I am a child of the 60s. My stay at home, Italian, Catholic, good girl mother was the very first feminist I have ever known.
Mom got married at 20 and raised 6 of us kids before she finally went back to get her college degree and begin a career in education. She was a feminist without ever calling herself that.
She organized the paraprofessional educators in our town to form their own union. She argued with our middle school principal when the rules insisted that girls had to wear skirts to school, even when it was 5 degrees and snowing out. She told him that when the boys wore shorts, her daughters would wear skirts.
The rules changed.
I grew up expecting myself to be a liberated woman. I knew that I wanted a career, even as I recognized my desire to be a mother.
I married my sweetheart at the tender age of 22. We both went to graduate school, where I earned a Master’s Degree while he went all the way to a doctorate. We both believed in our careers and our skills and our desire to contribute to society. I became a Speech/language Specialist, working with young children. He became a Clinical Psychologist.
We loved our work. We were proud of what we did.
So when we had children, it wasn’t a hard decision for me to go back to work. We needed the money. We needed the insurance that my job offered.
And I needed a place to go where I could feel smart and valued and worthy.
Now,(as the politicians say) let me be perfectly clear: I loved my kids so much it was kind of ridiculous. I thought of them 24 hours a day, I adored them, I treasured them, I hurt when I wasn’t with them.
But the thought of staying home all day, every day, to tend to the diapers and spit ups and juice boxes of those early years would have had me running off into the night without a thought.
And that’s what I am finding so funny now.
Now I am a stay at home Nonni. I spend all day, every day, Mon-Friday, with my two-year-old granddaughter and her three-month-old brother. I change up to 12 diapers a day. My fingernails have Desitin under them. Even as I write these words, I can smell old spit up milk and peanut butter crackers on my shirt. My sweaty, wrinkled, stinky old T shirt.
I wash faces 20 times a day. I brush tiny teeth. I read the same book over. and over. and over.
I chip baby pukies off the bottoms of my chairs. I do laundry ever other day just so I can have a clean burp cloth and at least one clean facecloth.
I can name every single character in “Finding Dory” and sing all the songs from “Moana.”
Thirty years ago, this would have made me insane.
But now I love it, poopie smells and all.
And it makes me wonder how a young feminist became such an old softie. How did I go from wanting to change the world to cheering when my little girl does pee-pee in the potty?
I’m not sure.
But I’ve given it a lot of thought, mostly while rocking babies to sleep.
So here are some of my thoughts on the subject of staying at home to nurture babies:
It’s easier now. It’s so much easier not to take every tantrum and every ignored meal personally.
From the vantage point of old age, I realize that little kids are tiny humans with their own moods and temperaments. They have their likes and dislikes. They have bad days. It is not about me. I would never have understood that as a young Momma.
It’s easier to let myself be a slob now. Nobody is looking at me and thinking, “wow, she let herself go.” If the neighbors see me outside in my flannel pants and baggy sweatshirt, pushing a double stroller, they think, “Oh, good for her!” They don’t think, “She looks like hell. Where is her self-respect?” At thirty, I could never have let myself be so comfortable.
And most of all, at the happy age of 61, I no longer feel like I need to prove myself to the world. Unlike my young, eager, unproven self, I am now happy to accept the fact that I am just fine. I have earned my place in the universe. I have raised three great humans. I have had a solid and successful career. I still have interesting and thoughtful friends. I read. I write. I vote. I’m enough for me.
So if my entire morning is spent playing with Playmobile jungle animals and eating gold fish out of paper cups….who the hell cares?
I am so very grateful that when I was a young mother with a full head of steam and lots of ambition, I had a place to do good work. And I am even more grateful that now, when I am finally ready to accept myself for who I have become, I am able to spend my days making home-made playdoh and watching Elmo’s Playhouse.
I am a stay at home Nonni and I’m proud of it!