When you're dead, do you think anyone is going to remember you for the work you did? Maybe if you're a brilliant artist, perhaps. But for most of us, the answer is no. But if you were a fabulous Mama, your grandkids will hear about you. Your great grandkids will hear about you. You will live on in stories for generations. You will create the kind of people that make a difference in the world, the kind of people who are a force for good, every day of their lives.
In second grade, my teacher told me I could do anything I wanted to with a mind such as I possessed. My grandfather told me I could grow up to be president. Indeed, he suggested the military as a good route by which to pursue this lofty goal. I received plenty of encouragement and a good self image in my home. I was raised to speak my mind, to reason my arguments, to consider myself the equal of every person I met. "You're a smart girl," I was told, over and over, by people who loved me well. "You can be anything you want to be."
Apparently I wanted to be a Mama.
Yep. After a childhood of careful indoctrination with the feminist having it all mindset, I went right out at nineteen and got myself a husband, and in short order, a pair of rugrats to complete the set. I nursed them, taught them to read and count, kept them at home with me until they were five years old. I took them back home with me when the public school system failed them. Homeschooling is my life, now. My kitchen is a science lab, my living room a library, my backyard a P.E. class.
And I don't feel bad about it, not one little bit.
People often ask me "How do you do it?" as if childrearing is the most incomprehensible idea on the planet. Don't I get bored? Don't I want something MORE for myself? What about ME?
I'll let you in on a little secret. I never wanted to be president. I don't even want to work. I have to, because that marriage I made at nineteen, it went belly up at twenty nine. But in a perfect world? I'd chase children and volunteer at church, and I could be completely happy with that. I'd make a couple more babies and be the bake sale, sunday school teaching kind of Mama. I have no innate drive to "work" anymore than is vitally necessary to put food onto the table. I don't feel a sense of accomplishment or pride in the work I do outside of my role as mother to my children. It's a job, a paycheck, and nothing more. But what I do at home? Is my sense of self worth, is the only job that feels fulfilling and RIGHT to me.
Here's the thing that I don't DARE admit in public. I don't think women ought to have to work. Ever. Period. Biologically we're designed for the care and nurturing of a family. And I think most women feel that calling, and try to answer it by having children. But we get such messages from the world at large that we try to be all things to all people; Mama to the kids, sex kitten to the husband, wage slave to the boss. And in the end, we do all these jobs rather badly.
There's something cruel and unnatural in ripping a new nursing mother away from her six week old infant for hours at a time every day. It undercuts the natural bond between mother and child. It short circuits the parenting process. Already the child is receiving the message that he doesn't come first. It's a message we'll reinforce over the years with daycare, babysitters, missed little league games and piano recitals, latchkey kids and unchaperoned highschoolers. It's a message inherent in every drive through McDinner when Mama hasn't the time to cook a meal.
You ever wonder about the people who send Jr. to daycare or preschool with a raging fever hidden by tylenol? I know I do. I look at a sick kid whining for his Mommy and I wonder where the hell it happened; when she made that disconnect that allowed her to remove her baby from the forefront of her thoughts. What about the folks who forget their baby in a carseat for eight hours? How the devil does it happen, that one's offspring becomes an afterthought?
And I've come to the conclusion it happens in increments. A little bit here, a little bit there. Each incident stealing a little bit of a mother's soul, killing her feminine instincts. It begins when she gets pregnant, and the option is out there; this is not yet a person, she can get rid of it if she wants. Already that life is cheapened. Then she gives birth. The bonding process begins. She has a choice then, will she nurse this infant or put it to a bottle? And there is no shame in either choice; but forgoing the breast for the bottle means a loss of those mothering hormones, losing that little bit of connection with the child. It's just another increment, and a small one, but they add up over time. Then comes daycare. When she hands her most precious creation over to someone else to nurture and love, and goes off to put her mind to something else. A career, a project, or even the mindlessness of mechanical factory work. For some hours a day, she'll be separate from this helpless little person to whom she is connected in the deepest way possible. Then come the school years; when she turns her baby over to the state, and entrusts his wonderful, amazing little mind to the school system. By this time, she's already lost much of that maternal bond, but by the time Jr. graduates from high school it'll exist almost entirely in name only. She won't know his friends, his thoughts, his secret dreams and wishes. His peers will become the dominant force in his life, and the main recipients of his loyalty. Then he'll be an adult. And she'll wonder why he doesn't see her very often. He may go months without calling his parents; he may choose to not turn up for Christmas or forget to send something for Mother's day or her birthday. She will wonder "Where did we go wrong? Where did we lose him?"
And my answer for her is that it didn't happen in one go. In fits and starts, from the time he was a baby, she made the decision to put him second, or third, or fourth, in her life. The job of Mama was not the priority. Every missed game, every "I'm too tired" when he wanted her attention; every day she lost just a little bit of her son. In slow, agonizing moments, she left him behind. And with him, pieces of herself. Pieces of her motherhood, that she can never reclaim.
There is no such thing as having it all. You can't be everything to all people. Quality time is a myth used to soothe consciences; to shut down the natural voice inside you screaming to be with your baby. Kids don't want Quality time, they want QUANTITY time. Jr. won't open up his heart on the rides at Disney World. He's going to open up to you over slicing potatoes in the kitchen, in the car on the way to the doctor's office, as you're pulling weeds side by side in the garden. Make those quiet, ordinary moments available to him in quantity, and he'll talk to you.
Don't just tell your kid you love him, show him, every day, in a thousand ways, that he comes first, that you take the job of parenting him seriously, and sacredly. Because it's the most sacred trust of all, it's the closest we fragile human beings ever come to godhood, when we create a life. And every single day of that child's existence, we have opportunities for true greatness; the kind of greatness that only comes from the positive interaction with another human being's immortal soul. No one has the influence a mother does. The hand that rocks the cradle truly does rule the world. It's something our culture has forgotten, to our eternal shame, and to the detriment of future generations of Americans.