My son has a new passion for singing.
He graces us with his voice at all hours of the day and night, specifically when he sings himself to sleep at bedtime and naptime. He has several tunes he enjoys, but the song he sings most frequently is “The Wheels on the Bus.”
He loves to demonstrate his knowledge of people and animals, and the sounds and noises they make.
A few weeks ago he started saying that all the Grandma’s, Grandpa’s, Aunties and Uncles on the bus say “I Love you.” His favorite is the Cat on the bus says “Meow Meow Meow,” followed by the Mason on the bus “jumps up and down.” (Followed by lots of Mason jumping)
Pre-K has taught him that the Mommy on the bus says, “Shh Shh Shh,” which I’m actually okay with. I do say that often when we go grocery shopping or to restaurants, and I’d probably say it if we ever actually rode a bus.
But a couple nights ago while cooking dinner, I hear him loudly singing from his truck table, The Mommy on the Bus says, “I go to work.”
At first I thought I heard him wrong. He’s only been speaking words for about 10 months of his life, so surely he had that part wrong. The Mommy may have said, “I go to Target” or “I go to sleep” or even the dreaded “shh shh shh” but not “I go to work.”
Then my husband came home.
He confirmed the impossible—he had been hiding from me that Mason had been secretly singing that for quite a while when I would leave for my night shifts at work.
In my head I immediately started to defend myself– Two-year-olds notoriously repeat things they hear often. I have a ritual of giving him and kiss and a hug, telling him I am going to work, and I will see him in the morning when he wakes up. He always gives me a hug and kiss and says “Bye Mommy” or “Mommy go to work.” Then he goes back to playing with my husband or the dog. On bad days, (days when he hasn’t napped well or he has some monstrous teeth coming in or he’s just sick of being 2), he kicks and screams and cries “Mommy Mommy No Mommy Mommy.”
There are no words to describe days like this, except that they suck.
I hate leaving when his little 26-month-old self (yes, I just said that) needs his Mommy, and I have to go to work.
So when I heard this nasty little verse, I felt tears well in my eyes. I felt guilt (shocker, what’s new!) I felt sad. I felt angry. I felt embarrassed. I felt resentful.
I started saying to myself:
“Plenty of Moms work.”
“At least you work nights, so you only miss out on time with him at bedtime.”
“Daycare is good for him—he knows this stupid, effing song word-for-word because he goes there.”
“He’s more balanced because he gets alone time with me and Brian individually.”
“He will think of women as equal when he grows up.”
“He will grow up to admire the job his Mom does and brag about it.”
And while all of these statements make me feel better for a few moments, the truth is that this song is just one reminder of so many that the decision to work IS a difficult one. I chose to go back to work when Mason was around 9 months old, and it is still a decision that I make on a daily basis— the decision to go to work.
Most weeks I feel like I am barely keeping my head above water. (From what I remember about being a stay-at-home-mom, I had the exact same feelings then, too.)
The only thing harder than leaving your needy, sticky, moody toddler is staying home alone with them for 10+ hours every day.
For me, work was the only thing that was able to provide me balance from my obsession with being a new mom. I became addicted to routines, feedings, schedules, strict nap times, and not letting any other adult soul watch my baby because no one else could do it “like me.” While every day I feel like I leave a 2-ft-tall piece of me back at my house, singing “The Mommy on the Bus Goes to Work,” the benefits to my mental health and relationships outweigh the consequences.
I am an extrovert to the core, and I enjoy so many things about work. I like driving in the car singing my music on the way there, getting my iced, decaf, French vanilla coffee at 3am, and talking to my co-workers and comparing Pinterest crockpot fails. Many of my work peers are also working moms with young children, and I enjoy sharing stories with them about toddler tantrums and where to find the discount wine that they require.
Above all, I feel pride doing the job I do. As a 911 dispatcher, every minute I make a difference. Every phone call or radio transmission I take is important, and it keeps my community safe and functioning. As a new Mom I feel out of my comfort zone so often, while work is familiar. I know how to do THAT right.
And here’s the thing—Mason doesn’t have any negative feelings toward those 8 little words— The Mommy on the Bus Goes To Work. He sings it while smiling and smashing trucks together. Mommy works, she says shhh, she grocery shops, she gives hugs and kisses, she watches Paw Patrol, and at bedtime– she goes to work.
He knows nothing different.
I’ve been wondering how I could write about being a working mom for quite some time, and the only way to accurately talk about it is to say that any choice—the choice to work, stay at home or work from home—they are all very hard choices to make.
All of them come with their own baggage and feelings of guilt. I know many stay-at-home-mom’s who chronically feel pressure to socialize their children more, or teach them more, or minimize screen time more or spend as little money as possible because “they don’t contribute.” (There’s really nothing farther from the truth on that last one.) I know the feelings of isolation, and psychosis and boredom that accompany spending 60+ hours a week with a wordless human who only know how to react to feelings physically. On the contrary, I know the chronic feeling of jealousy towards women who get to spend all this short,precious time with their young children.
Fortunately, there are no proven statistics that children of working mothers grow up feeling abandoned or having the inability to feel. There are also no proven statistics that children of stay-at-home-moms are mute hermits that are unable to befriend other children in Kindergarten and live at home until they are 35. We all get the equal opportunity to try our best to not mess them up, and we all succeed and fail at times doing this. (They all have the same probability of ending up on Intervention because we chose to work or not.)
I’d like to say this post has some special, happy ending where I feel triumphant because I work. Or, I’d like to say that my son’s song prompted me to spontaneously become a stay-at-home-mom and live minimally.
Neither are true.
Instead, I will listen to my son singing the Wheels on the Bus, try not to feel bad when he sings about Mommy going to work, and enjoy telling the story to my co-workers over an iced coffee at 3am in between answering 911 calls.