First of all, the term is a misnomer. Most of these women do not stay at home hardly at all. They are out in traffic and stores, sitting in parking lots, charging their cell phones and probably clock more miles than a Lyft driver. And, to be honest, my turning into a temporary stay at home mom, wasn’t my own choice. I found myself in between jobs for four weeks. But that month of not “working” brought a few things to a conscious level for me and taught me a few things I’d like to share about patience and grace. Two things we could all use this time of year.
- Time Flies
The first thing I noticed is that a full week went by and I felt like I had very little to show for it. Sure, I had applied for jobs and met friends for lunch, coffee, etc. As someone who is used to cranking out proposals, reports, and combing through millions of data points in a single day, this was the hardest thing to deal with.
Also, when you are at the mercy of other people’s schedules and appointments, those precious in-between minutes eat your day up. For example, if you drop your car off for service at 11 am and have a noon lunch appointment, you are at the mercy of getting a ride and waiting. Then unforseen traffic jams eat into more of those minutes and the next thing you know it’s 5 pm, and you have to pick up the kids, and you’ve done basically two things all day. By day 5 I honestly felt like I had whiplash from slowing down so fast.
I think, in these moments, your phone is your best weapon because you can answer emails, listen to podcasts, or read the news. It’s not really multitasking, which I am firmly against if at all possible, since you are waiting around for an appointment. But you have to be prepared for these moments at the outset of the day, which for me, meant still waking up before the kiddos to get ready.
- Routine is Precious
When every day is completely different there is something valuable in small routines. This leads me to another lesson: don’t leave the house looking like you don’t leave the house. I continued to get myself dressed and the kids dressed and out the door every morning at the same time like clockwork. This also helped with the inertia effect previously mentioned. Having two small children on the same pick up and drop off scheduled also helped. I didn’t have “all day” to do nothing. It was really just the 9-6 pm schedule that changed for me.
I also had to keep working out. Now, this is a luxury, I realize, but my gym membership was already paid for through the month and in hindsight it helped me mentally work out any frustrations or anxiety I may have bottled up. I mean, it does that anyway, so during a stressful time it should be even more true. The reason I am even mentioning this is because most of the men I talked to who had been laid off did not spend their days just applying for jobs and doing laundry. They exercised! I feel like most women would feel too guilty “wasting time” doing this, but that would be a mistake. It was a key part of not just surviving those four weeks, but thriving.
- Island Time Anywhere
If you’ve ever been to the Bahamas or even the Florida Keys, you’ve noticed very few locals are ever on time or in a hurry to get anything done. This includes waiting up to 30 minutes for restaurant orders as a norm. When you don’t have to make a train or get to a performance on time, where’s the rush? For those of us in our daily lives, this is not the case, as evidenced by the United States GDP.
While I was out shopping at the grocery store or even getting gas during the day, I noticed people complaining about who was in line first. I have probably heard this before, but this time I noticed it because it wasn’t me. We are so pressed for time that we have to shove past each other like it’s a Japanese fish market at 4 am. Life is short. I’m not going to do this anymore. If you’re really in that much of a hurry, get in front of me. I will pay the $10 fine for picking my son up late from daycare.
One thing I did find time to do was clean up the kitchen after everyone left in the morning. Wow. I had no idea four people could amass so many crumbs in so little time. While my kids are really good at putting away their jackets, backpacks and shoes (I have a system I stole from Pinterest and it totally works), I feel like an octopus picking up little things all over the house that belong somewhere else. I care deeply about keeping things clean and neat, especially since we live in house the size of a shoebox. But when I start my new job, I will have to let go of cleanliness and order once again — give myself permission to leave it so I don’t feel rushed while at home and instead feel like I’m on island time while playing with my kids. They will not pretend to be baby dragons and ninjas forever.
As someone who has let her career define her for so long, not having a job can be a real shock to the system. I am incredibly fortunate to have found work so soon and, as my pastor puts it, get my hands back on a plow. But I am also thankful for having been forced into seeing what it’s like to be a stay at home mom. We moms tend to judge each other too harshly and I will never again assume they stay home all day. I will also give myself and others the grace and patience of the islanders because it feels good to pretend like you’re on vacation even when you’re not.