Hanging up my Scrubs and Stethoscope (for now)

I’ve put off this blog post for a while now. The truth is, I haven’t really known how to write about this. I haven’t known how to talk about it. Even though it was 100% my decision (with discussion and input from my husband of course), even though it’s what I wanted, deep down. Even though I knew it was the right choice for me and my family at this point in time, even though I know SO many women would kill to have the flexibility to make this decision, it has felt far more complex and confusing than I anticipated. I haven’t really known how to feel about it. I still don’t.

Here are the words that, for whatever reason, I have had a difficult time saying out loud (the way I recently mangled it to a close friend was “I’m sort of temporarily not going back”, which besides being inaccurate is horribly vague and grammatically suspect for a one time English major). The real, honest to goodness reality is, I’ve decided to stay home with my kids. I’m not going back to work as a nurse. Not right now. Not for a little while.

I’m a stay at home mom.

And it was my choice. It’s what I wanted. There were so many reasons in favor of staying home right now, from the fact that I have two babies under two, to the other fact that getting childcare for a PRN nurse’s hours is almost impossible (not a lot of babysitters who can commit to random 15 hour days every 2 weeks (5:30-8:30 most times), including weekends and holidays, that will constantly shift and change), to the BIG fact that working every couple of weeks as an inpatient nurse sounds great, but it’s also really challenging to keep up with skills and the constantly changing environment of healthcare (“if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is pretty much the opposite of any hospital’s motto, they fix non-broke things, CONSTANTLY), to the other BIG fact that between parking and gas and annual certification fees and childcare, I would more than likely barely break even in terms of what money I would realistically take home.

So there’s all that practical stuff. And then there’s the other stuff, the sentimental, I want to be home with my babies all the time while they’re so young (or at least I want to in theory until I actually do that for weeks straight and go off the deep end) stuff, to the fact that the kind of work I’ve done for the last 4+ years, while incredible and fulfilling and awesome, also exacts a toll, and now that I have kids of my own, that toll has grown exponentially.

There were so many reasons for this choice. And when I went to work with Ryland, I always sort of knew I would head in this direction (again at least temporarily, I’m not “retiring” from nursing at 32). But it’s strange. It’s been really bittersweet, far more so than I anticipated.

I went to the dentist last week (oh yeah, I may have mentioned the fact that I am a disgusting monster and had THREE cavities), and it was the first time I had to fill out paperwork that had a section for occupation since I decided not to go back. I sat there and had to stare at it for a moment. And I couldn’t help myself. I still listed RN. The same thing happened at my hair cut when the hairdresser casually mentioned an experience with healthcare at my workplace. “I’m a nurse there,” I said without thinking. And then I couldn’t correct myself. I couldn’t bring myself to put it in the past tense.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I’m not sure I can eloquently do so without offending one group or another, but I’ll try.

I’ve basically been 90% a stay at home mom for two years. With Ryland I only worked a couple of times a month, so I was hardly a “working mom.” But still, when someone asked what I did for a living, I had a neat answer to give, an answer I was really proud of and knew that others would respect. I remember the first time I listed RN on a form. It filled me with a sense of pride and accomplishment. I had worked so hard for those two letters. I was proud of those two letters.

“Stay at home mom” is a lot more complex as an answer to the same question, and the reasons it is complex are part my own stuff and part society’s crap. For one, that term in general sucks, because you don’t “stay at home.” In fact you do the opposite. You do a million things. I thought about it recently when we were discussing what losing my (tiny PRN) salary would mean for our budget. Really a stay at home saves a family money, because let’s break down all of the roles she (or he, holla stay at home dads!) does that a family could otherwise pay for: childcare, cook, housekeeper, accountant, personal assistant (to everyone), gardener, handyman, dog sitter, butler, concierge, office manager, footman, lady’s maid (in my case to a toddler), valet, underbutler, second footman (what? I haven’t watched all of Downton Abbey multiple times or anything), toddler life coach, dog therapist, event planner, hype man, cheerleader, cruise director, treasurer, stylist, personal shopper, dog and human groomer, and of course chauffeur. That’s A LOT. You are an entire household staff rolled up into one person.

I have never for a moment in my life thought any other woman was less than or inferior because she didn’t work. I grew up with a “stay at home mom” until I was in middle school (again, bleg, what a horrible phrase), and she was/is awesome. She did SO much for all of us, and I was so grateful for it all (actually scratch that, I wasn’t grateful at all, because children are horrible little ingrates, but retroactively I am incredibly grateful).

I have friends and family who don’t work (outside the home). Not once have I ever thought that was anything less than awesome.

And yet, despite that, when it has come to myself, there is a tiny little voice in my head, that still has to put RN under occupation. Because I feel like they will see me differently if I don’t. Or maybe because I’m afraid I will see myself differently.

And it’s BS and completely unfair (to myself, which is kind of strange, being in the position of being the one who needs a good scolding for being mean to yourself, it actually kind of gives me a headache to think about). I’m hoping that by writing this out, by putting it into the open, that maybe I can give myself a little more kindness and empathy. I know how hard I work all day every day for my family. I know that I can’t clock out of this job. It continues, all the time, in the background of every moment. It is a never ending shift, days and nights, weekends and holidays. It is the day to day physical tally of hauling babies and strollers and bags of groceries, the reason I think all moms have constantly sore backs and weirdly large arm muscles on one side. And it’s the even greater mental tally of feeling like you’re the one to hold it all together, steer the ship, keep track of the billion little things, the snacks and the well visits and the plans for summer activities and the constant, endless worries (Is she eating too much? Is he not eating enough? Are they getting enough stimulation? Too much screen time? Too little socialization? Too much exposure to germs?). It’s thinking about what you’re going to feed them for dinner when you’re making breakfast. It’s wondering if you have enough bubble bath while you’re in the middle of changing a diaper. It’s multitasking on top of multitasking. It’s a white noise comprised entirely of To Do list bullet points, all the million things that won’t get done if you don’t do them, from unloading the dishwasher to emptying out the old leftovers that have been there WAY too long to mailing the utility check to calling about replacing the old screen door).

It’s constant. And it’s hard. And maybe that’s part of why I’ve felt a little overwhelmed by all this. It’s not like I’m quitting my job so I can go run off to a Fiji and sip margaritas. If that were the case I think I might be more “woohoo!!!!” and less….Really I’m not stopping work. I’m just changing jobs. And as scary as being a nurse was, as hard as it was, this job is also really scary and hard, and I guess I worry that I won’t be good enough. When you are officially a “stay at home mom”, there’s no hiding. There’s no blaming the piles of laundry or the unwashed kid on your job. People are more inclined to judge if you go to Chik fil a 3 days in a row for dinner or forget to brush your teeth.

Maybe because I did have such an awesome stay at home mom or have seen so many great role models, I put a lot of pressure on myself, to take care of the kids and keep the house clean and have dinner on the table by 7 (don’t worry, this is my own crap, my husband would be fine with Chinese take out or frozen meals, that’s actually pretty much all he ate before we lived together), to be Carol Brady or Donna Reed.

But you know what? Carol Brady and Donna Reed are fictional. And they were probably written by a man. If we really want an accurate fictional portrayal of a “housewife” (another awful term, right?), the better choice would be Betty Draper, because that lady was crazy, smoked like a chimney, ignored her children, and drank martinis every day at 4pm.

Here’s the thing. I wasn’t a perfect nurse. I tried. I did the best I could. I worked really hard and showed up. And being a stay at home mom is no different. You do your best. You try really hard. You show up. And sometimes showing up is all you can do, and that’s a heck of a lot better than some people manage.

So maybe I can start to be more okay with this decision if I let go of some of this crazy pressure. If I admit that this job also has a learning curve. If I admit that just like with any other job, a stay at home mom needs breaks. She needs to have moments to herself. There is no “off duty,” not really, but you can at least make it a priority to give yourself some time away.

I think I also need to find a way to say goodbye to my old job, to process closing the door on this 4 year chapter of my life, and that’s a lot harder. That’s going to take a while. Because there were so many parts of my job I loved, and because there were so many parts of my job that were hard, the hardest, and impossible really to explain to anyone who hasn’t worked with sick kids. I think while I was in the middle of it, while I still put on my scrubs and stethoscope, I was able to kind of keep a distance, to not really examine some of what happened.

But now that the door is closed, now that I know I’m not going back, it’s weirdly all bubbled up to the surface, and I’m trying to sort through it, to make sense of a lot of stuff that will never make sense, if that makes any sense.

So that’s where I am right now. I’m processing. I’m coming to accept this new role. And trust me, I realize that some people will want to throw things at me for “complaining” about being able to stay home (please don’t, I know that it is a blessing, I really, really do, and I am so grateful to be able to make this choice). But it’s hard, to go from working at a physical, tangible job with concrete hours and a badge and credentials to working at a job where your clients poop themselves and your only coworker is whatever is on HGTV that day. It’s a process. And I’m working through it.

And can we PLEASE come up with a better name for a stay at home mom while we’re at it? Get to thinking on that one and comment if you have one!

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