Hugh shoots me a look. I arch an eyebrow back at him—just one. I’ve never been able to do that before; it seems to be Celeste’s special talent. “I wonder if maybe it’s time,” I say quietly to Hugh. “She’s almost four.”
His eyes widen. “Amen!” He claps his hands together. “And praise be! Ok, kids, finish it up and show some hustle! I’m taking you to school today. Mom’s got a project on her hands here. Lunches?”
I think he’s telling the kids to make their lunches, but for some reason, he looks at me. I remember the sandwiches I didn’t make last night. Whoops. “School lunch today!” I say chirpily.
The kids look at me like I just grew a second head. “Seriously?” asks Zoey.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake. Seriously. It’s Chili Monday. Just buy a bag of Fritos from the vending machine, dip ’em in the chili, and boom, you’ve got nachos.” My kids love Chili Monday. Three dollars and fifty cents each for lunch, the chips, and a can of Coke. A bargain at any price.
“Fritos?” says Samuel. “What are they?”
I try not to do a spit take. “You’ll love them,” I say.
Hugh looks at me in true awe. “Can I have Fritos too?”
“I don’t know how to answer that,” I say honestly. “I have no input on what a grown man eats for his lunch at work.” And Celeste probably shouldn’t either, I add mentally.
Hugh coughs in surprise. “Well, if you’re sure . . .”
“Fritos for everyone!” I tell them. “Put it on my tab!”
A tiny voice wafts up from around my kneecaps. “Can I have a Fritos, Mommy?”
“If you go a whole day without nursing,” I tell her, “you can have unlimited Fritos.”
She’s so excited she starts running through the house crying, “Fritos! Fritos! Fritos!”
Hugh winces at this. Perhaps I’ve violated the family all-natural-food ethic with just a touch too much gusto. But even so, he wrangles the school kids, hands out cash for lunch, shovels them all into a car, and drives away after failing on two more marital-kiss attempts.
“Good luck to you, babe,” he says when one foot’s out the door. “Have fun shopping for yourself for a change. But careful. Don’t forget the corn poops,” he adds with a sad laugh.
I pretend to laugh back, as if I’m in on the joke. But immediately after they leave, I text Celeste.
What, exactly, are corn poops?
I will tell you right now about a suspicion that we stay-at-home moms have about working moms. We would never, ever say it to their face—as mentioned, we are way above the Mommy Wars. But still.
We think they have it easier.
Every day while we are living our lives of servitude, they go to a place, in real clothes, where they are paid to sit comfortably among adults and think entire, complete, punctuated thoughts. Often this place has free coffee round the clock and cake on their birthdays.
Yes, work is work, and no, not every day is a joyfest. But here is what I did not realize when I handed in my resignation at the community college and became a professional mom: if you work outside the home, for eight or so back-to-back hours every weekday, you wipe zero butts that do not belong to you.
And to be clear, butt wiping is pretty much the easiest part of stay-at-home-mom work. I would gladly wipe ten more butts per day if it did away with even just the raisin-related tantrums. If it meant I didn’t have to stand outside in every kind of weather saying, “I see! I’m watching!” while one of a succession of toddlers does absolutely nothing of interest for the tenth time in a row.
If you have a full-time job outside the home, that means that for eight solid hours every day, no one asks you to go down a wet slide or starts crying because you’re not pushing them “right” on an impossibly low swing while you stand there hunched over, staring into space, begging yourself not to look at your watch yet because zero time has passed in the last seventeen hours; it is the same exact time it was when you arrived at that park, before your butt was wet with something smelly and before you put your hand on a fireman’s pole covered with bird poop, and before someone else’s child sneezed directly into your face. Time stands still when you are a stay-at-home mom, and working moms are always saying, Oof! Where did the day go? and I am always thinking, It did not go. It will never end. I will never get to the part where I sink into a comfy chair with a glass of wine, because this is the longest day of my life. Until tomorrow.
So yes, I’m very glad to be sitting in Wendy’s pretty reclaimed-warehouse office with gorgeous architectural details and story-and-a-half paned windows looking out over one of the cutest, busiest hot spots in the city.
Wendy has a fancy ergonomic chair and a sit-to-stand desk. Here at her workplace, people care if her body is properly aligned and healthily engaged. They care if she is comfortable. Sometimes Anna Joy comes into our bedroom in the middle of the night, snuggles sweetly with her dad, and puts her cold baby feet directly on top of the soft, smooshy pouch she and her siblings left behind on my stomach, where all my internal organs are just lying in a misshapen postpartum blob. Then she presses those feet onto me as hard as she can. She somehow continues to do this even after she’s fallen asleep. I will wake up bent exactly in half with my rear end frozen outside the covers and my head not so far from my knees in an attempt to escape her sleep stompings—and no, that sort of rest is not terribly refreshing. When I get up, my body makes sounds no living thing should have to make.
I would like an ergonomic chair.
Wendy has sent what feels like a hundred texts to get me set up in her office, where she is, unsurprisingly, a productivity consultant. In a string of messages, she’s sent log-ons and passwords and a who’s who and a very fast tutorial on the intraoffice Slack policies. I am ready to get after it, workwise, but soon after skimming over several of her emails, I decide that not only is her job not a good use of her mind, body, and intellect, it is also entirely nonurgent. If she-slash-me slacks off for a day or two while I try to set her homelife to rights and give her some small chance to stop being such a word-that-rhymes-with-witch, it’s no big deal. Wendy is not an ER nurse or an insurance adjuster. She tells people how to cram more work into their waking hours. Everything, literally everything, about her job can wait.
I close Wendy’s email tab and open a browser window. This is the perfect day to browse for fun activities to keep the kids learning during the upcoming summer break. But to my surprise, Pinterest autocompletes in her address field before I’ve even typed the N. Huh. Wendy did not strike me as a Pinner. I click around her home boards to see what’s caught her eye.
It’s an education. Besides a few pantsuits, short haircuts, and “the only macronutrient counter you’ll ever need,” all her pins are articles. A very specific kind of article:
“Working mom’s minute-by-minute schedule after 5 p.m.”
“13 game-changers for busy moms to make up for quantity time with quality time.”
“Six ways to be present with your children during working hours.”
“Secrets for extra energy from real working moms.”
“What you can learn about your kids from a stay-at-home mom.”
I click on that one instantly.
It takes me to a blog called Only Real Moms Know. Immediately I wonder what the hell a fake mom is. A mannequin of a mom at the Children’s Place? An alien trying to impersonate a human mother in a bid to infiltrate the species?
And then I keep reading and realize, Oh.
I’m the fake mom.
Real moms, according to the About Us section of the website, know how important it is to be role models to their daughters and sons. Real moms work hard and play hard. Real moms know how to walk side by side at home, but at work they walk out in front. Real moms can afford to nurture their children’s gifts because they’re not scrimping and saving every penny to make up for living in a one-income household. Real moms love working and love that they’re not dependent on their partners to pay the bills.
Oh, and did I know that Science Proves that working moms’ daughters:
earn higher salaries over the course of their lives?
get better educations?
are less likely to be caught giving handies behind the bleachers in the ninth grade?
Ok, maybe I invented that last one. I scroll backward on the touch screen to get back to Pinterest, to get out of this weird bullcrap dichotomy. No one really believes this nonsense, do they?
Sure enough, on the next click I end up on an essay called “10 Reasons I Regret Staying at Home with My Kids.” I wonder if maybe I should avoid it for my own mental health, but Wendy’s pinned it, and I want to know what malarkey is filling her brain. And then I get a burst of hope, because at the top of the post there’s a chart showing that 60 percent of moms think stay-at-home parenting is better than working parenting. I mean, I shouldn’t care about “better” or “worse,” but after that last site, I’m smarting a bit. I scroll on.