In 1991 I had my first and only child. My husband came home from work on a Wednesday and announced he'd been laid off. I went into labor on Thursday.
I never planned to work after having a baby. I wanted one child, had that one child, and now I wanted to raise her. Life threw a small curve ball. For that first year, my husband stayed home while I put new pictures of her on my desk each week. I was miserable. I wanted to be a stay at home mom.
Instead, my husband stayed home. Fed her every two hours, changed her, did the laundry, and I suspect, felt like a fish out of water at times. For one year, he stayed home with her, doing all the things I wanted to be doing. He took another job, and our daughter went into daycare. Sometimes I would drop her off, and instead of going right to work, I'd plop myself on the floor with all the fifteen-to-eighteen month old kids in her Blueberry class. I knew I didn't want to work in some office. I wanted to work at raising my daughter.
I told my husband I was giving my two week notice. He wasn't thrilled. He firmly believed we needed two incomes especially now that we had a child. I reminded him that the daycare center took a huge chunk of my paycheck every month. I put my foot down. It was important to me to be at home with her.
Washington, D.C. is not a city of stay at home moms. Or at least it wasn't twenty years ago when my story took place. Today I see notices on the local listserve for all sorts of Mommy Groups. When I was home with my daughter, we went places together. At two and three years of age, she was a regular at the Smithsonian museums, the art galleries and the neighborhood library. We had an occasional playdate with another stay at home mom, but with my working mom friends we scheduled on weekends. Occasionally, I felt isolated, but I never wanted to go back to work. This was the work I chose.
My daughter wore hand me downs from a friend's daughter. We lived in the tiniest apartment. We had no help from family. There were sacrifices. Sacrifices I was willing to make for the privilege of being a stay at home mom.
Eventually I took a job as a babysitter so I could bring in a little extra income. Every day my daughter and I picked up the little girl from her private school and brought her home so she could take a nap. The job lasted a few months, but the low pay and the three hour naps the woman insisted her daughter take eventually made me quit. Conflict of parenting styles, I called it. I wanted the girls out in the park, and my two and a half year old did not take afternoon naps anymore. We were back to one income again.
I was lucky to have a choice. Some people would not think it was lucky living in a small apartment or dressing their child in second hand clothes. I felt lucky to spend the time with my daughter. I felt wildly fortunate that I lived in a city that gave us so much to do for free.
When my daughter turned four, I enrolled her at the local elementary school for pre-K. Those few short years of being home with her were over. I went back to work, she went on to be part of the lunch bunch at school. There was no reason for me to stay home now and my daughter and I were both ready to move forward.
I look back at those years with enormous affection. I was doing what I wanted to be doing.
We lived on very little, we had very little.
They were some of the happiest years of my life.