I’m A Stay At Home Mom Because It’s Too Costly To Not Be

I woke up this morning with a start, realizing it is November 2nd and the gas bill was due two days ago.

I’ve been so swamped lately, it just slipped my mind. This was the last of the bills to go on autopay, I just hadn’t gotten around to setting it up yet. Fortunately, I called and the gas company said I was within the 5 day grace period. So the bill wasn’t even really late. And they set up autopay right then on the phone, too, so now I literally never have to make the effort to pay bills anymore. It just happens.

It got me thinking about the costs (financial and otherwise) of working, though, because the reality of the situation is that for about four weeks now, I have been working even though I’m really a Stay At Home Mom.

Doesn’t make sense, does it?

Well without going into all of the emotionally exhausting and – quite frankly – mind numbing details of my husband’s attitudes with regards to me and the children, and money, I decided to try and start doing some work on the side of my full time mom gig, just so we had a little extra money so that the kids didn’t have to miss out on anything (fun or otherwise) when he gets into one of his moods.

There was a problem, though, with the whole arrangement. Well, several problems:

  1. My husband works overnight, and long hours, in film. It’s not like he can be counted on for anything with the kids. He can’t. He leaves for work at 4:30 in the afternoon, gets home when the work is done, then sleeps until it’s time to get up and go back to work. It isn’t like he comes home and takes over with the kids. I do everything. Everything. Cooking. Cleaning. Yardwork. Errands. Driving. Everything.
  2. My two oldest kids homeschool. I am their educator.
  3. I went back to school in August, after a ten year hiatus, to start working towards finishing the graduate degree I (foolishly) stopped working towards all those years ago. SO now I’m the teacher. I’m a student. I’m the only parent most of the time. And I’m working?
  4. I have no real childcare whatsoever, and no budget for said childcare. My two oldest kids had to free babysit my toddler, while I worked. Or my dad, who lives with us and is 76 did, but he’s old and has limits. (I’m sure you can all imagine how healthy that is for everyone involved after a couple hours of Grandpa time; my dad has to nap for an average of 3 hours after just an hour with my little guy…)
  5. I was already stretched thin scheduling-wise and getting only about 4 hours of sleep a night.

So for one month, I started writing part time in a freelance writing position. I used to do this before I had my third child, and was relatively successful. But things are different now, and three kids is no joke, so success isn’t exactly how it went this time.

Within a week, I stopped having time for almost anything. No more gym. I was driving my kids around town on virtually no sleep. I even started skipping meals and showers, just to keep up with the schedule.

I worked about 6 hours a day, but got only minimal work done because I was trying to juggle everything while doing the writing. The worst moments were when my toddler was running around, crying because I was on the computer. He would run up and slam the laptop screen shut. Stay up until 2 in the morning to have playtime with Mommy. Within a week, he was getting even more clingy, too. He still nurses and was suddenly nursing double what he had cut back to.

The best moments were when I turned my freelance writing profiles on “out of office.” I did this twice in the four weeks, for two days each. That means I took exactly four days off in the entire month. But it wasn’t really time off, because it’s when I had to catch up on all of my other stuff. I cleaned the house, did heavy yard work, caught up on grocery shopping.

The first two days “out of office,” I realized towards the end of the two days that I had gotten behind on planning the kid’s homeschooling. So I stayed up for 36 straight hours to make sure everything was set for the rest of the month. I literally had no other option, the clock was ticking and there was just too much for me to do.

That is the first time I considered forcing my kids into public school. When I finally went to sleep after 36 hours of working and catching up on everything, I did so crying.

In the four weeks, I made a lot of connections and got almost 100 positive 5-star reviews.

After taxes, site fees, PayPal transfer fees, and getting screwed by not one, not two, but seven people who decided not to pay their bill, but publish my work as theirs anyway, I brought home exactly $46.

Forty. Six. Fucking. Dollars.

I felt so guilty for all the time away from them and everything that had sort of fallen apart, I used it all to take my kids to the movies.

Here were the costs:

  1. I spent less time with my kids, and by “less time,” I mean virtually no time. I went from Stay At Home Mom to Mombie, sleeping less than 2 hours per night, and just going through the motions to get through each day.
  2. I had no time after the kids went to bed to work on my blog, and for the first month in – I don’t know, the entire time I have blogged – my blog was not self-sustaining (because my clicks and social media ticks went down).
  3. That thing about my toddler being sad.
  4. That thing about my two older kids losing their educator, and having to become almost full time babysitters.
  5. I forgot about two assignments for school, and didn’t have time for a third. So now I’m unsure that I can even do this school thing with the kids and everything else.

And then there were the risks. I was driving around town on virtually no sleep, with three children in my car. Several times I caught myself thinking I could close my eyes for just a second. On more than one occasion, I was driving faster than was safe for the conditions, because I needed to get home to get the work done so I could get school done so I could make dinner so I could finish the laundry so I could …

My blood pressure went from its normal and healthy 110/68 to an alarming 148/92

People said my older kids could pitch in more. I disagreed. They had already all but quit sports and school to help with my toddler, pick up the slack with cleaning and laundry and dinner… And while I know that kids do that all the time in a variety of situations around the world, I started to ask myself: why would I ask that of my kids when there is absolutely no necessity whatsoever? No necessity, and it’s actually costing more?

But I digress…

There are two issues, as I see it. One is that I don’t really want to work, I want to be with my kids. I know, I know…what mom doesn’t? and all that jazz. But here’s the other thing: it cost us significantly more money and other stuff for me to work last month in a semi-regular position (unlike my blog and books, which can be done here and there as I please), and I didn’t even get into childcare.

To work in any capacity for the long term, we would have to completely change the children’s lives, most importantly there would be paid childcare needed and paid help with transporting my older kids to and from school and other activities, or if they continued to homeschool we would have to pay someone else to educate them.

At a minimum, for me to work and have that help, I would have to bring home – net pay, after everything – around $30,000 a year. And that would leave nothing, not a penny. Again begging the question: why do it?

(Not to mention the fact that $46 a month is not $30,000 a year.)

And there’s also all the other stuff. I’m one person, managing a lot, and I do it all alone. Adding this was just too much. To allow myself the indulgence of a cliche: it really was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

So I notified my regular “clients” today that I just can’t keep up with this anymore, and I’m backing out. My blog and my books are sufficient; school is sufficient. Being a mom is enough.

I’m a Stay At Home Mom because it’s too costly for me to not be. Costly in terms of money. And costly in terms of who I am and what’s most important.

We Need To Discuss Your Summer Plans

“Summer plans,” or – as I like to call them – “just another group of months with the same old shit only hotter” are steadfastly approaching, and I feel like we need to discuss them.

We were at the doctor the other day, my 15 year old was having her yearly physical. The doctor asked what our summer plans are and the crickets chirped. Summer plans? The concept is lost on me.

It’s been in conversation for about two months now.

It’s a woefully tiresome topic, because – inevitably – it becomes one of those instances in which I feel like I have to explain myself to people. Twenty minutes into it, I’ve gotten nowhere. Usually this is evidenced by whomever I am talking with clearly not understanding what I’m saying, and changing the subject with something like “well there’s always room for spontaneous summer plans!”

And herein lies the first problem I have any time people ask me questions: I can never just give simple answers. Somewhere along the line, I conditioned myself to always justify what I am saying. In reality, I don’t have to explain my or my family’s reasons behind what we do, or in this case don’t do, to anyone.

We don’t have summer plans. Why not? Because we don’t want to.

Because we homeschool, we might be a little unique. My kids are around all the time during the school year, so I can’t exactly identify with the whole you-people-are-driving-Mom-crazy-for-these-two-months-every-year thing.

My kids drive me crazy all year long.

So in terms of camps or classes, or special outings: there’s really no need for it. Why would I put my children in a day camp that is the older-kid-equivalent to daycare when there is literally no need for me to do so whatsoever? It isn’t like they’re getting bored and need to be kept entertained. Or they are driving me batty and I need them out of the house. Summer for other people is our lives, every day of the year (except there’s schoolwork in there).

This is the second problem, although I wouldn’t call it a “problem,” so much as a circumstance. Our circumstance, because we homeschool, is that my kids are around all the time. I don’t need to keep them entertained, or do all kinds of extra activities because they are driving me crazy in the house. These things (the stuff we do, including the fun stuff) is peppered here and there through the entire year, because we aren’t beholden to a school district calendar.

That’s just the way it is, and yet no one (and I mean no one) can seem to grasp that concept.

The third thing worth mentioning is my husband’s work schedule. One of the reasons we homeschool is to accommodate his career in film. It’s hectic, it’s unpredictable, and it’s overnight. Anyone that’s ever worked in the film industry knows that summer and holidays are the busiest times for them, so vacations around then are not always in the cards.

If I’m being entirely honest, vacation isn’t really something we normally do at any time of the year, either. He’s just usually too busy, and when he’s not busy he’s catching up on sleep. What kind of a vacation involves Dad sleeping half the day, and keeping everyone up all night because he can’t (and shouldn’t) change his sleep schedule for the couple of days?

(And also, if we’re being REALLY HONEST… film work doesn’t exactly cover the cost of exotic cruises and trips to Hawaii for 5 + my dad.)

At a tennis match the other day, the mother of a couple kids my kids play with told me that she’s decided since her husband is working a lot this summer, she’s going to maybe just do the craziest thing ever and take the kids somewhere on her own! Can you imagine?

I take my kids places on our own all the time. If we waited for my husband to be available, we would be waiting years behind our graves.

This, I think, is a suburban thing: that families should do it all together, and if they don’t there’s something crazy or exotic or weird about it. The reality of it is that there is absolutely nothing unique about our situation at all. So many people have so many different circumstances to their jobs/homes/lives, it just is what it is.

And yet… this is the fourth thing. I waffle back and forth between wanting to live my life and let my kids live theirs; and feeling the guilting and the pressures that our culture has me conditioned to believe, which is that we should all be patiently waiting to live our own lives with our hands folded neatly in our laps for my husband to be available.

Except that he’s living his life by working in his dream career. This is literally what he dreamed about in childhood, went to college for, and has worked all these years to achieve. So we should not live while he… lives?

Why do we worry so much about summer plans anyway? Maybe this is just some weird stage of life I am in, where your plans end up largely dictated by your children’s plans, forcing everyone into these specific time frames to create family memories and – oh I don’t know – live life.

Or maybe it’s something bigger. Like a status thing. I remember a movie once where the guy says in a snooty voice: “where do you summer… I SAID WHERE do you summer?” The concept is lost on me.

My summer plans are the same as my every day plans. My kids do schoolwork. They do chores. They play tennis. The baby and I watch Story Bots and play with blocks. I cook. I clean. Sometimes we go to museums and libraries, some days we binge watch Supernatural.

And I think I’m much happier and more content than a lot of people. We don’t save life’s moments for special occasions or the summer months, when conditions are perfect. We live them every day.

My Husband’s Movie Lover Mannerisms

So living and being married to someone that works in the film industry is …an interesting place to be. There are all these subtle nuances I am supposed to adhere to. To respect.

In other words: to tolerate.

I can appreciate that my husband is proud of the work he does. And I can appreciate being a lover of an aesthetic art such as film. I myself swoon often over the philosophical writings of the greats I adored in graduate school. And I do love the acquisition of a new book. I get it – he takes pride in his interests.

I think my husband goes way over the line sometimes to a point that is just absurd, though.

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#1 Film Narration

The first movie I went to see with my husband was The Reader. Great film, and based on one of my all-time favorite works of fiction. While we were there, I bought myself a Diet Coke. A typical purchase for a movie outing, yes; what wasn’t typical was that Nick whisper-yelled at me during the movie because my straw squeaked when I took a sip of my soda.

Are you all with me on this? My straw made the slightest squeak – of all the noises in the movie theater outside of the film, itself – and I got whisper-yelled at.

Watching movies at home is an entirely different ballgame, though. That’s my husband’s time to shine, and by that I mean talk through the entire goddamned thing. I get narration: “deep in the forest lived a town of little blue men.” I get commentary: “you know what’s missing here is the backstory to that photograph…” I get voiceover: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” And I constantly get the story about the guy that knew the guy that worked with the girl that was friends with the friend of my husband’s boss, who knew a guy that worked on that film. It never ends. Ever.

As with all things, love is a two-way engagement. If I’m going to listen to my husband’s incessant talking about all this film stuff, he should be willing to listen to me talk about a book I read, or engage in – gasp – an actual conversation with me about it. That’s sadly not the case, though. I think we’re too busy watching crap movies, which leads me to #2.

#2 A Lot of Crap Movies

We have a lot of movies and of those movies, I think close to half are total crap. I cannot tell you all how many times my husband has said a movie is “good” just because it grossed a lot of money or was popular with a lot of people. Even having not seen it. Even not really liking it himself.

So we own a lot of crap movies. Some of them my husband has never even watched – that’s how much they are crap. When I ask why he bought it he says “it did really well in theaters, seemed like it was a good movie to own.” Huh? And I cannot even count at this point how many movies are such garbage that he bought them, watched them once, then never watched them again knowing they are crap, but still argued they are good because of the fanfare they received. He calls those ones “an acquired taste.”

Acquired taste, my ass.

Sure, I have a very picky taste in movies. I don’t enjoy a lot that truly are good. I’m not talking about those here, though – I’m talking about movies that objectively speaking belong in the trash can.

We have seen a lot of bad movies in the theaters and on Netflix too, simply because someone at my husband’s work said we just had to see it. One I can think of off the top of my head was The Trip. It was about two and a half hours of listening to these two guys’ supposedly-witty back-patting, while they shoved food down their throats, that was no more funny than it was insightful. You just have to watch it, it’s brilliant. Similarly, there have been countless times that we have planned on going to see a movie and never gone because my husband heard or read that it wasn’t good. But it isn’t just taking people’s advice, it’s that he actually takes the position that the movie wasn’t good. “That’s a bad movie” he’ll say, and then something I’ve been waiting to see for months is off the list for date night. How the fuck do you know it’s a good or bad movie if you don’t watch it yourself?

#3 A Completely Illogical Rating System

I get really upset when I see that my husband has rated something on Netflix way lower than he should have. The only thing that is worse than that (which he does as well) is after I rate a movie, he’ll go in later and re-rate it to what he thinks it should be rated at.

So the way I see it: a five star rating system is across the board for movies, music, hotels, restaurants, and so on. That’s why one-stop-shop sites like Yelp exist to begin with – so you can rate everything in one place, and know what the ratings mean. How can a person be expected to know that a a certain star is acceptable for movies, but not hotels? And definitely not restaurants, but it’s OK with music. That doesn’t make any sense at all – a star is a star and it means the same thing across the board. Not for my husband, though. He will really enjoy a movie and still give it only three stars. He does it all the time – he gave Sleepless in Seattle (an all-time classic film) only three stars and then argued that this was a great movie, deserved of only three stars. Huh? Would you eat at a restaurant that gets only three stars on Yelp? Would you stay at a hotel that has only three stars on Hotels.com? Would you buy a motherfucking book that you were unsure of that only gets three stars on Amazon? No. No you wouldn’t.

#4 Movie Organization

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As with any avid movie collectors, we have a lot of movies. I’d say we’re getting close to about 600, but if you take out all the crap movies maybe it’s closer to 300 or 400 quality films. We have them in a DVD organizer – it’s a spinning thing that sits in our living room as the biggest and most ugly eyesore you could imagine.

My husband was tasked with organizing the movies and rather than ask me what would be easy for me – I being a novice to all-things-film – he just assumed that his psychotic organization from his single days would be best. You’re probably thinking to yourselves alphabetic or by genre for sure, as if organizing 600 DVDs by genre isn’t abnormal of its own right. (If it were just me, we’d just throw them all in there in no particular order.) This is coming from the guy who saw I added a lot of films to the Instant Que on Netflix over the weekend, though; so promptly spent his day yesterday reorganizing the list by genre on our Netflix account. Anyone who organized their Netflix account by genre is not going to merely put their own DVD collection by something logically simple, such as that.

Nope. They are organized by production studio. As in, the company that made the film. The number of hours I have spent looking for a particular movie because I couldn’t simply go to the section for movies that start with an A is staggering.

So what started as a hobby has turned into a profession, sure. Do what you love, and all that crap. But some of this extra-curricular shit has got to be a little out there. When I was in high school I worked at Wendy’s, and when I got home the Burger Bitch didn’t hang up her apron. I told stories from work. I gave anecdotes from the burger station. I made complaints about the customers. It’s all I ever talked about, until eventually no one wanted to talk to me anymore. You’ve got to have a separation between your job and your home life. If movies are your passion, fine; but at least take a break from the ins-and-outs of the industry long enough to just enjoy life once in a while too. Even if enjoying life is just watching a movie without all the back story and the strict organization and the attention to reviews. Just watching.