slow down, you move too fast.

empty shoes.  It’s Monday.  A pair of little shoes sits empty at the front door.  I think of the feet that fit inside, and I miss my children.  They are asleep in their beds and I miss them.  Because on Saturday I had to attend a class for work.  All day.  And on Sunday, I graded papers. All day.  It’s 6:45 am and I’m leaving again.  The weekend went by, as all weekends do, and I can’t be sure if I saw them.

When my oldest child was still an infant, I determined something about myself:  I would never be a stay-at-home-mom.  Not only were we unable to swing it financially, but I found I just wasn’t made for it.  I wasn’t good at it.

baby boy.  But things are different now.  I’m different now.  It’s been almost seven years, and we’ve had two more kids since then.  I’m patient now.  More understanding.  And I almost feel like I know what I’m doing.

Lately, I look out into the rows and rows of faces in my classroom, and I remember something a teacher friend said to me the first time she met Georgia:  “I took ten years off when my kids were born because I thought, ‘Why am I spending all of my time with someone else’s children when I could be spending it with my own?'”

the middle one.

It’s true; for eight waking hours each day, I am with another mother’s children.  And my own children have me for less than four.  Sometimes, my middle one mistakenly calls me “Miss Kerrie” or “Grandma” the way my teenage students call me “Mom,” and I think that everything is confused.  I watch as my girls, tucked inside their beds, struggle against sleep to hear another chapter of The Phantom Tollbooth because they just can’t stand to miss anything.  I look forward to breaks and summer, and panic that they’ll be over before they’ve even begun.

Maybe it’s the way we started 2013:  three cases of strep and a ruptured eardrum.  PANDAS (and its residual effects).  A stomach virus.  Broken cars and air conditioners and refrigerators.  Jane’s anemia.  All before the first week of March was over.  And it makes me think that if I was just around more, if I just took better care of them, of everything . . .

We work too much.  This world moves too fast.

I find myself wanting not to stay home, but to be home. Not because I think it would this is the way i want to remember her.be easier (it wouldn’t), but because I want to see my kids. I don’t want to miss watching them grow up. I want to brush my daughter’s hair in the morning before she goes to school.  I want to talk with her over breakfast. I want to go to her birthday lunch bunch on a Wednesday afternoon.

Because the truth is, there will always be other teenage students.  But my kids aren’t coming around again.

My husband jokes that we could sell the house and a car and live out of the pop-up camper somewhere in the country.  And there’s a part of me that thinks that idea isn’t half-bad.

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the parent trap: let’s get together, yeah yeah yeah

I’m tired of flexing my mommy muscles. But I do it anyway.  I roll my eyes, roll up my sleeves, and throw my elbow down on the table.  Ready to armwrestle yet another mother.

It starts before the baby is even born.  In active labor, I walked into the hospital, stopping every minute or so to claw at the wall.  The man at the reception desk asked if I wanted a wheelchair, and all I could bring myself to do was shake my head and keep walking.  “They never do,” he said behind me.

We never do. Because we’re showing off our muscles.

And then the baby is born, and so is the competition:  How long were you in labor?  I had the longest labor on record.  Or I had the shortest labor on record.  And I didn’t have an epidural, did you?   And how big was your baby? Mine was in the 95th percentile for both height and weight . . . 

Right.  Because all of that means you’re a better mother.

This is what women (or at least those of us who are mothers) do.

We engage in complex battles over breastfeeding; the women who can’t or choose not to feel like they have to explain themselves, the women who do feel the need to let everyone know. (At one point, I think I started basing my self-worth as a mother on how many bags of breastmilk were in the freezer.  And then I got suddenly sick and had to be medicated, and the medication made the baby sick.  The frozen breastmilk was not enough.  And so I was not enough.)

Right.  Because a mother is nothing more than the milk her breasts produce.  (And, apparently, now, in order to be “enough,” you need to breastfeed your children until they reach the second grade.  Thank you, TIME.)

My son slept through the night at six weeks.  Mine crawled at six months.  Mine was walking before a year. My baby’s first word was “loquacious.” 

And perhaps the most well-known is the ongoing conflict between the stay-at-home-mom and the working mom. It might be amusing if it wasn’t so bitter.  Both sides have reasons for believing they are superior, but really, no one is right.  And so we’re no better than the popular girls on the playground in grade school;  we form cliques, we alienate, we gossip.  (I was at a PTO committee meeting a few weeks ago, and when I mentioned that I worked outside the home, the women around me recoiled as though I had some communicable disease.)

 My son scored six goals at his last soccer game.  My four-year-old reads at a tenth-grade level. 

Oh, shut up.  Please shut up, ladies.

I’m too damn tired of this.  I’m tired of using these sculpted arms for defending my choices as a parent. I’m tired of people like Anne-Marie Slaughter telling me I can’t have it all when she has no idea what my all is.

So I think I’m done with this fight; don’t ask me to show you my mommy muscles, because I won’t.

I need to use them to hold my strapping toddler while he sleeps during church. I need the muscles for the days my daughter wakes up with a fever and vomits curdled milk all over her face, and for the times I carry my sleeping six-year-old to bed.  Or maybe for the night I catch my three-year-old flipping quickly through the pages of Love You Forever, telling herself, “the mom doesn’t die, the mom doesn’t die,” again and again.

I have them, I promise. But I’ll save them for when my week-old infant is hospitalized with something that can’t be identified, and I try to comfort her while she’s hooked up to monitors and I wonder if she might die because no one is telling me otherwise.

Or for the days when mommying and teaching and writing don’t satisfy my restlessness and I want to be closer to my all . . . whatever my all may be.

The truth is that the competition exists only because none of us know what we’re doing.  We have no idea whether or not the choices we make are the right ones.  What is truly self-doubt disguises itself as a boisterous pat on one’s own back.  (Maybe if someone did pat us on the back once in a while, we wouldn’t have to use our mommy muscles to do it ourselves.) We can only do what we think is right for our kids, and because our kids are different, our choices will be different.

Ultimately, we have to trust that the goal is the same, no matter how we try to get there.  (I mean, who doesn’t LOVE a choose-your-own-adventure book, really?)

We don’t need each other to tell us that we’re not enough.  We’ve got ourselves to do that.