An Empty House

The house feels different today.

I park my car in the same place as before. I unlock the same beveled-glass door, and the same slobbering chocolate Labrador greets me. I set my keys on the same table and see the same pictures on the wall.

But this doesn’t feel like my house.

There are no shoes littering the entryway, threatening to trip anyone who dares to enter. There are no bicycles gathered in the driveway, and no baseballs on the couch. There are crumbs on the counter, of course, from a half-eaten breakfast muffin, but no one is arguing over who gets to use the computer first.

The start of the school year has robbed my house of its life today, and my identity went right along with it.

You see, I have been a stay-at-home mom for 13 years now. I always considered myself blessed to have the option, and I always knew – as did my husband – that it was a good fit for our family.

But my kids are in school now. And somewhere deep inside me is a nagging voice, telling me that I should get out and do something. That I should contribute financially to my family. That it’s self-indulgent to stay home in an empty house.

In years past, when this voice got the best of me, I worked as a substitute teacher, because it offered me an opportunity to work and keep a schedule that matches that of my kids. The income was nice, but the dynamic of our mornings and afternoons changed, because my stress level was higher.  My kids weren’t crazy about it (maybe because I was teaching in their respective classrooms?) but they tolerated it in the name of supplementing our budget.

Fast forward to now, and the voice is still there. My substitute teacher application is as yet unacknowledged, and I’m home in an empty house. Still trying to find the answer.

I think back to a friend from years ago who told me she stayed home until her last child graduated from high school. She didn’t do it because she wanted to be available to “rescue” any of them from consequences (like forgetting homework.) She did it, she said, because there were moments when her children needed her immediately. Urgent problems that her kids were unsure how to handle. Important questions that required answers. And if she had been at work or otherwise unavailable, she would have missed the opportunity to guide them.

Like the other day when one of my children asked me a private question on the way to school. None of the other kids in the family were around, and we were alone in the car. Because I had a few minutes to spare, I was able to pull into a parking space and answer the question.

Or when my youngest child came home from school and cried inexplicably. It seems she was “exhausted” from the first days of school, and her emotions got the best of her. I laid down with her and talked to her about her day, and within a few minutes she was napping.

Then today, I read this:

“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world – wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important – has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out – but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”  — 1 John 2:15-17  (Msg)

It lead me to think that perhaps going back to work because I feel compelled to is different than going back to work because it’s the right thing for my family. It caused me to think that perhaps I’m right where I’m supposed to be, at least for the moment. And it reminded me that I’ll always have an opportunity to take a new job, but my children won’t be here forever.

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