“Is life what you expected?” I asked my husband, Lancelot, the other night.
He took a moment, glancing around the kitchen table at the two empty chairs at the our sons had recently graced with their presence for the requisite 47 seconds before claiming they were “full” and scrambling off to argue and play. Maybe he noticed his open laptop on the counter, calling to him with work he didn’t quite get caught up with while he was at the office. Maybe he saw the unsorted pile of laundry in the basket on the floor, waiting for me to get to. Maybe he glanced at the dirty pans, our son’s unfinished homework, or the pile of unread mail scattered across the table.
He chuckled softly. “I didn’t think it would be so much work,” he finally replied.
I could only nod in silent, complete agreement. So much work. Yes.
By all accounts, Lancelot and I have a pretty awesome life. Lancelot is the COO of a successful company, and he comes home every night to me, his wife, who spent the day at home with his two healthy young boys. We have a nice, yet not extravagant house in a thriving suburb. Our kids attend a great school with attentive teachers and staff. We have a museum membership and season tickets to the Denver Broncos. We never worry about where our next meal is coming from (even if I do worry whether anyone will actually eat it). We can buy new clothes when we need them. We can go on vacation if we budget and plan and beg for a babysitter.
Our life is pretty awesome, indeed.
And it’s also a lot of work.
I didn’t expect it to be so much work. When I decided to be a stay-at-home mom, I had this picture in my head of craft-y afternoons, cuddly bedtimes and joy-filled walks to the park where my children would play happily while I read a good book. I didn’t know that crafts were so messy, that children hated sleep, and that the park was boring. I didn’t realize that there would be so much whining – from both the children, and from myself. I didn’t think it would be impossible to talk to my husband when the kids were awake, and I didn’t anticipate that I’d be so tired after the kids fell asleep that I wouldn’t feel like talking to my husband.
I wish someone would have told me it was going to be so hard.
Other people’s lives don’t look hard. When I was a single woman living on my own, I looked at my married friends and thought they had it pretty easy. I’d picture them cooking and cleaning alongside their spouses, dividing the household burdens and lovingly supporting each other through the everyday stressors like work and in-law drama. Then I got married and I realized that it’s not always that easy to support each other through everyday stressors, and household burdens somehow multiply when you combine households. (Sure, we can do our laundry together, but there’s twice as much laundry to do!)
When Lancelot and I were DINKS (double-income-no-kids), I looked at stay-at-home parent friends of mine with equal naivety. Lancelot and I worked hard and we brought work home almost every evening. I figured when I stayed home with our child or children, I’d have time to breathe! I’d be able to read, and write, and catch up on the long-forgotten household tasks we never seemed to complete because we were always working. You know what I forgot to account for? The actual work of raising the children! The children are always there. It’s really hard to color-coordinate your closet when you’re perpetually looking for a lost toy, getting someone a snack, kissing a boo-boo or washing dishes. There is so much involved in preparing and cleaning that it’s hard to find the time to actually play with my children, yet alone have idle time to watch Dr. Oz. The tasks may be so easy that a 13-year-old babysitter can do them, but the tasks are relentless. They are never-ending. And that can be really hard.
We’ve been doing a lot of household projects in the last couple years, things like replacing floorboards and remodeling our kitchen. I’ve often asked myself, “Why didn’t we do this BEFORE we had kids, when we had the time to do it?” The answer is, quite simply, because we were busy. We were working hard, at life, and we didn’t actually have the time to do it. There’s never really extra time to do things. We just have to fit it in.
About a month ago, my retired parents got home from a camping trip and I asked my mom if she wanted to swing by an indoor playground to say hi to her grandkids. Her response was that she absolutely did! But, she had too much work to do that day. They had to clean out the camper, and get ready to go to a family event, and prepare for my son’s birthday party the next day. They are retired, and they have full and busy lives. Anyone could look at them from the outside and say that they have all the time in the world to relax and get things done, but that’s not the reality. The reality is, they work hard. They may be retired, but they have a lot of work to do.
So maybe life never really slows down. Maybe we all expect it to, someday, but maybe it never really does. Maybe life is just hard.
I no longer look at other people and think their lives are easy, because I’ve fallen into that trap too many times. Life is messy. Life is hard. Life is a lot of work, no matter what stage of life you are in. Today, I’m going to look at people I meet and remember that.
I think it’s time for me to stop expecting life to be easy and start realizing that life is life. As one of my dearest friends likes to say, “We can do hard things.” Life may be a lot of work. It may be a whole lot harder than we thought it would be. But that’s okay, because we can do hard things.