Friday, February 24, 2006

Who Am I?

A reader asked us to give more information about the writers of StuntMom. My mind has been going in so many directions - who am I? Short Answer: My name is Rebecca, aka StuntBec. I am 35; live in Rockland, Maine; have 3 children: Beatrice (almost 5), James (almost 3), and Henry (almost 1); and I stay at home with them.

Long-winded Answer:
But no, that's not really me. Who am I? When I asked myself this, a lightbulb lit up, for this is a part of my frustrations: How do I now perceive myself? I'm not just a stay at home mom! When I taught writing, as a prompt for my students, I would ask them to write about a proud moment in their lives. You wouldn't believe how many women wrote that giving birth was their proudest moment. I feel a secret guilt that this is not the case for me. Each birth was amazing, incredible, painful. But that's not what I would rank as one of my proudest moments. It's biology. I am not the universal mother. I love being a mom, I love my children like I never imagined I would, but I'm still Rebecca, too. I'm a stay at home mom because my husband and I just happen to think that it's for the best interests of our children, and for society in general, for one of us to stay home and, simply put, raise them. I don't define myself simply as a mom. So, why can't I quickly list more information about myself? Where did my identity go? Did one of the nurses whisk it away, along with the afterbirth and general mess, after I gave birth to my daughter? Sometimes it feels that way.

In a psychology class that I took in high school, we were instructed to pick one word, whatever came to mind first, to describe ourselves. At the time, epileptic surfaced first. I struggled with seizures for many years. But I've been seizure free, sans medication, for going on 9 years. Thankfully, that label is a thing of the past. In college, it was easy. I was an English major. Grammar and Victorian literature were my specialties. This label lasted until I finished graduate school, in 2002. But now that I'm 35, it seems a little silly to use a degree to define oneself. And let's be honest: although I still read books, I haven't picked up and reread my comfort food of literature, Jane Eyre, since the birth of my second child. My last paid job has been teaching English as a Second Language and also Basic Reading and Writing (a pre-GED course). But even that label is gone, now that I've moved to Rockland. What is my identity now? Stay at Home Mom just doesn't sit right with me. And I know, we've talked about this before, when trying to come up with a new label for SatHM.

When I was out taking my parents' dogs for a walk this morning, it finally dawned on me. I remembered a conversation I had with my mother, a few months after the birth of my first child. I worried a lot, at that time, about dying before my children were grown. I asked her to be sure, if I died, that my children were raised to be compassionate people. It's not that my husband isn't caring, but he's just not the best communicator. I sometimes think important messages on life would be lost if it were solely up to him to teach them.

So my main goal, what defines what I do with my children, is to teach them compassion, and to be productive, cooperative thinkers. The world needs more of them. The word compassion, alas, has suffered much abuse these days. Our compassionate conservative president (the one who consistently cuts funding for those who need it most) once told us, to help our great country, go shopping at the mall. Spend some money. Anyone else remember this speech? It haunts me, for this mentality is just what I feel is wrong with our society today. Consume. It's good for you, and good for the country. He didn't tell us to volunteer at a soup kitchen, or be a literacy tutor, or even to spend a few extra minutes in the day reading or playing with our very own children. Nope, just shop. So many people don't question this mentality!

Anyway, I won't get sidetracked. But I feel that my role as a stay at home parent is to teach my children an awareness of the world and people around them. So I'm making the effort to teach them a foreign language, so that they understand and appreciate that the rest of the world does not speak just English. For the global perspective, I'm not telling them to finish their suppers, because people in China are starving (how many of your parents told you this, night after night?). Sadly, that's about the only global talk I ever heard as a child. I'm instead sharing stories I've gathered from my multinational students. They hear of Mohammad, who at age 10 experienced the worst scare of his life, when he and his father were taking a herd of camels across the desert at night, and were surrounded by a bunch of lions. They hear of Tichote, and his childhood in Sudan. After a relative called a homeless person a bum, the family discussed homelessness, and how it's not just about people being lazy. Perhaps these messages are lost at such an early age, but why wait? Am I putting the weigh of the world on their little shoulders? I do keep the horrid details at bay, but without a knowledge of other people, how else could we nurture a compassion for others? This is my main "intension." Wish me luck.

So, readers, writers, tell us about yourselves! Why did you make the decision to stay at home and take an active role in raising your children?


Anonymous said...

wow! what a great post. I stay at home because I didn't have children only to have someone else raise them. I want to be the one who teaches them compassion, manners, values and how to wipe their butt after making stinky. : ) Being raised fundamental baptist this was a natural and easy decision. Lately, (amid doubts and questions about the entire baptist faith) I have found that I have my own personal reasons for wanting to stay at home with my kids. They are my mark on this world. My most significant contribution. I have to be sure they carry over the best of me and even harder, I have to make sure they don't carry over the worst at me. I too, have been struggling lately with-- who am I apart from my family? I miss working. I miss bringing in my own money. Having children is about sacrifice. I could go back to work and we would benefit from more income--- but my children would be the ones to miss out. They would have the latest gadget, but they wouldn't have walks with their mom after breakfast. They would be trendy, but some stranger would get to see them conquer the "big slide" for the first time. They would eat out at restaurants often, but I wouldn't be able to teach my son to hold the door for the elderly women coming in behind us as we run errands together. I remain committed to raising my kids.

StuntBec said...

Well stated. You so eloquently put into words what I too want to do: have my children carry over the best of me, and not the worst of me.

Having children does require sacrifice, but I try very hard to avoid this sort of thinking. If we didn't have children, we'd have nicer furniture. We'd travel to Europe more often. We'd..... I try and think of staying home as more of a lifestyle choice. The fact of the matter is, we do have children. And as I bet you'll agree, we wouldn't have it any other way. I see this time of sacrifice as such a small amount of time in the grand scheme. Once all 3 are in school, I'll start working part time. But until then, we eat out less, but do see them conquor the "big slide"! Like you, I can't imagine not being around, and having some stranger tell me about Henry's first steps!

Actually, I see this time more as a choice than a sacrifice. Over the holidays a nephew of mine, 9 years old, was shocked to learn that my daughter had never been to Disney World. "Wow. You've never been there? Why not?" He looked questioningly at me. His parents have taken their family there a few times now. So I stepped in, and explained to my nephew that because we only have one income, our kids haven't gone to Disney World yet. Maybe when they're a little older. Instead, we have a little less money, but the kids get to hang out all day with their mom. He's hung out with us enough to know that we have fun. It was really cool, watching his mind digest it all, weighing out the pros and cons. It was good to have Bea hear this, and think about it, too.

And for many, not all, mind you, it's a choice the other way, too. One of my husband's aunts told us how lucky we were to have me staying home. She said her daughter would love to stay at home with the kids, but they just can't afford it. Now, they live in a very expensive neighborhood, in a huge house. They send their kids to private school. They have 2 new cars. Yes, their home is beautifully furnished, too. They go to Disney World every year. If they adjusted their lifestyle, I bet they could swing it on one income. But if you dare mention this, it causes more of a stink than the presidental election in 2000!

My big question that I can't seem to answer, and I don't mean to be "more holier than thou", but why aren't more people committed to raising their kids? I just don't understand it. It makes me think sometimes that I take myself too seriously (I am an excellent "straight man" for my husband's jokes) or that I'm just over the top. So it's great to hear your enthusiasm for thoughtfully raising your children! Thanks for writing.

Jayne Martin Dressing said...

I take issue with a couple of things Stuntbec has said. First of all, I think most women who have trusted other adults with the care of their children do not consider them "strangers." I have had two very loving, conscientious, sitters whom my children have adored. I consider it a blessing that my kids understand that other adults can love and care for them in addition to their parents. Did they do things exactly the way I would do them,no, but neither does my mother.
Secondly, I believe every woman and man who decides to become a parent has a made a tremendous commitment for the rest of their lives whether they realize it or not. I will tell you why more women can't stay home with their children, and it's not all about nice furniture. Take a look at astronimical costs of health insurance, the rapidly increasing costs of even in-state college tuition, and the rising costs of home ownership. Ask your parents how much their first house cost. Many young couples are already 30-50K in the red from their college or professional school loans when they decide to start a family. I think the real question you should be asking is not why more parents aren't committed to raising their kids, but why more and more people in this country can't get out of the hole. I agree we should be looking for ways to have fewer bills and fewer wants. But we cannot expect women to make the choice between staying home and providing their children with health insurance.

StuntBec said...

Jayne, I must address your points. I certainly don't want to cause any hard feelings. First: true, babysitters are not strangers. I was using the word stranger from a previous posting: "(Her children) would be trendy, but some stranger would get to see them conquer the 'big slide' for the first time." So my apologies - I was using the word stranger too freely.

And as to point number 2, what timing! I am all too aware of the costs of healthcare. I spent a couple of hours yesterday trying to find cheaper healthcare. Our current policy expires April 1, and the rate for renewal is crazy. And we're a (knock on wood) healthy family of 5. Take myself off? Doesn't reduce the cost by much. And what if? Here in Maine, I can't seem to find any sort of coverage for my family that costs less than $1033/month, and that's with a $2900 family deductible. I can't even start worrying about college yet... Like everything else, we'll figure it out. So yes, that's a wonderful question: why can't families get out of the hole? I keep my senators and congressmen in the loop on this question. My husband constantly bombards the prez. with his ideas and opinions. What else can we do? Suck it up and enjoy the time we have with our young chilldren. I'd like to think that once all the kids are in school, I will be able to work part time and bring in some extra cash. That's the light at the end of my tunnel.

But I think my question shouldn't raise hackles (sp?). I totally agree that it's not a choice for everyone (and I consider myself extremely lucky that I have this choice). I would never suggest opting out of healthcare in order to stay home (not that anyone has ever even asked me) - that would be irresponsible. But for those who have the choice, and whine, yes, whine, that they wish they could stay home: well, do it.

And if you can't make it work on just one income, or don't have it in you to stay home (it's not for everyone, that's for sure) at least take an interest in your children. What are they learning in school? Have supper together on a regualar basis, and talk about your day. A person I know, when asked about her children's report cards, didn't even know they had been issued. I hope this is an extreme example, but fear it is not. I worry where our society is heading.

I think I better stick to talking about what's for supper. It'll keep me out of trouble! : )