The Bane of Ambition

I wake up some mornings, nearly bursting with ideas. I want to settle into my sunlight-striped office, and work. Work until all the ideas have been wrung out. Work until everything’s on paper. Work until something bears fruit.

As I descend the stairs to begin my day, I can literally hear those ideas shrivel and retreat. The counters are dirty, children are screaming for their breakfast, the trash must go out, and calls must be returned. There’s no room for ideas in my day. There’s no room on the days my husband has a meeting, or a presentation, or has to work. There’s no room on the days when he’s home, and errands must be run. There’s simply no room.

I want to work with my hands today. I want to complete a craft project. I want to finish some of the work we started, but I can’t. I want to expend my mental energy creating rather than dispensing repeated reminders that “feet should be on the floor” and “we have to share our toys”.

Some days, I wish I left the house each day to work. Some days, I fantasize about ergonomically correct mousepads, black dress pants, interdepartmental  memos, small glass jars of Hershey’s Kisses, and harsh fluorescent lighting. Some days I fantasize about the sound of silence. And then I consider getting up in the cold, in the dark, to drop off my children, spilling the contents of my travel mug in the process. I think about the stress that will inevitably overtake my husband and I after we’ve both worked a week and neither can find the muster to make groceries appear. Or writing a check to a daycare month after month. And it gives me pause.

Working from home is a blessing and a curse. There are (admittedly few) days when the raising of children and the pursuit of one’s worldly ambitions go hand in hand quite effortlessly, but there are others when you must let go of the tug on your heart and give everything to your family.

And you wonder whether or not it’s terrible that you’d rather be writing, drawing, painting, or a million other things besides greasing your domestic machine, putting two-year-olds in time out. And you wonder if that makes you a selfish parent. And you wonder if that makes you less devoted. And you wonder whether you’re doing irreparable harm to your children simply by allowing a tempest to swirl out of control inside your head. Then you worry that everyone around you senses your unhappiness, your lack of appreciation for the great gift you’ve been given, because you feel there are ‘bigger and better’ things to do.

And you look at your kids, and, by George, they’re still cute. And you think that you’re doing right by them, bathing, and teaching and cutting their favorite foods into bite-size pieces, and nine o’clock rolls around, and you exhaustedly savor the silence, but you can’t let go of the notion that you may just have squandered another day of the rest of your life.

22 Comments Add yours

  1. Off Duty Mom says:

    Yes. A million times yes.

    I had an extended maternity leave for each of my children. So, I was unpaid by my work and got time off from it for nearly a year each time. I thought I would love it.

    I hated it. It was too hard. I was too emotional. I just wanted to put on real pants. And not talk about poop.

    But, being a working mom is monumentally hard, too. I am exhausted. I fell asleep yesterday putting down my preschooler at 8pm. I haven’t done laundry in a million years. There is no butter in my house. I can’t even think about what the sticky stuff on my kitchen floor might be.

    It is all hard. Seriously hard. (That’s what she said.) But, seriously, it’s worth it in the end, right? (That’s what she said.)


    1. Ha! I think we’ll have to ask her in a few years.


  2. I feel both sides of this post. I’ve been the corporate ladder climber. I sacrificed time with my two oldest children for 10-12 hour days (sometimes not including an hour commute…). I had a lot more money and they spent A LOT more time in daycare.

    When I became unexpectedley pregnant with my 3rd (who is 9 years younger than my oldest), I knew I couldn’t go back to work full time after just 3 short months home with him. So I went to part time status knowing it would eventually lead to being laid off.

    And it did.

    Now I work for barely minimum wage. My 4th baby comes to work with me and my now toddler goes to preschool in the mornings only.

    I wish I could just stay home with them. But then I also wish I could give 100% to my job. I start each day at work with the ambition to get SO much done, but then I end up taking care of a baby all day (surprise… surprise…). I love it, but I hate it too.


    1. Wow, that’s a lot on your plate. I think we need a Mom Sanctuary, with soothing music, a Zen garden, pottery, and cheese and crackers. Might help temper the chaos.


  3. Jen says:

    This is pretty perfect. As a black-pants-wearing-travel-mug-spiller, I feel torn about my choice…or lackthereof on a daily basis. I have to work to make our ends meet. Some days I feel like a successful adult who has contributed to something other than unloading the dishwasher and feeding my son, but other times I cry over missed moments in the park or the zoo…and zillions of “firsts” that I’ll never get to see. The grass will probably always seem greener. I know that there isn’t a right answer to all this, I just agree with you that it’s very, very hard. This was a wonderful post. You did a great job of shedding light on the struggle that so many of us face every single day. Thanks for that!


    1. Thanks. I’d enjoy using more complicated phrases than “Please don’t eat the crayon” more frequently.


  4. Jo Eberhardt says:

    Every day, I watch my husband get ready for work and desperately wish it was me. I wish I was wearing grown-up clothes and going to a grown-up place where I was asked grown-up questions and expected to know about expenses and spreadsheets and products, rather than about the eating habits of dinosaurs and how leaves grow and why that person on the street, that person right there, is wearing a red hat and where is she going, anyway?

    But on the odd occasion when I get to go out to work (ie, escape to a coffee shop for a few hours to do some uninterrupted writing), I spend half the time wondering what the children are doing, if they’ve had their lunch, if they liked the way I cut their sandwiches into stars, and why is that woman wearing a red hat in the middle of summer, and where is she going, anyway?


    1. I see poor people hobbling around in their heels trying to scrap dinner together at the market after work, and I’m relieved. Most of the time.


  5. This is excellent. It’s just so well written and expressing the struggles of SAHM’s and working mom’s. My hat’s off to both- and most of all to you, for being our voice on this one. :)


    1. Thanks! It’s so tough when you’re supposed to be thrilled and you’re not.


  6. Kim says:

    My best ideas always seem to form, while I’m in the shower… They never seem to make it our of the bathroom with me, though…


    1. Me too, girl. Me too.


  7. I adore your last paragraph. As I sit here I just dropped the boys off for school (the ONE morning they’re all there) and I am drinking cold coffee with a plate full of ambition. In my heart I know I’m just maybe going to be able to take a shower- but dang it- I earn this one morning to putz :)


    1. I am supposed to be busy right this second. But my tea’s not empty yet!


  8. musingmar says:

    Funny, even through my three kids are launched I have many misgivings about what I’m not accomplishing, but it’s because of going to the job everyday! Working from home with small ones present is not easy, but I did it years ago and it was in many ways easier than taking them to daycare, etc (and in some ways harder). Sometimes I think the biggest challenge is to find contentment in the situations we’re in.


  9. A says:

    I stay at home with my 4-year-old and 1-year-old twins. This is exactly–EXACTLY–how I feel…almost daily. You captured “it” in the last paragraph. That paragraph defines the struggle better than anything I’ve read. In my case, I have to remind myself to stop agonizing over this–I’ve made this choice because I believe it’s best for all of us (including me), and in my deepest gut, I know I won’t be changing it anytime soon. Now, I just have to learn to listen to my own advice… :)


    1. Yeah, I’m not changing it, either. Just have to do the best we can.


  10. I enjoy being at home, most days some days i just want to crawl in bed and stay there, if i had a choice to work i probably would, i do work extremely part time at home and it is hard juggling a kid and a job and everything else, but i enjoy being at home more then anything else, it means I’m not missing out on anything, and my hubby works out of town so i would feel guilty abandoning him at a day care, because he gets to see dad once a month, i think he needs someone to be there for him. Some days though you just want to run away screaming from everything.


    1. Oh, yes. Me too. once a week or so.


  11. I work part-time and I still don’t know if I’m making the right choice. I have a foot in both doors and it is tough. I think…being a mom…is just really tough. We have “mom” identity but what happens to “pre-mom.” I know I search for that too. Some days are harder than others, but from all I’ve read on your blog, you are doing great :)


    1. Thanks. It’s all smoke and mirrors. :-P


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