From Traffic Jams to Peanut Butter & Jelly

Truth is, I still struggle with my decision to stay home daily.

Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by Milwaukee media personality turned Los Angeles stay-at-home mom, Caitlin Morrall. 

It was the family Christmas vacation four years ago. Everyone was out to dinner on Miami Beach, enjoying steak, seafood and cocktails. Well not, everyone. Before the questions about why I wasn’t drinking the wine came up we presented our Moms with their Christmas gifts a few days early. Bracelets with little baby carriages because in seven months they would become Grandmas for the first time. There were the hugs, of course my Mom said she had kind of figured it out already and the congratulations.

Dessert had barely digested and we were walking back to our rooms when two family members asked, “Will you continue working after the baby is born?”… that didn’t take long. This was something my husband and I hadn’t discussed yet. To be honest, I kind of assumed he preferred I stay home. He was raised by a stay-at-home mom, his Grandma was a stay-at-home mom. It’s just the type of life he came from and I thought was accustomed to. On top of that, he was smack dab in the middle of a medical residency in plastic surgery. I wouldn’t wish marriage to a surgical resident on my worst enemy. It’s the pits. Plastic surgery is the second longest medical residency there is… six years of uncertainty, middle of the night pager noise, missed holidays and vacations, going alone to nearly every event you are invited to and sleeping alone more nights than you care to think about. One parent should probably be available and present to our child.

I replied to the question as I assumed much of the family would see fit… that I would likely stay home with our child. You would have thought I proposed taking up work as a professional hit man. Apparently what was once a way of life for many people in my family was no longer a thing… women belonged in the workplace now. It was never brought up again and seven months later we welcomed an amazing baby boy and 12 weeks after that I went right back to my job as a Traffic Reporter on the morning news.

Returning to work was not without its own challenges. Think back to the uncertainty I mentioned with my husband’s job… due to his call schedule I couldn’t count on him to be home overnight or home the next morning to take a baby to daycare. I had to be at work at 4 a.m. before daycares are open. That means we find a nanny who can arrive at 3 a.m. Who wants to work at 3 a.m.?! I mean besides my crazy ass! But lo and behold, we found one… somehow, someone who was willing to wake up in the middle of the night and hang out while our kid slept. Do you know how depressing it is to pay someone to sit in your living room while your kid sleeps? To be honest, I found two someones who were willing to do that. We had to find a fill in when the original nanny was offered a summer intensive spot at a prestigious university as part of her Masters program.

Clearly the work lives we led were not the norm. You’ve heard of the term “two ships passing in the night”? That was our life. Sometimes the only time I would see my husband was to catch a glimpse of him sleeping as I woke up for work. Or we’d let out collective groans during the third overnight wake-up with an infant. My day went as follows: wake up at 2 a.m. (often after having been up once or twice in the night with the baby), shower and do makeup, nanny arrived at 3 a.m., I take the dog out for a walk, come back up and make coffee, go to work. On the air at 4:30 a.m., last update at 9 a.m., home and take the dog out again before the nanny left. Mom all day, kid to sleep at 6:30 p.m., take the dog out, get myself to sleep by 7:30 p.m. I often called myself a stay-at-home mom who works full-time. I did most of my working while my son slept and once I came home I was “on” all day until bedtime. During that first year my husband was also interviewing all over the country for fellowship positions in orthopedic hand surgery and he was given the opportunity to travel to South America for a medical mission trip. To say things were stressful would have been an understatement. In May of that year he matched into a very prestigious hand surgery fellowship that would require us to move to Boston the following July after his residency had been completed. Around the same time, my mom asked me if we would even be married by the time that move came around. Our lives became a constant argument centered around who was more tired, who had the next turn on dirty diapers, who was waking up with our son next. It wasn’t like my husband could switch jobs and I was worn so thin, you could see through me (Although I wish I was saying that in a literal sense… baby weight is a bitch!). The only answer was for me to stay at home.

To make matters worse (or maybe better?), our nanny took a job as a research assistant and would no longer be able to work early mornings for us after the school year started. I had hoped to ride out my contract, which ended on December 31 but couldn’t hire someone for mere months under those conditions. I gave my two weeks notice and said I would be available to fill in as needed until they found a replacement. I ended up filling in for myself at least once a week until December 31. Thank goodness for a retired Grandpa who didn’t mind sleeping on our couch.

Now here I am… explaining my decision to you all, like I need to make excuses for being a stay-at-home mom. This blog post simply should have started out with “Hi, I’m Caitlin and I am proud to be a stay-at-home mom”. But no, our society doesn’t find a whole lot of value in the woman who doesn’t bring home a paycheck. I’ve always said one of the hardest things about being a woman is that now that we CAN do it all, we are EXPECTED to do it all. I’ve had friends start on the SAHM front, and months later they are reapplying for jobs because they feel like their education is going to waste, or that they aren’t contributing enough. That being said, I also have career Mom friends who tell me that my husband couldn’t afford me as an employee… that the work of a SAHM is a million jobs in one. In one day I work as a chef, a chauffeur, a dog walker, a maid and a nanny. Sometimes I work as an assistant too, managing calendars, picking up dry cleaning and booking appointments. There’s very little glamour (we’re lucky if I shower some days), there’s very little praise and there is nearly no encouragement. You are exhausted and irritable all the while never feeling like you’re doing enough. And let me tell you, coming from the working world of local television, that’s a really difficult transition. In Milwaukee I was “The Road Warrior”, people would see me out and talk to me about my future plans. I typically parlayed my decision into “Well, I am preparing to move our family to another state” instead of just owning my decision. Always the question of “Will you be returning to work?” and “What’s your plan once your son is in school?”. I had been coming into the living rooms of thousands of people every morning for five years. Many of them couldn’t grasp the idea of me not working. Their opinions weighed heavily on me and I was never happier to move to another state, a state where would only be known as “Jack’s Mom”. But in hindsight, was I just shifting the blame? Was it just me who couldn’t grasp the idea of not having a career outside of the home?

Truth is, I still struggle with my decision to stay home daily. I sometimes still think former colleagues and former viewers look at me differently for deciding to leave it all behind. More than ever I am realizing those thoughts are a product of my own insecurities. I often have to remind myself how much I loved having a parent waiting in the hallway at school to pick me up. How much it meant to have a parent in the audience at school programs. In my case it was my dad. My mom worked in corporate America for most of my life. She traveled the country almost every week. As a little girl I thought working until 7 p.m. every night was “the norm” for her. My husband will rarely be able to pick our son up from school. He will never be able to help organize the class Christmas party and couldn’t take a day off if our son needed to stay home sick. I have the opportunity to be that rock for our little boy. To be the face he sees after lunch every day (and when he yells “Hi Mama!” through his classroom window, it’s pretty awesome). I’m a work in progress most days still… but I do make a mean class treat, I have a hell of a cleaning schedule and like most moms who have 90% of their human interaction with a three year old, I lose my shit occasionally. But I do the best I can, the best I know how. I take each day as it comes. Some days are easier than others. Every stage of childhood and motherhood is equally difficult, unpredictable, frustrating, wonderful and amazing. I’m sure when my son is 18 I will have finally come to terms with my career… a Stay at Home Mom.

Caitlin Morrall is a former Miss Wisconsin USA and competed for the title of Miss USA, live on NBC in March of 2007.  She finished among the Top 15 semi-finalists. Caitlin continues to be involved in many areas of pageantry including judging, coaching and consulting. In addition to her work with contestants in the Miss Universe Organization she was also a four time titleholder in the Miss America Organization, placing as a runner up at the state level each time she competed. She continues to volunteer her time as a pageant producer, emcee, judge, coach and local competition board member in the state of Wisconsin. During her time competing in pageants Caitlin championed the causes of Breast and Ovarian Cancer awareness and the important of Character Education. She has also been very active in her community, participating in events supporting charities including Children’s Miracle Network, Special Olympics Wisconsin and the Make A Wish Foundation. 

Caitlin joined Milwaukee’s NBC affiliate, TODAY’S TMJ4, in November of 2009 as the “Road Warrior” Traffic Reporter on “Live at Daybreak”. Prior to joining the TMJ4 team, Caitlin was a freelance reporter for Fox Sports Wisconsin. In 2008 she was a sideline reporter for the WIAA State Football Championships. She also contributed to feature reports for “Bucks Live”, the pregame show for the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Caitlin attended Alverno College in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Professional Communication. Upon graduation she completed an internship with ESPN Radio in Milwaukee. In 2013 Caitlin appeared in a Wisconsin Summer Tourism television campaign alongside Hollywood Actor, Robert Hays.

Caitlin currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, their Pug and their three year old son, Jack.