Neighbors play a huge role in your life, don't they? The everydayness of the relationship quickly puts you in the realm of family.
My kitty-corner neighbor Kate Twohig has given me flour over the fence, saving my banana bread. We commiserate regularly about the stray cats too fond of our backyards. We watch in pain as our kids swim in sand at our neighborhood park. We're in this thing called parenthood together, and it's all the more fun that way.
Smart and witty, and a marvelous storyteller, Kate is a joy to know and call a neighbor and friend. And today, she's sharing a reflective and humorous piece with all of us, which I know you'll enjoy.
Kate pressed pause on her career to be a stay-at-home mom. It's a strange sensation (I can relate), going from investing so much of your time and energy into work, to being on the homefront 24/7.
A member of my neighborhood writing group (Yes, lucky me! I have one of those!), Kate recently shared "Stick Figure Woman" for our review and critique. The second I heard it, I knew I wanted to share it with you. Luckily, she agreed!
In Kate's words...
My kids and I recently spent a week visiting my parents in Wisconsin. The day we travelled home, the weather was lousy. It was chilly, the sky was dark gray, and there were intermittent rain showers all morning. Both kids were pretty sleepy and quiet from the constant activity of the previous week. I knew they were super tired when I was able to listen to my music channel without any backlash on our three-hour car ride home.
As we were crossing the state border from Wisconsin into Illinois, a big SUV passed my left side and pulled into the lane in front of me. I noticed the sticker decal on the back window right away. It was the stick figure family. I saw regular stick figure dad. Stick figure mom was holding a briefcase. Stick figure older boy had a soccer ball. Stick figure younger girl was wearing a tutu. There was even a stick figure dog to help complete the family. Of course I noticed the similarities to my family - a dad, mom, older boy, younger girl and dog. But our family’s interests and hobbies are very different.
When I first saw the sticker, I have to admit I rolled my eyes. But with the quiet car and the constant whir of the wheels against the smooth highway pavement, my mind went into daydream mode. If I had to choose a stick figure to represent myself, what would it be? No ideas seemed to pop up right away. Perhaps ten years ago, I would have been the briefcase stick figure woman. I never carried a briefcase to work, but I understand symbolism for a career woman when I see it.
I worked for about fifteen years in marketing. The commute and the hours were long, and before having kids my life was all about my job. I really identified myself with my career, and I was proud to work for such a great firm, but then I had kids and my feelings slowly started to change. Long, demanding work hours aren’t so great when you are trying to raise a family.
After my second child was born, I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom. I will fully admit that the transition was way harder than I thought it would be. Caring for a newborn is rewarding, but as a new mom, all of your energy goes into caring for that baby and keeping it happy and alive. I also have an older boy (who was a toddler at the time my daughter was born), so at the end of the day there wasn’t much “me” time. When you become a mom, you quickly realize it’s no longer just about you. I often felt like I was losing a sense of myself, but I think I was too busy and tired to contemplate the topic very much.
Seeing the stick figure decal sent me into a crazy journey of thought. How do I identify myself? Well, I guess I’m not just one thing but many: daughter, sister, aunt, wife, cousin, friend. But those are relationships. The people in my life help define me, but they only tell a little bit of my story. I guess I don’t have one major hobby or talent that could tell my entire story. In other words, I don’t have my “briefcase” to display to the world. Instead, I have a lot of things I like to dabble with: gardening, reading, writing, art projects, walking my dog and cooking (as long as my kids are not in the kitchen asking me when dinner will be ready every three minutes).
After contemplating this topic for way too long, I came to the realization that my stick figure would have to be a mom. It’s my full-time job—one that is not always easy but is very rewarding. The difficult part would be capturing the essence of my motherhood experience in one picture.
My kids are currently 7 and 4, and they are slowly learning to do more for themselves. But obviously they still rely on me quite a bit, especially when it comes to food. Some days I feel like I am a short order cook and dishwasher. I’ll make breakfast, wash dishes, fix snacks throughout the day, make lunch, wash dishes, get drinks for the kids multiple times, fix dinner, wash the dishes and pour myself a drink at the end of the day. Is there a stick figure woman with her head in the refrigerator shouting out snack ideas to her kids?
Sometimes I have to play referee, especially now that it’s summer and both kids are home with each other every.single.day. I get to hear both sides of their story in the heat of the fight and I often have no idea how to pick a side. Sometimes I randomly pick a side and sometimes I make them work it out. Most of the time I have no idea how to choose the winner and loser but I act like I know what I’m doing. The kids have not caught on to my game yet. Picture a stick figure mom blowing her whistle as loud as she can to scare her children into silence.
My stick figure mom plays nurse when the kids are sick. She’s also a cleaning lady but who really wants to glorify house cleaning? She’s a teacher who helps the kids with their homework and answers about one hundred questions a day. There are really too many parental tasks to mention. When you are a parent, you wear many hats. I’m no different from anyone else trying to raise their children the best they can.
Towards the end of my trip, I realized there isn’t one picture that can encapsulate who I am. Right now, I’m a stay-at-home mom but in a couple of years I will join the work force again. Perhaps I will identify myself as a briefcase lady in the future but I like having a lot of interests and hobbies. I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself into just one role. Yes, I will always be a mom but as my children grow older, I hope to cultivate a rich life full of relationships, activities and interests.
It’s wonderful if you or your family have passions for certain hobbies or careers, but I’m going to stick with my mediocre dabbling in many interests. I will never ever ever get a bumper sticker or decal for my car, but if I had to have a stick figure family, my entire back window would be covered because I can’t chose just one thing for myself or my family.