Jennifer Benjamin wants to know: Since when did being a mommy become a bad thing? And more importantly, if someone thinks that’s a bad thing, why does she care?
“So, what are you doing these days? Are you still working or just, like, being a Mommy?” he asked, lifting his shoulders, almost implying the snuggly adorableness of it all with one little shrug.
I know that my old boss—now a best-selling author on a national book tour—meant nothing by it. He wasn’t being condescending or insulting. In fact, I think he was almost giving me an out, so that I didn’t have to explain why my byline wasn’t still all over the major women’s magazines anymore, or why I still hadn’t written that novel I always talked about. Still, despite his benign question and reasonable assumption, I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. I quickly went into how I’ve been freelancing still, when I have my sitter, but not doing as much as I’d like to because, yeah, I’m a mom to 2-year-old twins. How they’re keeping me busy, sure, but yes, I’m totally still working.
As I later waited in the audience for his book reading, I couldn’t stop thinking about what that meant: “just being a mommy.” I felt embarrassed. I felt small.
Once upon a time, in a concrete jungle far, far away, I had been an ambitious, creative 20-something who believed I was destined for greatness. I was someone who probably would have written that oft-discussed novel already. Now, as I sat there with clean hair, heeled boots, and my only bag that didn’t have cheese crackers crushed at the bottom, I wondered what had happened to all of that drive and spark and confidence. It couldn’t be gone for good, could it?
Truth is, I jumped off the fast-moving career train long before I even got pregnant. As soon as I got married, I started working from home, eager for the freedom and the creativity that would surely flow outside of the office. And it did—I got more done in that first year of freelancing than I did in eight years on staff. I also became, in many ways, a housewife. With my husband working full-time, it became my responsibility to do the grocery shopping, cook dinner, stop by the drugstore, and pick up the dry cleaning. Even though I was busy with my own lucrative writing career, I had a second job as keeper of the home. As I inspected produce or called my husband from the drugstore to find out what kind of razors exactly, I felt my skin crawl. Many women would have killed to be in my position. So what if I had to do a little housework and run a few errands? Cue the violins and feel free to drop kick me in aisle 9.
If my pre-child days were any indication, being “just a mommy” was never going to be enough for me. I never wanted to be that frazzled, ragged SAHM with baby puke on her leggings, who would tell me through gritted teeth, “It’s the best job in the world!” Oh reeeaaally, I’d think, taking in the visible bags under her eyes. Well, then you might want to work on your pitch, my friend, because you’re not exactly selling it. Once my babies were born, work inevitably moved to the back burner, although I kept it at a slow simmer. Despite my lack of time and the lack of work out there, I’ve held on by my fingernails to the writing career I spent years cultivating. It’s nowhere near as much as it once was, but I’m still in it. And I love it, I do. I love working and writing and the pride I feel after spinning the perfect sentence. I love having this thing I do, this other thing I do, outside of being a mom.
At the end of the day though, I’m really more of a stay-at-home mom than anything else, uniformed in comfy Croc flip-flops and yoga pants stained by that morning’s flying breakfast shrapnel. The majority of my time is spent tending to my toddlers. I take them to gym classes and playdates and preschool. I’m always busy, I’m always tired, and I often feel like I’m just dog-paddling to stay afloat. That’s just how it is. Especially with twins. Sure, I’m writing a few days a week, but it’s from my bed, in my pajamas, while my boys are in another room with the sitter.
These days though, it’s starting to hit me—how fleeting this time is. Since my boys turned 2 just a few months ago, everything’s been moving at warp speed and I can’t slow it down. My little babies are now “beeeg boy-yas” as they like to tell me. They can “do myself,” and tell me to “stop it, stop it,” when I try to cover them in kisses. The times that once felt so overwhelming and exhausting now just feel short, too short. I don’t want to miss anything—not one new discovery, not one new friend at the park, not one funny observation. I can decipher their toddler speak and non-sequiturs, not only because I’m their mom, but also because I know that little girl they’re so smitten with at school, and I was there when we saw the “sca-wee baby” décor at the Halloween store. I know that song they’re mumble-singing because I was there when we learned it. When we walk around the neighborhood, I know they like to point out the doggy weather vane and pet the little horse head sculpture. I’ve been there for all of it so far and, right now, nothing is more important to me than being front-seat for the rest. How could I turn back now?
I made a choice to work from home, and I don’t really want to reenter office life yet. It’s that simple. The choice was mine and I’m so lucky it was even an option for us. At this point in my life, no, I don’t have much career ambition. There, I said it. It’s just not in me right now and I’m OK with that (I think). Motherhood is no excuse—it’s me. So why should I feel embarrassed about being a mommy then? Since when did being a mommy become a bad thing? And more importantly, if someone thinks that’s a bad thing, why do I care? They either don’t know any better or are simply justifying their own decisions. I don’t judge other’s lifestyles as long as they don’t judge mine.
In a few years, I’ll probably reenter the workforce…if they’ll have me. And maybe some day, I’ll even write the great American novel or a book of short stories or a how-to guide on wearing sensible shoes with style. When that time comes though, my kids really will be beeeg boy-yas. Their squooshy toddler days will be long gone and I know I’ll miss it like crazy. Recently, a woman with a grown daughter said to me that she would pay $1 million to have just one day with her toddler again. Just for one day. That time for me is right now. If I’m spending these precious minutes worrying about what I’m doing with my life, then I’m just going to miss out on theirs. Besides, they are my life, aren’t they?
So no matter what happens with my career, I know that my kids will always be my very best work. They’re the coolest little people in the world and I’m so proud of every thing they do…even if it’s figuring out how to open the child-safety latch to access sharp, dangerous objects. If I’m going to take pride in my children though, doesn’t that also mean I should take pride in being their mommy as well? I think it does.
So I’m throwing out whatever script I had in my head, the one that told me that the life of a mommy isn’t much of a life at all. I was wrong, wrong, so wrong. That “Mommy” title is one I’ll wear with honor, along with my yoga pants and frizzy bun and even those damn Crocs. I don’t need an award or a pat on the back or a letter of recognition. Nothing in the world could make me more proud than when my kids grin at me after accomplishing some toddler feat and say, “My did it, Mommy! My did it!” Yes, I tell my sweet boys, I saw the whole thing.
Jennifer Benjamin is an LA-based freelance writer and editor with over thirteen years of experience writing for national magazines and websites like Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, SELF, Parents Magazine, The Stir and Daily Glow. More important, she’s a Mommy to identical twin boys, as well as an avid cook, a terrible housewife, and a loungewear enthusiast. Find her on Twitter @JennyBenjamin or Facebook.