Sit. Stay at home, mom. Stay.
I chose to be a stay-at-home mom. I willingly gave up grading vocab quizzes, rousing snoozing students from drool-slicked desktops, signing crumpled hall passes, planning creative ways to entrance hormone-fogged minds with Whitman, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Wharton. I found I could, with some effort, turn away from the trappings of high school education, but it turns out, I couldn’t turn away from the creative drive that pushed me there in the first place. I couldn’t ignore the need to know.
I love the phrase “lifelong learner.” There are many of us out there, individuals infected by some brain fever that is often mislabeled as “artistic” or “type-A” personality. We are driven by this need to experience and know more, and still more. To know for the sake of knowing. The stillness of being a new mom deadened my lifelong learner drive like a strong dose of laudanum. I’d sit in Little Friend’s nursery, watching her legs bicycle in the air, my eyes loving each new crease in her thighs, but my mind detached itself and beat about the room like a trapped moth, stopping now on the streak of sunlight on the wall, pausing then on the dust-crusted window ledge. I tried, in this newborn world, to find a place for my mind to roost, just as it had brooded over the eggs of Transcendental ideas or Puritanical writings. The best I could find was planning an afternoon walk or picking out a new outfit. I did these things with a feverish intensity.
The command to wait.
I have now elected for a studied calm. Wait, I whisper to my brain quivering with pent-up energy. Wait. As Little Friend has gotten older, so her activities have complexified. The afternoon walk has now turned into an afternoon swim. More details for my brain to fret over (“swimsuit, sunscreen, towel, pool money, snack” instead of just “running shoes, stroller, snack”). It helps. But there is still a void of mental activity in this stay-at-home life that’s enveloped me.
Even the phrase “stay at home” contains a command to cease activity. “Stay” I tell my dog, and he twitches an eyebrow in understanding, and more likely than not, pulls ahead more strongly. “Stay,” I command again with a jerk this time, and he stops but strains, his desire leaning into the leash with a tension of arrested momentum. At least in this scenario my dog can blame someone else for his confinement. At the end of my leash, waiting to be released back into movement, I find that the captor on the other end is…me. I began this musing with the sentence, “I chose to be a stay-at-home mom.” And I did. I snapped on the leash and am holding myself at bay.
Really, I’m not complaining. Promise.
I’m not intending to complain. Just explain. Because what I’m finding is that we of the lifelong learning fever cannot be contained. Our minds are wily, slippery, shrewd little things. They find cracks to slip through. They ease, slowly and imperceptibly away, like a glob of inert-looking silly putty. They adapt. My mind has adapted, almost without me realizing it, to my new life. And I am cautiously finding I love it.
Beginning one chapter. Closing another.
Before leaving for vacation, I closed the final page on the chapter of my teaching years (not that I won’t return eventually, but for now, it feels so final). I walked through the deserted halls, floors shiny with new wax, locker banks battered but ready for the September battle, the unique smell of a thousand textbooks and teenage sweat permeating, perpetually, the classroom air. I took away my notebooks. I packed up my files. I threw away dried highlighters. I rolled up my posters. I gave away my plants. I walked away without looking back over my shoulder. I willed myself not to look back. Little Friend waited patiently in her carseat. I wedged a final box in the trunk, buckled up, and saw a little fist in the back seat flashing at me. “Milk.” I turned the key in the ignition and released my mind to work out where to get a drink of milk for a toddler.
It’s as though I’m shedding a few layers of skin. The teaching skin was thick, becoming leathery even. The brand-new mom skin was jiggly and slack; it still held a few pounds of baby-weight. I’ve unzipped those layers, stepped out of them, shook them loose from the soles of my feet, and now, at the age of 30, I feel more like me than I have, perhaps, in years. My mind is finding new nests. My writing, for one, in the blog genre, which by its very nature attracts people like me who love a steep learning curve and a game with rules that constantly change, requiring facile adaptation to survive. And my new profession (which, to be completely honest, I still cringe to say out loud or write on forms: “stay-at-home.”) It’s that last word that is swiftly turning into a rather comfortable, nicely feathered little nest for my mind.
I’m nesting more now, nineteen months after Little Friend’s birth, than I did before her arrival. I find pleasure in the simple task of rearranging my spices. Planning meals. Making the last five dollars in my wallet stretch for a week. (Yes, that’s me: The crazy woman counting pennies in the parking lot of the Dollar Store to see if she can scrape together enough for a roll of plastic wrap.) There’s some deep well of satisfaction to be found in arranging a home.
It seems my voracious, not-to-be-denied-for-long mind has accepted its new home: Home. With the same prickles of intense concentration that I used to devote to planning a killer literature lesson, I now sense my interests honing in on domestic pursuits. The most recent of which, although not entirely new to me, is Real Food. People capitalize that silly phrase, and it sounds so funny. “Real” as opposed to what? Play-Doh food? I’ve heard this movement called Traditional Food as well. In a nutshell, it’s cooking the way great-grandma did. And I’m loving it.
You make your own pie crusts?
[Cringe] Yes. And I’m a stay at home mom? [Double cringe] Yes. But please don’t judge. Somehow, making traditional foods from scratch (baking bread, rolling out pie dough, soaking beans overnight, churning butter) has come to translate as some arrogant superwoman achievement. Don’t be fooled. Not in my case. It’s just that it comes down to priorities. Unlike other moms (working or stay-at-home), my baseboards are grimy, I find outfits I forgot I had when I actually get around to doing laundry, and my dust bunnies are morphing into dust wolves. I’m simply making the choice to read and experiment with something that keeps my mind humming and happy.
If you think I’m hopeless already, let me be clear: I’m just dabbling a big toe in the shallows of the Real Food world. I’ve devoured the words and research of Nina Planck in Real Food: What to Eat and Why. I’ve surfed the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website a few times. I’ve gotten cozy with some farmers at my Farmer’s Market. I’ve found a local source for raw milk. And yes, I’ve even made a homemade pie crust or two. My attempts have been thick and chewy, unlike the light, flaky crusts I create in my mind. I hope to improve. I have a world of Real Food yet to explore.
Come, Ye Adventurous Foodies
So I’ve heard the call for healthy, traditional food preparation, and I’m responding. Most recently, I’ve signed up for The Nourished Kitchen’s Preserve the Bounty Challenge. Each week in August, Jenny from Nourished Kitchen will share a non-canning method of preserving food. She’ll cover sun-drying, oil curing, freezing, fermentation and salt-curing. Sound exciting? To my fettered brain, it certainly does. That means, instead of standing at my dryer folding a neglected load of clothes, I’ll be ranging the ripe fields of farmers’ markets, gathering my produce, and then heading home to read, and re-read, the preserving instructions.
I get a certain amount of glee out of stocking my freezer for winter.
That makes me kind of weird, doesn’t it?
[Cringe] It certainly does.
Here’s where I wrap it all up.
Does my new life of preserving food, counting pennies, and watching the sunlight paint walls beat my old life of waking drooling sleepers, grading stacks of vocab quizzes, and teaching the Classics? Hmmm. Gotta think about that one. The answer comes quickly enough. I just heard Little Friend stir over the monitor. I know that little frustrated grunt: she’s waking up from her nap. In my mind, I can see her tuck and un-tuck her legs beneath her, scooching to get comfortable and resist the undertow of wakefulness. Does my new life beat the old? Yes. I can go back to those desk-droolers at some point. I can’t go back to the Little Friend of today. I chose to be a stay-at-home mom for that exact reason. My mind can strain at its leash all it wants. For now, I’m staying.