Walking out to the car last night after Ben got home from work, I fell into conversation with one of my neighbours. Most of the chats that occur on our street are from one porch to another, half shouting and half gesturing, but almost always with a smile. It's a good spot we've got here. It's friendly. We like it.
Him: "Off to work?"
Him: "Same thing!"
Me: "Yes! Yes, it is. Thank you."
Him: *smiles, nods, and waves me off*
Of all the chores that must be done in a given week, going for groceries (when I have the car and don't have the baby) is probably my favourite. I also like folding clean laundry (but not washing it, or putting it away). But even agreeable household duties are a tax of energy and time. It's all work, it just isn't paid work, and you know what? Money is very motivating.
I haven't had a "regular job" in a long time. The last official pay stub I received was while working at Camp Mini-Yo-We, in the summer of 2014. Although I've since done a great deal of babysitting (a term I dislike for so many reasons that it may eventually become its own post), that money was all off-the-books... but even a couple $20 bills at the end of spending the day with somebody else's kids felt way more validating than the hours I put into my writing, or illustration practice or the other artistic pursuits I've spent the last five years investing in that have yet to yield a penny. It's so hard not to measure yourself against the world with a dollar value. How much is my time worth? When you're not getting paid for the work you do, it can start to feel like the answer is "Nothing."
And now I'm a stay-at-home mom. It's trite but true to say that I'm living the life I've always wanted; I'm a domestically oriented human, and I love the traditional family structure. I signed up for this life from way back in our dating days, and I enjoy it most of the time (when my brain is healthy -- quick meds update, they are working well and still making the whole world brighter)! We are very blessed to be able to live comfortably on Ben's income. I'm aware of the privilege that it is to choose to stay home and write / make art on the side. I so admire other moms who juggle their bowling balls full time, with or without a side hustle. Kids are WORK. But it would be a lie to say that I feel that my labours are valued by society deep down in my bones. Even with a baby on my hip all day long, I can feel my face flush when people ask what I do.
I'm trying to grow this tiny, babbling human into a decent, coherent and kind adult. It's taking forever, and it's taking all of me. I also try to feed and clothe my husband, keep our house clean-ish, and sleep at night. I pitch in at church. I talk to my neighbours. I recycle. Sometimes I also shower.
...is that enough?
It feels hard to measure. I won't get a raise if I exceed expectations. If I succeed, our life will look very normal from the outside. My eventually-plural children will be healthy and generally polite, and also they will occasionally be little monsters who make mistakes and deal with sickness and heartache. My husband will look professional and clean at work, and there will be days when he wears shoes with the soles coming off because I keep forgetting to find and use the glue on them. Life is messy for everyone.
I went out for more groceries a few hours ago: cucumber and peppers for lunch tomorrow, ginger ale and saltine crackers for Ben tonight (fevers are no fun). Our street was quiet this time. I ran my errands and came home again without fanfare. When I got home, I put everything away. I found a straw in the kitchen and opened a can of Canada Dry for my husband who was huddled on the couch under a blanket, eating the sleeve of saltines I'd found for him before I left. And here's my compensation:
"Thanks for taking such good care of me."
That's it. That's how moms get paid. In thank-yous.
It's also how dads get paid. And grandparents, and aunties, and volunteers in your community -- and children! Appreciation is motivating. Acknowledgement is motivating. Be generous and sincere with your thanks. It goes a long way to honouring and validating unpaid work.