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.