Mommy Tax

white graphing paper
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Laddu is on the kitchen island, her legs dangling off the edge. Large sunglasses cover more than half her face. I am feeling reflective and in the mood for conversation.

“What is your destiny?” I ask as a follow-up to our discussion on the show Ever After High. She blinks. I go back to the story and we talk about it. I repeat my question clarifying she can model her destiny off either of her parents. She doesn’t miss a beat this time.

“I will be like daddy. He is a nice person. You are evil!”

I am stunned by the emphasis on evil. I go quiet. She prattles on, repeating that I am evil because I never let her have fun. She gives me examples.

“You never let me play with empty boxes or cut paper into bits.”

“You never let me play with water.”

“You don’t let me mess with paint.”

I walk away, her voice fading with distance. She seems perplexed but understands she upset me. I am supposed to feel bad but I don’t. I hold on to this hurt like a shield, trying to process all the little things that lead up to this moment.

My day starts and ends in the kitchen. I tend to the chores, do the invisible things that make our home a functional place. My mind is forever thinking of the next meal, next appointment on the calendar. It tracks outgrown clothes, faded shoes, fraying laces and the size of the laundry hamper. Between all the mundane things that are needed to keep everyone running, I plan birthdays, get gifts for parties kids are invited to, pay bills, get quotes, wrangle with insurance and billing assistants at the doctor’s office. I plan vacations, book tickets and research places to stay. 

My to-dos are never-ending. I am an automaton. I am a mother.

My work is behind the scenes, my emotional toil unseen, the weight I carry only visible to me when I look in the mirror. I tell myself I am not looking for validation. I do this because I signed up for it, willingly. I do it because I care about the quality of life I make for my children.

Laddu’s words echo in my head.

It is true I hate messes. I hate bits of paper wedged in places I can’t reach. I hate glitter. I hate boxes lying all over. I hate the onus is on me to keep everything in its place. I hate that I can’t seem to let my hair down and roll with the punches. I hate to have to step over a million itty bitty pieces everywhere in the house.

Somewhere in the past nine years, I have learned to walk past piles of toys, dolls in stages of undress, stacks of haphazard books, pencils under the dining table, figurines in my cookware and my recipe books in the kids’ room.

Letting go is taking a toll on me. I labor to look past, ignore and walk on. This labor is also visible only to me. The idea that I have miles to go to earn the “nice” badge is enough to make me break down.

Each April as we sit to do our taxes, I realize I must add another chore to my list. I need to create another list to keep track of this mommy tax I pay so someday I can look back on these years and know that I strived for something, that this labor is real even if it has no apparent value.

In conversations with other women who grapple with the stay home vs work decision, I often talk about how this decision is largely financial. I must remember to add that this decision is also purely individual and not something you do for your partner or your children. Because if it is not, the tax you pay is not worth the things you give up for.

3 comments

  1. Oh wow, that must have hurt :–(
    you can try to enlist kiddos for help cleaning their room, instead of trying to do everything yourself. Or atleast contain the mess in one room, say their room or the playroom, that way you dont have to get stressed out everywhere in your house. That is what I try to do, not always succeeding. There is a benefit to letting kids get dirty and messy.
    Letting go is so hard ! I dont mind the messy house, but I have other areas I need to learn to let go with dotter, esp when I am trying to help her practice her piano or any other teaching moment. I need patience to let her flourish on her own.

  2. Kids are hurtful without realising it especially at that age. You have to understand that they see things from a very uni-dimensional lens. As far as they are concerned, they want to have fun and when told that they cannot, it settles in their brain as a sort of ‘don’t do it’. They don’t mean to be really hurtful and they probably regret it the minute they say it.

    It’s one reason why dads are more ‘fun’ even if they are more strict. This is true at my home as well.

    But if there’s a few things I’ve learnt, especially in the tween years they are:

    1. You cannot be everything to everyone. You have to be the disciplinarian at times and even though it hurts when they say what they say, you have to do what you feels right.

    2. Over time you will learn to let go. There’s no manual on when it happens or how it happens but it does. Nowadays I can go days without dusting and picking up stuff. I just let it be. And you know how dust is everywhere in India. I honestly don’t worry anymore. I dust if I feel like it. That’s it.

    3. As kids grow older, instil a sense of responsibility in them. No picking up after them, no doing their chores and absolutely no giving in to mommy guilt.

    4. I have zero expectations of every single person- both in my family and otherwise. I do what I do because it makes me happy- whether that’s cooking or cleaning or working or blogging. It took me a long time to get here but it’s extremely liberating. Being happy with something other than motherhood is extremely important, in my opinion. Whether that’s paid work or a hobby you cherish, it is an important dimension to you as a person.

    As far as Mommy Tax goes (I also saw your tweet on this), I don’t think I have anything to pay to anyone 🙂 I do what I do because it feels right to me.

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