I'm as new to blogging as I am to staying home with my two little boys.
Since early November, when I announced to coworkers at Ink and The Kansas City Star that I was leaving for a new venture, I've had a front seat in the working mom/stay-at-home mom debate. Debate might be the wrong word, because comments about the topic are usually hushed and non-confrontational. But every mother, nay, woman, has an opinion.
Mine used to be that I could never stay home. H-to-the-L no, I told my husband, Will, when he asked me if I would want to. That was in 2009, with my first son, Quinn, on the way. I'd get bored, I said. I've worked too hard to throw my career away.
I had spent most of my life working. First in school, working to get straight A's and scholarships. Working to get out of my small town. Working until 2 and 3 a.m. at my college newspaper, then working, working, working, once I finally found someone who would pay me a salary and benefits.
All my life, my goals had been career-centered. I landed my first full-time job out of college as a reporter at a major metropolitan daily. After a few years, I moved into editing. In 2008 I began helping to launch Ink magazine with a handful of dedicated, fun-loving staff. At that point, work no longer seemed like work most days.
After I scoffed at Will, he left his stable job to pursue his own dream, helping found a startup nonprofit that relied on government grants. It didn't pay benefits, so we switched to my insurance. The grants -- and his paychecks -- always came through, but they were often late. My income provided enough cushion that we rarely worried about the discrepancies.
But when Quinn was born, that proverbial shift in priorities happened. As soon as those postnatal hormones kicked in, so did the tears of dread about having to go back to work. Having to leave my baby with someone else.
We were fortunate to find a wonderful woman who would care for him during the day. She lived only three blocks away, and she would watch only my son and hers. My job was still fun, too. We laughed until our bellies hurt, got paid to come up with goofy stories and even scored free tickets to hot Ink-sponsored events around town. Most importantly, my boss was flexible and understanding of the challenges of new motherhood.
All those points distracted me from missing my son much during the day. But the minute the long hand on the clock hit 5:30, my self-imposed quitting time, the guilt would wash up through my legs, slam into my torso and weigh down on me as my Honda Element crept along I-70 for the 30-minute commute home.
I would think about all the things I was missing with my child. Would he learn to walk today? Say mama for the first time? Call her mama instead?
But we dealt with it. Then I had son No. 2, Bennett, last spring.
The morning and evening routines got even crazier. Wake at 7. Diaper baby, feed baby, diaper toddler, feed toddler, shower, dress, brush teeth, diaper toddler, feed self, diaper baby, put shoes and coats on, deal with toddler tantrum, wipe noses, diaper someone, feed baby again, round up snacks for work, assemble breast pump, buckle baby into the car seat. Getting out the door, breathless, I'd schlep three or four bags and a loaded baby carrier, all while holding my 2-year-old son's hand and navigating a half-flight of steps down into the garage.
It took no less than two hours to complete that race. Work became my reprieve, even though I knew work was partly to blame.
At night, I would pull into the garage, drop my bags and greet my children, whom Will had picked up from daycare. Someone would be crying, either Quinn, because that's what toddlers do, or Bennett, because he was hungry. Will would toss me the parenting baton and grudgingly retreat into the kitchen to start dinner.
About a year ago, Will changed jobs again, to one with benefits and more stability. And on my birthday last fall, he presented me with a precious gift: You can stay home, if that's what you still want.
I couldn't believe it. I had left the decision in his hands long before, because he would become our family's sole earner. After almost two years, he was finally ready.
It took me another month to work out the timing and courage to turn in my resignation. I felt sick when I told our daycare provider, effectively laying her off. She was gracious, fortunately, and our families have remained friends. I was terrified when I told my boss. I was leaving a group that had become like family. I knew that resigning would likely make their lives more difficult. There would be no guarantee that my position would be filled.
To my surprise, the reactions I got from coworkers and friends were mostly of joy. I received lots of congratulations, as if I'd gotten a promotion or landed a new, higher-paying job.
I knew I was blessed to be able to move into my new role, but it took all that to realize that my new job is coveted, not scorned. It may not pay — at all — but so many women told me they would do what I'm doing if they could. And several others, ones I respect greatly in my field, told me that they, too, took yearslong breaks from work to care for their children.
Now that I've left work, the Metcalf family is so much more relaxed. Without the pressure to leave the house, the morning race has become more of a piddle, with fewer tantrums and time for lots of extra giggles, hugs, kisses and rounds of peekaboo. The evening routine has changed completely. I can start dinner during what would have been my workday, which means we eat earlier, the babies are happier and Will gets to spend more time with them, rather than cooking.
But leaving work is about so much more than relaxing our routine. It's savoring every step in these boys' development. It's being the person to introduce them to their world. It's loading up on hugs and kisses and the "I love you soooo much, Mommy" moments. It's living in the moment, embracing what makes me happiest.
I've got a little time to myself now during afternoon naps. The same day I took down the Christmas tree, I decided to cleanse my overcrowded bookshelf of the titles I'll never get around to reading. (One sweet perk of working for The Star is the quarterly book sale, when review copies go for $1 and hardbacks go for $3, all of which benefits charity.) Into the donate pile went "The Feminine Mistake," whose top coverline reads, "Makes absolutely clear that abandoning the workplace is not good for women."
I'm sure the book makes good points. I'd probably agree with many of them. But while I concur that women still have a ways to go to break through ye olde glass ceiling, I also believe it's pretty great that I have the freedom to choose whether I work or stay home.
Sure, the boys will grow up. I'll go back to work, and I will have lost time that others spent climbing the ladder.
I'm not worried about that, because I'm right where I need to be. This is just one stage — maybe the best stage — of what I hope is a long, fulfilled life with no regrets.