Someone on a mom listserv I read asked this question the other day: What do other stay-at-home-moms do all day? She went on to say that she had really enjoyed her first year as a SAHM, but that she was burned out and tired of never getting to do anything for herself. One of her children was needing her attention constantly. She gave the example of trying to read a book while her children played. She said her son, not wanting to be left out of the exciting grown-up book-reading action, would sit next to her and stare at the words on the page as she read. I've been trying to think of how to respond to this other mother, to give her some reassurance or words of wisdom. But I think the problem is that I have had the same question running through my head since my first was born 4 years ago.
I remember when Emma was just weeks old we had just moved to Las Vegas and I was totally friendless and a hormonal train wreck. I looked outside at the desert landscape, which looked like what I imagine the moon must look like if the moon had lots of strip malls and tanning salons. I looked down at Emma strapped into one of the various contraptions I had painstakingly chosen months before, after waddling up and down the aisles of Babies-'r-Us, spending as much time deliberating over take-along swings and pack-n-plays as I did my wedding china. I looked at her belted into her bouncy seat and thought, what now? From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I couldn't wait for this baby to be here. I loved her intensely. In those early weeks, if I found a few hours of sleep to string together, I would dream about Emma. I would have nightmares of losing her in the covers of the bed, dropping her from some great height, falling down the stairs with her in my arms. I would wake up in a crazy, hormone-induced sweat seconds before she started crying, my body and her body still somehow magically linked. I would stumble down the hallway of our Las Vegas corporate apartment to her crib, feeling my way around rented furniture in the dark. That's a good metaphor to describe those early months of motherhood--feeling my way around in the dark. I remember standing with her in the apartment, bouncing her back and forth and both of us looking into each other's eyes and crying. Both of us thinking, what do we do now? I remember calling my sister one day after spending most of the day breastfeeding on the couch and rotating Emma in and out of her various parking spots (swing, bouncy seat, play gym, repeat). I asked my sister, "What am I supposed to do with her all day?" "Just hold her and try to get her to smile," was her simple answer. Oh, okay. Well, duh. Why didn't I think of that? So, I did that and eventually she did smile (a small miracle!) and that was when I think things started to get better. It's much easier to play to an audience who is acknowledging you in some way. I got the hang of Emma and she started to trust that I wasn't totally incompetent. I learned to use a sling to carry her around and I realized that it soothed both of us to simulate her being back in the womb.
Cut to four years later...I now have two kids and I am a somewhat seasoned mom. I will eagerly reach for a friend's baby so that I can feel their warm, sack-of-potatoes body and remember how my own children felt, how my own journey as a mom started. I think my sister's wise advice about holding my kids and trying to get them to smile still applies. I think I also have to do things that make me smile as well. On Friday we had a play date with some good friends and then we went to the playroom at a local museum. I smiled a lot that day and so did my kids. I smile when I take ten minutes to read them a story or to do a puzzle with them on the floor. I also smile when I get to read the newspaper at "the big table" while we eat our lunch together. The kids ramble on about motorcycles and princesses to each other and I read about Obama or maybe Jenna Bush's wedding shower. Today I smiled a lot while we were at a birthday party at a house in the middle of the Virginia countryside, next to a small mountain. It was a beautiful drive through rolling hills and vineyards to get there--a long way from the desert of Las Vegas.