Monday, August 03, 2009


I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, that's important to note. What I wanted to be was a soap opera actress. It wasn't even, really, a matter of wanting to be this-- it was just what I knew I would be, always I knew it.

That's why I didn't really pick a major in undergrad, just sort of drifting into speech communication because comm professors held evening classes and were seldom around on Fridays and understood that my weekends were for the speech team. I did want children, and I figured the life of a working soap actress was great-- you could bring the kids with you to the set; the work was steady with fairly normal hours, and all the actresses I read about in my Sop Opera Digest talked about their easy time balancing kids and family. It was a practical career choice, I figured.

I remember the day I realized I wasn't actually going to be a soap star. I was taking an autobiography class my junior year at Bradley, and my autobiography was all about my obsession with soap stardom-- how I used to pretend to be Ethel Merman's crabby sister when I was a preschooler, how I watched Days of Our Lives before I could talk, and how my earliest memory was of the day the Salem Slasher killed Renee DiMera and left a raven's feather on her lifeless body (that was 1981. I was 3). I interspersed these anecdotes with tales of the time I pretended my plastic Little Tikes Smurf picnic table was a fur coat and put it on by standing it up and slipping my arms between the benches and then plunging face first onto the basement floor-- my arms helplessly akimbo, my body no match for the table's weight-- and smashing my fat little nose, memories of what a shitty but dedicated roller skater I've always been, and lamentations of my small town Illinois life. One day in class, it was my day to read my work and get peer feedback, and while I was reading, I thought about how I must look to the rest of the class and wondered what they saw when they read my stories because I saw a roomful of D&D loving, greasy weirdos who would be maybe half of what they wanted to be if they were lucky, the kind of kids who always populated creative writing classes-- my peers.

It's a sad fucking day when you realize Alison Sweeney is out of your league, you know?

So there I was, not pretty enough to be a soap opera actress and without any sort of career ambitions outside the small screen. Luckily, I dropped so many early morning classes that I had an extra semester at Bradley to figure my life out. I immediately decided to be a poet instead (such common sense! such rationality!) and took enough classes for a minor I never declared and entered some of the most shockingly terrible poetry ever written in a scholarship contest. Upon rejection, I abandoned that dream as well and did what any underachieving comm major with a warped understanding of how students loans work would do: I went to graduate school.

And fell in love and got married and had babies. Oh the babies.

Before they were real, I talked about them in theory because I knew all about motherhood in theory because I was a feminist scholar goddamnit. Before they were real, I scoffed at the stay at home mom and told anyone who would listen how much I believed in daycare-- it takes a village and all that-- and anyone who was anti-dayvcare was anti-woman, plain and simple. Before they were real, I ranted against the image of the ideal worker as an a disembodied man, whose private concerns were taken care of by his wife, who also minded the children.

Then they were real-- babies in theory became my Harry and my Jack in practice, and no part of me could stomach the idea of a daycare center (which might be because they all smelled like a kennel), and all I wanted to do was stay home with them and play games and do puzzles and go to baby gym class and kiss their sweet heads and smell their soft hair and touch their velvet cheeks. When Harry was a baby, we went out to lunch with his friend Josephine, and I turned around to say something to Josephine's mom, and she had Jo's whole earlobe in her mouth, nibbling it absently as we walked, and I was like oh my god-- I am not the only person who loves her baby so much I want to eat him and I was so relieved to realize that this overwhelming love is universal, a happy side effect of mothering that I never read about in any theory anywhere.

I have almost quit my job, abandoned my studies, etc about 64 times in the past 3 years. Ben is always a thousand and fifty percent supportive , but I can never quite pull the plug on the other part of my life because it's almost perfect, too. Somewhere between that sad, sad autobiography class and the giant pain-in-the-ass that was my dissertation, I fell in love with my work, too.

As a child, I never imagined my life this way, but to change any part of it now is unimaginable.

So what do we do? How do we fit all the pieces together? How do we juggle 3 great loves-- marriage, babies, and work?


  1. Hell if I know!

    I was the opposite. I decided early in undergrad that I would never have babies because I didn't think "I would want someone else raising my kids" and I wanted a job. But then I had them and I still liked grad school, so I put Charlie in daycare and I discovered how much I loved juggling! And daycare! More people to love my kid! It's awesome!

    And now I am staying at home full time and I really really miss working. Interesting how we started in opposite places but have ended up at the same place, eh?

    Now I need a job! So jealous of your ideal arrangement.

  2. The a answer of course...A third wife. I have been saying it for a long time. If we get ourselves a young...attractive...young... third wife...that might really work. Just something to think about.

  3. Sarah, I think that your inherent struggle is also your greatest quality. I remember a day in grade school when another student responded to a question re: their parents occupation and her response was "oh, my mom does nothing, she doesn't work" with what seemed like disgust in her voice.

    Her response has never left me. In fact, when deciding to stay at home I often wondered if my children would respect me or if somehow they'd view it as a weakness. What I'm trying to say is--you're boys are going to be so proud of you. They already are. You live, mother and teach with such honorable conviction Sarah. You are doing the right thing.

    Soap star? Really? I never knew. Well, for what it's worth, I wanted to be Gidget.

  4. I love being a sahm but struggle with being "just a mom" on a daily basis.

    I have considered everything from diving headfirst into volunteering at a local nursing home, to going back to med school, to getting a boob job and spending my days at the gym and lunching with friends.
    Just keeping it real!

    P.S. I can totally see you as a soap star but maybe in your next life!

  5. Hey Ben, a third wife? Who is the second wife? :)

    Sarah - I think you just summed up my whole life. Except I wanted to work & not stay home... being what? Who knew??? A guy friend from undergrad decided I went to college for my MRS. I also told people my next move was a PhD. And then I had Allie and couldn't bear the thought of being away from her. I initially went back to work full time and called my poor husband every day that first week sobbing. Friday of my first week back, I found out there was a part time job opening in my department and then called Gabe from the bathroom to inform him of this! :)

    I am not juggling it so well right now. I feel behind in everything - work, cleaning, laundry. And I don't feel like I spend enough time playing with the girls when I'm home. But give up my couple days at work? No, thanks.

    Here's hoping you figure it out and clue me in!

  6. Before I met my husband, I "knew" I would work. I wanted to teach, so I would have the summers, etc off to spend with them. Then I met him and he was big on home schooling and me staying home. Then we moved to where we live and I spent a year subbing in the public schools - and quickly learned I was not going to send my kids there (even the best schools in town had big issues!). So, we considered private school and I started my job at the CC. Then I found out about distance learning and realized that was a great way to work and still be home with the kids.

    I love the arrangement we have now, although balancing a toddler, work, and a house is hard! But, I don't think I would ever give this up!

  7. tripod6:50 PM

    Third wife? You guys must be watchng Big Love on demand to get ready for the new season.
    Sarah, you were always a really good poet. You were a good actress, too. And you were defintely pretty enough to be on a soap!

    But speaking of Big Love, I doubt that plural marriage is easy in our culture, even for families who genuinely believe in the principle. We are just too secular as a culture. You can restrict the family's access to a lot of pop culture while the kids are little, but eventually they see Leave it to Beaver, and realize their family is even more different from the Cleavers than most families are. Hmmmm

  8. I'm so glad someone else sucks their babies' ears! I know it's totally wierd, but sometimes I just can't help it! Good job finding your three loves and working on the balance

  9. I definitely chew on Ethan more than is probably socially acceptable. :-)

    Being a stay at home mom has always suited me (not that I've never had a horribly bad day, obviously), but I've struggled with the guilt of how I don't miss working at ALL. I taught for 11 years--I should at least feel some sense of loss at giving that all up, right? Meh.

    And I am also curious as to who Ben's 2nd wife is...

  10. 1. I totally remember the smashed nose story.

    2. You put Ethel Merman's version of Gypsy on a mixed tape for me my Junior Year of High School after I qualified for state.

    and 3. You are so pretty enough to be a soap star.

    Mostly, I think dreams aren't about coming true...I think its more about making your reality as good as you remember the dreams being...So, did you?