Our family has gone through some serious upheaval over the past two years. We’re talking big city to small town relocation, major job changes, the birth of our youngest, and the final resignation of my job as I officially became a stay at home mom (SAHM) for an indefinite period to deal with our children’s special needs. Whew! I can feel my stress level rising just thinking about it.
Our family embraces change with the best of them, and we tend to take many things in stride. Dealing with two children with complex needs is just something we do. Homeschooling to support serious academic needs? Done. Countless medical appointments and therapist visits? You got it. An active and healthy life style? It’s even better, now that we’re relocated to a small town surrounded by forest and farmland.
The kids are happy, my husband’s happy, and I’m happy. So what’s the freak out about?
*gulp* I’m turning forty. Like really soon.
“So,” you ask? That means I’m old. (Those of you who have already passed this age, feel free to slap me. I know I deserve it, but I can’t help it.)
Forty is the age I remember my parents being when I was in my teens. Their house was paid off(!), they had excellent jobs, and they seemed to have their shit together. They were adults, with responsibilities like retirement funds, mortgages, recreation properties, and vehicles. The lawn was always mowed, the driveway shoveled, and the carpet vacuumed. And they had kids (who were at that time, teens with jobs and an eye to college).
I’m freaking out because I am nowhere near this.
I have four young kids that I have to chase around the house in order for them to put on fresh underwear. I have a toddler who hits and bites, laughs manically, and then pees on the floor. I have mountains of dirty laundry (that I’ve resorted to throwing out the worst parts, rather than trying to scrub another dirty pair of what-evers). I have a patch of grass in the yard that’s filled with broken toys, dog poop, and long weeds. I threw out my area rugs this past summer because they were pee-stained, and covered with dog hair – it was time to admit defeat and embrace bare floors. A snow shovel is something I imagine clearing my living room floor with, scooping broken toys and forgotten treasures.
I’m freaking out because I’m failing at being ‘normal’ or even a competent parent.
Schedules? Meal plans? OK, those things happen, sometimes. But never with military precision, and truth be known, the kids have had dinner at eight o’clock at night more than once recently, and it often involved something bought at a fast food place. And, sure, I took the kids to the beach for the evening on the night before the first day of school. But when most other families had their kids scrubbed and tubbed and tucked into bed, my kids were eating greasy chicken in the sand.
But I’ve learned to let go. A lot.
As a former ‘Type A’ stickler to detail, I still get worked up if the bath towels aren’t folded properly in the linen cupboard, and clothes need to be folded and put away ‘properly’ (lined up, in the appropriate drawers). But then my three year old burrows inside the linen cupboard, dragging all manner of bedding across the floor; or my six year old decides to dress herself, and just *has* to try on every shirt in her dresser and then drop it on the floor. I had to let it go, or I’d go insane!
You could say I am growing wiser in my old age (heh), but I’m still stressed about the big four-oh. I even forbade my husband to mention my age. At all. Upon pain of death. Approaching (gulp) forty was a huge reminder I did not have my shit together in the slightest. No financial stability, no nice vacation property, not even a nice house to live in. With toys strewn across every surface, we live in a dump.
The tipping point was finally resigning my job after an extended leave. Although initially liberating, I felt like a failure. I’m turning forty, and just left a very promising career. For what? Dirty diapers, mountains of laundry, and endless piles of dishes.
And, although my husband’s income is good, we’re not rich by any means. Little things, like buying back to school shoes for four kids and registering them for activities put a serious dent in our household budget. I started to worry about how I could support our family. And I didn’t have a job. I thought of my parents with their paid off house (gulp). And the thoughts kept circling. I’m not an adult. I don’t have a job. I can barely shower without the kids pounding on the bathroom door or barging in, never mind go look for work. And if I did work, who’d be with the kids?
I have watched friends struggle with childcare and work, and commiserated. Over the course of my career, I’ve been a full time work outside the home mom, a part time work outside the home mom, and full time SAHM. Each role has its own benefits and drawbacks.
In our world, because of our children’s needs, we realised we needed one adult at home full time. My husband did a year as SAHDad, now it’s my turn. So in this way, we’ve grown smarter.
Over the past couple years, our family has found its natural rhythm. You know how most organisms have a circadian rhythm, that’s governed by the sun, the seasons, and their stage in life? Here on Earth we follow a 24 hour day, with the sun rising and setting to mark day and night; and people going to school and work during the week, and in North America, we tend to rest or pursue leisure activities on weekends.
I’ve come to the realisation that our family is from another planet. Maybe Venus. My husband’s work schedule means his ‘weekend’ could fall mid-week (and we take everyone out to an amusement part to beat the crowds), or he works through yet another weekend while I deal with four kids on my own. So you could find us at the beach on a Wednesday night, or driving off to yet another medical appointment in a distant city on a Thursday morning. A typical school week of Monday to Friday never happens due to homeschooling demands, sickness, fatigue, or medical appointments or, for those in public school, straight out refusal to attend.
The kids’ own internal clocks are unique to say the least. My oldest can be found eating dinner late at night, long after his siblings have gone to sleep. My daughter is fond of waking early, and getting dressed by herself (hence the clean clothes dropped on the floor). Everyone else falls in between.
What’s this time-thing got to do with turning forty?
My ‘I’m a failure because I’m not working’ fear was at odds with our family’s needs – medical, academic, and even our basic biological needs. How could I drag four kids off to daycare at the crack of dawn and then rush to work praying I’m not late (again), only to repeat the whole thing in reverse in the evening? Do this for five days a week, for weeks on end, and everyone is seriously burnt out. Add in days off work due to illness and appointments, and the whole thing is ridiculous.
So I couldn’t go to a job with any kind of regularity, even if I managed to get one. And I still felt like a complete failure. I started to do what I usually do when I’m stressed out. I write. I stayed up late writing long after the kids fell asleep, wrote on my laptop in the car and typed away on camping trips. Anywhere, and time, I worked. I churned out escapist fiction, worked on different projects, and stumbled onto a path that pays (marginally) for what I’d be doing anyway. A home business, as it were. Suddenly, I had a job. One that I got paid for. Not well paid, but paid. But hey, it’s all baby-steps, right?
And, I realised – I had achieved a dream – of being a (somewhat) professional writer, doing what I love to do. By the time I turned forty. Maybe turning forty isn’t so bad after all!
Have you hit any milestones that have made you reflect on your life? How have you dealt with navigating turns and bumps on the “road of life”?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Angela. Angela is a (former!) Special Education teacher who blogs about her super-powered family and their special needs. When she’s not chasing four (!) kids around telling them to put on their shoes and stop hitting each other, she writes stuff. Her family has too many appointments, too many school problems, and they are generally too busy as they try to live life to the fullest. Visit her at www.halfpastnormal.wordpress.com.
Photo credit to the author.