When I was counting down the days until I could give notice at Workplace, I was filled with a growing, jittery sort of anticipation that kept veering into dread. I was secretly afraid I’d find that I hated staying home with the kids.

I thought it might be like maternity leave, that being my only experience with staying home full time. And really, for all the wonderful, amazing moments that did happen during both of my maternity leaves, and for all the ambivalent, sometimes-truly-unhappy feelings I had about going back to work when they were over (which seemed stronger the first time around; I think after Dylan was born I was chomping at the bit to get back to an office), I kind of . . . didn’t enjoy those months. Very much. At all.

I mean, obviously being home with a newborn is a totally different situation. You’re walloped with so much insanity all at once—physical discomfort, roiling hormones that continually whip your brain from giddy transcendent joy to a murky froth of utter despair, depressing bodily lane-changes from Lovely Glowing Vessel of Life to Puffy Disfigured Lumpen Oozing Pile of Weaksauce, tortuous sleep deprivation, and so on. It’s a wonder any of us survive it, really.

Plus, I don’t know if everyone gets The Terror, but I sure did. That’s when you think every single tiny thing your baby does means he’s dying, from the way he snorfles when he breathes to the mini-geyser of milk he deposits in your bra. Sleeping for a long time? Not going to wake up! Crying inconsolably? Wracked with fatal internal injuries! Yawning? Struggling for oxygen! When you’re gripped by The Terror, ALL ROADS LEAD TO DEATH.

Have you seen that internet video with the baby panda sleeping near its mom, and out of nowhere it lifts its head and blasts out this sharp, super-loud sneeze, and the mom panda nearly falls over from shock? Like she’s thinking, what the FUCK was that? That’s The Terror, right there.

So part of my brain knew that being home this time would be different than sitting around all day hunkered nervously over a baby, occasionally holding a mirror over his mouth, but I was also thinking of how utterly lonely it was to be home with a baby all day, no one to talk to, and how leaving the house was such an expedition—just getting to the point of being able to walk out the front door was exhausting enough, and then 9 times out of 10 I’d have to turn right around and change a blowout diaper or scrape milk-barf off my shirt or whatever. I was thinking of how the hours used to stretch like taffy and go on and on and on and on and on. How I’d look at the clock thinking that surely JB would be home any minute and it would be, like, 10 AM. How when he did get home, I’d snap at him for daring to step onto the carpet and alter the fibers which I’d arranged as pathologically as the scene in Pink Floyd’s The Wall when Pink enshrines the smashed-up contents of his room because the one and only thing I’d managed to accomplish all day long was vacuuming that fucking carpet I WANT A DIVORCE.

Of course, it’s been nothing like that. Being home with walking, talking children is nothing like being home with a newborn, and oh, thank god, I am finding it about a trillion times more enjoyable.

(At this point I feel I should worriedly point out that I’m only describing my own experience and feelings here and your maternity leave is going to be awesome, okay?)

I don’t really know if I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do think this opportunity came along at just the right time for me. I don’t think I would have been happy staying home with a baby. I’m pretty sure I would have lost my damn mind during the early-18-month zone. And I’m not saying that the full time company of a 5-year-old and a 2.5-year-old is on par with, say, a soothing hot stone massage or anything, but . . . well, it’s so much better than I thought it would be.

I love to be right. Doesn’t everyone? But sometimes it’s even better to be wrong.


32 Responses to “Preconceived notions”

  1. Emily on September 18th, 2010 10:26 am

    My husband & I just came to the arduous decision that we should pull my almost-3-year-old out of daycare to save money during my maternity leave (which starts 4 weeks from Monday). I am now peeing myself and hyperventilating into a bag, so, thanks for that :)

  2. Fiona on September 18th, 2010 10:26 am

    Yeah, you described portions of my maternity leave to a tee! Although I did enjoy those long afternoons spent in Costa Coffee with a small child attached whilst I read a book (hmm, should perhaps have been writing one like my neighbour, Ms Rowling…opportunity missed there). And it only gets better – 12 has been a vintage year for my son…he can cycle at my speed and run faster, which makes for some great outings.

  3. Amanda on September 18th, 2010 10:55 am

    So, I googled the panda video. And I started laughing before it even loaded. Because I’ve had too much caffine, and although sneezing baby animals scaring the piss out of their moms is high on my list of things I find funny, it was more that I KNOW THE TERROR. It was nervous, terrified twittering laughter, the laughter of someone remembering something terrible with great unease but THANK GOD THATS FUCKING OVER HOLY SHIT WE SURVIVED! You were totally speaking my language. Our baby had colic, so I was pretty sure he was suffering from Gut Rot Of Death and Also Dying, Seriously Why Won’t You Help My BABY. I remember the Terror.

    That video is the perfect illustration of it, if very brief and not nearly teary enough. (Do Pandas cry? Back to google.)

  4. Melissa on September 18th, 2010 11:11 am

    Must see that panda video but you nailed the description of the first few months at home with a newborn. So glad it’s better than you expected. I stay at home with the kids and I just recently had my third. It’s thrown a wrench into how well things were going with my 4 year old and 2 year old. He’s 5 mos now but baby time at home is very, very hard. Rewarding too but very hard. Keep up the good work, Momma. Actually with all of your homeschool talk, I’ve been inspired to keep my kids busy with more educational projects and ideas from homeschool sites. So thanks! Now if we can just get the right buyer for your house….

  5. lindsay on September 18th, 2010 12:19 pm

    I think everything happens for a reason, but sometimes the reason is just that life isn’t fair.

  6. Kathy on September 18th, 2010 12:25 pm

    I stayed home with my first baby for 6 weeks and, love the kid though I do, I hated being a stay-at-home parent. I was sure that made be a terrible human being, not wanting to spend every waking (and sleeping, and half-sleeping) moment with mah preshus babeeee).

    I went back to work and loved every second of it!

    With kid #4, I stayed home for two year and loved it, too.


  7. Bethany on September 18th, 2010 1:05 pm

    I love being a stay-at-home Mom and am so very glad I do. My husband and I have this conversation all the time. I often wonder if I just got lucky with the fit or if others have preconceived notions that don’t turn out to be reality. Either way, I’m glad for Moms like us who are pleasantly surprised.

    Is that saint buried in your front yard doing his thing?

  8. Amy on September 18th, 2010 2:06 pm

    Uh. I’m the opposite. I loved staying home with a baby: the snuggling, sleeping, watching adult tv, reading, cute-little-baby care was awesome. Staying home with a 3-year-old is kicking my ASS. What do you people DO all day? Because pretty much all I do is discipline and try to entertain for 11 hours a day, which is not really my cup of tea.

  9. Marie Green on September 18th, 2010 2:34 pm

    Oh, I’m so glad that it’s going well for you. Enjoying my children- actually enjoying them and not just mindlessly caring for them- is one of my favorite states of being.

  10. Mel on September 18th, 2010 3:00 pm

    OMG, thank you Amy. I was nearly weeping with thoughts of your same sentiment. I’m a recent lay-off at home with a 3 year old, 2nd babe due in 3 months, and I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM DOING. I spend all day frustrated with potty training, discipline, and never ending tonka truck play. Let’s just blame mom’s impatience and weepiness on big changes and hormones, shall we? Cause really– this is a fantastic opportunity. Linda– toss some of that energy and optimism my way, ok? You continue to inspire, lady.

  11. Linda on September 18th, 2010 3:26 pm

    Amy & Mel: I think having a 5yo around along with a toddler makes a world of difference. I’m not spending my whole day in 2.5-year-old land, you know what I mean? And they play together a lot. Of course, they FIGHT a lot too, but still.

  12. kim on September 18th, 2010 3:34 pm

    I agree – having 2 kids at home is (in many ways) so much easier than having one (if they are the right ages) because sometimes they entertain each other. The soul-sucking WATCH THIS MOMMY! never ends and I can only pretend to enjoy child play for so long before my brain melts. :) I’m happy you’re enjoying it, that it came at the right time for you and that sometimes it’s great to wrong.

  13. Judy Schwartz Haley | CoffeeJitters.Net on September 18th, 2010 5:22 pm

    so when does the “Puffy Disfigured Lumpen Oozing Pile of Weaksauce” part end, cuz my baby’s at 18 month’s and I’m not seeing an end in sight

  14. Christina on September 18th, 2010 6:38 pm

    I think I always thought I felt this way about my maternity leaves but looking back I suppose I did not. I think I desperately wanted the best of both worlds even back then. I wanted to work and be a mommy to my kids but I had to make a choice and that sucked. I felt sad about leaving both.

    Now I get to do that (the best of both worlds thing) and it is pretty great. It is easier in some ways now that they are older but the difficulties are still there just in different ways. I spend all day with our two year old two days a week while my five year old is at school. What I am most in awe about is how I used to think the time at this age with just my five year old was drudgery in many ways. What I believe is different now is that I cherish the one on one time differently, more with the two year old and I just did not get that when we had one child.

    Also, I suppose time lessens many things :)

  15. Melanie on September 18th, 2010 7:02 pm

    I’m going through almost the EXACT same thing right now in that I’m stay home FULL full time (I’ve had summers off previously from teaching) for the first time and my kids are 7 and 4. I didn’t stay home when they were tiny and it seems I’ve done it backwards from most people’s timeline. Except that it seems like the kids are enjoying it more now than they would’ve when they were itty bitty. They maybe NEED it more, being so talkative and in need of parental guidance. We were also really lucky in the care they received and I never felt a moment’s pause about the time they spent there. I guess this comment is becoming a post…I’d better ponder it a bit and write something for myself at my place. :-) All I really wanted to say was that I get it and yup.

  16. Cara on September 18th, 2010 7:32 pm

    I’m enjoying my maternity leave, even with a baby that will never let me sit still, much less read. Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets done during the day, but we consider it my job to entertain the baby. Its okay if nothing gets done. (As my husband commented the other night, as the baby yelled because I dared put her down in order to make a cup of tea, “being a Mom is a lot of work.”) I think it helps that we live within walking distance of most things, and so we get out a lot.

  17. jonniker on September 18th, 2010 8:22 pm

    PFFFT. I am currently mired in 18-month-old hell, as everyone around me knows, and I will take SIX 18-month-olds over a newborn, any day of the week. God The Terror is awful. I was so terrified, all the time. EVERY road leads to death. And while yes, you worry about your kid when they are older, the worry never stops, BLAH BLAH BLAH MISERY POKER BLAH, at least when they’re, say, six months and up, you don’t have to lie in a bald state of sweaty panic when they are ASLEEP. Which is ALLLLLL you do with a newborn. Or all I do. Whatever.

    At least when my kid is ASLEEP, I can enjoy a restful, relaxed state of being, knowing that she is safe, and asleep, for now. A newborn? Jesus, sleep practically equals DEATH.

  18. Katy on September 19th, 2010 12:44 am

    I still get THE TERROR and my number 3 is 7 months tomorrow. Maybe it will fade by the time he is 18…

    I am so glad you are enjoying being home. I have spent the last year at home with 4 year old, 3 year old and baby and it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I feared. Stressy sometimes, yes, but they’ve mostly been good. Except the times my face has gone beetroot red from screaming..

  19. Kaitlyn on September 19th, 2010 4:28 am

    My kids go o daycare for three days a week while I’m in school, and it’s the absolute perfect balance for us. I’ve never wanted to be a full time SAHM, but I also can’t deal with working 40 hours a week and not having the one-on-one time with them. We’re so extremely blessed that we’re able to manage our situation now and that it’s very likely in the future (when I’m finished school) that I’ll be able to get a 24-30 hour/week job with a company I’ve worked with for years in the past.
    I’ve been full time SAHM, and it made me feel… invisible, you know? I was the one cleaning and managing the house and although my husband is great, I felt completely unappreciated. My daughter was also under a year at the time, so it’s not like she was a great conversationalist, and that makes a difference. I’ve also worked 50 hours a week and I hated that even more. The only time I enjoyed being at home full time was for the first nine months of my second daughter’s life. I was Madame Homemaker and I loved it. But yeah, for us, P/T childcare and P/T university for me is what works the best.
    I’m glad you’ve found a system that works for you. I’m glad this was a good change and you were finally able to break free from a job that was sucking you dry.

  20. NancyJ on September 19th, 2010 6:01 am

    I was so anxious to get back to work when I was on maternity leave that I kept taking my baby into the office to visit! I was bored out of my skull. But that’s just me.
    When I had the opportunity to quit work my son was almost 10 and it was wonderful! I felt like in the early years I NEEDED the help of “the village” to raise him! I think we all did a pretty good job for him.

  21. Amy on September 19th, 2010 8:32 am

    Man, I love this post. I had to literally stop reading and pull my husband over so I could re-read the Pink Floyd carpet vacuum description to him so we could both nod/cringe in remembered agreement about how much we love our kids but how effing thankful we are that they are no longer babies. Lord help us.

    I have kids almost the exact ages of yours and we are also doing this exact same thing as you. Crazy. We just decided this year to homeschool. My daughter did preschool last year and is a sept b-day who I didn’t feel was ready for Kindergarten and we didn’t really want the huge expense of the same class in preschool all over again, so enter homeschool. It’s been so super fun so far. I had no idea I was cut out for this, but it seems to be a good fit. But I think you’re right — it’s all about stages in life. And I think I’m at a good place right now. If I had a newborn around, I might not be in such a healthy mental place right now to tackle educating my kids at home by myself.

    Anyway, good luck to you! Glad to have yet another reason to keep reading your inspiring writing!

  22. Lisa S. on September 19th, 2010 10:56 am

    Going on maternity leave in 5 weeks and now … not so much looking forward to it. At least we have hardwood floors so I won’t be divorcing my husband over the vacuuming issue. Over the dirt he tracks in on the floors, maybe, but not over vacuuming!

    (It is reassuring to know that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the theme of pregnancy, labor, delivery and the first few months, isn’t it?)

  23. June on September 19th, 2010 12:16 pm

    Please, please share how you are keeping your home realtor-walk-through ready while having 2 kids home FT. We’ve decided to put our house on the mkt soon (perhaps next spring at the latest?), and I am pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to keep the house presentable with a 2-yo, twin infants, and a FT job.

    I had the time dripping standstill experience with my first baby, the Queen of Colic. I remember pacing by the dining room windows for hours, waiting for my husband’s car to pull in, while Meredith screamed. Those are not good memories.

    This time around, I arranged for only a 6-wk maternity leave, but I am only working PT right now, with a slow ramp-up to FT from July through December. What this means is that I get a few hours of relief from baby care each day, which helps me be a better mom the rest of the time.

  24. Brooke on September 19th, 2010 1:37 pm

    Thank you for the parenthetical disclaimer! I’m suddenly even more worried about surviving the first several weeks with a newborn… It’s so nice to hear that you are having a good experience working from home. It seems like an ideal situation in so many ways.

  25. Amy on September 19th, 2010 3:44 pm

    “I WANT A DIVORCE” Literally laughed out loud at that whole paragraph. Brilliant. And I am one of those who actually enjoys newborns–yet I still felt that way much of the time. As they get older, it’s sooo much easier to be with them, they require so much less from you. Of course, they get smarter too, so you have to work your brain more often. I’m embarrassed at how quickly my 6 and 7 year old can outsmart me. But they are pretty delightful, too. And I don’t have to wipe anybody’s butt!

  26. Rachael on September 19th, 2010 8:31 pm

    Just after I made my mind up (at 34) that I could cope with getting pregnant and having a baby, you’ve gone and dashed all my romantic notions that I had finally convinced myself of about how great it is going to be to have a baby and be on maternity leave and actually have a year off from work!

    Oh and I had planned to start a new business in that year too. Ha!!!

    I know, it was all a pipe dream anyway but I did what I had to to get myself over the ‘will I won’t I’ hump. And I’m pretty good at kidding myself (no pun intended).

  27. Kathleen on September 20th, 2010 9:40 am

    YAY! So glad it’s working. This entry? Describes EVERY ONE of my fears about staying home. Glad to know it can be better! And “the terror”? Hee.

    Although, for @Rachel – if you just acknowledge going in that there is not point in productivity during maternity leave? It may not be that bad – I was looking forward to three months off the career treadmill and fully committed to hours of sitting on the couch while my baby snoozed on me (once I got over the OMG SIDS terror- yes, he napped, I could tell he was breathing, fine). It was actually pretty nice in some ways.

  28. HollyLynne on September 20th, 2010 1:47 pm

    The Terror! YES! I had it, complete with episodes where I’d thrash around in my sleep looking for the baby in the bed (He was never in the bed during those months. He was in his cradle next to our bed, as my husband would genlty point out as I tossed blankets across the room. Sometimes I’d SEE him in his cradle and then say to my husband “I know, help me look anyways”)

  29. Melissa on September 21st, 2010 6:28 am

    Oh man! I had the Terror with my first son. It was so bad. SOOOOO BAD. And I am expecting my second in February. And I am being laid off in October and I will be at home with my 2 year old, a new born and my husband??!?!? For 6 months?!?!?! This does not bode well.

    But you give me hope, maybe it will be better than I think. Probably not though, the 2 year old can take off his pants. SAVE ME. SEND HELP.

  30. Mary on September 21st, 2010 8:25 am

    Oh, I love your disclaimer. :) I’m so glad you love being home with the boys. It does go so fast.

    I was the opposite, too. Lovely Growing Vessel of life? Er, more like miserable, hormonal, whiny whale, convinced that pregnancy would NEVER be over. The first few weeks at home were a wide roller coaster between “It’s all so beautiful” tears to “Holy shit this SUCKS” tears, then evened out into a happy nesting never-want-to-go-back-to-work love fest, though as maternity leave ended I was gradually feeling more ready to leave the house.

    Now (she’s 9 months), we do part time at home and part time in the office, which is right where I need to be for my own kid/work balance-o-happiness, and so grateful for that option.

  31. babs on September 22nd, 2010 10:01 am

    Gosh, you are such a talented writer! My baby is 6 weeks old today and you absolutely nailed how I’ve been feeling. I’m sitting here trying to psych myself up for running an errand… it’s awesome to get out of the house, but god, the effort it requires. AND you are so right about The Terror. So glad that you’re enjoying your current time at home… it’s nice to know about the light at the end of the tunnel.

  32. Nicole on October 4th, 2010 3:57 pm

    OMG – The Terror! YES! Mine never went completely away… Damn.

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