LEARNING TO SMELL THE ROSES

LEARNING TO SMELL THE ROSES

From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Learning to Smell the Roses

When I became pregnant with my first child, the question of whether or not I would stay home was an easy one. We were financially able, so I said my good-byes on my last day at work, fully confident that my coworkers’ predictions of “You’ll miss this” would not come to pass. I had a good job that I liked, but come on, who would miss the boring meetings, the unpredictable boss, the stress of deadlines? I had a vacation ahead of me with no end in sight. So long, suckers!

One afternoon during the first colicky month of my endless vacation, I was folding laundry and watching a talk show while my baby napped. “A stay-at-home mom works the equivalent of two full-time jobs,” the guest psychologist said. I felt a surge of irritation and began folding the mountain of onesies faster. This guy had no idea what he was talking about.

At least when you worked outside the home you got lunch breaks. This life couldn’t be compared with that of a mother working nine to five. There were no kudos, no raises, no goals to meet. There were no certificates handed out for “successfully completing ten diaper changes without getting peed on.” There were no nights or weekends you could completely call your own. It never ended! Tears of self-pity stung my eyes. Why didn’t all those parenting books I read ever say that the work never ends?

My poor husband became the victim of my postpartum resentment. Things only got worse when he accepted a job in New York City and we moved across the country.

“Guess where I had lunch today,” he would say. (He seemed to say this every week after we first moved to the East Coast.) “The boss took us to one of the best restaurants in Manhattan!”

“That’s nice,” I would mumble. “I had the remains of a potpie Elizabeth left on her highchair tray. Ooh, and then I watched the same Barney video for the seventy-fifth time!”

At these moments I felt very ugly. I knew that I was being unfair. After all, the decision for me to stay home was mutual, and I was glad that we had made it. I knew that there were a lot of mothers out there dragging kids to day care at six in the morning and working at jobs they hated—mothers who would love to trade places with me. Then that self-defensive little devil on my shoulder would speak up. “Fair? Let’s talk about fair. Is it fair that you went through nine months of discomfort, twenty hours of pain just to end up scarred for life from a C-section? Is it fair that he gets to socialize—with adults—at posh restaurants, sporting a stretch mark–free bod?” And so it went. I was in a cycle of resentment and guilt that was preventing me from enjoying life.

I remember the day that started to change. It was on a gloomy, housebound afternoon. All the blinds were open and snow was swirling outside, still a novelty to the “California Girl” in me. Elizabeth had just discovered that everything had a name. She was crawling around and pointing to things, asking, “That?”

“Remote,” I would tell her. “Book. Baby monitor. Shoes.” I was only half-paying attention, my arms elbow deep in steaming water as I scrubbed bottles, my mind daydreaming. I was imagining the line of clothing I would design for new moms. No sizes allowed on the labels, and everything would be cream-colored to hide spit-up. Then I noticed that Elizabeth was quiet. I dried off my hands and walked into the other room, expecting to find her in a corner playing with the plunger. Instead, she was on her tippy-toes, craning her neck to see the center of the dining table. She had noticed a crystal vase of yellow roses, the only bright spot in the dim room. “That?” She asked, balancing herself while pointing at the vase.

“Flowers,” I said. “Roses.”

She continued to stare at the vase, a little Mona Lisa smile of wonder on her lips. I scooped her up and held her near the vase. “Want to smell them? See, smell.” I put my nose to a bud and inhaled. “Mmm. Pretty.” I held the rose to her nose, and she wrinkled it up, sniffing.

“Mmm!” she said, and grinned. This was followed by the other phrase in her vocabulary, “Oh, wow!”

For the rest of the day, Elizabeth went from object to object, trying out her new sniffing skill. She smelled perfumed pages in fashion magazines, wet wipes, pillows on the sofa, even a dirty diaper she grabbed when I wasn’t fast enough. After each sniff she would say, “Mmm,” and hold it out for me to smell. It occurred to me suddenly what a treasure I had in this moment. Throughout her life she would encounter scents, turning them into a collection of memories: the sawdust smell of the blocks in her kindergarten classroom, the tobacco-and-shaving-cream smell of her grandpa, the perfume she will wear on her wedding day. And someday the smell of her own baby’s head nestled on her shoulder. But it all started here, on this day, when I taught her how to smell a rose.

When I put Elizabeth down for her afternoon nap— “That?” “Blanket.” “Mmm”—I noticed what wasn’t there: The resentment was gone. The feeling of missing out on life was gone. A stay-at-home mom is a working mom, too. And the job is rewarding, even though you don’t get that bonus every year or certificate of recognition, or even someone saying, “Thanks for ordering those bagels for the meeting. Good choice.” I looked at my daughter’s sleeping head on her blanket, her hair matted with bananas, just like mine. The surge of appreciation was like cold water on a burn. But I get this, I thought. I get this.

Tiffany O’Neill

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