably means you don’t have anyone to do it with, which is generally considered pitiful. So, you don’t ever see Millenials eating out alone, going stag to a show, or solo road-tripping, regularly, just for the heck of it. People do it, but it’s not common. So we get out of the habit.
Which is really a shame, because here’s the most freeing thing I’ve figured out about being a full-time weekday mom: You can do fun things alone. You are a capable person. You can go on adventures on your own. Not every adventure has to be one where you and your husband load up the whole family. Again, hear me: those adventures are great and important. But if we break out of the paradigm that fun only happens on weekends, suddenly lame old Thursday mornings are fair game. The Tuesday afternoon doldrums aren’t a given anymore. Mondays can finally mean something other than the old looming Sunday night dread.
What about keeping up your home, you ask? What about grocery shopping and fixing dinner and laundry, for goodness sake? Well, you don’t have to go on a big adventure every day. And when you do decide to launch out, you know what? Those chores can wait for a day. And why do you think God invented the freezer (or, for that matter, pizza delivery)? Okay, you say: what about your husband? Isn’t he grumpy that you’re going places without him? The truth is, my husband is thrilled when he finishes work for the evening and Sam and I tumble in, sunburned and exhilarated from all the cool stuff we did, and we regale him with stories and pictures over frozen pizza, and then Sam crashes early and easily because he’s exhausted. Jordan would take that, any day, over the all-too-common scenario where he rolls in from work to find me and Sam frazzled and frustrated at the kitchen table and all I want is a break, a little air, and a big cocktail. Trust me: that happens often enough around here. But that doesn’t have to be the norm. Weekday adventures also mean that when Saturday rolls around, and Jordan is ready to hang around the house and drink coffee in the backyard after a long week at work, I’m not absolutely jumping out of my skin to escape the house (do you ever hit that impasse, or is it just us?). Of course we still hike, explore, and go out as a family on the weekends when we can. That’s important, too. But it’s not the only way to go do cool stuff.
Okay, so, then, maybe you’re thinking, “Well, but, you live in California. There’s cool stuff to do everywhere.” Point taken. It’s a fascinating place to live, but here’s the shocker: mom culture isn’t really any different here. I don’t know many people here who go and explore the infinite California beauty on weekdays. Typically, they save it for the weekend. It’s no judgment on them; I tend to do the same, and also I know they are fully capable of doing whatever they set their minds to do with their kids. But I think there are cultural norms that get in the way. Maybe it just never occurs to us that we can do something different. (And, by the way, I have a long list of adventures to tackle when we move back to Georgia. Waterfalls! Lakeside beaches! Good eats downtown! Nearby cities! You can find interesting things wherever you are.)
Yesterday, we went out for a burger in Big Sur, and I walked up to the hostess booth with Sam in my arms. She asked, “How many?” “Two, please,” I replied. She paused for a second, glanced behind me, and then asked, “Wait, you mean you two?” “Yep!” I said. A smile crossed her face, and she said, “Cool. This way.” Recently, I started recognizing the curious looks from neighboring tables, amused smiles from servers, and sidelong grins from fellow hikers as what they actually are: tiny paradigm shifts. The fact is, people always seem to be pleasantly surprised to see a mom and kid out together, enjoying each other’s company, doing genuinely fun and interesting stuff. In their slow smiles I can see my own paradigm shift: maybe the world doesn’t screech to a halt when you have a kid; maybe parenthood can be more fun than the mommy blogs suggest; maybe there’s hope yet for great parent-child relationships.
Okay, now, to tackle one last question: but isn’t it more work alone? Yes…and no. It takes extra energy, to be sure. I have to be more on my game when I’m out alone with Sam. But in other ways, it’s easier. I’ve found that Sam is more flexible on adventures when it’s just the two of us. We can be on our own timetable. I can give Sam the best part of me, rather than simultaneously trying to keep up adult conversation and juggle other people’s expectations. Generally, Sam understands that I have limitations when I’m alone (there’s no second parent to climb into the backseat to entertain him), but he also knows that he’s got my full attention, so he acts out less. Sure, we get on each other’s nerves. Sometimes there are meltdowns, bail-outs, knock-down-drag-outs. But usually it’s so much better than I expect it will be. The more solo adventures we have, the better we get at doing it. We get into a companionable groove that’s all our own.
And here we come to the best part of it. Ultimately, it’s not just about getting out to see the sights, or even just about keeping myself sane. The real payoff is in learning to see these tiny people as our legitimate pals and adventure buddies, and of creating experiences that suit our unique personalities, interests, and abilities. Sam is a real, full-fledged person. I’m not actually alone when I’m with him; I’m sharing a fully unique experience with him, enjoying his company, and forging our own sort of friendship. For us, in this particular season of life, that means sharing really good burgers, checking out museums, wandering down trails, and driving around California a lot. Meanwhile, you might choose a completely different set of adventures. But that’s the great thing about being able to venture out on your own: there is suddenly a world of options open to you.
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