Sunday, January 17, 2016

You can keep them home

And by them, I mean those delicious little children of yours.

I have been putting off writing this post for a few months now - to find the right words because it's all so new for me too. The kind of words that translate with grace. The kind of words that might perhaps make a mom in a similar situation out there go “I can do this if it’s something I’d love more than anything right now”!

I’m talking about keeping a toddler at home. Or a child of any age.

I have an amazing “will-give-martha-stewart-a-run-for-her-money” friend who has had almost both kids at home with her until they were 3 and grew ready to explore the new and exciting things that playschool has to offer. She is gentle, kind and humble – she will be the first to admit not every day is rosey, but she handles it was such grace. My favourite days were the ones that I could pop in for a cup of coffee and just take in the all the love and warmth in her home. One day while working an office job, I was unable to get off work and I desperately needed Jesse (then 3) to have a caring place to go to for the day. Said friend happily accepts to have him over and for the next few hours, I received photos of the kinds of things that might have given me heart failure if roles were reversed. One included all three toddlers helping with the dishes on little stools, having fun with bubbles and water. The other - all three toddlers helping bake in the kitchen. Three delighted faces with spatulas and bowls, enthralled with helping bake delicious cupcakes, and knowing that they won’t be under pressure to “not mess in the kitchen” or “keep it in the bowl!”.  

I also have an incredibly talented friend (see: legend in every way) who home schools her beautiful daughter in a totally chilled way. All while her toddler potters around, loving his home life and exploring new people, sounds and tastes ranging from family trips to beautiful places or sometimes just the simple quiet play in the garden with the neighbour’s kids. She is generous and kind. Just by her little boy being around her, he will learn the things that cannot be taught at school. How to serve and love, and go the extra mile when others might look away. Her toddler is just a few months old than my Jack, who has just turned 3. 

I could list some many other wonderful examples of close friends that have opted at some point and time to keep their little ones or big ones close to home and slow down. To be completely honest, I have always looked from afar and thought “if only I was that kind of mom, I think I’d be so much happier” or “if only I was that chilled out and didn’t take everything so seriously!”

  (Jack's first day of pre-school)

I worked at a corporate job for just over a year that ended the middle of 2014. I had taken this job for personal health & financial reasons. The hardest part of it all had been choosing to leave Jack at playschool when he was only 8 months old. It was the right thing - and I don’t regret it - but it was still tough. The tears came fast and often, but I put on that power outfit on and just gave it my absolute best.
As with all working moms in 9-5 or 9-12 jobs, you start to depend on that playschool for your life! 3 days off compassionate leave when your child has had a snotty nose for two weeks and STILL can’t go back to school? If granny or auntie isn’t available on said day or week, it’s a cruel and difficult type of stress. In an effort to cope with the demands at hand – balancing work life with my home life – I did what most A-type personalities will do – and that’s to put it all in a box. Find structure and routines, and hopefully some sanity. The hamster wheel. 

I always hoped that one day I would be able to work from home again, kick aftercare to the curb and at least be with the boys from lunchtime on-wards.

My mother raised me to be an entrepreneur. It’s one of the greatest gifts she has given me - to teach me how to run my own business starting right from when I was a little girl. I remember vividly when I was 12 years old, my mom went away for a week on a church trip.  She left with me in charge of her home business, and my Dad simply did the driving. It felt completely natural to be in the driver’s seat of a business. 

Flash forward to Mom and I launching our own business together in June 2014. I had finally started working at home full time from about April 2014. Wouldn’t you think at this point, I’d be thinking – hey, I can finally keep that chubby-cheeked boy at home with me and make up for lost time?! The crazy thing is, I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be able to cope with him being at home while I was working. "I'm not like my mom friends who can." I had lost my confidence as a mother completely. Ask me what I really wanted? To be that mom that could keep him home.

We started planning our move to Pietermaritzburg at the beginning of 2015. I knew my 5 year old would join my husband at the incredible school he teaches at. It was perfect for him. I started looking for a pre-school to transition my then 2 ½ year old into. Family in the area were kind enough to send me lists of the best of the best playschools, and I started calling around. Please keep in mind that all this time I am working from home. Why was I in such a rush to get him in one school and straight into the next? I’d gotten so used to the normal baby -> pre-school -> big school routine, that I hadn’t given myself a chance to change that cycle, or at least delay it.

After calling a few places, I just could not shake the feeling that I was missing the big picture completely. When friends and family would ask about how our plans were coming along, they all seemed unphased that I hadn't found a school yet. “He can just stay at home with you though right?” I don’t know what finally did it, but the penny dropped. Not only was I going to take Jack out of school two months before we moved, but I was going to take BOTH out. I wanted to press the reset button on what had become normal for our family. 

The result? The first week was crazy. They’re everywhere! How will I cope? I have no space! I am cleaning all day! When do I get a break? How am I going to run this business? What was I thinking? The second week was calmer and easier, and by the third - my two boys would happily play for hours in the back yard or in their bedrooms while I tackled work and packing. There was no clock watching and snotty-nose monitoring. It was the strangest thing not to be stressed when they got sick! I was that mom who could keep her kids at home. It was liberating, and it brought untold joy and peace to my heart and our home.

The move to our new home was seamless. Two weeks after we settled, Jesse started at “big school.” And Jack? Well, I just never looked for that pre-school! I spent the last 6 months sharing a work space with the most loving and precious companion by my feet. I could watch him play in the dirt with his cars from my office window.Clint and Jesse head off at 7 after breakfast. Th at meant it was time for Jack and I to start the day with some quality time. Almost every day it involved cuddles and book reading on our stoep. Other days it was play dough / painting / puzzles. At 8 o’clock, I started working at my desk and Jack pottered around to his hearts content finding little spots to plonk and let his imagination run wild. At around 9 o’clock, it was snack time. Milo for Jack and coffee for mommy. We connected, chatted, sometimes went for a walk to the jungle gym in our complex – and then it was back to the office for me. Jack would get lost in his own world all over again and before we knew it – it was time for lunch and to pick up big brother. We popped down to Hillcrest about once a week so that he could catch up with little friends his age. We would visit the factory where my clothing range is made, and he managed just fine to stay by my side and win the hearts of all the seamstresses in the process!

I can say, and I know those who know me well can say, that this year is the happiest I have been in all 5 ½ years of motherhood. God knew. He knew this move was exactly what I needed to shake out the insecurities I didn’t even know I had. 

We prayed about what to do this year, and knew that Jesse’s school was opening up at RRR class. My business has really started to blossom and become more demanding on my time. Particularly in the month of November, I started to see that although I loved Jack being at home with me - he was going to need more attention that I would be able to give him. With family being further away, it was either an option of our seriously awesome housekeeper doing an extra day or two to help me, or enroll Jack in a sought after spot near his brother where he could play to his heart’s content. It was time. It’s madness to think he will be four years old in no time at all. 

I sobbed my heart out on Wednesday night before his first day on Thursday. A good, ugly cry. I cried from a place gratitude for the most beautiful opportunity to be a stay at home mom over the past year. To have been given a gift beyond measure. Yes, it’s a new chapter and letting go is tough, but I am learning that motherhood has a beautiful way of evolving, and with each new year comes something even more special that the last. I miss my big eyed boy in the mornings, but it’s different this time. He’s in school because it’s the best thing for him and not because “I’m not like those moms who keep their kids at home.” 

We broke the cycle and we’ve committed to staying open each year to see how God leads us as a family. It is without a doubt the very best plan. Maybe our kids will always be mainstream? Maybe we'll homeschool one day? Maybe we won't? 

To all the working-their-butt off in high heels moms, the stay-at-home moms, the home-schooling moms, the single moms, the work-from-home moms, the doing-whatever-you want moms - I wish you and your little ones the very best for 2016. We have the best job in the world!

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