Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The stay-at-home-mom's answer to, "What did you do today?"

It's the question I dread, daily.  My husband comes home, and in a well-meaning attempt to express healthy spousal interest in my goings-on, speaks the loathed query: "So, what did you do today?"

My brain freezes. I run through the day's events, hoping to find something -- anything! -- of consequence, an accomplishment I can claim as the day's achievement.

Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

So then my internal switch flips to defensive indignation. As in, "Um, do you think I'm sitting around eating chips and watching TV all day?"

After four and a half years of answering, you'd think I would have figured out a good answer. (I haven't.)  And, you'd think it would have ceased to offend me. (It hasn't.)

Why? I know my husband does not, in fact, think that I sit on the couch from morning to evening. I know that he understands that being with small children all-day, every day, is no picnic. (I know this from my "days off" when I come home to find him wild-eyed and yelling, and we exchange a knowing and sympathetic look that says, simply, "Yep.")

But I know that there are, in fact, some people out there who believe that being "just" a wife and mom is what a woman does when she has no other marketable skills.

That's why I still sometimes feel the need, when faced with a condescendingly arched brow at the mention of my current profession, to explain to the offender that before I "stayed home," I successfully ran a multi-million dollar division of a Fortune 500 company. Yeah, buddy, I've got MAD skills. How about you?

That baggage is my own, not my husband's. But it may explain my hostility toward what is, in essence, an innocuous question, a simple expression of interest.

He asks, "What did you do?" I hear, "What did you get done?"

I'm a stay-at-home-mom. I have no urgent team meetings, no big sales, no business trips, and no epic show-downs with the jerk one cubicle over. My victories are nothing I would want to claim as such: managing to shower alone; finding Darth Vader's lost helmet; convincing our son to wipe his own bottom without either of us spiraling into screaming lunacy.

Being home all day with little kids is frustrating and loud and demanding and isolating and largely thankless. But it's also what I've chosen, because in between the noise and frustration are the perfect moments of love, learning, trust and growth that I'd miss if I were anywhere else.

The truth is, the things I do all day, every day, are of no consequence to anyone but our sons. And most days, I question even that.

So, what, exactly, is the right answer when one is asked what she's done with this one, full, precious day of her life?

I've answered with stubborn non-answers: Nothing much. I'm not really sure. The usual.

I've answered with the passive-agressive laundry-list: I made breakfast, worked out, vacuumed, cleaned the bathrooms, picked up the Lego room, took our preschooler to lunch at an indoor play area, caught up on e-mail, worked on a scarf for my mom, did homework with our first-grader, and made dinner. What did YOU do today?

But what I'd like most to say is this: "I did everything necessary, which resulted in absolutely nothing tangible. I role-played a dozen cartoon characters I don't even like in absurd scenarios that made me want to drive a spike into my skull. I dried big, wet tears shed for lost clone troopers, hung computers, and shirts that feel itchy.

"I cooked, and cleaned, and cooked, and cleaned, and cooked, and cleaned again, which you would never know because it still looks like a herd of unsupervised Wookiees was loose in our house all day. I gave and received countless hugs and kisses, and held our youngest son's small, warm, perfect hand.

"I wished for quiet, wished for a friend, wished for a pedicure, wished for world peace, and wished I didn't have to pick up the same toys 15 times a day. I listened to long and largely unintelligible stories and responded at appropriate intervals. I stepped on a Lego and managed not to swear. I walked hand-in-hand with our oldest son from the bus stop to our house and learned very little about his day, but realized, again, that he is a terrific kid.

"I searched for lost socks, for answers, for Transformers, for my sense of humor and batteries and meaning. I started the washing machine, started to decorate for the next holiday, to clean the fish tank, to cry. I finished nothing. I found nothing. And none of my wishes materialized.

"So, what did I do today? I did a lot, and accomplished very little. Except that our two sons know they are loved. Yes, I did that for sure."

Update, April 14, 2012: A (much shorter) version of this was published today in the Columbus Disptach.