By Lauren Mullen
Are you watching Stranger Things? Of course you are; you’re not a monster (pun totally intended). You know how there’s the regular world, and then there’s the Upside Down? Well, I am currently living in my own personal version of the Upside Down.
It feels like everything is the exact opposite of the way I thought it would/should/could be. The main difference between the Stranger Things Upside Down and my version is that my giant monster is a not-quite-2-year-old girl. Oh, and my 3-month-old son is the human equivalent of about a thousand of those mouth slugs, sucking every last bit of life that he can until I am an empty shell.
How did I get here? I don’t remember getting sucked into a pool or disappearing off of my bike in the woods.
It is safe to say that motherhood is a pretty common desire among women. I think for many of those women, the dream scenario often involves staying home with their children in some capacity or another for some indeterminate amount of time. They envision play dates, lunch picnics, morning routines, school drop-offs, and weekday trips to the grocery store, kids in tow. I have always felt a strong pull to not do any of that at all, even a little bit, ever.
It’s no secret that I never saw myself as a parent, but especially not a parent of the stay-at-home variety. The only thing that ever spoke to me about sta-at-home parenting were the pajamas. Yet somehow, here I am (albeit in my pajamas).
Should a person with such a disposition even be a stay-at-home parent? Don’t misunderstand, it’s not as if I was working my way up any corporate ladders or making big plans for my future before becoming a SAHM. I just never imagined that life would suit me. I thought I was too unfeeling — not nurturing enough to take on the task. Not to mention lazy and self-involved.
The other day my mom commented that she found it odd that I prefer to pick up my son the minute he starts crying. I believe she thought for sure I would be the kind of mother who would try any other baby-soothing technique before resorting to picking up her baby due to my serious distaste for physical contact. Honestly, she had a point. She also, in the next breath, figured out that it’s basically just because I want to stop the noise as quickly and efficiently as possible. Because I also have a distaste for consistently loud noises blaring directly into my eardrums. Picking up my crying son stops that almost immediately. I am nothing if not efficient. And he is nothing if not a needy cuddle-leech.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Should a person who talks like this and thinks these things be a stay-at-home parent? I’ll be honest, two years into this gig and I still don’t know. Unfortunately, there are no guidelines set forth for the kind of person who should be a stay-at-home parent. And my desperate need for some sort of structure or direction is a much longer post for another time.
On top of all of this, there was a recent discussion between my husband and me about how his parental instincts far exceed my own. It’s not offensive, nor is it an attack on me; it’s an actual fact. The kind of fact that makes me wonder if we are even doing the right thing with me as the stay-at-home parent. But really, what is parenting if you aren’t questioning every single decision you make along the way?
Probably very relaxing, but I would not know. And I suspect most other parents wouldn’t either. The truth is—barring my family stumbling upon some sort of time travel machine—we will never know if me staying home was the exact right thing to do or if it’s the thing that ends up benefiting our kids the most in the long run.
The real truth is my husband has a better paying job than I could ever get (which, in this particular instance, is less a commentary on the social injustice that is gender inequality and more a commentary on my inability to get my shit together enough to get a college degree in my twenties). We need as much income as possible in order to support the monster and the mouth slug, so he works and I stay home. It’s as simple as that.
Do you want to know a secret? In the three months since our son was born, I’ve probably told my husband that I would much rather go to work for 8-10 hours a day than stay home with our kids at least one hundred million times. This is not an exaggerated number. And every time I say it, I mean it from the bottom of my soul.
I often feel utterly lost and helpless in this strange new world of mine. I don’t belong and I start to fear that the monsters are onto me. But there are also times when I get a break from caring for my kids, and within minutes (alright, alright, maybe hours) I feel utterly lost again. You know what I’m talking about — staying home with your kids all day is probably the most bipolar job there is. One second is great, the next is absolutely horrible and everyone is laying on the playroom floor crying. Please tell me you know what I’m talking about.
So what is one to do when they have clearly crossed over into the Upside Down? I couldn’t even begin to tell you. I’m still waiting for Winona Ryder to plug in a couple of strings of Christmas lights so I can send her a damn S.O.S. For now, I guess I’ll just keep caring for my kids—wallowing in the inherent loneliness while simultaneously wishing I could be left the hell alone. I’ll remind myself that I’m actually lucky to live in this alternate universe—even when I’m cleaning up puke, or being cried at for hours on end, or reheating the same batch of spaghetti and meatballs for the third time this week.
It’s strange, but it’s mine.
About the Author
My husband and I created a tiny human. Unexpectedly. Twice. So we decided just to roll with it, moved to the suburbs, bought a minivan, got matching robes and slippers, and became expert neighbor-judgers. OK, only some of those are true- we drive a Ford Focus and I hate slippers. You can find me avoiding housework on Facebook, Twitter, or in front of my television. Secret powers include quickly memorizing song lyrics, guessing what year a movie was released, and forgetting which utility bill gets paid this week.