Floating in the warmest water, surrounded by tiny bubbles, a sky of swirling gray peeking through a redwood canopy while raindrops steadily splash on my upturned face… in our newly-installed hot tub. At 11.15am. On a Wednesday.
We’ve wanted a hot tub in the backyard for years. There’s a corner that’s just perfect for it. Tucked up against the fence, under the giant redwood tree – the perfect alcove of peace and quiet. And steam and bubbles. And soon bunches of pre-teen boys making inappropriate jokes, and wild whooping four-year-olds spilling apple juice and eating soggy Ritz crackers…
But not yet! It’s still tranquil, serene, bliss.
I’m not sure that’s where I was supposed to be before noon on a Wednesday morning.
I’ve been a Stay-At-Home-Mom (SAHM) for about ten years. I realize what a blessing this is, to be present and available for my kids all day. To not have to scramble for childcare when one of them is sick. They know I’ll bring the homework they left on the kitchen counter. I’m able to chaperone field-trips without rearranging my schedule, to help in the classroom and “spy” on the social dynamics of my daughter, or to see for myself if my son’s occupational therapy is really working. But it doesn’t necessarily mean a soak in the hot tub whenever I want!
I can exercise while the kids are at school, pick up the dry cleaning, take Pretzel the dachshund to the vet and myself to the dentist, prepare dinner, stock up on the boxes of frozen waffles we never seem to have enough of – all between drop-off and pick-up. My working friends often do a Target run after the kids are in bed, they have to arrange last-minute pick-ups in between meetings, grocery shopping happens on the weekend – life seems much more complicated logistically as a working parent, not to mention the emotional toll it takes.
So I don’t take the privilege of being an SAHM lightly. I am incredibly thankful for it.
But after a decade it has started to feel a little less fulfilling. Mundane. Isolating, even as I’m surrounded by dozens of little faces singing Sevivon Sof Sof at the lunchtime Chanukah concert. There is no separation between me – and me.
When I pick Jed’s friend up for preschool, and see his mom dressed in heels, a beautiful blouse and lipstick, I want to beg her to take me with to her office in the City, to her meetings, and meaningful interactions with adults (not “grown-ups”) about policies and contracts.
From my vantage point at home, if I stand on my tippy-toes and lean all the way to the side, I can just make out the tips of the Bay Bridge, leading the way into glittering San Francisco. While my working friends in the Financial District barely notice the sparkling blue of the Bay and the majestic spans of the Bridge laid out in front of them. The view is always more beautiful from the other side. I know.
As I helped my little guy brush his teeth this morning, he started whining and yelling at me (only four-year-olds can do both simultaneously producing a grating whell of a sound): something about a Spongebob toothbrush and Monsters University toothpaste, and then he started crying… and I started crying. I couldn’t remember what Monsters University was and I thought he said Angry Birds toothbrush. No separation between me and me.
The kids come home from school, hungry, cranky, bursting with stories, wanting something from someone – mostly me. I roll with it, a smile on my face and a song in my voice (the smile is a little strained and the song is Linkin Park’s A Light that Never Comes). Snack for you, 8×7=56 for you, tie your hair back for ballet, listen to your barmitzvah lesson for ten minutes, all of you wash your hands, with soap. Just enough to fit into half an hour before it’s back in the car for the rest of the afternoon.
(As an aside SAHM is a misnomer – at least the SAH part. It should be NAH – Never At Home, and also nah, as in not gonna schlep around today).
Somewhere between chairing the preschool parents committee, and serving lunch at the middle school, I seem to have lost myself. My daughter used to tell her teachers that my job was volunteering in the library at her school (actually, I wouldn’t mind working in a library). I can’t find the space between Mom Nicki, and Nicki.
So this Wednesday morning, as I walked from the car toward the house in the relentless rain, laden with boxes of frozen waffles, I glanced toward the new hot tub. Sitting quietly in its corner.
The rain gently pattered down on me and the redwood tree stretched majestically into the gray sky, the steamy mist danced mystically above the water, and the bubbles floated around me – it was magical.
I felt the whisper of a space between me, and me.