Have you ever choked? Like, legitimately began choking on something where for a second (which feels like several minutes) you were certain death was imminent?
The summer I was 15, I remember vividly sitting on a bar stool right next to my very best friend, eating dinner at my dad’s house in Chattanooga and choking on a piece of bread while no one noticed. Of course I couldn’t make a single noise as it was blocking my airway and I was far too panicked to think of physically grabbing my friend not six inches to my right and making her take notice so I sat there and awaited death.
Somehow I survived, the bread dislodging itself from my throat and me then furiously trying to relay the fact that I had just been suffocating and not a single one of the five people in the room even realized it.
I read something recently that resonated with me – and uncomfortably so. This woman, a very well-to-do, intelligent, charismatic lady, wrote about how she had been a stay-at-home-mom for 26 years and never got used to it. She couldn’t even bring herself to use that ‘SAHM’ title so when she was surrounded by others she would make sure to deflect the inevitable question of “What do you do for a living?” Feeling as though her 26 years of being a SAHM wasn’t, well, enough; as though being ‘just’ a stay at home mom was an inadequate job amongst those who “worked” a more traditional office job. Of course she knew the value in being a SAHM, it just wasn’t enough for her.
I could have totally written that. Word for word, each letter, each pause in each comma – it was like YES. THIS. UH-HUH. HEAD NOD.
Now I have that office job. A job that is perfectly suited for me and a job that I really love. I am no longer ‘just’ a stay at home mom; I am a mom and I am also out there just like I wanted to be, working really hard to provide for my kids and, better yet, I’m lucky to be doing something I enjoy.
Now I feel like where I ‘failed’ at being a successful woman in the working world before, I now fail at being the super mom everyone expects I should also be. The guilt has not gone away; it’s simply shifted. While I once would have wished I could have brought in an income, I now feel like a failure for missing school activities. Now working isn’t a choice but a reality. Attending school activities are no longer my main job – they are what I do in my free time. And I have very little of that these days.
Finding a balance between the work that I love and being with my boys who I work so hard for is incredibly difficult. I can’t keep up. I can’t maintain that SAHM persona they’re used to and provide for them like I have to. And the stress is sometimes suffocating.
Last week, I worked a ton of extra hours to bring to fruition a site I’m really proud of. GUILT. My oldest gave me a note for Mother’s Day warning me he will forget about me if I send him to daytime summer camp when school’s out. GUILT. He’s being bullied again. GUILT. My mom called to let me know she thinks he could really use a little one-on-one time with me – if I have time. GUILT. My 5 year old reminded me I haven’t answered his mail. GUILT. There’s no way I can make it home in time for their Open House next week. GUILT. Tonight, my ex asked me if I could take the boys for a little while because I was home earlier than normal and I said I needed to work. GUILT.
And I feel like an asshole. Especially over that last one. But I just need a second. A minute. For air. Because between the work, the parenting and the guilt – oh my god the guilt – it’s like I’m standing here, in a room full of people, choking and no one has noticed. And I just need to catch my breath. For just a second.