Stopped behind a school bus as I drove through town this afternoon, I watched a group of primary school kids step off the bus and into the arms of their waiting moms–some alone, some with carriages holding younger siblings also eager to welcome home their own first or second grader. It was a familiar and touching sight: I used to be one of those moms.
But there was one boy who jumped down alone, greeted by no one, not even spoken to by those moms. He started down the street away from the crowd, then turned and looked once more before continuing; it broke my heart.
I didn’t wonder where his mom, or dad, or nanny was; it didn’t matter. Maybe everyone in his house works; maybe his mom was home with a new baby; maybe he’s a little shit and his mom was pissed at him. Who knows? All I knew, in my heart, as I watched him go, was that he was the only one who didn’t have anybody greet him at the bus stop–and he felt that. I saw it on his face.
It has always seemed to me that it’s quite alright for working moms to say things like: How can you stay home all day? I’d be bored out of my mind! But stay-at-home moms are not allowed to say: How can you leave your baby with strangers all day? I’d be scared out of my wits!
Before I had my son, my husband and I decided that I would stay home and he would go to work; it was a wonderful 1950’s way of living and it worked. Friends would say that we were “lucky” to be able to do it, but we always replied, somewhat indignantly, that it had nothing to do with luck. We lived in an old house in a fine-but-nothing-to-write-home-about town; we had old cars and at one point, just one of them actually ran. We did not go on vacation, buy jewels or throw fashionable dinner parties; we played with our kid in the backyard, bought toys and threw birthday parties.
It was perfect.
Of course, things change. My husband and I broke up, but I didn’t go back to work; instead, we worked it out. He gave us enough money to live on and my family helped out, too. We lacked for nothing (except those jewels and tropical vacations) and we were happy. There was simply nowhere I could think of that I would rather be than with my son. We had a play group; we went to Gymboree; we sang a little ditty I made up called “We’re The Lucky Ones” as we came out of grocery stores. Why? Because “we have each other.”
When he went to school, I became a stringer for The Courier-Post Newspaper so I could be the room mother, go on the field trips, and walk him to and home from school with the neighborhood moms who were also home. I never missed a concert or party or special day; I would have died if I’d had to.
How do the working moms do it? I’d wonder. They missed almost everything. Yes, they had nicer homes, better cars and of course, those jewels. My son and I had moved to a tony town where most of the mothers didn’t have to work, they wanted to. Many of them were professionals: doctors, lawyers, Indian Chiefs. Okay, maybe not Indian chiefs, but there were chiefs of one kind or another, I know there were. So, yeah, I got that they had gone to grad school, etc., blah, blah, blah…but hey! They had kids now; didn’t that mean it was time to take a break?
My son grew up in a flash. Yesterday, I was cheering him on from the bleachers; today, I cheer him on through my cell phone, he away at college and me, at home, wishing it was yesterday. Do the working mothers wish they’d done it differently, now that their kids are away at school or “all grown up?” Because I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have changed a thing, and I think most stay-at-home moms would agree.
I don’t know why it’s always been that we can’t say that staying home to raise your own children is the right thing to do because it insults the working mother (and I’m talking about the ones who choose; single working mothers are often heroic individuals who sacrifice everything for their children). Perhaps now that I’m older, I’m bolder and so, I will now state, to the chagrin of many I’m sure, that staying home if you can is the best thing to do.