“Just”

I’ve stayed away from the Stay-at-Home Mom vs. Working Mom discussions.

They simply don’t interest me.

Even though I’ve been an at-home mama from the moment my firstborn arrived, I get turned off by memes on Facebook that are “rah rah rah Stay-at-Home / ‘Full-time’ Moms (both labels sound off to me).

You know, those posts about how being a mom is the hardest job in the world and how at-home mamas’ tasks as chef, chauffeur, entertainer, consultant, if assigned a $ amount per task, would command a six figure salary.

I prefer “At-Home Mama.” Dropping the “stay” makes it more true for my experience.

Yesterday, my well-meaning working mom neighbor paid me a “compliment.”

She always asks, “How are the kids?” and wonders how I can wrangle the both of them as she finds even one toddler to be a handful.

I like her.

So I know she didn’t intend to give me a small jellyfish sting when she said, “People think that just staying at home is easy but I’m telling you, I know that just staying at home is not always easy. It’s a hard job. I have two jobs myself. I work at my job then come home and work at home, taking care of my baby.”

Reminded me of when working moms say, “Well when I have a sleepless night, *I* have to go to work the next day!”

As much as I don’t like the tired old debates, I do see why at-home mamas feel compelled to toot their own horns. To try to glean some respect and appreciation even though you won’t really understand.

I didn’t like her repeat use of the word “just.” I struggle with the “just” myself in a society where multi-tasking and being too busy is revered. I no longer bow down to multi-tasking because we don’t know what lurks beneath. What is the hidden cost of all that juggling? I’m sure it’s high.

Neighbor went on to share that she needs a break so she’s going to have brunch with girlfriends and run errands to have the day all to herself. I have to confess that as much as I abhor the SAHM v. working mom judgments, I found myself thinking, “Yo, it’s Sunday. You away from your child at least five days a week, so what you yearning to take a break from exactly?” I thought this KNOWING that when I worked outside the home, I was spent from my work week by the time Friday rolled around, all that commuting on the subway and office politics.

I knew that this mama can have whatever the hell break she craves but the martyr within sized her up against me, myself and I, a mama who generally spends seven days a week with her kids, all day, everyday (though I’m working on this as martyrs die before their time).

But for a moment, I found myself judging as a reflex to her earlier statements about “just staying at home” and “I have two jobs.”

Tooting thy own horn is a defense mechanism to society viewing you, subconsciously or very consciously, as Less Than.

I remember speed-strolling with Micah when he was an infant when I had to say, “Excuse me, can we please get by?” to a sidewalk hog.

After she grudgingly let me by, she said loudly, “You see her? She ain’t got nowhere to go! Rushing with nowhere to go!” Of course, as rushed as I was, I made time for a quick U-turn to drop some knowledge.

She had immediately assumed that because I was strolling with my infant, I ain’t got nowhere to be. Or if I did, it wasn’t that important, “important” in the worldly sense. If I were wearing my Theory slacks, Banana Republic blouse, heels, thumbtyping frantically on my Blackberry, carrying something akin to a briefcase, my rushing would surely be justified because clearly I have an office to get to.

But no, I am JUST a mom.

just a mom, cleaning out her car

just a mom cleaning out her car

The underbelly of the age old Mommy Wars is about worth. Who is more worthy? Society answers that it’s the multi-taskers and income-earners.

Tonight, I didn’t want to fall into the trap of trying to “rest” at home once Kevin walked through the door because it is straight up the opposite of rest when the kids know that I am not really gone, just tucked away in the bedroom. They even knock frantically like an episode of “Cops.” I have to leave the house.

I ran to my gym with my earbuds in.

I caught a glimpse of the same neighbor mama once I crossed the street. She was just standing on the street, sipping on a large Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee, looking weary from a long Monday.

We looked at each other for a moment, smiling, nodding our heads. I waved as I ran by.

At first, I speed-judged again! “Why isn’t homegirl rushing to be with her baby she’s been away from ’til 7 pm!?” Then I realized I have no idea what her day was like, just like she has no idea what mine was like. She was standing there on that busy street, under that awning, decompressing before she went home to her family.

I realized why I loathe the tired old debate about which type of mama is more of a superhero. Rarely have I seen a balanced debate because both sides are too busy passionately defending their choices without considering the perks of both sides.

Too busy demanding to be heard and understood, like quarreling spouses.

As an at-home mama, I confess that I DO have down time when their naps overlap. Down time to sneak in a blog post or crack my toe knuckles as I go over my to-do list until one of them emerges. But then again, working moms can also zone out at their offices and phone it in from time to time, sitting in front of the Internet (with the exception of some jobs like surgeons – I pray that you never phone it in). I was part of the workforce for years to know that some days you’re getting paid to sit on your butt in your cubicle.

Making judgments or rather, forming “impressions,” is part of being human. But we can work on gifting each other with grace, cutting each other a break.

I enjoyed the micro-moment from tonight, as I ran by that fellow mama. My fleeing from my beloved rugrats as she braced herself for what awaited her at home.

We just trying our best.

Not Just the Most Popular Korean-American Girl’s Name

When I happen to score some down time during the day, like now, about one hour of nap overlap between the boys (if and when Big Bro succumbs to a late nap), I have plenty of tidying up, organizing, planning, or preparing to do.

I am choosing to write instead. For mental health reasons. I gave Kevin a heads up about this. I let him know that if I can squirrel away some quiet moments during the day, I will most likely use it to open up the laptop without one monkey trying to convince me that it’s YouTube time or another monkey climbing up my body, babbling, “mmmma-mmmmmmaaa!” in such an irresistible way with his Puss in Boots eyes and delectable cheeks that the next thing I know, I got him banging on the keyboard with his strong little fingers and mama forgetting which email she had to respond to.

In case people are wondering, it’s not just the physical work of looking after little ones all day, the hypervigilance I wrote about before, but the invisible emotional energy you are expending. So I choose emotional health by doing something calming and enjoyable during these precious breaks, even though I technically have the time to do the pile of dishes or get the stroller packed up for our evening excursion into Manhattan.

Emotional energy like:

Being patient spill after spill,

tantrum after tantrum,

after someone makes a run for it, out of the playground with a proud smirk on his 20 month old face,

running to grab the little guy who is more fearless than Big Bro at the same age, climbing up some advanced apparatus while you were adjusting Big Bro’s scooter helmet for him,

watching Big Bro slide down a new, steeper slide then realizing that Little Bro’s bedtime prayers were answered: the perfect Distracted Mommy opportunity had presented itself to jump into a shallow lagoon that had accumulated during the rainstorm,

speaking calmly, like a hostage negotiator, to convince both boys to climb down “slowly…slowly…easy…” from something they got attracted to.

So this morning, I had exactly 30 minutes to get ready and out the door. I really need to get everything ready the night before but again, I plead mental health reasons for wanting to completely exhale late at night and NOT have to be a responsible mama in advance.

Well, I learned my lesson. I hate having to rush so I will definitely prepare what I can the night before. I can’t even watch my husband’s favorite show “24” because the countdown stresses me out way too much (and that movie “Before Sunrise” where Ethan Hawke HAS to get to the airport and I’m freaking out way too much about the countdown to actually enjoy the movie).

I kept hearing the countdown in my head as I made a smoothie, one cheese quesadilla for Micah to eat at the playground after school, one egg and cheese quesadilla for Ellis, packing small fish boocheengeh for them to nibble on, their drinking cups, Oh, Ellis you climbed onto the table and spilled the water on a book, lemme change you, doh, I gots to brush my teef and tie my hair and change, Ellis, get down from that chair, you will Ah-Yah! Ellis please, we have to get into the stroller now. No Ellis, we can’t take that outside. Oh, Ellis, Mommy just has to run and grab the library books.

Then things got real harried as I scrambled to grab Micah’s scooter from our tiny coat closet, where everything fell out as I tried to finesse his scooter parts and helmet out. The entryway had a few stray toys and shoes that I ran over with our huge doublestroller, thereby breaking Micah’s toy saucepan.

I can’t make a clean getaway as a HUGE BOX OF DIAPERS we got delivered yesterday had the audacity to CONTINUE TO REMAIN THERE.

That is when things go left in my head and I start going down a familiar path.

“I told Kevin that one of the big obstacles to peace in my day is the damn lack of space, especially this entryway. I told him a countless number of times that if he and I can both do our part to at least clear the entryway so that when I’m rushing out the door, I don’t have to try to maneuver my way out, RAGING. And by ‘he and I’ I clearly mean ‘he’!”

“I guess he just doesn’t care enough to actually move this HUGE BOX OF DIAPERS for me. God forbid he make my life any easier even after I’ve asked him so many times to please help in this way.”

Then, I caught myself. There was a flash of a word that zapped onto my brain, not unlike the countdown I kept hearing earlier. Holy Spirit, is that You?

The word was GRACE. Not just a common Korean-American girl’s name.

GRACE. Something Kevin pours out to me daily. And Kevin does more than most husbands I know.

Yet when there is a huge box of diapers that just happened to be impeding my path, something I didn’t even notice myself until I had to rush out, instead of tapping into some GRACE towards my husband whom I used to shower with grace (in the B.C. era – Before Children – and even more so during our long distance dating era), I went down a dark path that sometimes ends with a dramatic (rerun) finale called, “Does He Even Truly Love Me?”

So tonight, I’m going to think and talk about Grace and why I hoard it these days. One reason is because I’m skurred that if I gift him with too much Grace, he won’t respond to my requests for change, or receive them as Urgent. Even though he explains to me that it would only spur him on to do better, I keep thinking that my angry outbursts would do a better job of getting him to never dare leave the huge box of diapers in my path again.

Grace seems too soft.

Maybe, just maybe, to hold myself accountable, I will choose Grace over Criticism for the next week and see what happens.

See why no Korean parents ever name their girls “Criticism.”