I hear it so often it might as well be my name. “Well! You have your hands full!”
It’s true, I do. Often literally. I hear it as I deliver my older two boys to school—“older” here is a relative term, as they are only six and four years old—making them form a hand-holding chain with their toddler brother to get through the parking lot, hustling them along with the baby strapped to my chest. I hear it at the library, at story time, when I’m down to just the younger two. I hear it at Mass or in the store or on the street: I have my hands full. I don’t mind hearing it. I know it’s meant to be empathetic. But it tends to make me self-conscious: Yes, I can barely manage my own children; is it that obvious?
The other day, at the drugstore, I was sure I was about to hear it again, from the woman behind me in line, watching as I loaded cartons of diapers onto the register counter while trying to keep track of my four-year-old. “I see you all the time at Mass,” she said. “Your boys are so well behaved.” This is not exactly true, but I know it means “I’m glad you keep showing up,” and so I am always glad to hear it. She has four kids of her own, she told me, and three grandkids, all grown. And then she said, “You’re so lucky to be a stay-at-home mom.”
I have to admit I don’t often think of it that way. It took me a while to even accept that “stay-at-home mom” is an accurate label for me. The first time someone said it I instinctively shook my head. No, no, I’m a writer and an editor who just happens to be running a home for boys at present. I am an editor at large, where “at large” means “mainly focused on thank-you notes and first-grade book reports.” “Stay-at-home mom” has always sounded to me like something you plan for, rather than something that overtakes you. Stay-at-home moms have their acts together. They’re not looking over their shoulder at the life that late they led. Me, I’m still a little dizzy from it all: I have four sons, I hear myself saying, and I think, That can’t possibly be right.