To be frank, while I often use these types of acronyms when referring to my motherhood and my career life, I have no idea how to really define them. What exactly is a SAHM (stay at home mom) versus a WAHM (working at home mom)? Is there a difference? Does it mean that a WAHM is making some sort of financial contribution to her family while a SAHM simply works her ass off as well, just with no pay? As always, I think it is difficult to categorize what exactly these acronyms mean, and they certainly mean different things to different families. And placing a monetary value on what moms do or don't do is also a slippery slope. So, even though this post title implies that I know what I'm talking about here, or that perhaps I'm about to give some sage advice, don't be fooled. For those of you who have followed this blog previously, or know me in real life, you know I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. But, I'm happy to share my personal journey of motherhood and my career path and how I came to be a SAHM/WAHM.
A few years back (almost six to be exact), I was going to graduate school in Minnesota to get my masters degree in art history, with the intention of going into museum work. My husband, Eric, had a postdoctoral research position in chemistry at the University of Minnesota and in addition to being a full-time student, I also worked as an independent curator and part-time as a receptionist at a travel agency downtown Minneapolis. It barely paid the bills and the rent for our tiny one-bedroom apartment, but we decided to start our family. Little Lucy Valentine was born on a wild-weathered Midwestern spring day in 2004.
Thus began my introduction to motherhood and the world of being a working (both inside and outside the home) mama. I quit my job at the travel agency and took only night classes, so I could be with Lucy during the day and Eric could be with her at nights. I took no time off after her birth, and hand-pumped breastmilk in university bathrooms during class breaks. I strapped Lucy in the Baby Bjorn and toted her around the Twin Cities on extensive field research trips for my thesis, which I wrote at night after she went to bed, between the hours of 9pm-1am. Oh, how I remember that Amy fondly, the one that held on to her perfectionist ways and organizational mania. I was motivated and career-driven and determined to not only be a great mom, but KNEW I had too much to offer the art world to "just stay at home." Upon graduation, I was hired as the curator for the new downtown branch of the Minneapolis Public Library gallery.
(photo courtesy of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts)
About six months later, Eric got a position as a professor of chemistry at Boise State University and within two weeks I was flown out to Boise to interview for the position of Associate Curator of Art at this place. I was immediately offered the job, and we moved from Minneapolis to Boise in 2006, with our dream jobs secured. For the first time, we had to put Lucy in full-time daycare, but at the age of two-and-a-half, we knew she was ready to expand her social network. I, however, was surprised, as I sat in the parking lot of the museum bawling my eyes out every morning before work after dropping her off. For SIX WEEKS. I missed her, but we all got used to the routine. And our lives were fulfilling; I loved my work, was learning so much, and contributed a great deal to the Idaho art scene.
A year or two went by, and we decided to add to our family. Alice Virginia was born in April of 2008, to a four-year-old big sister who thought she was the cutest thing ever. I was lucky that the director of the museum granted my request for a five month maternity leave. While most of it was unpaid, of course, we made due with the lesser income, as it was what was best for our family at the time. I returned to work full-time, with both my babies at the same daycare center that we had grown to love. My lunch breaks were a precious, rushed hour spent nursing my baby Alice. Seven months later, in the spring of 2009, with absolutely no hint of a notion, I showed up to my beloved job one Monday morning to a surprise! You've been laid off! Much to my horror, my position had been eliminated, a result of a new director with new ideas, mixed in with a bit of an economic recession. I was told to leave immediately, and within thirty minutes I tossed some belongings in a box and left in a flurry of tears. I was devastated, to say the least. I didn't leave my house for two solid weeks, spending days chain smoking in my pajamas on the patio. And it got worse, as the news was printed on the front page of the Idaho Statesman a few days later. The layoff itself was a poorly handled - a sad, messy, terrible, awful situation that, unfortunately, dragged on for months. I lost friends, files, contacts, references, writing, books, ideas, and more. It was as though someone had died. I had lost my career. The one I was so good at. The one I deserved. The one I was still paying whopping student loan payments for each month. Only now I didn't have the income to pay them. Immediately, our financial livelihood was at stake, and Eric and I, in full on crisis mode, analyzed our money situation to see if we could still keep our house (a.k.a pay our mortgage). Second, that same day I pulled my girls from daycare and became a full-time SAHM for the first time in my life.
Like all moms, when faced with a crisis, you've got to pull your shit together in front of your kids. So, my doctor upped my anxiety medication and I tried to wait until 5pm for my first glass of wine. For their sake. The next six months were an emotional rollercoaster for me, mainly because I HAD A CAREER PATH AND THIS WASN'T IT. I had always known I wasn't made of the right components to simply care for my kids all. Day. Long. Suddenly, I had no choice. I was with them twenty-four hours a day, with little to no breaks. Ever. I had to succumb to their schedules, not mine. I couldn't wallow in my pity, depression, or pajamas. Gone were the days when I just worried about doing my own work, feeding my intellectual career goals, going out to lunch with colleagues and artists. Now I threw on jeans and flipflops, ate Cherrios for lunch, and spent afternoons at the park. And I soon discovered, IT WAS HARD. This SAHM gig is way more exhausting than the longest days I spent hanging and curating an exhibition at the museum. And, some days, I just don't feel like it. I want to call in sick. But I can't. So I let them eat popcorn in the bathtub with their cousins in the middle of the afternoon. Sometimes.
Eventually, I got used to it. And I got my shit together. Taking care of my family was my new full-time career and I took it by the reins. I joined a weekly playgroup and made wonderful new friends. I joined a book club, went to Jazzercize, and spent more time on my own artsy craftsy pursuits. And, while that over-achiever in me was thwarted a little, and my spirit surely dampened, I quickly morphed from a SAHM to a WAHM. This was mostly due to the fact that my unemployment pay was about to end, and we knew we couldn't survive financially without me bringing in some sort of income. So I picked some small, fun endeavors that allowed me bring home some bacon without compromising my time dedicated to my girls. The Downtown Boise Association paid me to create a winter window at a local business, which I also happened to win a nice cash prize for.