Just a Mom

I recently quit my job.

And when I say I quit my job what I mean is that I stopped teaching piano lessons out of my home.

I've been teaching piano lessons for ten years. I was a piano major in college and started teaching a few students during my junior year. The first thing I did when Alex and I bought our house (10 days before our wedding) was get a piano so that I could start teaching from home, and I've been doing it ever since. I've always been proud of myself for actually using my less-than-practical degree. And I was especially proud of myself when I kept my studio going after I started having kids.  It was a creative outlet that I've really enjoyed and that has helped my life feel a little more balanced.

Until now.

I've been balancing my work-from-home job and being a mother for four years, and well, I'm losing my balance. No, I've lost my balance, and I'm spiraling out of control.

Coordinating babysitters, arranging who would pick up and drop off  Johnny at school, strategizing meals that I could make ahead of time and eat quickly between students, keeping our main living areas company-ready for half of the week, screwing up naps and bedtime because of lessons - all these things were making me crazy. All that combined with the regular chaos and sleep deprivation of life with small children, a husband in grad-school, and a child with medical needs that are far from being resolved, had me feeling like I was drowning and couldn't come up for air. To top it all off doing a very extroverted type of work - teaching kids - left my introverted self feeling completely drained at the end of the day, making me annoyed with my family and unpleasant to be around.

I want my family to come first - I want to give my very best for them. But instead of giving my best I found myself being half-present, always looking to the next thing, and treating my family like they just another item on my long to do list.

One night in January I was crying to Alex about how I couldn't go on like this. Something needed to change. He couldn't quit school, we couldn't get rid of our kids (not that we'd ever want to - that was a joke), we couldn't change our oldest child's medical needs. So that left teaching piano. That was something we could change.

As soon as Alex suggested I stop teaching I felt a wave a relief. But I also felt some stubborn pride. I had worked so hard to build my studio over the last decade. I liked being able to contribute to our finances in some way. I liked having something to do that was separate from parenting. I liked that I wasn't just a mom.

But being a mom is the best thing I've ever done! Having my children and caring for them has been my greatest accomplishment - more than my degree, or any of the jobs I have had, or any travel I had done, or talents I have developed. Even if I end up doing amazing things later in my life, I feel certain that nothing will top this experience of having partnered with God in the miracle of creation. And if quitting my job can help me be a better mom, and better enjoy these long days and short years with my kids, then that's what I should do.

So I quit my job. Not all at once. I finished out the semester, gave my students time to find a new teacher, and held one last recital. And now I'm done.

Now I'm just a mom. There are still demands, but the demands are not pulling me in different directions. My days are still busy, but there is less going on, the pages on my calendar have become very blank. I don't need to shower and put on my make up first thing in the morning anymore, although I usually still do, because I like feeling put together. I don't need to plan or coordinate and strategize to get my family through the day. We can move at our own pace.

And you know what? If feels really good.

This Is A Job

I've got a new approach to this whole Stay-At-Home Mom thing this year. Just for a point of reference, my old approach was to try to relax as much as possible, stay in my pajamas as long as possible, and try to do as much knitting as possible. But this kind of parenting was actually causing some problems. Like, when I actually needed to be getting ready my kids were always really crabby. Leaving me putting on my makeup to the tune of two screaming babies, which is not a peaceful experience.  Or when I was doing my enjoyable hobby I had this constant lurking feeling that I should be doing something else (probably because I was ignoring piles of unfolded laundry and saving dinner prep for the witching hour), making it hard to enjoy my enjoyable hobby.

So here's my new approach. I'm treating being a Stay-At-Home Mom like it's a job.  Because it actually is a job.

I've never felt embarrassed by the fact that I'm a stay-at-home mom. I've known for some time that this is what I want to be doing. I also feel no judgment toward moms who want to or need to work outside the home. But I do often feel frustrated that I "got nothing done" all day. That is, I got nothing done beside cooking three meals, keeping my family in clean clothes, cleaning the kitchen, twice, changing a host of diapers, grocery shopping, staying on top of appointments, bills, and budgets and, oh yeah, teaching about ten hours of piano lessons out of my home each week which I don't really talk that much about on here, but that's a job, too. And at the of the day when I crawl into bed my body is tired and my feet are sore from the full day of work I put in. So why do I feel like I got nothing done? Why does my life feel insignificant?

It feels insignificant because I've been treating it as insignificant.

I don't know if it was some subliminal messaging from the society I live in, or my own misconceptions, but somewhere along the road I started feeling like the things I do all day don't matter as much as the things other people do all day. And because I wasn't valuing the things I was doing, they started to seem tedious to me.

But when I really stop and think about it, there's isn't anything else I'd rather be doing. Well, except for maybe professional wine tasting. Or unless you could pay me a lot of money to knit while I watch The Newsroom. But in all seriousness, I'm really happy as a Stay-At-Home Mom. And even though my work is hidden from world and I don't receive a paycheck for it, it is real work that contributes to the well being of my family. So I'm going to treat it that way.

And this is how:

Get up. I'm setting an alarm and getting up when it goes off even if the kids are still sleeping.

Get ready. I'm getting myself ready for the day before Alex leaves the house, and then I don't need to worry about doing it later when kids are melting down for their naps.

Eat breakfast. A cup of coffee and a cookie doesn't count. Everyone does better when mama has some protein in the morning.

Make hay while the sun shines. Or rather, when the babies are happy. I'm using the morning hours when everyone is happiest to get my most pressing chores done. This is usually making sure I have dinner planned and maybe even getting it into the crock pot or oven, and doing one or two cleaning chores, like vacuuming, or a load of laundry, or emptying the dishwasher.

When I'm on, I'm on. If I were at a "real job" I wouldn't be trying to sneak in an episode of 30 Rock, or knit under my desk. (At least I don't think so. . . .) Instead of escaping to my hobbies whenever I can, I am present with my children, building train tracks, stacking blocks, and lots of nursing.

Nap time is me time. That sacred hour, that respite for the weary. When the babies are sleeping I bust out the chocolate and my knitting, or blogging, or whatever else I want to do. And because I've been on top of my chores earlier in the day, I can enjoy my break 100% guilt free.

Get out of the house. Alone. And grocery shopping doesn't count. Being a mom is 24/7 job. I'm always on the clock. But if I can get out of the house by myself once or twice a week, it's enough of a break to refresh and energize me. We're not very good at implementing this one yet. Ideally we'd have a set day and time each week that I would leave, but the craziness of Alex's school makes that a little difficult right now. But I'm trying to get out, and when I do, I really notice the difference it makes.

We're three weeks in and so far my new approach has been working really well. I feel good about the amount of stuff I get done each day. I feel like I am getting some breaks. I'm losing my temper less with my children. Some days are still hard, I don't always wake up as early as I should, or people don't always nap as long as I'd like. But at the end of the day when my body is tired and my feet are sore I take it as a sign that I put in a good day of sanctifying work. Because this is a job, a calling, a vocation. And it's making me a holier person.

Deep Water

Lately I've been tired. Not just sleep deprived, but a burned-out kind of tired. I feel like I'm doing the same things day after day. Cleaning up the same messes, cooking the same meals, getting up with the baby at the same times during the night, giving the toddler the same instructions over and over again. Sometimes it feels like a thankless job with no visible results. Sometimes I get discouraged, and I get tired, and I get worn out. When I stop and think about it, I know that what I'm doing is important, I really do. But sometimes I just with I could see some fruit for all of my labor.

 Then I read a gospel passage like this:
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.” (Luke 5:1-5)
I know I've read these verses before, but this time the words are jumping off the page at me. I understand exactly how Simon Peter felt. He was tired and discouraged, he'd been up all night long, he'd just finishing cleaning those nets for crying out loud! And Jesus wants him to go out there again?

Clearly Peter's obedience was rewarded, and Christ revealed His divinity through it. But there's another reason this story stands out to me as so amazing; it's because I know how it ends. I know what Simon Peter goes on to do- cast out demons, heal the lame, stand in the empty tomb, hear the rushing wind of the Spirit and speak in tongues at Pentecost. And it blows my mind to think that when Jesus found him he was tired and discouraged from being up all night- just like me.

Just when I think I've finished my work, when I've gotten both kids down, and the kitchen is cleaned up, and the laundry pile is taken care of, when I've made my cup of tea and am about to settle into a comfy spot on the couch with my book, (who am I kidding? with my Netflix) invariably someone wakes up to be fed, or to be tucked in again. I exhale with a sigh of exasperation, can't I just catch a break? But I should pay attention, because Jesus is passing by, and He is calling me into the deep water of my vocation.

"Lord, I've been up all night, and I haven't caught anything!"  "I know," he says, "but do it again, so I can show you my abundance." 

There's an abundance in my life whether I like it or not.  Every day an abundance of opportunities to show love to my family.  And not just the kind of love that looks good on Instagram. Service, love in action. The kind of love that gives of itself and lays down its life. It's hard to love like that. But there's also an abundance of grace that helps me to love, imperfect and selfish though I be. Maybe right now I can't see the fruit of my love in action, the catch that is sinking my boat, but I have to believe it's being made, and stored up in eternity.

For the time being I am in deep water, and it's right where Jesus has called me to be. It's not easy, but there is so much more here than if I had just stayed on the shore.