At 6, I was proud.
Proud that while other mothers abandoned their kids with babysitters, or missed conferences, my stay-at-home mother was always by my side, always at home when I got back from school. My mother cooked all our meals, cleaned the house, drove me everywhere – my chest swelled with pride for my mother, the full-time mom.
At 10, I was content.
Content that while other kids were left with nannies, I came home to steaming hot parathas. I could call home when I forgot my math journal, and my mother would drop it off at school. I sat with her as I did my homework, and sometimes still slept in her bed. I didn’t rush to tell people that my mom didn’t work, but I held the fact close to my heart. I learned the word homemaker, turned it over and over in my mouth.
At 12, I was ashamed.
Ashamed that while my friends got to stay home alone or with cool sitters, I was always enveloped in the presence of my mother. Their mothers were doctors or teachers or engineers or sales associates. I had a stay-at-home mom. The word had changed for me. It was warped, twisted. It left a sour taste on my tongue.
[bctt tweet=”My father may have paid the bills, but my mother made the home.” username=”wearethetempest”]
At 14, I was angry.
Angry that when I had started campaigning against gender stereotyping, my mother didn’t agree with my beliefs. Naively, insistently, I told my mother to stop associating household chores with women, to buy gender-neutral toys and clothing – but she stubbornly resisted. My angst-riddled mind had trouble wrapping my head around it. Never mind that, for my entire life, my mother had stayed home with us, tending to our every need, cleaning up after us, washing our dirty clothes without expecting (or getting) as much as a simple “thank you.”
I wanted my mother to be a “progressive-thinking” strong, independent woman. By that time, none of my classmates knew that my mother was a housewife. The word felt large, ugly, and out of place in my mouth. I kept it secret.
At 16, I hung my head in humiliation.
Our yearly visit to India had, by that time, become routine, a blur of half-forgotten faces of relatives and bumpy car rides. Yet this year was different, because this year I was old enough to hear stories from her that I had never been told before. The struggles she had encountered to get where she was now humbled me. As my grandmother moved around the kitchen in our South Indian village, my mother sat at the table with her head back and murmured how nice it was to be fed for once.
During that trip, my snarky arrogance was obtrusive and unwelcome, and I slowly became colored with humiliation instead. Humiliation at myself, for thinking lesser of my mother, when she was in fact the greatest person I have ever met. Bigger than all the rest, precisely because she stayed at home.
My father may have paid the bills, but my mother made the home. That was something far more remarkable.
Pride filled me again, little by little, for my mother, for all she had given up to be at home with us. I accepted that, when my mother had been raised by the first girl to attend high school in her village, she’d faced countless instances of gender discrimination.
[bctt tweet=”My mother has faced countless trials and she didn’t need a 9-to-5 job to show for that.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I felt ashamed that I’d somehow prioritized the idea that it was wrong to give a girl a Barbie over my mother’s choices. I accepted that after washing pee-soaked bedsheets and making home cooked daal and chapati every single day, my insistence to not enforce traditional housewife stereotypes was more likely to make her embarrassed than moved.
My mother is a strong, independent woman.
She has faced countless trials and tribulations and she didn’t need a 9-to-5 job to show for that. Instead, she showed her strength in the crinkles by her eyes, the callouses on her fingers, the warmth of her touch. With no regard for herself, my mother is always concerned about bettering our futures.
I can’t think of anything more progressive.
I am 17.
I am learning, growing. I fall and I fall and I fall. And each time, my mother helps pick me back up. My mother, the full-time mom.